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A Shelter of Belonging: How the Sukkah Can Connect Us to Each Other

October 1, 2017 | by Debbie Gutfreund

Open to the stars, we are able to see beyond the walls that divide.

For many years I believed self-actualization was my ultimate goal. Even after my wedding, I held onto this core belief. I was there to help my husband accomplish his goals, and he was there to help me move towards mine. But somewhere along the way, I’ve come to realize that true joy and beauty can only come into our lives when we transcend ourselves. When we belong to a marriage, to a family, to a community. And that the ultimate goal is actually to blur the limits of self so that we are not solitary beings lost on our own lonely roads.

The sukkah epitomizes this idea of the beauty of belonging. We leave behind the distractions and walls of our homes that separate us from each other. We gather in a shelter that is open enough to the world that we can see the stars. And in our gatherings around the table in sukkahs everywhere we realize that none of us is truly alone. We are each a unique, crucial part of the Jewish nation. We are each inextricably connected to God who holds us all within His shelter under the star-filled sky. We need Him. We need each other. And paradoxically, it is only when we recognize this power of belonging, that we can actualize the depth of the light within us.

In Brene Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness, she explores this power of belonging and why we all need to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Here are five ideas that can help us all along the path to leaving behind the walls that divide us and moving towards a shelter of belonging.

1. We all need a family and a community. We need to be able to both give and receive from others every day. “We are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong,” Brown writes. “When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

2. Belonging means having the courage to express our unique perspectives. Saying what we mean even when it’s not popular. Seeking to understand and be understood without attacking or defending.

3. There is a divine spark within each of us that makes every single person worthy of belonging. When we believe that we are inherently unworthy, we isolate ourselves and forget that we are created in the image of God who loves each of us unconditionally. As Brene Brown states it: “Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

4. Being an authentic part of a family and a community requires us to let go of perfection. None of us is perfect. We all have weaknesses, and when we can accept that in ourselves we can begin to truly accept others. “Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

5. Belonging sometimes means just showing up when it feels safer to nurse our wounds in private, away from the eyes of the world. Being a part of something larger than ourselves takes courage. It isn’t always easy or comfortable, but it is ultimately what makes each of our stories able to become a part of the larger story of our nation and of our world. “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the power of our light,” writes Brene Brown.

Only when we are brave enough to share ourselves, will we be able to transcend ourselves. Only when we are brave enough to receive, will we be able to truly give. Only when we are brave enough to leave behind our own defenses, will we find shelter in each other. And only when we are brave enough to dwell in our sukkahs that are open to the stars, will we be able to see beyond the walls of our own homes.


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