By Maxine Dovere
“Every year,” said the New York Board of Rabbis (NYBR) 63rd president, Gideon Shloush, “Jews leave their homes to sit in a fragile place—a reminder that although we all try to build secure structures where we feel safe, the reality is that our security is only an illusion of security….The sukkah reminds us that real security comes from G-d.”
As he raised his voice in prayer, the rabbi remembered those killed and injured in Las Vegas, praised the first responders and called for a prayer for peace.
When Rabbi Joseph “Joe” Potasnik, NYBR executive vice president, took the podium, he, as always, added his special humor: “What is the meaning of the sukkah? It’s the one time of the year when Jewish men pick up a hammer….” On a more serious note, the rabbi called the sukkah “a reminder that nothing is permanent.”
To be a proud Jew is the message of Sukkot, said Potasnik, citing two examples of which Jews in America can be proud: the Supreme Court’s recognition of Yom Kippur by not being in session; and the support lent to the Charlottesville Jewish community by local Christian communities, which formed a protective guard around the synagogue “to ensure the safety of every Jew.”
The NYBR honored Errol Louis, host of NY1’s Inside City Hall. In his introduction, Potasnik called him “a great political commentator.”
“As a political journalist,” responded Louis, “it’s fun and fascinating to sort out all the facts. We are in some tough times right now. A spirit of discontent is in the land.”
He cited activism on “the street,” the economic protest against the “financial street” by the Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter and other movements that cumulatively helped determine the outcome of the last election.
“There’s no shortage of things to protest about. Faith communities are leading the way…at a time of great difficulty for many in the city. There is a lot of need and not nearly enough money to go around….We have a lot of work to do,” Louis told the rabbis and other leaders present.
Focusing on New York State voting regulations, he called them “rules devised to keep people from participating…mostly designed to discourage people from voting, creating a system of voter suppression—at minimum, of voter discouragement.”
He proposed that we “amend our bloated state constitution, [one] full of anachronisms. A provision on the ballot asks if we should have a constitutional convention. Voting is a civil right calling for equality both in the voting booth and before the law….We’re all equal in the eyes of G-d.”
“Go back to the original tenet of civil rights—the right to vote and have the vote count equally. It’s a city that needs you, rabbis, more than ever before.”
Honoree Louis and NBC’s David Ushery, the program’s MC, each received tzedakah (charity) boxes presented by Rabbi Lester Bronstein, NYBR vice president.
Said Bronstein, “The spirit of generosity is the spirit that propels goodness in the world.”