Sukkot reminds us that all lives matter


Sukkot has become my favorite holiday. We actually didn’t have a sukkah in my boyhood. But when my kids were young, we took the old good-wood storm doors and windows from the cellar of our house and made a lean-to out of them. Our daughters painted them bright autumn colors and voila – we had a sukkah! I teach an elective Bible class at RISD, and my architecture students love to accept the odd requirements for a  presentation, based on their studio major, of a roofless tent with a lot of doors to receive both ghosts and guests.

But I have decided that our little summer retreat in Narragansett can fill the bill for us this Sukkot: the windows don’t close properly, the gutters don’t work, and we dine on the screened-in porch, breakfast at dawn, lunch, and then dinner under the moon and stars. 

Just this past summer, blue jays nested in front, a wren in back, and a family of hummingbirds buzzed just beyond the kitchen window where I wash and rinse the dishes. All these birds rather resent my presence. The wren squawked if I set foot anywhere near her nest, and the jays chirped with ire and irritation. As for those ruby-throats, they actually liked the sound of the running faucet – but not the sight of me! They would hover with wings outstretched and red chest armor challenging me aggressively, but what a marvelous sight! A charming chore for me all summer long and even into the fall.

At our butterfly bush, I saw monarchs and a large black species and a gorgeous golden swallowtail cousin of the monarch, but they took off if they spotted me, a mere tourist in their world.

Back to Sukkot: As I interpret the holy day, it is a reminder not only of the fragility of human life but also a sort of sermon on the democracy of all the denizens of Genesis, of Eden, of the design and destiny we all share.  

I want to change “Black Lives Matter” into “Lives Matter.”  That’s what Sukkot spells out for me. Get out of the way, get moving through space and time, and lift your eyes to the skies!  As for those ghosts, or geists, or ancestral spirits in the sukkah, well, my walls are decorated in a clutter of memoirs from paintings done by family, friends and former students, and no table without souvenirs comes under my gaze.   

Now, I have to include here my l’chaim to my favorite fable writer – Felix Salten, nee Saltzmann, the author, of course, of “Bambi.” I researched his text about bunnies, titled “Fifteen Rabbits.” I enjoyed every page, paragraph, chapter, and sketch, and it made me think of Sukkot. On the flyleaf it says, “If you would keep humans from becoming as animals, strive ever to see animals as human.” It’s a major moral theme of our time, and, to me, it has roots in our Sukkot!

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.