Sukkot Reflections with Jacob Leibowitz
About 2,500 years ago the leaders of the Jewish community stood in Jerusalem, waiting anxiously for Ezra the scribe to explain to them the words of the Torah. The Torah was complicated, long, and not every Jew had the ability to read. The result was confusion, a misunderstanding of Judaism, and an un-united Jewish community.
Ezra the scribe, recognizing the situation, took the Torah, stood in front of a group of confused people and explained it to them, with the help of the Levites. The book of Nehemia, Chapter 8, tells us that the people then ate and drank and celebrated this day. However, we do not learn the specifics of what they were taught until we reach verse 13 where the following is written:
“Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written'. So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses." (Nehemia 8).
Ezra is instructing the Jewish community to go out and find the material needed for the celebration of Sukkot. The Jewish people will create booths for themselves and their families, and will dwell in them for eight days. The underlying idea of this booth, which we call a sukkah, is to remind us, the people of Israel, of the fragile dwellings in which our ancestors lived during the 40 years they spent in the desert. The sukkah is the mechanism by which we feel connected with our history, but just as importantly, it is a mechanism that provides us with a way to spend time with our friends and family.
Ezra saw a Jewish community in need of guidance - of a leader - and he tried to be this leader. He read the Torah with the people of this community and aimed to explain it to them, surely in the most interesting way he could. But once he provided the basics, he had to trust that they would take what they had learned and use it in their own creative way to move the forward.
I see Ezra's leadership, and the holiday of Sukkot, as symbols of what we are trying to do at AMHSI. The students who arrive seek our guidance and, like Ezra, we aim to teach them in a way that will be interesting and meaningful to them. We continuously make efforts to show them that Judaism, much like Sukkot, is about the combination of remembering and keeping our religion and tradition alive, along with creating opportunities to spend time with our friends and family.
Ezra understood that good teachers are those who realize the only thing they can give their students are the tools to achieve certain goals, and that the students must be the ones to make the choice to use them. As a teacher at AMHSI I feel very privileged to be able to follow in his footsteps and take part in teaching the next generation of Jews about the wonderful traditions we have.