Sukkot is my favorite Jewish holiday. I like a good harvest bounty; I like that I can share meals with friends not in my kitchen; I like that I can eat while meditating on stars peeking through a canopy of colorful paper chains, laquered gourds, and chili pepper lights (which always adorned my family’s sukkah). In preparation for Sukkot (just a few hours away!), I've been thinking about other, more provocative, sukkah decor that might be inside the sukkot in which I eat.
Jewish Women Watching (JWW), the anonymous activist collective that aims to rouse the public to challenge discriminatory practices in the American Jewish community, has infused Sukkot with something of a dare. They’ve introduced a Sukkot campaign called “Embrace the Treyf” that strikes me as both appropriately insightful and incite-full. Writers for Jewschool, Jewess, and JSpot have all been musing about JWW’s somewhat inflammatory “Embrace the Treyf” postcards, each of which juxtaposes a social justice issue considered “kosher” in the organized Jewish community with one that is considered “treyf.” One postcard reads:
“Kosher: Fighting Anti-Semitism | Treyf: Fighting racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. EMBRACE THE TREYF.”
Other cards juxtapose confronting human rights abuses against Darfurians with confronting human rights abuses against Palestinians; building houses in New Orleans on Spring Break with building a movement against gentrification in our own cities. You can probably guess which of these actions were assigned to the Kosher category and which were assigned to Treyf.
I like this campaign. I like that these juxtapositions present a sharp challenge to the organized Jewish community—boldly, cleverly, and succinctly—and boost the harvest festival with a charge to act. I like that they spark conversation; that they make people—myself included—feel a bit uncomfortable and call our own commitments into question. And I’m in full agreement that the Jewish establishment could use some shaking up in addition to a shift in priorities. But the Kosher-Treyf dichotomy doesn’t sit so well with me. For one thing, I do know many Jews who are more heavily invested in JWW’s “Treyf” causes than their “Kosher” causes, and who do, in fact, consider themselves belonging to the Jewish community. I don’t know if they’d appreciate their efforts reduced to “Treyf” even if it’s “embraced.” Though I understand how this “Treyfness” is framed and to whom it’s directed, I don’t actually know how constructive it is, or how compelled Jewish leaders will be to commit themselves to “Treyf” responsibilities. Might there be a more constructive, and perhaps less finger-pointing way of encouraging Jews to self-reflect and have a more inclusive social justice ethic, than what the Kosher-Treyf binary offers us? As Mik Moore wrote on JSpot: “let's embrace the treyf. And then, let’s kasher it.”