Sukkot Reflections on Homeless Youth without Shelter
I live in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, and it's all abuzz for Sukkot. People had already begun getting ready, buying and building their Sukkot, temporary dwellings, while I was still getting ready for Rosh Hashanah.
This holiday, and what I am seeing going on around me, brings to mind why I became a part of Shelter of Peace, “Sukkat Shalom.”
Shelter of Peace is also a prominent subject in the daily prayer Hashkiveinu, which I recite every night at bedtime, as well as with my CBST family every Friday night at Shabbat services. The words, “Help us lie down, Adonai our G-D, in peace, and let us raise again, our Sovereign, to life. Spread over us the shelter of peace” are enormously powerful. There is no guarantee, and so this is where I have to muster all of my faith that it will be so the next day, and the next, and so on.
Getting back to the holiday of Sukkot, As Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD. writes, "The simple joy of sitting in a sukkah and consume festive meals in the ambiance of nature's fullness is a perfect antidote to the harried lives we normally pursue. Whether in our nightly prayers or in the temporary booth we call sukkah, we are invited to pause for inner reflection and outer quietude." Yes, we should, and WE can. And while we are, hopefully, doing so, there are
children who are homeless living in the parks, on subways, on the streets of our city, or surfing from sofa to sofa. They don't even have a temporary "shelter of peace". Their daily lives are not harried, they are harrowing!
Rabbi Hoffman goes on to remind us that the words of Hashkiveinu are half of the story. "But as we have seen, that is only half the image of Hashkiveinu — and half the image also of the sukkah. Like it or not, “Lie us down in peace” becomes “Raise us up to life.” If “Lie us down in peace” addresses the real nighttimes we endure, then “Raise us up to life” speaks to the real daytimes we confront. A nightly wish for peace is fine, but when morning dawns, we awaken to the real world of work and worry. So too, we should not get too comfortable in our sukkah of peace. Like peace itself, the sukkah is deliberately made to be temporary, a feeble structure that cannot last. When Sukkot ends, we face the autumn preamble to the inevitable blast of winter.
Sounds ominous for us. The symbolism of winter is a powerful one, and I pray I will consider it's meaning in my own life. Then I Imagine a homeless youngster. homeless, without even a feeble structure meant to last 'as long as a week.'
In my work with Shelter of Peace I have become very well aware that every night in NYC, there are 1800 young LGBT kids who are homeless. All things being the same, I am able to sleep in comfort of my own bed, bathe in the morning, and sustain myself with food. The 1800 homeless youth are not. Would that they knew the Hashkiveinu, how
could these homeless kids muster the faith to believe?
Until every single homeless child has a shelter bed in a safe place, their real world is hard for us to imagine. It is another day of, "where do I bathe, what will I have to eat, how will I stay warm and where will I sleep? Will I be arrested if I jump a turnstile so I can ride the subway to have a warm place to sleep, will I be able to sleep at all despite my fear that whatever I own might be stolen, or that my life might be taken?"
How can we allow this to go on? Yet we do. Part of the purpose of daily prayer is to remind us, daily, that we have to take responsibility, for ourselves and for others.
WE ARE ALL G-DS children and we must protect those who are the most marginalized, who have no voice, who aren't even visible as we walk right by them.
As I enjoy the loveliness of Sukkot, I pray that each and every homeless child will soon have their own shelter, their own Sukkat shalom, and I will continue to work together with CBST, Koleinu's LGBT Rights Action Team, and our urgently important initiative, Shelter of Peace.
Chag Succot Sameach!