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Welcoming Immigrants into the Sukkah

"Spread over us your shelter of peace"

"Spread over us your shelter of peace"

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Sukkot is a holiday of welcome, where we invite ushpizin, guests, into our Sukkah with its open side and exposed covering. This year during Sukkot, we are encouraging Reform Jews across the Movement to welcome immigrants into our sukkahs.

Following the biblical commands to love our neighbors and welcome the immigrant; reminded on this holiday of our own migration in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt; and celebrating the festival by inviting others to eat and share with us, we will gather with immigrant partners to: bear witness and hear stories, learn from immigrant experiences, build relationships, and connect with migrant-led organizations with whom we can work in solidarity in the months to come.

The Festival of Sukkot also follows the Days of Awe, an annual opportunity to reflect on our own actions and the ways in we can do t’shuvah – repent and do better in the year ahead. We do this individually and we do it collectively as a community.

These days we see in our society much to repent about, as we learn of damage being done to immigrant communities. With each day, we hear of another violation of human rights: indefinite detention of children and families, deportation of the seriously ill, returning asylum seekers to harm’s way, inhumane conditions in detention centers, massive workplace raids leaving children separated from parents, and so many more. As Reform Jews, we are committed to preserving the dignity and wellbeing of all human beings. It’s time to live up to our Torah’s oft-repeated commandment – welcome the immigrant – and the sacred call to love our neighbor.

That is why this year during Sukkot, Reform Jews across the Movement will welcome immigrants into their sukkah. Reform Jewish communities across North America have already been taking action by defending undocumented immigrants against deportation, providing assistance to asylum seekers, supporting refugee resettlement efforts, lobbying elected officials, and protesting at detention centers. In this crucial moment, we commit to bearing witness and hearing stories, humanizing and learning from immigrant experiences, building relationships, and connecting with migrant-led organizations with whom we can work in solidarity in the months to come.

Utilize this resource to help your community welcome immigrants into the Sukkah, create a meaningful program for a Sukkot service, and establish a foundation for your community’s immigration justice work for the upcoming year.

Preparing and Carrying Out Your Event

Connecting with Partners

Working in partnership with immigrant-led organizations helps create meaningful and impactful experiences. Seek out relationships in your community. If you don’t already have connections, take a look at these networks to find potential partners on the ground near you:

Can’t find local partners? Email the RAC’s Director of Immigration Justice, Dr. Julia Paley. If you live in a state with a RAC state project (California, Illinois, New York Ohio, and Texas) and are looking to connect with local partners, reach out to the RAC staff member in your state.

Planning Your Event

Download the Welcoming Immigrants into the Sukkah planning guide for ideas to get started!

Share Your Plans and Experiences

Let us know what your community is doing so the RAC can amplify the meaningful and important work taking place across North America this Sukkot! Share your plans in the Immigrant, Refugee, and Asylum Seeker Justice group in the Tent so others can learn from and celebrate the events taking place in your community.

Day of Your Event

Amplify your event on social media! Tweet at the RAC on Twitter and tag the RAC on Facebook so we can share your efforts with the Reform Movement.

Jewish Texts and Supplemental Resources

Sukkot Discussion Guide and Immigration Source Sheet

  • Use this discussion guide to think about the connection between welcoming guests into our sukkah and welcoming immigrants.
  • Study this new source sheet with your community, which outlines many of the instances in our tradition we are told to care for the immigrant.

Migration Story Discussion

To facilitate a meaningful conversation in your sukkah, feel free to use these discussion questions:

  1. Why have you chosen to be here today? What motivates you to pursue immigration justice?
  2. If you’re comfortable, please share your individual or your family’s immigration story.
  3. What Jewish historical themes were echoed by the more contemporary immigration stories we just heard? What are some differences?
  4. How can we learn from the past to inform action in the future?

Service Additions

Consider using these texts during your service in the Sukkah.

O God, by faith, like Abraham, let us obey Your call to leave our comfortable homes and set out for strange places although we do not know for certain where we are going.

By faith, like Noah, let us heed Your signs and warnings and build sturdy arks to rescue our children from the coming floods.

By faith, like Isaac and Jacob, let us seek Your blessings on our children’s futures. By faith, like Moses, let us leave Pharaoh’s house and head across the wilderness to lead our oppressed children to freedom.

By faith, like Joseph, let us turn evil into good and welcome our erring brothers and kin with a spirit of reconciliation and love.

By faith, like the child David, let us go out without fear to face the Goliaths of our day with slingshots of righteousness and justice confident of Your divine guidance and protection.

Marian Wright Edelman in Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus (bolded excerpt is displayed at the Statue of Liberty)

More Social Justice Opportunities

Sign Up for the Brit Olam Immigration Justice Cohort

The Brit Olam, covenant with our world, is the primary way Reform Jewish communities are working together to make change. Communities who join the Brit Olam choose from two types of networked social justice work—RAC state projects or issue-based cohorts—to ensure that we, as a movement, are leveraging our collective knowledge, skill, and relationships to make lasting impact on the issues we care about, grounded deeply in the text and tradition that bind us together. Sign up for the Immigration Justice Cohort today! Visit the Brit Olam homepage to learn more about the Brit Olam and how your community can get involved.

Join Partners in Calling for Cuts to Immigration Detention and Deportation Funding

Under the current administration, we have seen an unprecedented number of coordinated attacks on immigrant and migrant communities. Congress has enabled these attacks by increasing funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the federal agencies responsible for immigration detention and deportation. Congress is currently considering funding bills for fiscal year 2020, making this a crucial time to advocate for decreased funding for aggressive immigration enforcement and inhumane immigration detention. Send a letter to your members of Congress urging them to support cutting funds for immigration detention and deportation.

Stay Updated on Action Opportunities

It is easy to feel helpless in the face of the Trump administration's accelerating crackdown on undocumented immigrants living in the United States and crossing the southern border. As Reform Jews, we know inaction is not an option. As with much activism, you can have the most impact by acting in your local community. Visit the RAC's immigration center to stay updated on action opportunities.

For real time updates on the Reform Movement’s immigration work and ongoing opportunities to get involved, sign up to receive RAC emails.