Proud and Positive
8 years ago Leighest 0
By Leigh Bojan
High school isn’t always easy. For me, coming from a class of 8 students at a small private Jewish school to a class of 300 at a public school makes it that much harder. I was shy, unsure of my identity and how much I should share about myself? But then, something happened that pushed me to open up about myself and who I was – a proud Jew.
It was the beginning of freshman year and with the help of Rabbi Mendy and Mussie Bronstein, a few students got permission to build a Sukkah in the school’s courtyard for all of Chol Hamoed Sukkot, the middle days of the holiday. I was so excited! I hadn’t realized that so many Jews went to my high school, not to mention how many were in my grade. Over 70 people filtered through the Sukkah, fulfilling the mitzvah of eating in a Sukkah, making the blessing on some kosher food, and shaking the lulav and etrog.
This year, as Sukkos neared we were excited to build the Sukkah again. Our Cteen leaders, together with some other teens from our community, took charge. Two of our leaders went to the principal and asked if we could build the Sukkah as we had done last year. You can imagine how hurt and upset we all were when the principal, regretfully, was not able to give permission, saying that there had been complaints about the sukkah last year. We were devastated. But instead of being disheartened, we immediately begin to work on finding an alternative. Maybe we could have a sukkah mobile, or possibly arrange transportation to go to a Sukkah a few blocks away. However, none of these options seemed ideal. Some of our friends started saying that there would be no Sukkah this year, and that it was nice while it lasted. But we were not ready to give up.
Then, two weeks before Sukkot, at our Shabbos table, my parents were talking to some friends who said they knew the woman that lived next door to our High School – and that she was Jewish! What divine providence! Thursday afternoon I went with Rabbi Mendy (and his baby Yaakov – ‘cuz who could say no to a baby?!?) and with a prayer on our lips we knocked on the neighbor’s door. We introduced ourselves to the owner and explained the situation, and she gladly gave us permission to build a Sukkah on her driveway. Now, we were back in business!
We went back to the principal who was extremely supportive and said he would allow students to leave campus during lunch go to the Sukkah as long as they had their parents call the office and give them permission. We immediately got to work. Flyers were made and handed out at school. Emails; facebook; word got out and the excitement started growing. Being that this was the second year, we felt we needed to kick it up a notch. Community members sponsored full hot lunches for each day, and we planned a scrumptious menu! My grandma and her friends (who were so proud of her granddaughter -blush, blush!) donated desserts for all three days. A supporter even sponsored specially designed tshirts that said “The Sukkot Games – Satisfy Your Hunger”. Pure awesomeness.
On Sunday morning of Sukkot we gathered at the neighbor’s house to build the Sukkah. Rabbi Mendy designed a large Sukkah would seat about 50 people. 15 students showed up as well as a few parents, and we got work building a 16×24 foot Sukkah. After three and a half hours of intense work, kvetching, philosophizing and snacking (of course!) we finished putting the final decorative touches on our beautiful and big Sukkah. We were ready for action!
Now, here’s where I’m going to make you jealous. THE FOOD! There were three days of chol hamoed – the intermediate days of Sukkot – that we served lunch in the Sukkah. On the first day we had a full on barbeque. Chicken wings; hot dogs; the works! It was a cloudy day but the weather was nice and everyone has a great time. Then, just after the last student left and we were clearing up, I felt the first raindrop land on my neck. Someone up there was looking out for us! I think it was the big boss saying “Good job girl!”.
The second day, our attendance almost doubled for an Israeli style lunch, including fresh falafel, shawarma, pita and “chips”(french fries).
On Wednesday we peeked, with over 70 students showing up for a lunch of New York style deli, with an assortment of meats and salads to satiate the palate. The principal himself came out to see the Sukkah, saying that couldn’t believe that so many kids actually wanted to join. He said that over 70 parents had called and given their teens permission to leave school campus for lunch that day alone! Throughout Sukkos, over 200 teens came through the Sukkah to eat, schmooze, shake the lulav and etrog and celebrate the holiday.
Word of our story reached the press and a few students, me being one of them, were interviewed by a number of news outlets, not only in Milwaukee but from around the country! Some of the reporters tried to make us say something offensive about the people that had complained about the Sukkah, but we were careful to only talk about the good we had accomplished. Rabbi Mendy encouraged us all to stay positive when talking to the reporters and remember that Sukkot is a joyous holiday, and not something that should cause controversy. Our job as leaders in the community was to encourage as many students as possible to join us in celebrating the holiday, and we needed to be careful not to make comments that might distance anyone.
Looking back, I am thrilled by the turnout we had and the support we received from the community throughout the holiday. The lesson I learned from this experience is no matter what the challenge is, if you try hard enough you will succeed. I cannot wait for next year to hopefully, with G-d’s help, have our Sukkah back on campus.