Libenu: The Heart of Sukkot
Chag sameach! As Libenu’s dedicated staff, volunteers, clients, and families immerse themselves in the traditions of Sukkot, I would like to share a few thoughts that have inspired me with regard to the way the two – Libenu and Sukkot – are connected.
First, the sukkah is a temporary dwelling that represents the Jewish people’s forty years of wandering through the desert after being brought out of slavery in Egypt. Imagine what a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear that must have been. The Jewish people knew that Moshe and Hashem would bring them to the Promised Land, but when? What would that land be like? Would it meet their needs, fulfill their hopes and yearnings?
It brings to mind the feelings of many parents of emerging adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities have today, and their concerns for the future. After their years of wandering through complicated educational and social systems, they too are looking for a permanent home – a promised land – for their sons and daughters. Libenu is the answer to their anxiety and uncertainty, the fulfillment of their belief that there is a destination, and that it will be good. Fourteen years ago, before Libenu, the outlook for Jewish young adults with disabilities was bleak, like a desert landscape. Parents felt despair as they searched long for homes and services that either did not exist or did not address all of their children’s needs, and what little was available lacked Jewish context and content.
Fortunately, we have all come a long way, with the community as our setting and our support. Libenu has established permanent kosher, Jewish homes with person-centered care to meet our clients’ unique needs, created robust after-school and overnight respite care so that families of younger children and teens with disabilities can have a much-needed break from the constant demands of caregiving, and more – thereby turning uncertainty into peace of mind, and offering hope for the future.
The lulav and etrog also hold a unique relevance to Libenu, as they represent the essence of inclusion. Kabbalah matches each of the four species with a part of the body: the heart (etrog), the backbone (palm frond), the eyes (myrtle), and the lips (willow). Libenu means “our heart,” which represents our heartfelt commitment to each and every person we serve; the centrality of establishing homes within the heart of the community; our emphasis on keeping adult children within reach of their family’s hearts – even as they live apart; and the community’s full embrace of Libenu.
Other Sages point to the four species’ differing combinations of taste and scent, which I see as a beautiful confluence of different abilities. Each species brings its unique beauty and quality to the unity of the lulav and etrog, just as each individual brings his or her unique talents and strengths to the community. In order to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav and etrog, the four species must be held close together, just as Libenu and our community strive to include everyone and to create a true sense of belonging.
Sukkot is also the Jewish harvest festival, and we – Libenu and all of its supporters – have much reason to celebrate the fruits of our labor now. After sowing and tending to the earliest seeds of this organization, Libenu’s founders opened our first home at this time of year, after the holidays, in 2011. Since then, with the hard work of dedicated staff and resounding community support, Libenu has grown from a grassroots organization to a robust, nationally acclaimed Jewish nonprofit recognized for excellence and expertise.
As we approach Shemini Atzeret, we can appreciate a moment of standing still to survey our achievements and feel the closeness of our community in light of our progress. As we joyously celebrate Simchat Torah – when we reach the end of the Torah and immediately start again – we affirm that as we complete one cycle, we reinvest ourselves in our critical work, deepening our commitment, expanding our reach, and improving constantly.
With these thoughts of permanence, proximity, belonging, and commitment, I wish you and yours a chag sameach,
Shana Erenberg, PhD