Epstein School’s Community-Wide Sukkot

| September 25, 2013

SPECIAL FOR THE AJT //

This year, the holiday of Sukkot was transformed by a unique partnership between area congregations and The Epstein School in which school took place at shul.

Planners took a calculated risked in attempting something never done before on such a massive level with one goal in mind: for students and families to have a hands-on experience in the joy of living in a Jewish fashion for the often overlooked festival of Sukkot.

If there is ever a time to get excited, it is during Sukkot, which is also referred to as z’man simchateinu, the “Season of Our Joy.” Many people eat and even sleep in fragile dwellings much like those the Israelites dwelt in during their 40 years of wandering through the wilderness.

The sukkah is both a practical and a spiritually meaningful way of reaching out and connecting with people. These ties are what form a community that supports the Jewish people in times of need, elevates the happiest occasions, serves as a connection to history, and provides multiple opportunities to discover more about oneself as an individual and how one fits into the surrounding world.

In that same wonderful spirit of community, hundreds of Epstein students attended six local synagogues on the first day of Sukkot to commemorate the holiday.

At Congregation B’nai Torah, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Temple Sinai, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Or Hadash, and Congregation Beth Shalom, students dove head first into Sukkot.

They learned about the meaning of the holiday, shook the lulav and etrog, sang songs in the sukkah, performed Sukkot-themed skits, and helped lead services.  Any student, regardless of school affiliation attending services that morning was invited to participate in the programs.

Rabbi Joshua Heller, the Spiritual Leader of Congregation B’nai Torah, added, “What an amazing morning!  The students I talked to enjoyed having the opportunity to implement the skills and knowledge that they have built up in the classroom, and our ‘regulars’ were impressed  seeing these young people as active and enthusiastic participants in the service. “

This amazing learning opportunity was made possible by the tireless efforts of faculty, as well as area rabbis, education directors and the many synagogue staff members who all helped create, plan, lead, and coordinate the various parts of the day.

The idea was conceived through a partnership between The Epstein School and a group of local Conservative rabbis last spring.  Because Epstein serves the broader Jewish community, Temple Sinai was asked to participate as well.

Students and staff were also given the option to attend Sukkot services at their own congregations if they chose.

Comments from students, parents, staff, and congregants alike were overwhelmingly positive.  While new endeavors are often fraught with pitfalls and perils, everyone involved, including the students, helped make things run smoothly.

“This was really good and I think we should do this for other holidays,” said Jared Rakussin, who’s in the 7th grade.  “I would love to do something for Passover.”

The students, parents, and staff, as well as other families simply attending Sukkot services, had a new experience in connecting with the message of the holiday. We were tied not only to our individual communities, but to the thousands of people who were also involved on the same morning.

Parents were also impressed by the unique way that the school community combined each synagogue community to create a wonderful experience.

Tricia Katz, who has two daughters at The Epstein School, one in third and one in fifth grade, was happy with the program.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to be able to expose children to something that they might not normally have experienced,” she said.

Rabbi Scott Shafrin, Epstein School Rabbi, was also pleased with how the day went.

“For me, the most incredible part of this effort was watching cooperation that flourished as the event unfolded,” he said. “The holiday of Sukkot reminds us that we were once a disjointed collection of tribes and families that worked to become a real community, a nation of people linked to one another through bonds of care and compassion.  More than anything, this program shows the amazing power that we have, as a community, to create wonderful moments and grow together.”

Rabbi Shafrin concluded, “I pray that we are able to take this marvelous collegiality and continue to build bridges between different parts of the greater Atlanta Jewish community.”

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