Inside Outside is a fascinating book written by Herman Wouk, in which the American Jewish experience in the early part of twentieth century is described. Judaism was practiced at home and in the synagogue, but at school, work and play Jews took pains to hide their religion. Their reticence was fueled by concern of what their non-Jewish neighbors might think. Would public demonstrations of their pride in their identity, traditions and beliefs fuel anti-Semitic sentiment? Rather than risk a negative result, North American Jews largely opted for a private religious posture.

Identity Erosion

The problem with hiding our faith is that we soon come to sense that something might be wrong with it. The original immigrants, who hid it for what seemed to them at the time as legitimate reasons, maintained a passionate if private relationship with G‑d. Their children, however, who were raised to think and behave like non-Jews on the street and confine their Judaism to the privacy of their homes, , came to identify with and think like the non-Jew and regard their Judaism as a dirty little secret. The views of the emerging generation were formed more by prevailing political atmospheres than their parents' old world opinions. In time they almost completely shed their home bred religious perspectives in favor of the modern and more popular perspectives of their peers.

The first sacrifice was religious practice. Feeling that Shabbat and kosher would form a barrier against their acceptance into modern society, these practices were the first to go. But it didn't stop there; slowly they also abandoned their faith. With time their Jewish pride eroded and, soon after, their identity. It reached a point that Jews were afraid to stand up for their fellow Jews. Jews were on the front line of the Vietnam War protests and the first to march in support of civil rights for blacks. But when it came to the plight of their brethren in Europe during the Holocaust, Jewish religious rights in America, or the existential rights of Jews in their own homeland, the silence of American Jews was deafening. This was a silence of fear: fear of rocking the boat. Fear of awakening the ugly specter of anti-Semitism in America.

Standing Tall at the UN

It was a breath of fresh air when Mr. Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, recently spoke from the United Nations rostrum with passion and eloquence in defense of Jewish rights. He spoke with pride in the very room that filled his predecessors with fear. His words were a clarion call for Jews who came away feeling that something that needed saying for a long time had just gotten off their chest.

I, for one, was not surprised when Netanyahu later recounted that his inspiration for the speech was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory. Twenty five years ago, when he was first appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, Netanyahu called upon the Rebbe. It was the night of Simchat Torah and the Rebbe was surrounded by thousands of Chassidim who awaited the commencement of the celebrations. The Rebbe talked to Netanyahu for forty minutes and communicated many messages. One message that resonated more than others was the need to light the candle of truth.

The Rebbe referred to the United Nations as an assembly room that spews lies and darkness, that propagates lies as if they were truth. When oft repeated, lies take on a veneer of legitimacy that makes one hesitate to counter them. The Rebbe enjoined Netanyahu to remember the nature of darkness: no matter how intense, darkness always recedes before light. Your mission, concluded the Rebbe, is to light a candle of truth at all times; even as you stand at the rostrum of the house of darkness, speak the truth and the lies shall fall away.

Jewish Pride

This advice fit with the Rebbe's general outlook. The Rebbe always counseled public displays of Jewish pride. The purpose of these displays was not merely to score political points or draw attention. It was to affirm our faith in our own minds. To display your faith in public requires absolute belief and commitment. Pushing back against intimidation and standing tall for Jewish pride was the Rebbe's antidote to the malaise that was eroding the integrity, observance and faith of American Jewry.

The Rebbe was determined to stop the bleeding. He took the initiative to bring Judaism to the malls and street corners of American Jewish communities. Finding a Chabadnik on a busy street distributing Jewish paraphernalia and inviting Jews to put on tefillin is no longer an odd scene. Jewish Mitzvah Mobile Homes (or as the Rebbe preferred to call them, "tanks" in the war against assimilation) are now a common spectacle on the wide boulevards of Jewish metropolises. Jews who were not practicing Judaism at home now have their Judaism delivered to them on the street. Finding the fortitude to hear the shofar on the street or wave a lulav (palm frond) on the train strengthens our Jewish core and allows our soul to blossom.

The Outdoor Festival

This approach is the focus of the festival of Sukkot. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of awe when Jews congregate indoors; the synagogues are full and the streets are empty. But as if to prevent us from thinking that Judaism is the domain of the synagogue and that there is no room for Jewish pride on the street, the Torah instructs us to follow the Days of Awe with Sukkot.

During this festival Jews walk the street with lulav in hand; we carry it with pride, rejoicing in the knowledge that we were granted a good new year. We move into outdoor huts that are erected especially for this occasion. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jews would march from the Temple to the Shiloah Pool where water was collected for their festive libations. The drawing of water was a joyous occasion marked with outdoor song, dance and intense merrymaking.

Sukkot is an outdoor holiday: a time to affirm our belief in G‑d and declare that we are not ashamed, that we are comfortable with our faith indoors and out. May this holiday bring great rejoicing. In its wake may we be strengthened in our faith and practice in the coming new year.