Little Sukkah, Big Learning

Little Sukkah, Big Learning


Sammy Eisenberg shares his sukkah design with AJA third graders.” Photo Credit: Robyn Lindenberg

By Heather Kantrowitz

The holiday of Sukkot is a time of building, both the building of physical structures outdoors, and of  community through shared meals and experiences together.  

At the Austin Jewish Academy, seventh-graders also have the opportunity to try their hands at building. They will collaborate to build models of sukkot, temporary shelters central to the holiday, which are mentioned in the Mishna, part of the Jewish code of law. Some are examples we would never see in real life —a double-decker sukkah, a skyscraper sukkah, a sukkah posing as a treehouse. These are just a few examples of the wacky variations on sukkot they will be tasked with building, decorating and explaining.

Seventh-graders will utilize their knowledge of the Mishna from their Jewish studies course and the laws of sukkah-building. They will be challenged to explain their sukkah’s kosher or pasul (not kosher) status. Some sukkot will be 100 percent kosher—meaning their sukkah is the correct size, has the correct number of walls, has a mostly shady roof, made of natural materials, and the stars at night will be big and bright, deep in the heart of their sukkah. Other sukkot will purposely be pasul. This is a learning opportunity for students to explain the mistakes of the sukkah, and why it is invalid.

Students will draw upon the principles of design and engineering they learn in STEM class, as well as masterfully use tools and materials from workshop class. An added challenge of being assigned a location on which to base their sukkah, such as a desert or floodplain, as well as material restriction (forbidden to use a material such as metal, wood or plastic) heightens students’ creativity. The finished products will be durable, creative masterpieces which encapsulate the knowledge of our seventh grade students.  

Student Sammy Eisenberg, who was in seventh grade last year when he participated in this project, said, “This experience was fun for me because I got to innovate my own sukkah while involving my Jewish culture. I learned about kosher vs. non-kosher sukkot. There are a billion and a half rules. No one really thinks about what makes a sukkah not kosher. For the engineering piece, I learned how to re-think my design and how to actually build. Since it broke a couple of times, I was able to learn about different adhesives and what would work best.”

Come see the model sukkot and learn more about Austin Jewish Academy’s program at AJA’s Sukkot holiday potluck Wednesday, September 26, at 5:30 p.m. Bring a parve (vegetarian) dish to share with the community as AJA celebrates the joyous festival of Sukkot together with the community. ■

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