Congresswoman Grace Meng Responds To Jewish Community

One of the stressors about flying is the need to have an updated passport. A number of years ago, when I decided to travel to Eretz Yisrael, I realized that my passport had expired. It was a cumbersome process to get an appointment at the post office for a rush order. I also needed to have an updated picture of myself to send out with the passport application. I went to a studio where they take passport photo and posed. They were very accommodating and allowed me to take the picture a number of times. I happen to be a relatively photogenic person, and it was incredible that no matter how many times he took the picture, it still was a rather lousy portrait. After two or three times, I agreed to take the best of the bunch and just be done with it.

It is something that always intrigued me. I don’t think I ever saw a passport photo that truly bore a resemblance to its bearer. To be truthful, it does look like its bearer, albeit after he stuck his finger in a socket and was struck by lightning.

The same holds true for driver license photos. Why can’t anyone look half decent in those pictures? I once read a story about a woman who was pulled over by a cop and then said that she did not have her license with her. When the cop informed her that she was going to get an extra hefty ticket, the woman admitted that she indeed had her license with her. She agreed to show it to the cop… if he promised not to look at the picture.

I am happy to state that I now know that answer to my inquiry. Your passport photo is exactly what you look like – after a ten-hour flight, replete with airline meals and turbulence, passing through security, and waiting for your luggage at the carousel.

One of the focal points of the holiday of Sukkos is eating and living in the sukkah. The Gemara cites a dispute as to the source of this beloved mitzvah. The noted opinion (Rabbi Eliezer) is that the sukkah reminds us of the Clouds of Glory that enveloped and protected our forefathers in the desert. There is a second opinion (Rabbi Akiva), however, who opines that our sukkos remind us of the sukkos (literal huts) that our forefathers lived in while they traveled through the desert.

The second opinion is quite puzzling. What made their huts so fascinating that we seek to mimic them by building our own huts and living in them during the week-long holiday?

Traveling undoubtedly takes its toll on any sane person. When one is in the midst of getting bumped off his flight, is pursuing a flight, or arguing with security about the potential danger to your t’filin, he is hardly able to concentrate and study with serenity. Throughout their sojourns in the desert, our forefathers were charged with accepting and studying the Torah, and transmitting it to their children as the initial progenitors of G-d’s Word. That hardly seems feasible when you are always traveling.

That was the greatness of those huts. Despite the fact that they were nothing but flimsy huts in a parched, vulnerable desert, our ancestors were able to feel at home in those huts, so much so that they were able to learn and understand the depths of the Torah that they learned firsthand from Moshe Rabbeinu. To be able to feel at home and in the embrace of G-d, even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances, to never look as bad as your passport photo even while traveling – that is the celebration of Sukkos.

In conclusion, I would just answer my second question by saying that driver license photos are taken to resemble what you look like just when you notice the glaring lights in your rearview mirror.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.