Sukkat Shalom: October 4th, Harvesting Prayer & Action to Heal Our Wounded Mother Earth

Every once in a long while, different streams of time flow together in a way that seems uncanny—even miraculous.

Every once in a long while, different streams of time flow together in a way that seems uncanny—even miraculous.

That is happening this year as the flow of world history in regard to a major increase in commitment to face the climate crisis meets the flow of Jewish time in a Sabbatical Year of Shmita, “Release,” when Torah teaches that we must let the Earth rest from the kind of overwork that is bringing on the climate crisis.

As this Shmita year began, about 400,000 people took part in the People’s Climate March in New York City. As the Shmita year drew toward a close, Pope Francis issued his major Encyclical on the climate crisis and its roots in a profound social crisis of wealth, power, poverty, and inequality; the Shalom Center helped create the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, now signed by more than 400 rabbis; and major Muslim scholars from around the world issued the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change. We have not yet made the world-damaging Carbon Pharaohs actually let the earth rest, as the Shmita demands—but we have made the demand more widely public than in all of Abrahamic history.

And this fall, Sunday October 4th offers a remarkable multireligious sacred time to celebrate our Earth and take action to heal all her life-forms from the wounds of climate chaos.

That day is the seventh day of Sukkot, the Jewish Harvest Festival, when we build and eat in fragile huts with leafy, leaky roofs, open to the rains and winds of the Breath of Life and to the beauty of the world.

And that day is also the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who loved the poor and chose to leave behind his family’s wealth; who celebrated the sun and moon, trees and rivers; who in the midst of the Crusades traveled to Egypt to meet with the Sultan to seek peace between Islam and Christianity; and who has become the life-model for the first Pope to choose his name, Pope Francis, who named his earth-healing encyclical Laudato Si from a phrase in one of St. Francis’s prayers celebrating the Creator of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the life-forms around us.

For Jews, the seventh day of Sukkot has a unique ritual of seven processions with the Torah Scroll, chanting prayers for saving the Earth and human earthlings from drought, locusts, famine, exile. The prayers are called Hoshanot, “Please save!” and one of them ends, “Please save our planet, suspended in space!” (That was written centuries before anyone could actually see a photo of our lovely planet, suspended in space.) 

And on that day we beat willow branches on the earth. Since willows need large amounts of water, the drumming of their branches reminds us and YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, to keep pure and abundant the waters of our Earth.

This year, the day has even more urgency and fullness of meaning. The Torah (Deut. 31:12) calls on all Yisrael, the entire Godwrestling folk, and all who shared the life of the land with them, to ASSEMBLE!—HAK’HEYL!—during the Sukkot after a Sabbatical/Shmita Year.

The ancient Israelite king read aloud to this Assembly crucial passages of Torah protecting the Earth and the poor and forbidding him to amass great wealth and power. Together, these passages are the Torah of eco-social justice. (Today, perhaps these "kings" include our Corporate Carbon Pharaohs.)

So this coming Sukkot and its festival day of October 4th carries even more sacred energy this coming fall than in most years.

The Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calls for us on that day to assemble to face the truth of danger from the climate crisis and the simultaneous truth that our deepening knowledge of Earth's web of life could bring us possible transformation into a world of eco-social justice.

Christians, Muslims, and others could join with Jews in honoring Francis of Assisi through commitment to his vision.

And so October 4th could become the beginnings of a SEVEN-YEAR PLAN, looking toward the next Sabbatical/Shmita Year:

By the fall of 2021, what can we accomplish so that the Earth can breathe a restful sigh of spiritual and physical release, far closer to a full release from burning fossil fuels?

  • During the next six years, can our synagogues, churches, mosques, temples bring into being Solar Neighborhoods, where congregational members and their neighbors in many, many communities are getting their electric power from each other through a wind or solar micro-grid?
  • Can we, by then, wipe out epidemics of asthma in the low-income neighborhoods where coal plants now spew dust into the throats and lungs of the young – by closing the coal plants and turning to renewable energy?
  • Can nonviolent prayerful multireligious protests by 2021 transform today’s paralyzed Congress into a body that will pass a strong Carbon-Tax-and-Dividend law (as the religious communities helped Congress pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, 50 years ago)?
  • Can we put an end to the oil-bomb trains carrying explosive fracking-origin oil through Philadelphia and many other cities, hovering on the edge of derailments and explosions that could kill thousands? Can we end fracking?

These conversations and commitments—covenants!—are the ways we could make October 4th a day to hold both Joy and Change alive in us, a day to pray with our voices, our hearts, our hands, our legs.

On October 4th, the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia is drawing on this miraculous confluence in time, to bring us together to heal our wounded Mother Earth. We welcome all who see our historic crisis as a beckoning to sacred action.


Germantown Jewish Centre will be hosting Hoshanah Rabbah services in the morning, on October 4th, beginning at 8am (followed by kiddush in the Sukkah) and will be hosting a special multi-community event in the afternoon that day beginning at 1pm: Hoshi’a Na: Please Save Us! A Multifaith Teaching on Climate Change. Mark your calendars! More information coming soon.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D., founded (1983) and directs the Shalom Center. In 2014 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award as Human Rights Hero from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. In 2015 the Forward named him one of the “most inspiring” rabbis. His most recent book is Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness Across Millennia, co-authored with Rabbi Phyllis Berman (Jewish Lights, 2011). His most recent arrest was in an interfaith climate action at the White House before Passover & Palm Sunday, 2013. See also Waskow, “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in the Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics (Dorff and Crane, eds., Oxford Univ. Press, 2013).

Found in: Pursuing Justice, Sukkot

Tags: eco-friendly, sukkah, hoshana