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A Gloriously Miserable British Sukkot

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WhatsApp Image 2020-10-08 at 12.13.43

At some point during Sukkot 2020, I read on a Facebook thread that the festival constitutes a strong argument for Zionism: Festivals that mark the agricultural year cannot be disentangled from the climatic and agricultural cycle of the Holy Land. You can make a number of arguments against this – Sukkot has been celebrated in Northern climates for centuries, Israel is not the only place with this particular climate etc – but the strongest counter-argument seems to be ironic:

Sukkot in Israel or other Mediterranean doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. Living in booths at this time of year is a delight. One only feels the required vulnerability to a limited extent.

So it is that celebrating Sukkot amidst blustery, rainy and cold weather is a much more visceral reminder of the fragility of existence than celebrating it in balmy climes. And in this respect, the British Sukkot of 2020/5781, was as perfect as it gets. While it wasn’t particularly cold, it rained, it drizzled, it bucketed down; the skies glowered and the wind howled.

The uniquely British attitude to the weather further reinforced this perfection. Brits complain about the cold and wet climate (even in these anthropogenically warming times) yet, unlike the Norwegians for example, we still manage to build structures that don’t work in any weather. Our houses are too hot in summer and too cold in winter.

British Jews continue this fine tradition by building Sukkot that blow or flood away. We perhaps take the vulnerability of the booth a bit too seriously. But could it be otherwise? After all, us British Jews are almost proud of our cackhandedness at DIY. We wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes wandering for 40 years in the desert. And we gleefully post the results of our incompetence on Facebook.

Here are some examples of the proudly disappointing Sukkot of 5781. They are, perhaps, a sign of the spiritual superiority of the British Sukkot. (Thanks to those who contributed)

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Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a senior lecturer at Leo Baeck College, runs the European Jewish Research Archive at the IJPR and is an Honorary Fellow of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College. His most recent book is Strange Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and the Limits of Diversity (Repeater 2019).
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