On Sukkot and Indigenous Peoples’ Day

This year Sukkot falls on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Each year the movement to recognize this day grows, as local governments are changing the observance of Columbus Day to tell a different narrative, one that honors the original keepers of this land and remembers the history of displacement and genocide that has marked the history of this country since the time white explorers from Europe arrived on these shores. The City of Olympia recognized the change in 2015.

On Sukkot, we too give homage to the land. Sukkot marks the fall harvest, and we decorate our sukkot (booths) with the symbols of natural growth and bounty. And we pick up the 4 Species—citron, palm, myrtle and willow—and wave them around in recognition of our connection to the land and the divine presence which surrounds us always.

And on Sukkot, we also recognize displacement: the sukkot (booths) mark the biblical story of the wanderings of the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. However, it is important to note the displacements are different. Sukkot is about remembering liberation and the journey to freedom, while Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about remembering removal, settlement and colonization.

With the confluence of these two observances, we remember that as we Jews openly celebrate our holidays and the religious liberty granted to us here to do so, we are doing so on land that was taken and appropriated by others. Many of us did not come to the United States as settlers in the manner of Columbus. This country has for generations of Jews a place of opportunity and refuge, as we Jews fled hatred and violence and our own status as victims of appropriation and genocide. We can both feel grateful for this, and recognize the difficult history that we have inherited from which we benefit.

Just as on Passover, when we remove wine from our glass to mark the plagues and the suffering of Egypt, noting that our liberation came at the expense of others, we too must note that our contemporary liberation has also come at the expense of others. Jewish history is a continuous narrative of migration and displacement. We would do well to learn and honor that past, while at the same time committing to work for a better and more just future for all peoples.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest I’ve been blessed to become more aware of local Native history and work in collaboration with indigenous communities in a variety of ways. I acknowledge that my sukkah stands on the ancestral land of the Steh-Chass people of the Squaxin Island Tribe, and I recognize the associated tribes of this area, the Medicine Creek Treaty, and the Coast Salish peoples. I acknowledge that since my ancestors arrived at Ellis Island in the 1910s, my story has been bound up in the story of the indigenous people of this land.

Chag sameach.

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