My kids love boardwalks and bog bridges in the woods. For the younger ones, and particularly our first grader, there’s nothing like turning a corner, seeing a brook or bog crossing, and bounding over it.

And while this year keeps on delivering calamities, both micro and macro, on a daily basis, if I could say one positive thing about 2020 AC (After COVID-19), it’s that we have been hitting the hiking trails hard, to the tune of 320-plus miles on foot since mid-March. Being outside (and getting a dog…and Netflix) has been the best way to cope with this challenging year.

For our brood, the delight of racing across a walkway deep in the woods is probably not unique, for throughout Jewish history, we have been crossers of things. To be even more specific, we are foot-crossers of things, for we were not a seafaring nation like the Philistines or Phoenicians, instead finding solace and protection on the mountain ridges of Judaea and Samaria. Our existential crossing DNA is, in fact, reflected in the ancient name for our people (ivrim, crossers), which derives from the verb la’avor (to cross), and also gave us the name of our language (ivrit, the language of the crossers of things and places).

After all, Abram crossed the Fertile Crescent from Ur to Haran, and then crossed the Rift Valley on his way to Canaan. Jacob and his clan crossed Sinai to escape famine, and several hundred years later Moses and the Children of Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds (or the Great Bitter Lake, but who’s keeping track) and Sinai again on the way back to their ancestral homeland. Not to be missed, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River, which had turned backward to allow them to cross, as we sing about in Hallel and on Passover every year in Psalm 114.

Foot-crossers of things, indeed. 

Perhaps we are meant to be on foot, and outside, and Sukkot is the perfect time to be practicing both; fall is underway, the leaves are changing, squash recipes abound and Sukkot arrives tonight with the full moon. Sukkot, which honors both the fall harvest and our desert wanderings, is very much rooted in both our landed and landless history. The temporary structures we dwell in for the next eight days are a reminder of all of our people’s quality outdoor time—40 years in the wilderness, pilgrimages to Jerusalem and huts in the field in the evening after a hard day’s work.

It’s probably fair to say we are all feeling a sense of displacement right now—from normalcy, from tradition and from community. Moments that we are used to celebrating with others we now intentionally celebrate alone, but Sukkot will offer us a pathway to get some of that feeling back, an opportunity to have people over in our booths, yards and in the open air on a cool evening, perhaps even with a fire pit roaring and meals full of the colors and spices of fall, and chairs six feet apart.

So, here’s a vote for both outdoor dining this Sukkot, and also to claim some of our birthright by walking and crossing the trails and hills of early fall.

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