Sukkot is my favorite holiday. I love every aspect of the sukkah in our backyard: the construction; the seasonal foods I prepare, serve, and indulge in; the welcoming of guests; the coziness of the small space; the crisp air of the changing seasons. I did not grow up with a sukkah at home, although I recall at my synagogue’s Hebrew School there would be a Sunday-morning break from class to decorate or eat in the sukkah. It took a synergy of three factors to activate my love of this holiday.
First, the fact that my oldest child was born on the first day of Sukkot—our first harvest, if you will—heightened my awareness of the chag and led me to learn more about the it. Second, our then new and young rabbi encouraged families to build a sukkah at home, and made available a cheapie kit for only $36. Third, a practical element: In the condo where we lived at the time, we had a handy neighbor, a Jew with … power tools. Sharing the sukkah in the condo yard made the experience a communal adventure from the very start.
I find the themes of Sukkot to be great metaphors for life. So it may not surprise you that I draw from the holiday’s core ideals in my work on MATCH.
Welcoming People In
While our tradition of welcoming guests goes back to Abraham and Sarah’s tent, on Sukkot we have the ceremonial and symbolic welcoming of historic multi-generational guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.
Here’s how welcoming applies to MATCH.
First, our purpose is to grow support of Jewish day schools so that school doors, like tent flaps, can be opened wide to welcome as many mission-appropriate families as can fit inside. Sometimes, though, we must seek out esteemed guests beyond our inner circle in order to fulfill our mission. Invoking the images of celebrated leaders is similar to appealing to community stakeholders. Ultimately, a thorough celebration of Sukkot requires both the welcoming of guests, especially those without their own Sukkah, as well as inviting leaders from the broader community to make it all possible.
Having the Right Tools and Knowing How to Use Them
We may never have gotten our original sukkah kit off the ground were it not for our skillful and helpful neighbor. Once we mastered the basic support structure, each year we embellished our sukkah. As the kids grew, they were able to help with the construction, and they made increasingly sophisticated decorations. Eventually latticework replaced the tarps, and twinkle lights supplemented the candlelight. The experiences of constructing and of living within the sukkah got deeper with each passing year, as we “built on” our past successes.
Day school fundraising is also a community enterprise. Data from previous MATCH grants shows that the program is an effective tool for spurring JDS professionals and lay leaders to cultivate new support. But how do we ensure that annual campaign strategies will evolve over time and build on past successes? For many Jewish day schools, the groundwork has already been laid—through their participation in Community of Practice (CoP) webinars, development conferences, coaching, and the DSAT assessment—and through their patient cultivation of donors over time. MATCH is just the incentive needed for many development directors to make “the ask”—and succeed in generating major gifts. For other schools, MATCH can provide the motivation needed to look beyond their current pool of donors.
Reaching Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Of course, the whole idea behind living in a sukkah for a week is to recall how our ancestors wandered for 40 years and dwelt in temporary structures that they must have dismantled and rebuilt over and over again. We force ourselves to face the elements, and in that process become grateful for our shelter. We are reminded how fragile life can be, and we regain a consciousness about needs versus wants.
Whether your school has a healthy endowment or is struggling to make payroll, chances are your Board wrestles with existential questions about how to secure the school for the long term. This year’s MATCH prods schools to reach beyond their donor comfort zone, to seek out new supporters of Jewish day school education. For some of us, this is a lot like stepping into the wilderness—but I assure you it’s worth the effort.
Renewing the Cycle
When Sukkot ends with Simchat Torah, we joyfully rededicate ourselves to the annual cycle. We commit to doing it all over again—the weekly Torah readings, the annual calendar of holidays, the emotional highs and lows. We choose to end and begin again at the same time. In North America, these holidays dovetail beautifully with the new school year, and for many of us, with new campaigns. Succeeding in generating a gift that is eligible for MATCH will give your campaign an extra boost for the benefit of your entire community.
Since that first sukkah kit, which we used for years, we moved from a condo to a house. Now we build our own sukkah, one that accommodates a few more people. We bought a new kit, one that doesn’t involve back-breaking cinder blocks. We acquired a rubber mallet, a necessary tool for assembling the new model. And our original “harvest,” the Sukkot baby that motivated our observance, left for college. Regardless of the circumstances, each year we build again.
May your sukkah this year be filled with guests, and may your campaign be successful at welcoming in new donors that earn a MATCH.
Marla Choslovsky is the Day School MATCH Coordinator at PEJE and a decade-long volunteer fundraiser for her children’s day school. Learn more about MATCH by visiting the PEJE website, reading the Frequently Asked Questions, or calling Marla at 617.367.0001 x132.