Rabbi Polsky's Reflections on Water Justice and Sukkot

This past week we celebrated the festival of Sukkot. During Sukkot, Jews traditionally sit in huts called Sukkot and shake four species (the frond of a palm tree, citron, myrtle, and willow) as part of their religious services. 

One of the major themes of the holiday is water.

In biblical times, Sukkot celebrated the fall harvest (Exodus 34:22) For an agricultural society, livelihood was very much dependent on rain. Abundant rain would create prosperity, while drought would lead to poverty and famine. 

In the days of the Temple, water was central to the ritual. Over Sukkot, the priests would offer a libation of water on the altar (Mishnah Sukkot 4:9). 

In the thought of the rabbinic sages, Sukkot is also the time when the world is judged regarding water (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2). 

The centrality of water to Sukkot enables us to appreciate how much of our daily lives revolve around water. More importantly, we are more likely to be judged favorably regarding water if we ensure that everyone has access to it.

Unfortunately, the city of Detroit prevents many people from accessing water when they cannot afford exorbitant water bills. Between 2013 and 2020 DWSD shut off water at more than 140,000 homes.

Shut-offs supposedly stopped in Detroit with the onset of COVID.  Mayor Duggan has extended that moratorium on shutoffs to the end of 2022. He said he would have a committee look into a permanent moratorium after that, though no such committee has been set-up. Despite these claims, coalition partners have informed us that these shutoffs are still taking place. A People's Water Board Coalition partner claims shutoffs are still taking place.

Many of those with access to water have high levels of lead in their pipes, which have yet to be replaced by the city. While filters may help, the city has yet to install them for those affected. This means that many Detroiters--disproportionately People of Color--are denied safe access to the basic necessities of water for cooking and drinking. 

Together with the People’s Water Board Coalition, DJJ is fighting to ensure that no one is denied something that is so essential to peoples’ lives. The best way to celebrate a holiday focused on water access is to fight to ensure that all who want can have it.



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