Succot at its finest!

It’s Sukkafest, a 10 day festival (Sukkot is 7 days, but we are extending!!) of the hut where hundreds will flow through the farm to celebrate the harvest and nature. Like sardines in a can a few hundred people graced the Sukkah down by the lake to bring in the festivities. Bottles of wine on every table, trays of challot everywhere and the feeling of community filled the room. You could barely move from your seat once you decided where the most convenient place to sit was for prime access to the buffet. Once we all gathered in our permanent dwelling, kiddush began. A leader would call out, “All streams,” and the crowd would respond by shouting, “One source!” with an enthusiasm for pluralism I have never seen in a Jewish community before. We then heard 4 different but ever so similar takes on the kiddush in the spirit of this enthused pluralism, each one longer than the one before and each different enough to count as different but similar enough to almost be the same. I sat down as the back of my shoulders rubbed against the person behind me and I hear them say to the person next to them, “Hi nice to meet you, Oh! I think we made Matzah together one time.” Oh my days, does it get more Jewish than that? But actually does it? I thought that would be the highlight of my night until a few hours later standing by the keg (yes they actually drink from a keg here, it’s not just a gag from the movies) I hear someone say, “Nice to see a Melbourne Demons beanie amongst all these Americans.” The accent! It was like I had heard Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 for the first time, could it be? Another Aussie here on Isabella Freedman?

A Rabbinic student living in New York had found his way to Sukkafest and he was Australian! After the initial excitement and the mandatory game of Jewish geography, where we obviously knew all the same people, we got into a great discussion about our Sydney community back home. We compared and analysed all the different experiences we have had while in the US, some strange, some so tragically different it could never work back home, and some a shining light not be ignored. Actual pluralism was one of those ideas. Here at Sukkafest you can have the Hareidi Mashgiach, the female reform rabbi and the secular renewalist all singing kiddush together, the purist example of Abraham’s tent I have ever seen. If someone was to walk through Sukkafest they may be tempted to think that this is just confused Judaism where no one really knows what is going on but that could not be further from the truth.

Everyone who comes here knows the premise of which they came, to celebrate Sukkot. In one room there is a modern orthodox prayer service where men and woman are separated and in the room next door is a renewalist minchah which fundamentally disagrees with the practices of the other. They make each other uncomfortable and that is exactly what is at the centre of an authentic pluralist environment, it isn’t about catering to the highest common denominator or making decisions based on who will be more offended, it is about setting up the premise that we are all going to be a bit uncomfortable but we are choosing to put a higher purpose at the centre rather than who is right and who is wrong. That higher purpose being community.

It sounds so simple and that is probably because it is. Now me and the Aussie Rabbinic student agreed that we do have elements of a pluralist community in Sydney but that we focus too much on the “kevah” (structure) and not the “kavannah” (intention). That we haven’t yet understood that true pluralism is a mindset and attitude to being uncomfortable for the sake of something bigger and not a structure to offend the least amount of people.

This week Jewish people all around the world will be reading from the Book of Kohelet, a contradictory piece of philosophy where it is not clear whether he is a man of faith or a staunch atheist. Different people will have different opinions and outcomes of his words depending on their own outlook on life. He says over and over again, “There is nothing new under the sun,” that is to say that nothing is of consequence and we should simply just be or that we are at the will of God and we should not try to control the outcome. So many different opinions stem from this book and its message but we all still read it nonetheless, it makes us uncomfortable but we will still read, learn and debate it with one another. Kohelet and its meaning has never spoken truer to me than on this Sukkot having this experience.

This Sukkot I am experiencing my first authentic pluralist environment and it fills me with hope that the farm we are creating will hold truth and uncomfortable moments for all involved but that at the centre of it will be food, sustainability, tradition and community. I hope that all who come through the gates of Adamama in the future for meals, workshops or tours will leave with a feeling of, this is for everyone and that there is something new under the sun.

As it gets colder I will continue to wear my Demons beanie, to keep my head warm, show pride in a painfully crappy football team and because you never know who may stop you for a conversation.

Still on the repentance train? Check this out
Concerned about the climate, read this blog
Learn what it means to schlepp here
Catch the Part 3 by heading here
Did you see Part 2? If not click here
What about Part 1? No, check it out here