As a people with agricultural roots, Jews have found many ways to mark the seasonal and environmental changes that occur throughout the year. The Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage holidays of our tradition (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot), celebrate the three times each year that our ancestors journeyed to Jerusalem to make harvest offerings at the Temple. In addition to their agricultural nexus, Pesach celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot celebrates Matan Torah, the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai.
Similarly, Sukkot has numerous themes and areas of focus that encompass seasonal, historical and theological perspectives. It is among the festivals that fall in the month of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah), and thus it places emphasis not just on the cycles of the earth, but also the cycles of our lives. The celebration of Sukkot leads us to focus on the importance of shelter and housing, our mandate to welcome others into our homes, the environment and exigencies of nature, and how we use the food we gather from the land to feed ourselves and others. Just as the sukkah is fragile and subject to wind and rain, so, too, do we recognize the precious fragility of human life, and the importance of doing all we can to help those in need around us. When Sukkot concludes with the observance of Atzeret/Simchat Torah, we commemorate the conclusion of the cycle of Torah readings by finishing Deuteronomy and immediately beginning Genesis. This reminds us of our constant need to study all that Torah has to offer, including the teachings regarding social justice and righteousness, as well as those commandments that remind us that our work l'taken et ha-olam, to repair the world, is never complete.
Families, social action chairs, educators, youth group leaders, and other synagogue leaders will find many programs and projects that join together these themes of Sukkot with social action concerns within the following pages. Please keep in mind that these are merely suggested audiences - all programs can be adapted for other age groups or interests. Following the program suggestions are lists of websites and resources for additional information, and appendices with sample handouts and background information on the various social action themes.
We hope this material will assist you in making your Sukkot observance one that inspires you lirdof tzedek v'shalom, to pursue justice and peace in our world.