Rabbi Jeffery Newman, the Emeritus Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue was dragged off the street and arrested in a planned protest in front of the house of the Lord Mayor of London. He and a number of other Jews were both protesting climate change inaction and celebrating Sukkot with Lulav and Etrog, and holding signs like “Conservation is a mitzvah.”
Sukkot reminds us of our obligations to the natural world: all of the trees on which the species of the Lulav and Etrog grow require ample rain, and our Sukkot expose us to the world around us.
Sukkot also reminds us of a time when many more Jews than today were agriculturalists and migrant farmworkers.
A shocking article published in the Toronto Star on Sukkot morning titled, “Snakes, rats, bedbugs, abuse. Complaints filed by Mexican migrant workers expose the underside of Canada’s seasonal agriculture program” by Sara Mojtehedzadeh puts a bad taste into our mouths when we think of the difficult conditions in which seasonal labourers still work today. While I am not yet ready to put myself into the road in front of some of these places of business, I hope the light shone on these conditions at this time will convince many farms that it is time to fix ongoing issues, and will convince the Canadian government to take the workplace complaints by the tax-paying workers seriously.
Sukkot is the time when we are commanded to be happy, but it is also a time which asks us to take action – to pick up the Lulav and Etrog.
Even as we discuss these issues on the government level, it is important that we tackle these topics in our own ways.
Our synagogue community is working towards creating its own environmental sustainability plan – not just to teach Jewish value but to live them and does its best in employing those who keep our community clean and safe. In many of our homes, we have the opportunity to make sure we are doing our best for the world and looking after the workers who have migrated to Canada either permanently or temporarily.
Through these acts and actions, may we make our world a more holy place, when all will dwell in a Sukkah of peace and harmony. Chag Sameach.