Gimme Shelter

A design competition invites new takes on the sukkah

Gathering designed by Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen.(Image courtesy of Sukkah City)

In just a few days, 12 high-concept sukkahs, or “booths,” will crowd Manhattan’s Union Square. They are the finalists in an international architectural competition called “Sukkah City,” which was launched by the social entrepreneurs of Reboot five months ago in anticipation of the Sukkot holiday. While designs had to conform with both biblical law and New York City building codes, they don’t lack for originality. Reporter Eric Molinsky spoke with the creative minds behind the competition, as well as with judges and competition entrants, about this latest attempt to give Sukkot, and the sukkah, a shot in the arm. 

Sukkot to Go

In New York City, the holiday huts come to you


Perhaps inspired by this idea, enterprising 16-year-old yeshiva student Levi Duchman has affixed a mini-sukkah to a pedicab and has been biking around Brooklyn bringing the mitzvah to the people. (Chabad’s website, which published a report on the project, may have been confused by more traditional stories of Jews in New York—its article uses the word “peddling” instead of “pedaling” throughout.) Although Duchman says the hardest part is the physical exertion, we imagine it would be tough to get people to enter the hut, which looks a bit like cage for transporting kidnapped gorillas to the circus.

Meanwhile, Duchman has New York City sukkah-on-wheels competition. The Chabad affiliate that provides the city’s ubiquitous Mitzvah Tanks has created what it believes to be the world’s largest mobile sukkah, six meters long and affixed to the back of a trailer truck. Although it may be in the running for the Guinness Book, the monstrosity was still probably the least weird thing on view at Times Square last Sunday night.

Teenager Peddling Celebration Throughout New York []
World’s Largest Sukkah Mobile? [COLLive]

Hut Enough For Ya?

How to decorate a sukkah with no budget and no talent

Sukkot’s proximity to Halloween is a decorator’s dream (Marjorie Ingall)

When I was a kid, our sukkah was made of heavy flats of hardwood. (They took up a lot of real estate in our commodious Rhode Island basement during the off-season.) We drew holiday-themed pictures with Magic Markers directly on the wooden walls—even though this was a totally mom-sanctioned activity, tagging the side of a house, even a temporary one, still felt like an illicit thrill. Every year my dad disappeared into the wilds of Seekonk, Massachusetts, with a power saw and came back with s’chach for the roof. (From where, exactly? We don’t know. It was the arboreal equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.)

The sukkah my own kids are growing up with is a lot more prefab. It was ordered on the internet. It has taut fabric walls and a boring rolled bamboo roof. (We’re actually on Prefab Sukkah 2.0, because this summer, my husband and a welder friend turned the original sukkah’s metal frame into an electric cheese art car for Burning Man. Just don’t ask.)

In part because our current sukkah is so bland and soulless, I want the kids to decorate it as quirkily and personally as possible. The popcorn chains of my childhood won’t play here in NYC, what with our vile pigeons and aggressive vermin. And given our family’s current underemployment situation, we wanted to decorate as cheaply as possible, this recession year in particular. (more…)

Shake Your Lulav at the Airport

But no Polaroid pictures at the checkpoint, thanks

Good news for anyone planning on traveling for Sukkot: starting today, the Transportation Security Administration isn’t going to stop you shaking your lulav or waving your etrog, wherever you please.

From the TSA press release announcing the start of a special travel period lasting through October 13:

Observant Jewish travelers may carry four plants—a palm branch, myrtle twigs, willow twigs, and a citron—in airports and through security checkpoints. These plants are religious articles and may be carried either separately or as a bundle. Jewish travelers may be observed in prayer, shaking the bundle of plants in six directions.

The workforce should note that TSA’s screening procedures do not prohibit the carrying of such agricultural items through the airport or security checkpoints, or on airplanes. These plants are not on TSA’s Prohibited Items List. And, as always, TSA is committed to treating all passengers, including passengers who may be observing Sukkot, with respect and dignity during the screening process.

No word yet on whether you can make it through security with one of these.

Religious Holiday of Sukkot [TSA]

Sukkot FAQ

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Feast of Tabernacles


The year’s first harvest holiday, Sukkot celebrates the pilgrimage Jews made to the Temple in Jerusalem, bearing fruits and sacrifices. Traditionally, people build temporary dwellings—sukkahs—eating and sleeping in them during the holiday.


In 2012, Sukkot begins at sundown on Sunday, September 30 and ends at sundown on Sunday, October 7.


Sukkot is without doubt the most action-packed of all Jewish holidays. We’re commanded to build a temporary dwelling, take our meals al fresco, shake special tree branches, and so on. This, in part, has to do with the fact that Sukkot (together with Shavuot and Passover) is one of shloshet ha’regalim, or the three festivals of pilgrimage, occasions on which the ancient Israelites traveled to Jerusalem and worshipped at the Temple. This means it’s both a religious and an agricultural celebration, calling for all manner of ritual.

The holiday, the Bible instructs us, is to be celebrated “at the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field,” after you’ve gathered your harvest “in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress.” Sukkot, then, is the time to survey—and give thanks for—the land’s bounty, a classic agricultural feast for a classic agricultural society.

A remnant of the ancient traditions is still visible in simchat beit ha’shoeva, or rejoicing at the place of drawing water, a celebration immediately following Sukkot. As Sukkot is also believed to be the time of year when God determines the world’s rainfall for the coming year, a special ceremony was held in the ancient Temple called nisuch ha’mayim, or the water libation ceremony, in which the priests would draw water from a Jerusalem pool and pray for rain. Following the ceremony, the worshippers would make their way to the Temple’s outer courtyard, where they would sing, dance, and give praise to God. While there’s no more Temple, and no more water-drawing ceremony, it’s still customary for Jews to get together in song and dance. (more…)

The Love Above

Faith-based acting taken to new heights

Late in Ushpizin, an Israeli film about the penury, barrenness, and public humiliation endured by a Breslov Hasidic couple in Jerusalem during the holiday of Sukkot, Moshe Bellanga runs to a forested area and beseeches, “Master of the Universe: I don’t want to be angry!” His plea for grace recalls the impish prostitute in Fellini’s masterful Nights of Cabiria who makes a pilgrimage to beg the Madonna for redemption. For both heroes, grim circumstances fail to obliterate, and perhaps even elicit, faith.

But while Giulietta Masina acted her belief, and convincingly too, Shuli Rand has no cause for pretending. An established Israeli actor, he left the profession in 1997 because of his increasingly devout lifestyle but, coaxed by the director Didi Gar, agreed to a comeback if certain conditions were met: No screenings on the Sabbath; kosher catering on the set; and only one woman could appear on screen with him—his wife, who’d never acted before but nonetheless gamely gave it a whirl.

The result is compelling. Rather than a condescending, reductionist exploration into the haredi community or an examination that makes them seem unrealistically righteous, Gar directs a portrait of people who are God-fearing and God-loving and flawed nevertheless. For Moshe and his wife—and perhaps for Rand, who wrote the screenplay, and his wife too—every stroke of fortune, good or ill, is a divine gift. But the vigor of belief is no protection against feelings of malice, sins of omission, and outright lies.

Ultimately, though, their sense of personal agency in the world boils down to zealousness of prayer and fidelity to God; just rewards will flow from there. It’s an understanding different from my own, yet the fear the couple sometimes feels, their hunger for an act of mercy, and the fleeting joys they get to savor too are universal and refreshing to behold.

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