Inclusion in the Sukkah: Opening Our Hearts, Minds, and Homes to All Who Wish to Celebrate

By Arielle Handel and Arielle Katz

In the week following the solemnity of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and judgement, we experience a monumental emotional and spiritual shift. Sukkot arrives this week on Wednesday night, bringing its yearly dose of excitement, joy, and celebration.

Jewish teens all over the world will take part in the traditions of the holiday, building the Sukkah – the titular hut constructed of natural materials – and shaking the four species. But one tradition of the holiday stands out, especially this year: the tenet of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming and including all those who want a space in our Sukkahs.

Sukkot is therefore the perfect time to highlight the true meaning of our inclusivity mission to welcome all Jewish teens to our Movement, regardless of background, denominational affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, including those with a range of intellectual, emotional, and physical abilities. In that spirit, we asked BBYO members to share their perspective on what inclusion in the Sukkah means to them, and what message they’d offer to someone who wished to celebrate the holiday:

“The typical phrase said when greeting someone into any place, not just a Sukkah, is ‘B’ruchim Ha’Baim,’ which is often translated to ‘welcome.’ Upon further dissection of the words, it literally means, ‘we bless the coming ones.’ This is the idea of Sukkot, a holiday in which we ‘live’ in open structures for anyone to walk into. Everyone who gathers in the Sukkah for a festive meal or to shake the Lulav brings their own values and ideals into that space. We as Jews have a special, open space for anything to be discussed and heard with an open mind.”
Ben L., North Texas Oklahoma Region, BBYO

“For years, the Jewish people have constructed celebratory structures with the intention of welcoming anyone who sought to enter. This notion of setting no restriction on those who may enter the Sukkah has been ingrained into tradition, and today, it is my pleasure to continue this tradition. I welcome all those who seek to join me into my Sukkah today unapologetically. Please relax, embrace the culture of this inclusive community, and enjoy participating in this tradition that dates back centuries.”
Zack C., Southern Region: Atlanta Council, BBYO

“After Yom Kippur, we are encouraged to clean our slate from the past year and start on a new, positive note. With this goal in mind, the Sukkah is the perfect place to welcome anyone and everyone. The Sukkah represents openness and inclusivity due to its connection with nature and with G-d. I wish to carry this mindset while welcoming anyone who enters into my Sukkah with an open heart.”
Elizabeth K., Michigan Region, BBYO

“My inclusive Sukkah greeting would go something like, ‘Hi, welcome to my Sukkah. Have you ever been in a Sukkah before? The basic idea behind it is that we gather with our friends, neighbors, and guests for meals and to hang out. Please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions and if there is anything I can do to make you more comfortable.’”
Zach K., Connecticut Valley Region, BBYO

“To someone entering my Sukkah I would say, ‘Welcome to my Sukkah, where we share ideas, laughter, love, and good times. I want to hear your thoughts, engage with your personality, and enjoy your presence!’”
Sophia F., North Texas Oklahoma Region, BBYO

“To promote inclusivity, I would greet everyone upon their entry with a warm welcome and handshake or hug. I would arrange the seats/tables in a circle so everyone could be linked and no one would be at an ‘end.’ Then, in unity, we would recite the prayers specific to Sukkot and all enjoy ourselves while eating traditional Jewish food.”
Emily C., Greater Jersey Hudson River Region, BBYO

“Even with its Judaic ties, the Sukkah is a space made with holes in the walls and ceilings to allow the rest of the world to look in and join us in our shelter made from the only materials that people of all religions, races, and backgrounds have access to – the Earth. Here we are not closed off. Here we always leave our fourth wall open as a large gateway to welcome all those who want to stop by and join us as we celebrate the bountiful harvest the Earth gives to us – because after all, the Earth sees no labels.”
Jessica U., Liberty Region, BBYO

“Our house is a safe place where we can be as one, love each other, promote peace, and discuss great ideas – not people, places, or things. This is a judgment-free zone, so be who you love and support those around you!”
Alexa H., Pacific Western Region, BBYO

“I would stand by the door and hand each guest a Lulav and Etrog when they arrive. I would ask them to hold on to these items for a few minutes until everyone arrives, and once everyone is there, we would perform the Sukkot rituals all together. I hope that through this greeting, all guests would feel they are a part of the holiday.”
Matt Z., Greater Jersey Hudson River Region, BBYO

“I would greet people with, ‘Welcome! We are so happy to have you! Tonight’s event is all about you, our guests, and making you feel a part of our family. Our Sukkah, the building in which we currently stand, has only three walls. The open doorway is one example of how we welcome everyone into our home. Tonight, one of our goals is to experience some of the things the world has to offer as a community. This is why we have an open roof so that we can all enjoy seeing the stars this evening!’”
Stephen F., Northern Region East: DC Council, BBYO

For one week, the Sukkah effectively serves as our home. We dine beneath its natural ceiling, and make the blessing “LaiShev baSukkah,” to sit, or dwell in the Sukkah. Some even choose to sleep inside it. In this moment, we can learn from the Sukkah and gain inspiration from these words and greetings regarding how we should conduct even our brick-and-mortar homes – cast open the doors, welcome differences, and embrace the inclusion integral to this joyous holiday.

In the welcoming spirit of Sukkot, teen leaders in BBYO recently established an International Inclusion Advisory Committee to broaden inclusivity support across the Movement. Teens and professionals will work together on identifying safe and supportive ways in which experiences can continue to improve support systems and ensure inclusivity for all.

Arielle Handel is the Director of Inclusion and Arielle Katz is the Communications Manager at BBYO.