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Posted on October 1, 2020
Rabbi Miriam T. Spitzer
Erev Sukkot 5781
The cartoon showed someone speaking on the phone saying: “I am making Sukkot plans. Are you not coming to us or are we not coming to you?”
Sukkot is our family holiday. We are accustomed to having guests in high numbers and high in enthusiasm. Many families are used to having full sukkot on this festival and to visiting the sukkot of others. But there is another Sukkot practice as well, called ushpizin. Ushpizin is a longstanding Sukkot custom that involves inviting virtual guests into our sukkah each night of Sukkot. Yes, virtual guests. And it is not a new custom. I am convinced that this custom was created specifically (and miraculously) for our needs this year. When we “do ushpizin” we can feel like all sorts of people are with us in our sukkot! The way we do ushpizin in our family is to pick a theme and to “invite” people who fit the theme. Then we say why we invited that person or what we would like to ask that person or why we think their presence would be an asset in our sukkah. Themes might be “lesser known Biblical characters” or “Jews involved in Justice” or “Zionist leaders” or “fictional characters” or “artists” or whatever. It is fun, it sparks discussion, it helps feel like the sukkah is full and we often learn something new.
How about an ushpizin theme of “heroes of Israel whose names have been taken off Israeli street signs”? My sister Shaina, who lives in Beit Shemesh, Israel, sent me a picture of an ushpizin poster that does exactly that.
Last week the city council in Beit Shemesh decided to leave women’s first names off the street signs they are putting up in brand new neighborhoods. This is so it will not be obvious that the streets are named for women, in some kind of a compromise with the ultra-Orthodox residents of Beit Shemesh. Keep in mind that the streets were named for women in the first place in order to emphasize and appreciate that there were women who contributed to the building of the State of Israel and that the last names of many of the women are not always as immediately identifiable as the last names of many of the men. This so-called compromise is designed to render women invisible. Deliberately. It is a big deal.
The ushpizin poster designed by Shaina’s friend Aliza Sokol features seven photos, each with a street-sign name above it and a small blurb below it explaining who the people are. The streets are: Chanah Senesh St, Eliraz & Uriel Peretz St., Lela Solika Hatzadika St., Sarah Aaronsohn St., Roi Klein St., Anne Frank St., and Ilan, Rona & Assaf Ramon St. The title at the top reads:
This year’s USHPIZIN are inspired by the heroes of Israel, whose names were objected to as official names of streets by extremist members of the Beit Shemesh city council. We honor the young women and men who stood against great danger and sacrificed for their people, their country and their God. Torat Israel is incomplete without Am Israel and Eretz Israel; so are our cities, and so are our sukkot. יהי זכרם ברוך.
Shaina’s friend Aliza Sokol designed the ushpizin poster in protest, as part of a concerted effort to make women’s voices and concerns seen and heard. It was spearheaded by Shoshana Keats Jaskoll, the head of an organization called Chochmat Nashim, Women’s Wisdom. This is a very interesting organization that does tremendous work. https://www.chochmatnashim.org/
This week, when we sit in our sukkot, let us invite virtually all the people who might have been with us this Sukkot (or whom we missed on Rosh HaShanah). And let us “do ushpizin” and invite other people, interesting people, people we would like to meet or people we want to hear from, to our sukkot as well. By doing so we will fill our sukkot, enrich our festival, and give voice to others.
חג שמחת, a happy and healthy Sukkot to all!