By Miriam Shaviv
March 5, 2010
During the month of March, I will be publishing a daily proposal to transform the British Jewish community. Email your own idea (up to 350 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Today's idea comes from Jonathan Boyd: A Succah in Trafalgar Square
Throughout Succot, there ought to be a succah in Trafalgar Square. The bigger, the better – halachically, a succah can be too low or too high, but there are no restrictions on its length or breadth. It would be staffed by Jewish volunteers and serve as a temporary shelter and soup kitchen – a place for the homeless to come during the day or night for a free hot meal.
Why? First, because a succah is a temporary dwelling, a fragile place of refuge that reminds us, in part, of our own vulnerability. Succot itself is also a temporary experience – a brief period in the year when we are not protected by the walls, roofs, locks and alarm systems that, for many of us, have become part of our daily existence. In contrast, homelessness is not a temporary state – it is a permanent reality. Could we take a symbol of our own homelessness and exposure, and turn it into a shelter for those who need no symbolic reminders of what it means to have no home or to feel exposed?
Second, the notion of succah as soup kitchen bridges the particular and the universal. It both celebrates the particular simchah of a Jewish holiday, and extends our hearts and hands out into the wider world. It actualises what the sociologist Peter Berger calls “cognitive negotiation”, or what Samson Raphael Hirsch called Torah im derech eretz – Torah with the way of the land.
It helps to cultivate Jews who care about the internal and the external, who are capable of dealing simultaneously with our own challenges and those that beset humanity as a whole.
Third, it clearly associates Judaism with social justice. It makes a clear public statement. To be Jewish is to take responsibility, to reach out to others, to affect change, to create places on earth in which God’s presence can dwell. It demonstrates – in a tangible and genuine way – how Jewish ideas and symbols can, and should be interpreted for good.
At a time when religion generally is often associated with violence and extremism, it offers a dramatically different perspective. It should not cost much to set up, but its practical and symbolic value could be immense.
Jonathan Boyd is the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research
Check out our previous ideas: