Sukkot 5781 | 2020

A lemon and green leaves sitting on a wooden table

Queer Midrash is a compilation of prose and poetry, commentary and reflection, prayer and narrative retelling inspired from and based on texts sacred to the Jewish community written through a Queer lens.

Queering Sukkot
Rabbi Denise L. Eger

On the holiday of Sukkot—the Feast of Tabernacles, Jews around the world build in their yards or balconies small booths or huts. These small temporary outdoor huts are reminders of the lean to, built as ancient farmers stayed overnight in the fields during the harvest. Rather than walk back to town, they lived in the fields in order to take advantage of the early morning light and harvesting until late in the day. But the Torah gives us a different, a more redemptive association for these small booths. They become associated with the dwelling places that the Israelites built on their 40 year trek from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

It is these booths or huts that give the week long holiday its name: Sukkot. The plural for the word Sukkah.

The Sukkah is a temporary dwelling. And the roof of the Sukkah must have openings in order to see the stars at night. During the week of the Festival, it is customary to eat one’s meals in the sukkah, welcome and entertain guests and some even sleep overnight in their Sukkah. The Sukkah must have at least 2 ½ sides and no nails may be used to hold the sukkah together. Nothing permanent. It is temporary.

And yet the Sukkah is traditionally decorated with lights, and fruit, and decorations to reflect the joy of the season. The Sukkah is seen as a poor person’s palace, a place where the Divine dwells, even in the simplicity of its architecture. God dwells with working people, laborers who toil in the field.

A significant part of this holiday is to welcome guests and friends into the Sukkah for a meal. The value of hospitality is an essential part of the celebration and the emphasis on the abundance found in life as a blessing from God is acknowledged and uplifted.

One custom involves welcoming the ancestors into the Sukkah alongside the guests in real life. Called “Welcoming the ushpizin” (Aramaic word for guests) this ceremony involves invoking and naming special ancient holy Biblical guests, traditionally all male, one for each day of the seven day festival. The Zohar (The mystical book of the Kabbalah) says: When you sit in the sukkah, ‘the shade of faithfulness,’ the Shekhina spreads Her wings over you and… Abraham, five other righteous ones, and King David, make their dwelling with you…Thus you should rejoice with a shining countenance and every day of the festival together with these guests who lodge with you…” (Zohar Emor, 103b)

These traditional male guests are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. Although in contemporary times, we welcome our Biblical matriarchs: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Each of these 7 men and women are associated with kabbalistic ideas of prophetic leadership and aspects of divinity.

Jews whose ancestry come from the Mediterranean and Spain often set aside a special chair for these sacred guests with holy books on them as well as send portions of food and/or charity to the poor as a way to share in the stake and hospitality of these holy guests.

Traditionally the spiritual guests are invited to join you in a meal in the Sukkah:

May it be Your will, Adonai my God and God of my ancestors, to send Your Holy Presence to dwell in our midst and to spread over us the Sukkah of Your peace. Encircle us with the majesty of Your pure and holy radiance. Give sufficient bread and water to all who are hungry and thirsty. Give us many days to grow old upon the earth, the holy earth, that we may serve You and revere You. Blessed by the Holy One forever – Amen, Amen.

On each night another guest is addressed in the company of the others. One way to Queer the Sukkah and to queer the invitation to the ancestors is to invite our Queer ancestors into the Sukkah. Perhaps there are people that were important in your life that shaped your coming out; that taught you to love and accept yourself. Or perhaps you might want to invite important figures from queer history and invoke their memory to be a sacred guests in your Sukkah.

Some Queer elders to consider inviting to your Sukkah to Queer it might be:

  • Masha P. Johnson, Leader of the Stonewall Rebellion
  • Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Authors and Lovers
  • Edie Windsor, Marriage Equality Warrior
  • Oscar Wilde, Author
  • Gladys Bently, Performer
  • Larry Kramer, Playwright and Activist
  • Bayard Rustin, Activist and Civil Rights Leader
  • Magnus Hirshfeld, Sexologist and Activist
  • Storme’ DeLaverie, Performer and Leader of Stonewall Rebellion
  • Gad Beck, Holocaust Survivor
  • Frida Kahlo, Painter
  • Leonard Bernstein, Composer and Conductor
  • Sylvia Rivera , Transgender Activist and Leader of Stonewall Rebellion
  • Adrienne Rich, Poet
  • Alivn Ailey, Choreographer and Dancer
  • Francisco X. Alarcon, Poet and Educator
  • Margret Chung, Surgeon
  • Harvey Milk, Politician
  • Sally Ride, Astronaut
  • Walt Whitman, Poet
  • James Baldwin, Author
  • Audre Lorde, Feminist Author

You may also consider inviting living LGBTQ Elders into your Sukkah.

Read more about this LGBTQ Ushpizin in Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells A Celebration of LGBTQ Jewish Life and Ritual (CCAR Press, 2020)

Leviathan—“The One Who Accompanies Us”

Prose Based on the Prophetic Readings for the First Day of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:1-21) and Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot (Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16); Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 74a-75a.

Rabbi Sonja K. PILZ, PhD

In circles over circles, at the bottom of the sea, lies the light contained in God’s greatest monster—a monstrum, the “bringer of bad news”—the wisdom that everything is dancing, eternally, a fragile dance in circles, preserving only vaguely the balance between life and death, male and female, then, here, and eventually…

In the beginning, the God Created, and Created, and Created, an endless game of up and down, dark and light, moist and dry, still and moving, fast and slow, big and small, until, one day, They saw that there was too much. There was too much noise, and too much stuff, and the world was about to dissolve into chaos again. So, the God learned to quieten Themselves, and carefully took some of Their Creations away, hid some, killed some, and made others forgotten. The world slowly found its way into differences and boundaries again; changes occurred haphazardly, but only occasionally, and over time, a strange new peace took its place in the midst of the wars.

Yet, in circles over circles, the God’s companion was roaming the center of the world, searching for its love, searching for its hatred, an endless search of the hidden yearning in the deepest dark, a unity by itself, and yet, incomplete…

God’s children learned from Them (or was it the other way round?) when they began to think in physics—1 or 0—, musical scales—major or minor—, possessions—mine or yours—, and attraction—want or not want—, but it seems like they had also learned Their greatest question—to fear or not to fear—and behind much too many of their actions was the wrongly presumed answer: fear.

And so, we began to tell each other our dreams. First, only our nightmares. We described the monsters, the darkness, the low, the sad, the chaos, the female, the moist, and the small. Then, we began to share our fantasies: of the male, the high, the majestic, the “happy,” the big, the great, the dry, the light… we listened to each other with glowing faces, we dreamed of buckets of blood, the blood of our enemies, which we would devour, we would know no mercy, as mercy would not be necessary, and we would all be together, right there at the center, where blood, water, and diamonds meet.

With every circle of the story, we refined our fantasies, until, one day, we stumbled upon a newer truth: We would know nothing like that, ever. The world would not circle around us. Instead, it would be us who would dance. We are dancing with the sea monster, we are eating our loves, we are giving each other shelter, we will never get rid of our yearnings, we will live through both highs and lows, we will fear the darkness and yet use it to make love, we will sing in minor, we will get wet and get cold, we will heat up the planet, we will never be prepared for the next eruption, we will become the monster… and then, when chaos takes over, we will remember how to love.

In the end, we might even find the God: down there, in the darkest waters, smiling into the heavens; an endlessly repetitive, blue, and loving reflection.

In partnership with Keshet

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ community.