Read the full op-ed at The NY Daily News

This week, Mayor Adams took yet another step towards suspending New York City’s right to shelter which would leave newly arrived migrants, asylum seekers and other homeless New Yorkers with nowhere to go. This stance was reiterated by Gov. Hochul as well. Even with the current right to shelter rules in place, the mayor has already limited shelter stays for newly arrived adult migrants. As a rabbi who believes that shelter is fundamental to human dignity, and is therefore sacred, I am appalled by continued efforts to cut essential services while echoing far-right talking points to demonize migrants.

For years, our city and state governments have failed to tackle the affordable housing and homelessness crisis. The scarcity we feel today is not because of the arrival of migrants. It is because our state has refused to build and preserve affordable housing for decades — following the cues from big real estate and developer lobbies rather than tenants.

It is dangerous that the governor and mayor are working to suspend the city’s right to shelter, a protection in place for 42 years, amidst a staggering housing crisis. This will lead to street homelessness that hasn’t been seen in decades — people will suffer, even die, as a result. I feel an additional duty to speak out as a rabbi: this assault on the ability of so many people to find safe lodging is also happening amidst the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a holiday about the sacred nature of safe peaceful shelter.

Every year on Sukkot, Jews around the world build temporary outdoor shelters called sukkah, recalling the Biblical story of the ancient Hebrews wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. In many ways the story of Sukkot is a story about people seeking shelter and respite after generations of bondage. Eating and sleeping in these beautiful but flimsy structures, exposed to the elements, reminds us how vulnerable and interconnected all human lives are. Last week’s extreme flooding shows us the same thing: as human beings we need one another, along with safe shelter, to survive.

All people are welcome guests in a Sukkah, and by extension, it is a holiday that we celebrate acknowledging that every single one of us, no matter where we come from, or how long we’ve been here, deserves a safe and affordable place to call home.

On Sukkot we engage in the ancient practice of Ushpizin — welcoming in guests with total hospitality and care. The Ushpizin tradition centers on the practice of inviting the spirits of Biblical figures and beloved ancestors into the Sukkah. But beyond this spiritual invocation of guests, Sukkot is also a time to invite neighbors into the sukkah to be treated as honored guests. Sukkot is also not about ownership. We don’t say — this is mine, you are welcome to share. On Sukkot we say — this land, this harvest, this life is all God’s. We say, it is therefore a sacred obligation to care for and welcome one another.

In New York it is possible to provide this kind of care and welcome to all people who need it if we fight to pass policies that expand vital essential services to tenants, rather than cutting back. New York must expand rental assistance statewide (HAVP), pass good cause eviction legislation, regulate rents statewide and create plans to develop green social housing — housing that is publicly owned and always affordable — across the state. By taxing the ultra wealthy and corporations that currently do not pay their fair share, we can provide these and other urgently needed public services to all New Yorkers.

On Sukkot, through the practice of welcoming ancestors into our sukkot, I often think of my great-grandparents and my Bubbie who came to this country through New York. This would not be the city with the largest Jewish population in the world without fierce advocacy against anti-immigrant hate and nativist policies specifically developed to keep Jews and Asian people out of the United States.

Sukkot is the time to remember that we actually can meet the needs of all New Yorkers — including people in shelters, people who are unhoused, and those who are just one check away from being evicted. Sukkat Shalom, a shelter of peace, is possible and necessary for all people who live in this city — as long as we are able to stand against the mayor’s rhetoric of fear and build towards a vision of housing justice for all instead.

Grossman, a rabbi, is a member of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) and a co-chair of Tirdof: New York Jewish Clergy for Justice, a partnership between JFREJ and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.