Radical Diasporism in the Sukkah (2018)

In the tradition of welcoming ushpizin/ancestors to the Sukkah, JVP Philly organized a September 24th, 2018 Sukkot ritual event exploring the teachings of Jewish Lesbian, Feminist, activist, writer, organizer, scholar Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz (z”l) on Radical Diasporism, and beyond.

Co-sponsored by Kol Tzedek, Fringes: a feminist, non-zionist havurah, and Tikkun Olam Chavurah.

Here’s the intro I shared:

On Sukkot we inhabit temporary dwelling places together. We gather in the material structure and we invite our ancestors to join as guests.

In spaces open to see the stars and feel the rain, Jews throughout the world say blessings for special plants – the lulav and the etrog – and offer water libations. This holy-day marks a joyful transition into the new year, as it is said: “the first day of Sukkot is to be the first day of this new era of reckoning.” We celebrate the harvest season, internalizing and digesting the fruits of last year’s learning into this new era.

When I learned of the death of Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, I felt called to connect her writing on radical diasporism to this holiday. Tonight we temporarily inhabit a chapter of her writing. We engage with the text through response and ritual, as is our tradition.

In “The Color of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism,” Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz wrote of acknowledging, honoring, and re-framing our culture with an accurate awareness of the ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity of Jewish communities. She acknowledges that Jewish communities are ecosystems as complex as any, and tells us that in this light, “flexibility is a spiritual issue. Hospitality is the first principle.” She tells us to re-frame our understandings of the center and the margins in Jewish life. Where better to practice these principles, than in the open, breathing structure of the sukkah?

Melanie teaches that nationalism is not now and never has been the only path of Jewish futures. She says, “Let us begin to imagine a diasporic home.” Where else, but in a temporary dwelling place, to grapple with what diasporic home can mean to us?

One thing we can know: a life in diaspora means that we have arrived where others have lived, are living. As we stand here tonight and contemplate our own ancestors’ many paths to this ritual space in Philadelphia, we offer gratitude to the Lenape people and this Lenapehoking land.

And recognizing that historical and current cycles of migration and displacement are all connected, Melanie instructs us that “diasporists choose solidarity as the highest expression of humanity.”

So, tonight we’ll join together in a ritual that honors the life and writing of Melanie, and attempts to briefly live into the ideas she offers us. We’ll join in song, movement, blessing, and conversation. We aim for about an hour of planned program and then welcome guests to linger to visit and share some light snacks before moving on for the night.