Members of Jews For Racial and Economic Justice celebrated the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in Sunset Park on Wednesday night with a special dinner offering free clothing and a meal as a way to welcome the city’s newest residents.
Families living in the nearby migrant and refugee shelter joined politicians and community members at the nabe’s namesake park, where they built a colorful sukkah decorated with lights and painted signs saying, “Tax the Rich, House the People” and “Welcome Honored Guests.”
The sukkah is an integral part of the week-long Sukkot holiday, which kicked off last Friday and concludes Oct. 6, when Jewish people replicate the huts their ancestors dwelled in amidst their exodus from Egypt.
As the city moves to suspend the longstanding right-to-shelter mandate due to the influx of migrants and asylum seekers to New York City, Rabbi Miriam Grossman of Kolot Chayeinu called on elected leaders to keep the law in place and even to expand it, saying Sukkot can not be celebrated unless “we are fully welcoming all who seek shelter and resources.”
“Every single person in this city deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” Grossman said. “As migrants continue to arrive, a handful of loud voices have resorted to spreading fear and lies, even calling on the borders to be closed and trying to get rid of the right to shelter, instead of what should be happening, which is welcoming the newest New Yorkers.”
The Sunset Park Recreation Center has served as a temporary migrant shelter since August. The shelter drew protests from some local politicians and neighbors – but many Sunset Park residents moved to welcome asylum-seekers, donating clothes and other goods to be distributed right outside the rec center.
“Our city and state governments have failed to tackle the affordable housing and homeless crisis head on and so the scarcity that we feel today, or some might feel today, is not because of the arrival of migrants,” Grossman said. “On this holiday we pray for a shelter of peace, that all people deserve a shelter of peace. These sukkah, beautiful, flimsy structures remind us we are all vulnerable, we are all interconnected.”
Jews For Racial and Economic Justice member and former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger echoed Rabbi Grossman’s sentiment, saying the city needs to meet the challenge of providing shelter and make it possible for the immigrants who have arrived here to go to work rather than pushing people out of housing or trying to change the laws.
The Biden administration recently extended the Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan asylum-seekers and migrants who have already arrived in the U.S., allowing them to apply for work permits.
It is unclear how many of the nearly 60,000 migrants in the city’s care will benefit from the new policy, or when it might be extended to other nationalities. For months, city and state officials have been pleading with the White House to expedite work permits for migrants so they can be more self-sufficient and rely less on city resources.
“It’s very simple. 60% of people who live in New York are immigrants or children of immigrants, 60%. This is who we are as Americans, it is who we are as New Yorkers and it is who we are as Jews,” said Messinger. “This city thrives on the energy and resilience of generations of immigrants and we are fortunate that we now have new immigrants who will be the people who build this city for the future.”
Assembly Member Marcela Mitaynes said Wednesday’s festivities exemplified what it means for a community to come together.
“The fact that we are neighbors, the fact that we should remember at a time when people are trying to divide us, that we all had our own struggle in coming here, just for an opportunity for a better life,” she said. “We left family members, friends and careers back in our homelands to come here for a chance of a better life. We are human beings and we have a lot to contribute.”