[Newer York, 4YJ] Sukkot on a Spaceship

As the generation ship Dream of Spring settled into its long cruise, it was time to resume an ancient festival in a new setting.

If I'm going to explore a Jewish community in space, I feel like I need to give some real thought to how they would adapt the Jewish holy days. We're a stubborn people, and while it's not unknown for us to add new observances, it's rare that we let go old ones in the process. Sukkot is, in fact, right around the corner, and not a holiday I myself often observe, but it seemed like a good time to explore what it would mean in this environment, and also, to go back to the beginning of the journey that eventually led to Newer York's founding.

Timeline of Newer York

Dream of Spring, 4th Year of the Journey, 11-22 Tishrei

The morning after Yom Kippur, the Rebbe sat at the breakfast table with his family and said one word. "Sukkot."

His wife, Hannah, a rebbetzin of deep learning, subtle intelligence, great wit, and not quite as strong a caffeine addiction, was used to her learned husband's tendency toward single word utterances while the coffee was still catalyzing his neurons. In an hour, he would be the most eloquent person on the ship, ready for morning prayers and a day of meetings with fellow rabbis, community members, the Admiral, whomever. Most people believed him an endless font of words.

But right now, with only a sip of coffee past his lips and breakfast as yet untouched, the fact that he'd managed two syllables was itself a proof of G-d's miraculous power in the universe.

But Hannah knew her husband, and anyway, they had talked a bit about this, before. "Is in five days, yes. And the Cylinder is spun up, and crops were planted, and a harvest is in fact ready to come in. And we’d talked, in a general sense, about how we could and should revive Sukkot observance once we had a place to do it justice, after the Boost Phase. But we didn't really prepare this year, Chayim. The flu epidemic was kind of a distraction…"

His eyes had been on hers the entire time. This was how he had wooed her, so many years and now millions of miles ago--that ability to communicate as eloquently with his eyes as with his words. So she knew what he was thinking, what he would be able to say more explicitly later, when all he said, perhaps a bit more stubbornly, right now was, "Sukkot!"

That, as they say, was that.

"I'll see if I can speak with the Mayor after prayer this morning. We'll figure something out."

The Rebbe smiled, sipped his coffee, and said, "Todah, rabbanit." Two words, five syllables, and in Hebrew, no less. That, more than anything else, told Hannah how important this was to him.

"B'vakasha, dodi."

And so, perhaps three hours later, Hannah found herself in the Mayor's office, sipping from another cup of coffee, more a mark of hospitality accepted than a need for more caffeine.

The Mayor--Helena Morgan--was not merely new to her dignity, but the dignity itself was new to the ship. It had always been part of the plan, once the ship was done accelerating and the Cylinder spinning, to have the Community elect a civilian leader, to manage the day to day business of "ordinary" life. Not that this life was truly ordinary, yet, to any of them, except the handful of children already born since launch.

As such, the Mayor's position was still somewhat delicate. The Rebbe and Admiral both proclaimed often and loudly and publicly, that they believed in the principle of civilian government. In practice, however, the Community still largely looked to the two known quantities as the ship plunged outward into the unknown.

Hannah saw now a layer of wisdom in the Rebbe's thinking this morning. A ship-wide celebration of a festival like Sukkot, where most of the ship's population would be spending time together, would require consultation and involvement with the Mayor's Office, now. That, in turn, would help elevate the Mayor's profile. Of course, if the Mayor thought it was a terrible idea, that could backfire.

"Let me get this straight," she said. "You want to build traditional huts throughout the farms of the Inner Layer and have 90% of the ship's complement take several days out of their usual routine and live out in the fields?"

Hannah had to hand it to Mayor Morgan--she'd gotten it in one.


The Mayor thought about it a few minutes. Hannah gave her time. "Do you expect people to actually live in them? I know that's technically part of it, but I gotta tell you, I never did. My family didn't even always do the sukkah--it was kind of a, 'Oh! Hey, we forgot last year, let's do it this year!' thing."

Hannah nodded. "I get that. And I suspect a lot of our people, even the ones who are committed to the Chabad, may have never done it at all. Or maybe they visited the common one at their shul once or twice, but they've never done it themselves in their own home. Heck, a lot of the city folks wouldn't have been able to if they wanted to--just nowhere to do it, like all of us during the boost phase."

The Mayor nodded idly. She was clearly turning the whole thing over in her head. "You know...despite the short notice to try to come up with the materials to do it with...it might not be too crazy an idea. The Ag Deck has been opened for nine months now. We've got crops going, the air is...well, it's not always pretty, because farms smell like farms, but it's at least starting to smell like something that plants participated in and not a constant mechanical recycling. And most of the people haven't even visited, let alone worked the farms, yet--they'll all do a rotation but we're still getting started, but... They should see what's being achieved!"

"Exactly! And even if they only participate on the same basis they might have back home, completely casually...they'll still see the farms, stretching out for miles and all around the Cylinder. An achievement no-one in the Solar System believed in, we've accomplished, and we're only just beginning!"

The Mayor was grinning openly now, totally on-board with the plan. "Only one question?"

Hannah tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow to prompt her.

"Do we have enough lulavim and etrogim to go around?!"

And so it came to pass that, on the first evening of Sukkot, the entire complement of Dream of Spring--even the non-believers amongst the Crew--took some time to come up to the Ag Deck, somewhere near where the people in their residential block were gathering, and congregated in groups that focused each on a sukkah. For the more casually faithful, and the non-believers, it was little more than a block party with a bit of ceremony involved, but nobody really minded. A small skeleton crew monitored the command deck, but then were replaced at hourly intervals, so that nobody had to miss too much on the first night of this revived festival.

As predicted, for most, it was their first real experience on the Inner Deck. Some found it difficult, after so long living in the corridors of the outer decks, while others, especially those who had lived open-air back on Earth, rather than in domed communities, found the sweep of sky that was still more ground above their head disconcerting. Both, however, could comfortably look straight ahead, down the length of the cylinder, seeing the miles of land growing crops, forests, even some parks. Rivers were not yet engineered, but ponds were plentiful. They'd engineered as high a ratio of growing-things to artificial things as possible, as near a natural environment as possible. It would never be what Earth once was, but it wasn't that far from what Earth had been when they left it. Better, really, since few places on Earth could support so much growth any longer.

The effect was salutary on nearly everyone. Later, even some claustrophiles and agoraphobes admitted that they felt more at ease for their time on the deck--not so much being there, as what it represented. Sign-ups for voluntary rotations on the farms increased in the weeks after, and grumbling about the necessity of those rotations dropped away. People coming up just to stroll, to visit the parks that had been set up for that purpose, to smell fresher air, increased dramatically. The sense of unity of purpose was restored.

On the last day of the festival, as people began to disperse to return to their usual quarters, the Rebbe, Admiral, and Mayor stood at one particular site near the middle of the cylinder's length, in Blue sector, with their families around them.  This location had been chosen arbitrarily as the "chief" sukkah, although the leaders had all made some effort to make the rounds.

They were saying farewells and chatting with folks who came by on their way to the lifts, a kind of reverse reception-line .At one point, one of the other leading rabbis of the Ship Sanhedrin came to them, shaking hands--well, the male hands, anyway. When he came to the Rebbe, he said, "This was a triumph for you, Rebbe! A brilliant idea!"

The Rebbe smiled kindly enough, but said, "Oh, no, my friend. I'm afraid you're wrong. Oh, it was a triumph! But not mine. I had almost nothing to do with it, although naturally, I agreed it was an excellent idea! Rabbanit Hannah and the Mayor cooked most of this up between them!"

The old man looked uncomfortable at the thought of having to bestow the same praise upon two women. This was one of the oldtimers who clung to ideas that were outdated long before the ship departed, ideas he knew were likely to die with his generation if the Rebbe had his way.

The two women smiled just as kindly as the Rebbe. Neither attempted to collect a handshake, knowing it would be refused, awkwardly. They simply nodded as he briefly met their eyes, and muttered, "Rebbetzin, Mayor...a triumph!" After he left, they shared a look of satisfaction, knowing the little nebbish spoke better than he knew.

Later, when they were alone, the Rebbetzin looked her Chayim square in the eyes--this was how she had wooed him, too, after all–and said, "Nothing to do with it, huh?"

The Rebbe looked genuinely surprised. "Well, I didn't!"

Now she was genuinely a little cross. "Really? You didn't look at me all serious and exclaim, 'Sukkot!' at breakfast eleven days ago?!"

The Rebbe got a sly twinkle in his eye, and replied, "Did I? Must have been before coffee. I really don't remember!"

She considered her options at this point, and finally elected the simplest one. She kissed him, joyfully, meeting his twinkle with her own.