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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Sukkot has a special connection to rain. The Talmud (Rosh Hoshanah 16a) says that on Sukkot, we are judged for the rainfall we will receive in the coming year. On Shemini Atzeret, the final day of the holiday, we begin to say Mashiv Ha’Ruach u’morid Hagashem, in the Amidah prayer, invoking God as the One who brings rainfall, at the start of the wet season in the Land of Israel.

It can seem strange to be saying these words outside Israel, in climates where we are not so aware of the shift into a rainy season. In many regions it rains year round. Why do we connect ourselves to the climate rhythms of the Land of Israel thousands of miles away?

There are many places in the world today that do not have the luxury of being able to debate whether climate change is a mere theory or a proven fact. For Inuit Eskimos, subsistence farmers in Mali, or peasants in the Himalayas, climate change is not a scientific hypothesis but their everyday lived experience. They see their habitats disappearing, experience longer and more severe droughts and see with their own eyes how much the glaciers have receded.

To these groups we should now add inhabitants of the Land of Israel. In Israel people have always been acutely aware of rainfall. It is a necessity of life. Over each of the past five years rainfall in Israel has been significantly below average. In the past two years it was 30-35% below average, resulting in a severe and worsening water crisis. It is becoming clear that this is not a blip but a trend. It is a trend in line with climate change scientific predictions for the Middle East.

Sukkot is a holiday of trust in the seasons. We live outside in booths, in celebration of the fall harvest and in touch with the beauty of the natural world. The sukkah is a temporary dwelling, exposed to the elements. It is fragile—at any moment the natural world could turn on us and knock our it down. But this is also a source of joy. The very fragility of the Sukkah causes us to turn to God in gratitude for the embracing protection of the regular, natural order of things.

It is on Sukkot, as we leave our homes and put our trust the weather, that we are likely to see the effects of climate change around us. Are there plants growing in your neighborhood that you have never seen before? Did you get more rain than you expected, or none at all?  When you compliment the unseasonably warm weather, does it click in the back of your mind that perhaps it should have started to turn to fall now?

For most of our lives we are not sufficiently tuned in to our surroundings to notice these subtle changes.  Our solid suburban homes shield us from much awareness of the nuances of nature.  But on Sukkot, we may be able to notice the signs that are pointing to a changing planet and arouse ourselves to play our role in addressing the problem. ((with thanks to Rachel Kahn Troster for her formulation of this thought.)

In America the most of the urban and suburban Jewish community are not yet feeling the effects of climate change. Our brothers and sisters in Israel probably are. When we say Mashiv Haruach, we align our existence with their’s. We acknowledge the critical importance of rain for life there. We sensitize ourselves to the life-threatening consequences of upsetting the planet’s delicate climate balance. And we may be aroused to joy, love and action to help protect this fragile miracle.

Hag Sameakh!

Sign the Pledge: The Jewish Climate Campaign

Sign the Pledge: The Jewish Climate Campaign

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