Reflections on an Urban Sukkot

Still the holiday season and we are back to those that involve food as part of the celebration. As we get ready to enjoy the sukkah and the vacation, Melanie Weiss wonders how the urban consumer can consider the produce we enjoy.

The not-quite-a-week between Yom Kippur and Sukkot is an ideal time—maybe the ideal time—in the Jewish calendar to spend a moment reflecting on the importance of organic produce. It may not be an issue on top of the Israeli consciousness, but here it is, a pre-set time in month of Tishrei when we’re between fasting and feasting.
Abstaining from food on Yom Kippur is, for those who do it, an act with many possible motivations: contrition, self-mortification and an opportunity to identify with the world’s hungry. No matter what the incentive, twenty-five hours of no eating certainly points your attention to food on some levels. It is an amazing opportunity to think about what we eat and how food is often one of our primary links to the larger world. How does what we eat affect others? How does it affect the world around us, including the land we reap this food from? As if on cue, the harvest festival arrives. Jews are commanded to build huts and dwell in them, as the ancient season for bringing in the fruits of the land commences.
And what do we eat during this holiday? Fruits, of course—sometimes the first of the season. And where do we eat them? In a sukkah, the roof of which must be made of what most English-language sources describe as “organic” sources. They mean organic matter, as in no nails or screws, not necessarily material that is pesticide-free, though that would clearly be good idea too.
The whole holiday hinges on a celebration of, and recognition for, that which we grow. We are told to sit outside in the nature, maybe even in a field before the harvest, and enjoy the fruits of the land. Sitting in a sukkah is a reminder that the produce we grow is part and parcel of where we live, what we wear and what we build with. They surround us, which makes our choices about how we grow and cultivate them all the more pertinent. It is no surprise that Israel is a forerunner in the development of new farming technologies, if we think about it.
What we put into the earth really will stay with us, in one form or another, and that is reason enough to strongly consider what kinds of agriculture we want to support and how. To monitor how much trash we are comfortable producing and to enjoy the fruits of the land while also considering the impact of their leftovers.
This year, as we sit in our sukkot—or pass our neighbors’, or enjoy the first bite of something juicy and delicious—it might be interesting to reflect on how connected we are to that which we cultivate. In our busy and highly urbanized world, we can feel light years away from our food, and from the consequences of how that food is grown. Sukkot is a pertinent reminder that Jews need to keep that connection firmly alive in our hearts, minds and—in a delicious way—our mouths, too. Chag Sameach!