Our Stories

Grade 4 Students Embody Ushpizin Characters and Explore Sefirot for Sukkot

October 23, 2023 by Elizabeth Zitelli (Faculty and Staff)

 In the days surrounding Sukkot, elementary students gleefully quizzed each other on biblical characters and offered brachot (blessings) in the name of their chosen characters. Grade four students played key roles in exploring the chag, having been prepared through work with their Judaics teacher G’veret Malkiel. 

G’veret Malkiel says “The tradition of having Ushpizin (visitors) to our Sukkot is a great opportunity for students to connect to the biblical characters, and to connect their own qualities and values to the lives of these figures.”

G’veret Malkiel began by introducing the sefirot (spiritual qualities) of the kabbalistic tree, and asking students to reflect upon which qualities resonated most with them. She also asked students to indicate preferences for biblical characters they might portray. She then assigned characters and each student determined which qualities their character represents. They each created colorful quilt squares for their characters to be hung in the North Campus Sukkah. 

The final step was preparing presentations for younger schoolmates, including a three question quiz inviting students to identify which biblical character they represent, and a bracha (blessing) inspired by the life of the Ushpizin. Younger students listened intently and enjoyed guessing based upon their knowledge of the stories. Grade four students also valued connecting to each other through their Ushpizin identities. Two students portraying Leah and Rachel declared, “We’re sisters!” 

G’veret Malkiel hopes that this lesson will not only help infuse the campus with Sukkot celebrations beyond the physical structure, and deepen students’ understanding of biblical stories, but also will provide an annual touchpoint for students to remember their grade four experience. For example they may remember fondly when they offered a bracha, or blessing, for forgiving siblings in the name of Yosef. 

The Ushpizin project also fits into a larger MILTON initiative in which particular grade-levels are given the honor of “Holding a Chag” and guiding campus traditions around this day. Other examples include fifth grade presentations on Veteran’s Day and eighth grade leading Simchat Torah with kindergarten students.