One of my favorite Sukkot stories is related by the former Chief Rabbi of Britian, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
I was debating if I should share that story again, but then I came upon this short video by leading Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav Meir on this week’s Torah portion, Haazinu and was inspired to share the story again. Watch the clip to understand why.
So, we learn from Sivan Rahav Meir that if something is very dear to us, we want to hear it again and again (like a favorite song).
So here is the Rabbi Sacks story:
This week, in the context of my job at WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) I attended the dedication of a brand new dormitory at one of WIZO’s youth villages, Hadassim.
The new dorm at Hadassim is home to 27 high school students in the Naaleh program, Jewish youth from around the world who come to study and live in Israel. Thanks to the great generosity of the Reich family of Germany along with the support of WIZO Germany, these precious international students can study in a nurturing environment in the best possible conditions.
I noticed that a number of times during the dedication ceremony the speakers made made reference to WIZO Hadassim’s slogan, “Ba’ta le’Hadassim, ba’ta ha’baiyta”, meaning, “When you’ve come to Hadassim, you’ve come home.”
In fact, today was the birthday of Hadassim’s wonderful director Zeev Twitto. In wishing him a happy birthday this morning I added that whenever I come to Hadassim and he greets me with his trademark warm smile, I too feel that I have come home, just like the school slogan says.
It’s not hard to draw parallels between the upcoming holiday of Sukkot and a dedication of a new dormitory for overseas students. The sukkah is a temporary structue that serves as our home away from home for the week of the holiday, while the dormitory is a permanent structure that serves as a warm home for these inspiring young students who come from around the globe to live and study in Israel.
But I believe there is more to it than that. At the dedication cermony many concepts were talked about: feeling at home, feeling safe, a warm and nurturing enviornment, a school/youth village that is also a community, building a future for Jewish youth from around the world in Israel and much, much more.
So what is it? What is the one “nail” that holds together these young students who come to live and study in Israel? Which of the themes discussed above keeps their home, their sukkah/dormitory, standing in the face of obstacles?
To me the answer comes from one scene from the 1991 movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal.
In the film, Curly was the tough old cowboy character played by the late Jack Palance. Here’s the scene from the movie where Curly espouses his life philosophy to Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character:
Curly has a point. According to the story Rabbi Sacks told the lone “nail” represents faith, but to someone else it can represent something else. For each and every person, the “one thing” is different.
The same can be true for the meaning of “home”. For some of the students in the new dormitory at WIZO Hadassim it might mean a bright colorful spacious place for them to live. For other students the “one thing” ut might be the support of the dorm counselor or living with their friends from around the world. For each person the “nail” , the “one thing” that connects them to their “home” (new home) is different.
On Sukkot it does not matter if we live in a house, an apartment, or in a dormitory with 26 other international students. For one week we all join together, dwell together in our sukkot, in the temporary outdoor structures that remind us that we are in this together, under the same roof (schach). We’ve all come home.