This year Sukkot is comparatively early and many people built their sukkah on a warm day: a stark reminder that the temporary, exposed nature of the huts we build in yards, patios and synagogues mirrors the daily conditions of the unhoused in our Twin Cities community.
“One of the most important things about being in a sukkah is that you get to experience what it’s like to not have permanent stable housing,” said Aaron Berc, the community organizer leading Jewish Community Action’s Housing Justice Campaign. “It’s so key to the experience that you are in touch with the elements, that you really can feel the wind and, and see the stars and that you’re outside. And so it’s a real visceral, physical embodiment of what it’s like to not, to not have stable housing.”
According to tradition, Berc pointed out, the sukkot were the temporary homes the Jews lived in for 40 years while crossing the desert. They are meant to be impermanent.
“It can be a surface-level connection, but I think it’s a deeper connection that so many of our neighbors — and many in our Jewish community, too — know what it’s like to have housing that is unstable, that you move around often not by choice. I think it’s a yearly reminder for us of what that actually feels like,” he said. “I think it’s a call for the Jewish community to try and make the world a little bit better by pushing for a world in which less and less people have that instability in their housing.”
Berc said that for JCA, he takes it as a call to make the world better. It’s one that JCA has been engaging in from its start 26 years ago, and a message that founding Executive Director Vic Rosenthal was trying to get out to the broader community 20 years ago when he spoke at a Sukkot event at Minnesota Hillel.
“(The holiday is) a reminder that all of us can find ourselves in the position of not having a place to live,” he said, according to Minnesota Daily archives. “We need to help to build an infrastructure that will help provide affordable housing.”
JCA is one of the organizations campaigning for initiatives in Minneapolis and St. Paul that will be on those cities’ ballots in November. Voters will have the chance to approve rent stabilization measures that will protect tenants from severe rent increases that often lead to being unhoused or in unstable housing.
Berc said that the housing work that JCA does is a mitzvah.
“A mitzvah is what we are obligated to do to one another and for one another, and I think housing is one of those basic things where we’re obligated to make sure that other people in our community are cared for, and are housed, and aren’t going to be stuck in the rain,” he said. “It feels like a deeply tied Jewish idea to me to say we care for others in our community, and especially on Sukkot, we are reminded just how fragile and vulnerable not having secure and stable housing can be.”