Amidst a week of perfect Succot weather, I have been reflecting on the temporal nature of Succot, and the many wholesome experiences that come from this unique time of year. Much of the modern philosophy surrounding the Succah links our move to small outdoor huts (aka Tabernacles) as a rejection of materialism. Perhaps this is a useful approach for some. However the Chag is not centered around denial of comfort and should not be misinterpreted as such. It is more the sense of simple, unobliterated and uncomplicated appreciation of our natural surrounds.
Jewish communities in the historic sense have been transient. Jewish families have fled tyranny, pursued opportunity, and generally relocated, generations at a time. Diaspora communities have their golden eras, and become only what their members provide for themselves.
I often wonder what it was like for the first Jewish residents of Western Australia. I marvel about the decisions that these people made, in an era that was devoid of technology and the convenience of modern transport. Their decision to come to Western Australia would not have been easily reversable. Having travelled for weeks by sea, these people would have arrived to Fremantle, and been struck be searing heat, and the need to establish their commercial enterprise. Some would take a trek of some days, if not weeks, by horse and wagon to the Goldfields region. When they arrived they would find nothing but untamed land, and a need for self sufficiency. Their Succot would not have consisted of an online order to Succahmart, or several treks to Bunnings amidst complaints of poor customer service.
I sense that more and more, the Perth Jewish community is succumbing to “convenience Judaism”. Our mitzvot have become transactional, and we are being provided with all the comforts of Jewish living with great ease. It’s no great shame to have it easy, but were we were in a situation that did not provide a consumer driven approach to Jewish living, would we know how to fend for ourselves? How many of us are sufficiently educated to shecht and kasher our own chicken if the need was there? Could we make an eruv for ourself to support Shabbat observance in a remote location? Can we grind wheat and bake matzah, craft a shofar, perform tahara, or do any number of mitzvot if the situation required?
The questions are not just academic. When we go to collect our Arba Minim, we need very little halachic knowledge, as there is a trust and reliance on what is provided to us. Similarly, as with all the other mitzvot, we only need to stop and learn when we are sourcing for ourselves. If there is no suffaik involved, we tend to bypass learning the intricate details of the mitzvah.
About two thirds of the mitzvot in the Talmud concern the seder avodah of the Beit Hamikdash. We are reminded of the need to continually learn this so that when the day of practical application arrives, may it be soon, we have the ability to know what is required of us. So too with all our other mitzvot.
It is an absolute luxury that the Perth Jewish community has grown to such an extent that all the facilities for good Jewish living are available to us, and to an amazing level of quality. Each year you can find more and more Jewish homes in Perth with a Succah in the garden. There are possibly up to several hundred homes with a Succah in our City. Certainly Bnei Akiva was kept very busy with the delivery of schach.
When you are immersed within something, sometimes its hard to get a true perspective of your surrounds. We sit inside the Succah with our whole body, with the Mitzvah all around us. However you can only see the walls of your own abode and not beyond. However in a larger sense, the Jewish community of Perth continues to grow. New families continue to arrive. New facilities continue to be built. On the Maccabi Oval you can now see people all day at a kosher pizzeria, with a small Succah onsite. A new gym is under construction. Plans for other development within the community continue to be mooted. The Yeshiva program continues to grow.
The Jewish community of Perth has come a long way since the first settlers arrived. The question now is, where is it going to go from here? Is this the golden era that will one day be left behind as our population diminishes? Or is this the platform for sustainable growth of Jewish life that is desperately being sought? The answer to these questions depend not so much on the physical facilities and the “conveniences” of being Jewish. Rather these rest with the attitudes, drive and energy of the people who are currently benefactors of these facilities. We risk complacency if we simply take all we have for granted, and expect everything to be provided to us. So we need to constantly learn and understand about why Jewish community life is structured with its complex halachic intricacies, and to continue to transmit the knowledge requried to preserve the nature of our Jewish tradition.
We have much to be thankful for. Shifting outside the walls of our home for just a few days is a fantastic reminder of those most basic and important matters that concern us not only personally, but also communally. We are currently fortunate not to have to go without. However every aspect of Jewish physicality is ultimately temporal, inclusive of our institutional communal structures. Only we have the power to sustain and advance the Jewish community identity that we see around us, and immerse ourselves within.