September 27, 2007
One man’s sukkah is another man’s shack
Poverty exists in both Jewish souls and Rio's slums
(Page 2 - Previous Page)With these eloquent words, he set forth the simple fact that, in his view, the life of Jewry, even now, is vacant and purposeless, lacking any sense of the richness of life and the gift of fellowship framed by Jews in association with Jews and so forming, in the here and the now, Israel in their particular place.
The head of the Confederation of Brazilian Jews, a lawyer of real probity, joined in, saying: "We are opportunists, here to make money and keep to ourselves."
"We are afraid to participate in public life, to address public concerns, to help solve the problems of this country, and when Jews do engage in public affairs, they are marginalized by the Jewish community," Sobel said.
I cannot judge the facts, though they made me think of home; I know others differed from the leaders' assessment. But once again, I wondered: Who lives in the sukkah? And who lives in the mansion? And who lives by song and dance?
In the hills above Rio are people starving, but music and dance helps to sustain them.
In the luxury apartments down below, people are eating enormous meals, served by two, three, five maids and butlers, but these people worry for the future, rather than ask whether, after all, there is any present in the here and now.
That is the message of Sukkot: We are all street people. But of different kinds. For living without food and the shelter of a roof is one sort of privation, and living without the song and dance that stand for the heart and the soul, that is another sort of privation.
So during Sukkot, when we move into the Jewish favela, the slum made up of shacks, to become street people and undergo poverty, we might remember the poverty we suffer within: For that I owe my dear friend and rabbi, Henry I. Sobel.
Jacob Neusner is Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism and senior fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology, at Bard College.
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