Learning to Become: The BMitzvah Cohort play Ushpizin

Learning to Become: The BMitzvah Cohort play Ushpizin

Sukkot at Makom Community this year spurred discussion about welcoming: How do we welcome guests and why? What does it feel like to welcome or be welcomed? Our BMitzvah students delved deeper into the history of the welcoming ushpizin by becoming ushpizin ourselves!

Our initial research about the ushpizin brought up some challenging questions and feelings. Why, traditionally, do we only welcome men into our sukkot? Even when we do welcome women, why are they paired with men? Couldn’t we welcome them on our own?

These questions prompted most of our BMitzvah cohort to research mainly women ushpizin. Our final list: Rachel, Leah, Moses, Joseph, Esther, and Abigail. We opened our Tanakhim and got to work answering questions about each ushpiz: 

  • What are you best known for in Jewish tradition?
  • What’s your proudest moment?
  • Tell us a funny story from your life!
  • Tell us about a time you had to run away from home.
  • What’s your relationship with your family like? 
  • Why do we welcome you on Sukkot? 

There were surprises both with our well-known and less well-known ushpizin. Leo had a hard time picking Moses’ “best known for” moment, but settled on splitting the sea. For Rachel and Leah, Drew and Remi had a fun time portraying the sibling rivalry and dramatic love story. How did Rachel feel when Jacob kissed her? Did she already like him? The Torah provides few clues so we made up our own answers. Ronia read up on Abigail, a figure from Nevi’im that most of the class had never heard of. We were delighted by Abigail’s cleverness and independence. Ronia’s answer to “Why do we welcome you on Sukkot?” was (in Abigail’s voice): “I am one of the women in the Torah who lead her own life.” Zahdi’s Esther was another model of independence, describing her feat in saving the Jewish people with an air of nonchalance. 

Zoey portrays Joseph during our Ushpizin activity

Our afterschool program had a tough time guessing which Ushpizin were which. After they figured it out and welcomed us (which you can read more about in Gaby’s blog post), we decided that we wanted to share our new knowledge with even more people. We created profiles of our ushpizin to hang in the Julian Abele sukkah, spreading the word. Zoey’s profile of Joseph felt particularly well-suited to his character!

We rounded out the week with Shabbat in the sukkah, reflecting on what we’d learned about our ancestors, sharing sukkot with the rest of Makom Community, and prepping for our upcoming Rosh Pinah projects!

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