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Sukkot and the Zen of Moving

I’ve lived in 37 homes in 53 years. The holiday perfectly captures my philosophy: All housing is temporary.

Marco Greenberg
October 04, 2017

Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. It may not feature spectacular meals or solemn rituals, but it has the sukkah, a temporary structure symbolizing impermanence and reminding me of something I truly love to do: moving.

For most people, moving is a cause of distress, on par with public speaking or visits to the dentist. For me, it’s a lifelong habit. From Hollywood Hills to Baja, Mexico to Aspen to DC to Jerusalem to Boston to New York, I’ve moved 37 times in my life, an average of one relocation every 18 months. I wasn’t a military brat. I wasn’t chasing better jobs. I moved, at least as an adult, because I understood something important about life, something that Sukkot tries to tell us each and every year: Life, like the holiday, is all about roaming around, trying to find your place, and even when you think you’ve finally arrived, you should always remember that no home is forever and all housing is temporary.

It may sound bleak, but, for millennia, this logic was the very essence of Jewish history. As comfortable as we might’ve been in Bonn or Baghdad, our liturgy commanded us to aspire to rejoice next year in Jerusalem. Our dwelling might’ve been in the west, but our heart and our home was always fixed in the east. And no matter how comfortable we got wherever we happened to live, for one week out of the year we were commanded to leave our beds and sleep outside, under the canopy of the skhakh, and remember the miracles that had graced us.

Leviticus is pretty clear about this point. “You shall live in booths seven days,” it reads. “All citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

I’m hardly a pious Jew, but the passage resonates deeply. Rather than reject the spirit of my hippie parents, cool cats from southern California for whom a permanent address was a life sentence, I chose to honor it by doing as they did when I was young and pack up my home every other year for one more move. To my parents, this constant motion meant the freedom to experience all that life had to offer and the license to dedicate themselves to their passions and their creative pursuits. They knew that being rooted was overrated, and saw each new address as an invitation to learn a new lesson about life.

I do, too. In Malibu, I learned about wealth and privilege, and how both set your mind at ease but weighed heavily on your guilt-ridden conscience. In Mexico, I learned that there was more to the world than my homeland, and that other cultures had other outlooks and other insights worth sharing. And on an army base in Tel Aviv I made friends for life, cherishing their wisdom and support even long after I packed my military-issued duffle bag and shuffled off to Manhattan.

I never would’ve enjoyed any of these opportunities had I stayed put. I’ve over analyzed, pathologized, and prematurely declared this is finally the last stop, but I never would’ve enjoyed simply settling down. Like the Israelites, I see home as portable, transient, and largely symbolic, more of a state of mind than a fixed location. And every sukkot, I’m reminded that I’m not alone: It’s how our people always felt.

This year, the celebration will be especially poignant. My wife and I just moved last week, wandering nine blocks southward on Riverside Boulevard. Our new building started building a fancy sukkah in its yard, a rarity for Manhattan. Amen to that: Nothing would make me happier than to put off unpacking for a few hours and step outside into an elaborate reminder that moving is good for your soul.

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