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Eric Poris
September 9th, 2011 2:42 pm
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Eric Poris is a second-year corps member and a math teacher at American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota. He has also taught in the Swiss Alps, Brazil and Peru. He participated in the 2011 REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America corps members program.

Friday night, and Shabbat as a whole, are quickly becoming much more valuable to me. It is a combination of having scheduled time to look inward and reflect, taking a break from the demanding week here at American Horse School, and spending quality time with those “close” to me (in proximity, too).

Living and working here in the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation, I have had the honor to dance at a local Pow-Wow, participate in a sweat ceremony and be a part of the drum group who played at my students’ 8th grade graduation last year. I am very grateful for these experiences.

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to explore Israel, Judaism and what it means to be “Jewish” alongside 57 Teach For America corps members, with the help of the Schusterman and Samberg family foundations. I had, and still have, a lot to learn about practicing Judaism, what rituals, prayers and holidays symbolize, and how to host a Shabbat dinner. I decided to take my learning experiences as a Jew from this summer and dive right in by bringing this knowledge to the reservation as sort of a cultural exchange, to offer what I can from my culture as they have from theirs. So here it goes …

Shabbat Dinner. September 2, 2011. “What’s that?! It looks like a tiny hat?!” Young Taelor asked as she walked in. I was immediately tested to explain why we wear a Kippah. “It’s to cover our head. It is to say G-d is above us,” I responded. Taelor and Jalen are the granddaughters of our neighbors Orville and Mable. Mable teaches 3rd grade at American Horse and her husband Orville is a friend and neighbor with whom we constantly share gifts and conversation with one another. Drew, my roommate, friend and colleague is Taelor’s 5th grade teacher and also attended. The six of us shared the evening together.

When I first asked Orville to come over, he responded in a semi-joking manner, “You guys gonna have any meat over there?” Orville had been over before and knew that there was little meat ever eaten in our house. Having made it a bit of a tradition to make homemade pizza for Shabbat (not very traditional at all), I planned to do so again. However, this time I wanted to accommodate Orville and his family, so I went out and bought a supreme pizza and a pepperoni for their culinary pleasure. This is CERTAINLY not traditional Shabbat dinner—nor Kosher at all—so I stayed with the cheese pizza.

So what did I learn about the meaning of Shabbat after hosting a Shabbat dinner and seeing it through the fresh eyes of my friends on the reservation? A lot. I learned the order and the timing and later  the purpose of lighting the candles and what they mean (to observe and to remember). We discussed the creation of Eretz Yisrael and talked about the world and travel. We compared/contrasted Judaism and the beliefs of the native people. We also got a chance to get to know each other better.

I am not used to sharing about my own culture. Instead, I love to hear about other cultures, but since being here on the reservation and being one of the only Jewish people within a few hundred miles, it has become even more important to me to learn about my own culture and be able to express what I know accurately. My opportunity to be in Israel and explore myself, my culture and the country of Israel was tremendous. It is a continual learning process, but this is the beginning of a successful understanding of what Shabbat is to me.

Eric Poris is a second-year corps member and a math teacher at American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota. He has also taught in the Swiss Alps, Brazil and Peru.

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