Bono and Sukkot. These are two words that you have probably have never seen in the same article, let alone in the same sentence, but the U2 frontman is breaking ground by drawing connections between between important social causes and Jewish symbols. Besides being one of the greatest rockers alive, many of you may know that Bono’s advocacy group fights poverty and brings awareness to the dire situation that permeates the horn of Africa, where a severe drought has affected millions of people. The group recently released a PDF booklet that links the desperate situation there with the ancient Jewish holiday Sukkot that is still underway until Thursday. While Jews gather in makeshift booths to remember the past reality of wandering throughout the desert, according to NPR, presently 4 in every 10,000 children are dying every day as a result of the present reality of drought and famine.
The Sukkot 2011 booklet communicates the lessons of Sukkot and ties it to the situation in Africa by providing facts and figures to Jews observing the holiday and community leaders such as rabbis. The goal according to the creator of the project Marc Friend at the AJWS (American Jewish World Service) is to wake up socially conscious Jews to the situation there.
From the ONE blog:
This month the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (October 12 to 19), or the Feast of Tabernacles, is a time traditionally given to the remembrance of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and to the celebration of the harvest. Yet the ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa continues to loom large: over 13 million people, mostly nomadic pastoralists and farmers in south-central Somalia, north-eastern Kenya, and south-eastern Ethiopia, are severely lacking in food and water. In the midst of such a crisis, Sukkot — a festival that is a celebration of plenty — provides an opportunity to consider those who are lacking, and how we might be able to help and raise them up. ONE campaigner Marc Friend, former Eisendrath Fellow at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and currently on the team at American Jewish World Service put together a Sukkot guide for reflection, discussion and action.
The guide explains that while drought is an act of nature, famines are man made. Some suggestions have come that instead of observers inviting the traditional biblical ushpizin (Sukkot Guests) into their sukkah this year, to instead welcome the hungry.
While for Jews it is a holiday that is drenched with symbolism, in Africa living in temporary structures is a reality. Another reality is lack of access to any types of harvest and with a drought that has been the worst in 60 years and lack of access to fresh water. Hunger and powerlessness flow throughout the land. People are dying. Needlessly. Bono’s pamphlet basically draws on the global Jewish teaching of Tikkun Olam (Healing of the Earth) to relieve human suffering.
While the holiday provides Jews with an opportunity to celebrate the triumphs of our long history, it also should be seen as an opportunity to recognize that while we are free, there are others that are still hungry and thirsty and are wandering in the desert. Kudos to Bono for getting involved and making the connection. The world needs more Bonos!
:: The Forward
More on famine and drought: