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Yesterday, bathed by the surprisingly warm October sunshine, four of us enjoyed a socially distanced Lunch and Lunch in the Sukkah. I was astonished that our fragile Sukkah had survived unscathed through the winds and relentless rain of the past days. Undoubtedly, this year’s necessary ‘Back to Basics’ design, with simple schach (just bamboo rolls for roof, no branches, no tarpaulin), its partial walls open to the elements, and beautiful bunches of garden flowers tied with humble string to the wooden posts, undoubtedly all of this contributed to our Sukkah’s resilience and durability. Here is a powerful reminder to us all, heightened in these Covid times, that simplicity can bring great strength, that stripping back to basics can liberate us to appreciate with new eyes the essentials of life and all its beauty.

Sukkot, our Autumn Harvest celebration, the Festival when we remember the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years, refugees without a home, journeying to the Promised Land, is referred to in the Torah as zman simchateinu, the time of our happiness. The Hebrew word for joy, simchah, is related to another Hebrew word, tzmichah, to sprout, spring up or grow. The hardship and challenges of the Israelites’ wanderings prepared them for the new life that awaited them – a painful but ultimately rewarding experience of growth. Through the midst of their greatest challenges the Children of Israel experienced an unparalleled nearness to God – God’s presence accompanying them by night in a pillar of fire, and by day in clouds of glory. Our Sukkah itself is a reminder of those wilderness clouds of glory.

This Shabbat we will be celebrating SImchat Torah, our rejoicing in the Torah, when we complete the weekly readings of the year and immediately begin again, marking our renewed commitment to Jewish life, learning and engagement with Torah and Jewish values.

Our SWESRS community, like the fragile Sukkah and like the Israelites in the wilderness, has withstood the difficulties and challenges since March. We too, alongside the real pain that so many continue to suffer in so many different ways, have experienced growth – not only in the numbers participating in Shabbat and Festival services, but in our capacity for kindness and compassion, for stepping up to contribute in a range of ways to the nourishing and sustaining of our community.

To celebrate this remarkable contribution, this Simchat Torah we will be celebrating, not individual Chatanim and Kallot, but four different groups of SWESRS volunteers – volunteers who have given their time, energy and commitment to the Phone Tree and Covid emergency, to the Choir, to the Care Team and to Council. Our growth – tzmichah - is our joy - simchah. Please do join us this Shabbat morning to celebrate and to rejoice together.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Lisa