Tradition encourages us to welcome seven holy guests into our sukkot, one for each night of the week. In a modern variation to this custom, each night can be connected to a related social action theme.
First Night: On the first night we welcome Abraham and Sarah, the primary exemplars of hospitality and welcoming. They teach us Hesed, lovingkindness. Whom do we invite into our homes? What are other groups that we might welcome more warmly into our lives, homes, or communities?
Second Night: On this night, we welcome Isaac and Rebecca, who teach us Gevurah, strength. Isaac is an exemplar of powerlessness – one who was passive and had no will of his own. On the other hand, Rebecca, by causing Jacob to take his brother’s birthright, is an exemplar of proactivity, taking control over the future of her people. When might it be best to sit back and subdue ourselves, and when is it important to take action for what we believe in? What are examples of actions that we can be taking in order to ensure a better future for humankind?
Third Night: Tonight, we welcome Jacob and Rachel. Jacob fell in love with Rachel because of her beauty, rejecting her sister, Leah, who had “weak eyes.” What role does physical appearance play in our lives? How can we embrace diverse beauty concepts that recognize the value in various cultures and backgrounds? In what ways do we discriminate on the basis of physical characteristics and abilities? How can we ensure justice and equality for all, regardless of appearance?
Fourth Night: On the fourth night, we welcome Yocheved and her son, Moses. Yocheved ensured the survival of the Jewish people by defying the ruling power and saving Moses. Moses’ acts of leadership resulted in our freedom from slavery. They encourage us to remember the importance of standing up for what is right and taking action to bring about justice for ourselves and others. Today, are there others who are still struggling for their freedom? What is our responsibility to those people?
Fifth Night: On this night, we welcome Miriam and her brother, Aaron. Miriam and Aaron are known for their words: Miriam led the women in song at the shore of the sea, and was also punished for spreading gossip about her sister-in-law. Aaron was Moses’ spokesperson, standing up to Pharaoh and helping the Israelites find freedom. How do we use our speech – to hurt or demean others, or to make the world a better place? How can we use communication to create change? What are some specific ways we can raise our voices to speak out for social justice?
Sixth Night: Tonight we welcome Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Osnat. After suffering injustice and servitude, Joseph became quite powerful in the land of Egypt. Both Joseph and Osnat are symbols of wealth, power, and abundance. The Israelites found refuge in Egypt as they fled famine; so too, many now come to America to find a better life. How might this analogy affect our perception of America’s role in the world? What should our sense of responsibility and action be in light of our overall wealth and power?
Seventh Night: On the last night of Sukkot, we welcome David and his wife, Michal. Although he is remembered as a great leader, as king, David shed much blood and abused the power of his office for personal gain. Today as well, world leaders have the capacity to make war or peace, to use their authority to help others or to achieve personal profit. Do our leaders use their power wisely? If not, what is our responsibility to make sure that they do?
Sukkot guests and honorees: Sukkot is an excellent opportunity to honor those who provide produce and healthy food throughout the rest of the year. Invite a local farmer or farm worker to your home or congregational sukkah, and allow him/her to speak about the challenges of growing healthy food in the local ecosystem. A farm worker might be asked to speak about the difficulties working around pesticides and the dangers of poor working conditions. Other sukkot guests might be invited to receive honors for their justice work in the community.
Recycled Sukkah: Use as many recycled materials as possible in the building of your sukkah. The Northwest Jewish Environmental Project (Portland, OR) launched a campaign in 2003 to encourage its members to use recycled materials in the construction of their sukkot. This project can promote an appreciation of the importance of buying and using environmentally sustainable products.
 Idea based on “Ushpizin: Invoking the Lives and Teachings of our Biblical Ancestors,” by Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, found at www.socialaction.com.
 NFTY members may want to pay special attention to the theme of slavery, as part of NFTY’s chosen social action theme for the 2004-2005 program year. Additional information can be found on the NFTY website at: www.nfty.org/resources.