Neighbors and Strangers in the Sukkah

Neighbors and Strangers in the Sukkah

This week we gathered in celebration of Sukkot and discussed pieces of the Torah related to concepts of neighbors, strangers, and welcoming. Learners shared wisdom with one another as we dug into questions which helped us unpack the relationship between ourselves and the world around us.  

As we sat around tables underneath the sunshine inside the Sukkah, kiddos grappled with their identities, social emotional skills, Jewish spirituality, and Jewish history. Kiddos shared their thoughts across the Sukkah as they ate. The feeling in the Sukkah was calm and the learners observed the change in scenery from our usual snack. During snack time learning this week learners defined a neighbor as: “someone who lives near you, a friend, a family member, or someone you know well.” Kiddos drew images and shared words to represent how treating someone like a neighbor feels. 

Treating someone like a neighbor feels…

  • Joyful.
  • Good.
  • Easy.
  • When someone is sad, you can cheer them up. 

Learners also considered how treating someone like a stranger feels.

Treating someone like a stranger feels… 

  • Uncomfortable.
  • It does not feel good, like puking.
  • Hard.

Kiddos came up with ideas about why it is important to be welcoming: 

  • Because it is nice
  • To get to know them. 
  • The Sukkah helps us get to know each other better. 
  • It’s important to welcome strangers if they do not have a place to live.
  • To share food if people are hungry or thirsty. 

One kiddo shared the sentiment that it is hard sometimes to be welcoming to those you don’t know because they might be mean.

We considered the similarities and differences between neighbors and strangers. Learners decided that the biggest similarity is that both groups are people, and the differences lay in the relationship between people. We shared with each other the places where we feel the most at ease. One learner shared that he feels comfortable when he knows his way around. Another friend shared that they feel welcome and comfortable when they are celebrating. When discussing where we feel at ease, we wrote poetry about what those places feel, smell, look, and taste like including what it is like to be at Makom. We contemplated the notion that most people desire the feeling of ease. Kiddos reflected on Mi Kamocha when we say thank you to God. They considered our history when the Hebrews said thank you to God as they exited Egypt, a place where we were strangers. 

Our poem about Makom:

I am from… 

I am from the smell of challah.

I am from the taste of Ritz crackers, challah, yogurt, apples, peanut butter, oranges, graham crackers, and cheese sticks. 

I am from the sound of the fan, creaking, berakhot, and kum kum lei lei. 

I am from the feel of fidgets. 

I am from the place where nuggets, sukkahs, and adults live.

We designed the components and aesthetics of our ideal Sukkah. We represented our sukkot in watercolor paint and imagined who we would like to invite in and how we might set up the sukkot to feel welcoming. One learner decided that they would like to invite Harriet Tubman to their sukkah because of all the important and hard work she accomplished during her lifetime. They wanted their sukkah to feel comfortable in order for Harriet Tubman to be able to relax saying: “There are bad things still happening, injustice continues, but things have changed. I invite you to come to a sukkah, and take a night of rest to enjoy.” 

All week I observed learners working beautifully through moments of difficulty when perhaps they felt like more of a stranger to one another. Two kiddos compromised when negotiating personal space while transitioning upstairs after snack time learning. They had some difficulty at first as they both were interested in being at the front of the line, but ultimately decided they would be able to take turns at the front. In order to make Makom feel more welcoming and comfortable we decided to utilize what we call a four step challenge. The learners compromised by taking turns in front of each other while maintaining a four steps between each other on the stairs.

Every day our bonds at Makom Community are getting stronger and more neighborly. As kiddos settle into the year, I am seeing them take ownership and agency over our community. We will continue to shape Makom Community South Philly together and make this a space where we all feel welcomed and joyful. 

I can’t wait to continue to get to know these inspiring, funny, creative, and caring kiddos! Next week we are looking at how the practice of loving our neighbors shapes our relationships with ourselves, each other, and our world.

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