Drash on Parashat Chol Hamoed Sukkot 2017
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
“Walking down the hill to my new home I am slightly overcome with emotion. I’ve got somewhere real to live. Opening the front door I go straight to the bathroom, put the wet bags down and take off my jacket and my waterproof pants, hanging them up on the shower rail to dry. Proceeding to the kitchen with my first bag of groceries, I unpack them…following a cuppa and a sandwich I get domestic by making up my bed. Pulling my blankets out of three garbage bags and finding they are dry is a good thing. Folding the blankets he right way gives me six layers on top of the carpet that is laid on a timber floor. What luxury I think to myself and laugh…laying down I notice how quiet it is compared with the city, also just how soft my new bed feels. Walking the next morning with the sunlight streaming through the windows for a few moments I wonder where I am. I remember I have just spent my first night in my new home.” (Herald Sun Extra pg. 27, August 13, 2017)
These words are from AJ, a man who was living on the streets of Sydney, homeless for over 10 years, finally finding a place to call home. He speaks of his time on the streets: exposure to the elements, the uncertainty, the interrupted sleep, and how it is good to be up early because “you do not have to endure the evil looks of the public. It is as though they spit on you with their eyes.” Every day we pass by people who live on the streets. They do not have the most simple and basic of necessities, and we ‘spit on them with our eyes.’ They do not have a place to call home, safety, shelter.
There are more than 105,000 people homeless in Australia and over 17,000 of them are children. The fastest growing homeless population is older women and children, and the statistics are the same in other countries in our region. There are also many people living very close to homelessness. A recent survey showed that if a large majority of households received an unexpected bill of $500 or more it would push them into debt and towards homelessness. We walk a very fine line.
Sukkot is the time we sit in our temporary booths, open to the elements, exposed and we pause to think about the fragility of our existence and how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads. For seven days we contemplate the vagrancies of life and we consider what it is to have a home, shelter, safety, a place. We read the book of Ecclesiastes and its themes of futility and meaning, asking what is life about? What is really important? Is it money, possessions and wealth, prestige or is it finding a purpose, recognising what is enough and counting our blessings. Many of us choose to live in a sukkah for seven days, to take time out from our homes and create a place outside. But we know that if the weather is bad we can go inside, we have a place to shower, to sleep, to prepare food, to eat. We are safe. So many do not have such privilege. So this sukkot as we contemplate the meaning of our lives, our purpose we take a moment to be grateful for what we have, for the blessings of a place to call home and we turn our thoughts to those who are not so fortunate. Perhaps this Sukkot is the time to reach out to the homeless in our communities, to look each person in the eye, to treat them with dignity and respect and to help everyone find a home.