REALITY does Tulsa: Sukkot—Strangers in a Warm Land

Blog

With the support of the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, REALITY participants Aaron Miller and Ross Heyman successfully co-pioneered the first participant-led gathering to celebrate Sukkot and Jewish life in Tulsa, Oklahoma. More than 50 REALITY participants traveled near and far for a weekend to revel in Shabbat, study Jewish texts and explore creative ways to celebrate Sukkot. Aaron Miller reflects on his experience.

What gave you the idea for "REALITY does Tulsa: Sukkot"? I chose to stay in Tulsa long after my Teach for America assignment ended because of the amazing community, specifically the Jewish community, which has welcomed me with open arms. Never a month goes by without a dinner invitation, a check-in call or a delivery of leftovers. One night, at dinner with my adoptive “Tulsa parents,” my roommate Ross and I heard about “progressive Shabbats," in which families progress from one house to the next for appetizers, dinner and dessert. This fun, warm, casual event is a perfect example of the Tulsa spirit. This past winter, in the midst of reflection and incessant hugging at the Washington DC Reality Reboot, Ross and I were inspired to capture this spirit for our friends in the REALITY Community. It was then that we decided to start spreading the word about a Tulsa “progressive Sukkah crawl" designed to bring our community together in the heart of Tulsa. At the time, we didn’t know that Sukkot is billed as the holiday of joy, but that moniker could not be more fitting. With the support of the REALITY staff, my fellow Tulsa REALITY participants and the Tulsa Jewish community, our concept blossomed into REALITY does Tulsa: Sukkot!

What was the most exciting part about planning the event?  You’re making me choose the single most exciting part of planning this event!? My job in Tulsa is all about building a community that enables people to reach their full potential and feel part of something larger than themselves. Those same goals fueled my passion for planning this event. Bringing together new members of the REALITY community, old friends and the Tulsa Jewish community was a way to bridge essential parts of my being. Place played a significant role in making the event special. Oklahoma is mysterious to most Jewish people, but there is great treasure in the land, the sky and the spirit of the state. I knew that if I could just convince people to come to Tulsa, to see where Lynn and Stacy Schusterman made their hometheir “Sukkahs"they would understand more about what it means to create meaningful community. The theme of our weekend was “Go Outside,” which pushed us to leave our comfort zones, head into the exposed elements of the Sukkah, trust in God and understand that sometimes we have to revoke the familiarity of the status quo to grow and learn. Tulsa was the perfect place to challenge ourselves to "Go Outside."

What advice would you give your peers who are thinking of planning similar gatherings?  Just as we rest and reflect on Shabbat, planning a REALITY gathering gives you a reason to pause and synthesize what is important in life. Throughout the planning process, Ross and I learned about Sukkot, made decisions about how to instill Jewish values in the participants and caught a bird's-eye view of our special Tulsa community. This exercise was cathartic and beautiful. Not only was I able to share my life in Tulsa with so many of my closest friends, but I was pushed to identify the parts of my life worth sharing and take time to appreciate them. I wish I could express the warmth emanating from my body during our Havdallah service towards the end of the REALITY does Tulsa: Sukkot experience when my beloved Rabbi, Marc Fitzerman, led a group of the smartest, most enthusiastic, caring people I know in the Havdallah niggun. Lynn Schusterman, the woman who makes this all possible, was beaming with contentment at seeing the impressive young people she so virulently believes in, gathered in her hometown. 60 candles were held high in the air and the scent of cinnamon, cloves and rosemary permeated the patio. I will cherish that moment forever. I was whole, I was loved, I was warm and I was proud of myself for all of the decisions small and large that led me to that point in time.

Read more about Aaron and Ross in their interview! The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.