On Fragility and Community

On Fragility and Community


A few years ago, a New York Times series asked different authors to answer the question “what does it mean to be human?” One of the most interesting responses I read was based on the idea that being human was to be mortal. It is the insecurity of life that makes us human beings, with all that it entails. This idea stuck with me – not the concept of what it would mean to become immortal, but how an awareness of our own fragility impacts how we think, feel, and act.

On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we consider our own fragility and remember those who passed away. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, brings this concept of fragility into more physical realms. As we build the sukkah, a temporary structure, and sit and eat in it exposed to the elements, we are forced to consider our place within the natural world. We are reminded that we cannot control all aspects of our environment but, rather, are part of the natural world.

At the same time, during Sukkot, we don’t enter this fragile space alone, but do so with family and friends in celebration and joy. In fact, many people symbolically invite historic ushpizin (Aramaic for guests) into their sukkot – figures from Jewish history who helped shape who we are today. Traditionally these have included Abraham and Moses, and more recently, Sarah, Esther, or even personal relatives who may have shaped our lives.

On Sukkot, I am reminded that being human, particularly as part of the Jewish community, is not just about personal fragility or mortality, but an opportunity to recall our historical ties to others as well as our need for community today. Being human means that we are part of something larger than ourselves, and the ties we have with other people in our past and in our present make us who we are.

And so, it feels fitting that just in time for Sukkot, Federation is kicking off our annual Match Month. We have an opportunity to use this moment – and our shared recognition of what we can accomplish as a community – to come together to make an even larger impact.

Throughout this celebration, all new and increased donations made to Federation before October 31st will be matched, dollar-for-dollar. Your gift and your impact during this important time will be doubled, helping to ensure that Jewish children, families, students, and seniors can safely live joyful and vibrant Jewish lives locally, in Israel, and around the world.

I hope you’ll join us by giving to help those who need it most, and who rely on us to ensure a vibrant Jewish future. If you’re able, please visit shalomdc.org/match-month to donate before the end of October.

Thank you for uplifting our Jewish community and each other.

Chag Sukkot Sameach (Happy Sukkot) and Shabbat Shalom,
Gil Preuss
CEO, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington