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New Voices Does Sukkah City

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Three New Voices editors visited Sukkah City, an exhibit of 12 artistic sukkot in New York's Union Square. Here are their reflections on the show.

Three New Voices editors visited Sukkah City, an exhibit of 12 artistic sukkot in New York's Union Square. Here are their reflections on the show.

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  • 1. I remember learning the highly specific parameters of what qualifies as a kosher sukkah in my Talmud class at my Modern Orthodox high school. As I wandered downtown, my mind flipped through the mental snapshots I had taken: mostly different images displayed in the ArtScroll version of Tractate Sukkah. I was greeted with Sukkahs beyond my wildest dreams. --Jenny Merkin
  • 2. Most of the sukkot I grew up with manifested an attempt to build a simple, practical tent-hut in your backyard while simultaneously observing the particulars of Jewish ritual law. “Sukkah City” changed all that. It was the first time I’d seen sukkot from a design perspective; until now I thought “sukkah design” meant hanging gourds from the hut’s ceiling and tacking cheesy Jewish children’s art to the walls. --Ben Sales
  • 3. While Sukkah City’s pamphlets and website spell out the halachic requirements for a sukkah, it would be impossible to eat a meal in “Star Cocoon.” It is shaped such that a single human would be able to lay down in it, but unable to do much else. Forget about welcoming guests in “Star Cocoon,” which might as well be the name of the scifi B-movie the sukkah appears to have arrived from.--David AM Wilensky
  • 4. One sukkah, “Sukkah of the Signs” explored how the holiday--which takes Jews out of their homes--related to the actual ubiquitous homelessness of New York City: it was constructed entirely from signs of homeless people, asking for everything from water to weed and reminding us that one man’s religious ceremony is another’s reality. --Ben Sales
  • 5. One theme that comes up during Sukkot is the experience of simulated poverty. “Sukkah of the Signs” by Ronald Rael explores this. Rael paid homeless and destitute individuals for their signs, which the sukkah is covered in. It is at least telling about New Yorkers that while they circled it reading and explaining it to their children, a real homeless man circled it looking back at them, holding out a cup for donations and got no response from them for as long as I watched.--David AM Wilensky
  • 6. Some of the most traditional of the sukkot look warm and inviting, as though the sukkah’s ordinary form has been given the slightest twist. Sadly, the exhibition, despite being outside and open to everyone, is off-limits. No one can enter any of the sukkot on display or experience them as structures to spend time in. Rather, they are art pieces to be viewed from a few feet away.--David AM Wilensky
  • 7. While disappointing from a practical point of view, the Sukkah City showcase still impressed me. It achieved what I think can ebb and flow in New York City: a successful tapping into the rich cultural Judaism that lives and breathes in this city. --Jenny Merkin
  • 8. Jews familiar with Sukkot had their traditional notions of the mitzvah shaken, while Jews with little or no sukkah experience got an interesting and creative introduction to what can otherwise be an unattractive feature of the Jewish holiday cycle. Non-Jews got an introduction to Judaism in New York that didn’t include Hasidim, Mayor Bloomberg or the Upper West Side. --Ben Sales
  • 9. For two days, Union Square donated itself to celebrating--or at least commenting on--the sukkah holiday, a highly ignored but important Jewish holiday. Right after the incredibly intense--and widely observed--Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Sukkot tends to get the shaft, especially because to the modern world, it makes no sense. Please sit in huts. No matter the temperature. Visiting Sukkah City, I saw an amazing fusion of different cultures all surrounding the greatness that is--in my opinion--quirky Jewish holidays and the culture of New York City. Hipster met black hat to look at the great art and its enduring halakhic application. What could be better? --Jenny Merkin