October 3, 2017
Dear Friend of Israel,
As I often do, this year I spent the High Holy Days in the U.S. and returned to Israel for the festival of Sukkot (also called the Feast of Tabernacles). Driving from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to my home in Jerusalem, I was excited, as always, to see Israelis preparing for the holiday. But my excitement was tempered with sorrow as I thought about the recent attack in Las Vegas, where a gunman fired on a crowd at a concert, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds.
As Israelis, we understand the pain of terror. And whether it’s the responsibility of a radical Islamist or a domestic terrorist, whether it’s done in the name of religion or not, all terrorism inflicts the same pain and unspeakable heartbreak. We must pray for those affected by this horrific attack.
Sukkot is a joyous holiday, but it can teach us about coming to terms with tragedy. Prior to the holiday, Jews build temporary booths meant to remind us of the shelters the Israelites lived in during their sojourn in the desert in biblical times. For seven days in Israel (eight in the U.S.), we live in these, eating, socializing, and even sleeping in them. They are deliberately built to be impermanent, with no fixed walls, and roofs made of palm fronds or bamboo mats.
Living in these temporary booths reminds us that despite all we do to provide and safeguard them, our homes, our safety, and our health ultimately come from God. That truth would have been clear to the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert; they had only God to depend on.
But in our modern world it's easy to delude ourselves into thinking that all we have grows out of our own efforts and skills. Sukkot reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God, and that we are entirely dependent upon Him. This, in fact, is a source of joy and comfort. Our lives are fragile, but Sukkot points us toward what is permanent: the God of the universe, Who created us, sustains us, and loves us more than we can imagine.
Whether you are Christian or Jewish, I pray this season of Sukkot fills you with fresh gratitude for God's permanence in our world that is ever-changing, chaotic, and at times filled with great sorrow. As we pray for the victims of the Las Vegas attacks, let us also pray for the time when the whole world will be able to dwell under the shelter of God's dominion, in peace.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President