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Interfaith acceptance

Sukkot not just for Jews

Updated:   10/11/2006 08:35:32 AM EDT

Students and friends of Montessori School gather inside a Sukkah to celebrate the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Photos by Darren vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle
Students and friends of Montessori School gather inside a Sukkah to celebrate the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Photos by Darren vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff

Wednesday, October 11
As if yesterday's blue skies and warm sunny weather weren't enough reasons to celebrate, three groups of school children in the Berkshires commemorated one more.

Youngsters of the Montessori School of the Berkshires in Lenox, Sinai Academy of the Berkshires in Pittsfield and St. Agnes' School in Dalton came together to celebrate a Jewish holiday called Sukkot (pronounced sue-coat).

"It's about celebrating the harvest. It's not just for the Jewish people," said Oscar Frank of Richmond. He and his wife, Barbara, helped to prepare for Sukkot at the Montessori School.

The central symbol of the holiday is the sukkah, which translates to "booth." It is a hut-like structure erected for the course of the seven-day holiday, under which families and friends gather to eat and dwell.

Celebrated in October on the heels of the holy days, Sukkot commemorates the 40-year period during which the Judaic children and families of Israel were wandering in the desert and living in temporary shelters during their exile from Egypt. It is said that God provided all their needs in the desert, including food and shelter.

But yesterday's school celebrations promoted sharing and acceptance.

"We thought it would be the perfect holiday to share with our non-Jewish neighbors in an effort to promote interfaith peace and understanding," said Dawn LaRochelle, president of Sinai Academy.

"We can share different things that we know with different people," said parent Robin Seeley, addressing the pre-kindergartners at Montessori.




Parent Robyn Rosen, who has two sons attending Sinai, said it is more important than ever to reach out to other schools and community organizations.

This year's celebration followed last spring's vandalism at Sinai, in which swastikas were carved in the school's playground equipment.

"We wanted to reach out to people of other faiths who reached out to us when we were feeling so vulnerable," Rosen said.

Josh Berthiaume, right, and Yonaton Kaufman work on their drawings to hang in the sukkah outside Sinai Acadamy in Pittsfield.
Josh Berthiaume, right, and Yonaton Kaufman work on their drawings to hang in the sukkah outside Sinai Acadamy in Pittsfield.

Alexandra Chabot, a sixth-grader at St. Agnes Catholic School, had never heard of the holiday or seen a sukkah, but she was happy for the opportunity to celebrate with her peers.

Chabot said it was important to meet people from other backgrounds. "It's important to learn from them. You don't want to be mean to people because you don't know things," she said.

Though the name of the holiday may seem strange, Sukkot has traditions similar to those another harvest feast: Thanksgiving.

"I think it's fun," said Michah Siegel, a fifth-grader from Sinai Academy.

Paula Almgren, of Lenox, said her daughter, Elise, 5, may not fully understand the history of the sukkah, but will understand its essence and learn how a community should aspire to live.

"She will know that it's a nice, safe, fun place. I think it's so important. It's who we all are and what we want to have," she said.


 
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