Sukkot as a Moment of Service

By Leah Nussbaum

A few weeks ago I facilitated a dinner at Hillel at Temple University, one in a series of conversations about hunger during the high holidays. The students set up dinner in a beautifully decorated Sukkah, as a temporary home of welcoming in the Jewish tradition, and invited me to come to facilitate the discussion about hunger.

To me, Sukkot is the perfect time of the year to discuss hunger and homelessness. We remember on Sukkot a time when our ancestors had to live in temporary huts after leaving Egypt. Being commanded to have dinner in the sukkah reminds us of not only those in the past who are facing hunger, but those who are facing hunger and homelessness, or being forced to live in temporary housing today. The sukkah hut is temporary, where we eat dinner during for several nights during the holiday, but not everyone has the privilege to take down their sukkah and return home.

I, along with the students at the dinner, discussed how we are able to leave to go home, while there are others out there who don’t have permanent housing. We began our discussion with facts about hunger and how food stamps are a means of survival for some. We discussed how much food we waste in our country and city and as individuals and how we can do better. We read and listened to the stories of those who face food insecurity. They are the stories like those of people in our own neighborhood in Philadelphia, where every year 12,000 people access shelter, and at any given point, there is an average of 650 people living on the streets.

Together we did not just focus on what we have to eat, or what we’re going to have for dinner, but what is lacking in our own community and some of the barriers to equitable food access in our city, our country, and our world today. We discussed ways that we can help, whether that is signing to keep SNAP strong, donating money, talking about the issues in with our friends, or volunteering.

The week after, several of the students and I volunteered at the Open Kitchen Sculpture Garden, an outdoor space which welcomes anyone to come cook food and be part of the neighborhood together.

One student compared Open Kitchen to a sukkah, which has its doors open for people to come, cook, find community, and eat the foods of the fall harvest together. Our conversations helped us celebrate Sukkot in a new and meaningful way with conversations about hunger and service, and inspired us all to take the next steps to better our world, our homes, and our community in addressing food insecurity and hunger through volunteering.


Current Philadelphia Repair the World fellow, Leah Nussbaum loves sharing stories about fellow life and planning great things for Sukkot and other holidays.