Building Sukkot for Ourselves and Others

October 4, 2012Raechel Banks
Somehow, it always seems to rain on Sukkot. The week before the holiday usually falls during the first nice days of fall— this year my housemate packed away her summer clothes this past weekend, and I wore jeans instead of shorts for the first time in too long. The week after Sukkot seems to magically be beautiful also. The leaves start changing colors, and pumpkin-baking season begins in earnest. But somehow, those seven or eight days are always, without fail, rainy and a bit too chilly for comfort. Sure, this could have something to do with the lunar calendar and having a leap month seven times in nineteen years. Or are we just more aware of the elements when we live more consciously in them? When we don’t have a roof over our heads (or at least something that partially covers the stars), we notice the drizzle that we probably ignored when we only had to make it from the front door to the car and back again.

Yesterday morning dawned foggy and threatened to rain here in D.C. We made rain plans for our annual RAC lunch in the sukkah in case we needed to move inside. Jews around the area relocated their outdoor sleepovers last night back into their own homes. But others around the country didn’t have that choice. They don’t have a nicely constructed PVC-pipe sukkah built from a mail-order kit, and they definitely don’t have a brick house sitting next to it. Last night, there were an estimated 800,000 sleeping on the streets. Over the course of a year, around 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness. This is not one or two people you see on the corner; this is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed. The good news is we know how.

Experts agree: The number one reason people are homeless is due a lack of affordable housing. We have the infrastructure to create this. We definitely have the need. What we’re lacking is the political will. Funding for federal programs that provide housing assistance for low-income people is constantly under attack. Congress created the National Housing Trust Fund in 2008 to build, preserve, and rehabilitate low-income housing. Unfortunately, since then, it has lost almost all of its funding. For affordable housing to be made a reality, the National Housing Trust Fund must be guaranteed a steady stream of funding, one not subject to political whims and economic downturns (for those are the times when we actually need the Fund the most).

As we celebrate the last few days of Sukkot, take a moment to look at the walls of the sukkah surrounding you. We can afford to erect a second dwelling for one week out of every year, but there are too many in our community who cannot afford even one home for a single night. During this time when we place so much focus on welcoming the stranger into our outdoor homes, let us take the time to build the foundation for a neighbor to have a home of his or her own.

Image courtesy of Congregation Solel.

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