Beit Miriam, Catholic Charities collaborate to build shelter of peace during Sukkot

Posted on: October 31st, 2017 by tgregory

By Sharon Paz

Director of Lifelong Learning

West End Synagogue


Beit Miriam 6th graders relax after constructing a kosher sukkah.

In small group discussions led by volunteers from Catholic Charities and teachers from West End Synagogue’s Beit Miriam, students and parents reflected on the many times Jews have been refugees and/or immigrants and how the Jewish experience ties us to the issues of immigration facing America today.  

Students went through a simulated refugee experience from border crossing challenges to the challenges of the immigration process. They had conversations about the meaning of the word “home” as it relates to refugees, immigrants and the holiday of Sukkot. When talking about immigration to Israel, Nicole Lopez, a parent, commented that to her, “Israel was the like the sukkah of the Jewish people,” welcoming all Jews from everywhere under its umbrella.  A graduation student, Jonah Herman, reflected on her idea and said, “Israel isn’t a sukkah which is temporary, but rather a permanent home for the Jewish people.”  

Through a special grant funded by the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Beit Miriam at West End Synagogue partnered with Catholic Charities in a collaborative workshop to bring an immigration simulation program to students in grades 6 through 11.   The program continued the theme: “Sukkot:  Building a Shelter of Peace” when Beit Miriam partnered with Safe Haven.

Thanks to a second grant from the Jewish Federation this year, volunteers from the Nashville Refugee community engaged our high school and middle school students in a stimulating program addressing the global refugee crisis, the immigration process and the idea of temporary homes.  The holiday of Sukkot provided the perfect vehicle for our ongoing attempt to learn about our neighbors and the changing world in which we live.  

This was a great learning experience for our students and parents who participated.  Even better, the immigration conversation continued two Sundays later between our graduation class and Sharon Ben Ami, Israeli shlicha.  Students learned about the struggles Jewish immigrants had in Israel through the 1970s and were amazed that they had not heard this side of the Israel story. 

In addition to our Sukkot immigration program, students in 6th grade learned about the laws pertaining to building sukkot and built a sukkah of their own. Under the guidance of Jenny Nissenson, Experiential Art Teacher and professional puppeteer, 4th and 5th graders made puppet ushpizin (Aramaic), as the special ancestral guests invited to the sukkah each night of Sukkot.  The 4th graders chose from among our Biblical ancestors and the 5th graders chose from among the Jewish Americans they are studying in their Jewish history curriculum who helped to contribute to the prosperity of our country.

Beit Miriam helped two families celebrate Sukkot this year by providing all of the Sukkah building materials and assembly help.  Michael and Tricia Keenan of Huntsville, Ala., had their first sukkah ever and invited BBYO teens there for pizza.  They loved the experience and were delighted, as were James Kilby and Erinne Richter, recipients of the second sukkah, who live in Hermitage.

Many thanks to the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee for the funding for all aspects of the Sukkot program. •