Gabrielle A. Berlinger (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
How might an ancient religious ritual address urgent social and political needs? This question emerged from eight years (2007-2015) of ethnographic study of the observance of Sukkot, the annual Jewish festival that commemorates the Israelites’ Biblical journey through the Sinai Desert to the Promised Land. This presentation explores this question through the holiday’s central rite of building and “dwelling” in a temporary ritual structure (sukkah) meant to evoke the physical and metaphoric experience of wandering in the wild. The flexibility of this Jewish tradition is revealed by a rich material diversity of constructions and interpretive diversity of uses across contexts. Significantly, in 2010-2011, Sukkot coincided with the global Occupy Movement and peak numbers of Sudanese and Eritrean individuals migrating into Israel in search of asylum—two circumstances that highlighted the contemporary search for “home” and struggle to belong, in daily as well as ritual life. As we reflect upon continuing upheavals around the world today, we consider how the sukkah endures as a form of resistance and structure of solidarity.
Part of Sukkot Dinner and Lecture by Gabrielle Berlinger in the Sukkah of Tulsa’s Congregation B'nai Emunah, Thursday, October 13, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm