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BOB ABERNETHY: On our calendar, the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Many Jews build lean-tos, open to the elements, called “sukkahs,” to recall the way their ancestors lived for 40 years in the desert after their escape from slavery in Egypt. We spoke to Rabbi Kenneth Cohen of Bethesda, Maryland about the messages of Succoth in the aftermath of September 11th.
RABBI KENNETH COHEN (Hillel Director, American University): On Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment, we reflected on God’s justice; on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we reflected on how we, both individually and collectively, might be better people, better communities.
Now we’re celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and there’s a lot of symbolism involving Sukkot that can tie into the mood now. First of all, we take the Lulav and Etrog, the four species, and we shake them to the four compass points, up and down, signifying the universality of God, that God is everywhere.
On Sukkot, we build and we take our meals and we live in tabernacles, booths, which are similar to the ones which our ancestors lived in, just after they left the Egyptian slavery, Egyptian bondage.
Now, my sukkah has four sides, but nevertheless, the roof is open; it’s exposed to the elements, and this reminds us of the vulnerability of human life. Particularly at a time of trial like this, we have to be sensitive to other individuals, to other faith communities, to national groups who don’t have it quite as well as we do in the United States. Now, after the events of September 11, I think we’re all feeling just a little bit more vulnerable.
My son Zachary and I actually slept in it last night, and I can tell you it was cold, and I can tell you it wasn’t comfortable.
So last night as I was on the cold ground I was thinking particularly of the refugees in Afghanistan, and my heart and I know the hearts of so many of my people go out to them in particular at this time of trial.