During the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, Jewish people traditionally build temporary structures to recreate the experience of the Israelites wandering in the desert. The Sukkah inspires a feeling of closeness to family, community, and God, evoking a sense of joy and thankfulness. For the Akiva School community, the annual Sukkah Dinner does just this. It is a coveted time for new, returning, and potential Akiva families to join in celebration and friendship. This year, nearly 300 people gathered under the glittering student-made decorations for some delicious food and soulful music.
Leading the planning and execution of the Sukkah Dinner was Akiva’s Director of Admissions and Outreach, Julie Fortune. Fortune says, “The Sukkah Dinner is one of the most impactful community events we host annually. It is an incredible opportunity to showcase the vitality and depth of Akiva.”
Behind the tables heaped high with steaming platters of pasta and sides stood devoted volunteer Joe Perlen, affectionately known as “Chef Joe” among Akiva students. For over two decades, Perlen has been generously contributing his time and expertise to ensure the success of the annual Sukkah Dinner. With tables laden with steaming platters of pasta and sides, Perlen’s dedication was evident.
Asked about his steadfast commitment to Akiva, even after his own children have graduated, Perlen’s sentimentality shone, remarking, “Akiva was so good to my children and to my family. I hold it near and dear to my heart, and it’s an incredible part of this community.”
Laura Shmerling, mother to Jake in second grade and Sam in fourth grade, fondly echoes Perlen’s sentiments. “Our family looks forward to the Sukkah dinner every year. Coming together with fellow Akiva families and the wider Nashville Jewish community is truly special.” Shmerling notes that for her youngest, this year marked her first Sukkah Dinner experience,“It was a marvel to her! She looked on with wonder at the size of the Sukkah and the array of student-crafted decorations. Seeing the children laugh and play is pure delight.”
The Akiva community celebrated in the spirit of togetherness and the enduring traditions that bind them, already looking forward to future Sukkah Dinners, knowing that each one deepens and defines the Akiva School experience.