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June 30, 2016 / 24 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘mikvah’

It Beats Writing Trashy Movies in Hollywood: Part 3

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Before setting off to the Holy Land, I decided to visit my parents for a week, since who knew how long I was going to be in Israel? The first morning at home, my Dad called from work, saying that he bumped into an old friend of mine who wanted to see me. So I drove over to the bookstore where the guy worked. As I am talking to him about my upcoming trip to Israel, a very attractive woman enters the store and starts browsing up and down the aisles. “That’s a coincidence,” he says. “She’s an Israeli.”

After a few minutes, she came to the cash register, holding a book on Kabbalah. When my friend introduced us, her face lit up, ecstatic to meet the writer of the popular novel that everyone in my hometown was talking about. Nationwide, sales had been disappointing, but in my hometown everyone had read it, certain that the novel’s characters and scandalous intrigues were based on an all-star cast of community locals. When my friend told her that I was on my way to Israel, she invited me to her apartment, saying she would give me the names and phone numbers of a lot of influential friends. Her divorced husband, she said, was a TV celebrity who knew everyone in Israel. When we arrived at her pad, she excused herself, saying she wanted to change into something more comfortable.

“Uh oh,” I thought.

At that time, I hadn’t yet reached the story about Yosef and Potifar’s wife, so I had to resist her charms on my own. It was another miracle.

Oh come off it. Don’t be such a party pooper,” she said when I explained that I was becoming religious. “You’re too good looking to be a rabbi.”

At least God was pleased that I passed the test. I was rewarded with a long list of names of people in Israel, one being an old lady in Jerusalem, an incredibly holy tzaddekis, like a prophetess out of the past, who let me stay at her home, as if I were part of the family. Every morning, she would wake me at five and push me out the door, tefillin in hand, to pray at the Kotel.

Once again, to make a long story short, on that first visit, before I became involved with Volunteers for Israel, like I described in my first two blogs for The Jewish Press, I traveled all over the country looking for God. I prayed at the gravesites of all of the tzaddikim and holy rabbis of the past, dunked myself in the Arizal’s chilly mountain-spring mikvah again and again, and hung out for hours at the Kotel whenever I was in Jerusalem. A lot of times, the famous Rabbi Schuster would approach me and ask if I wanted to learn in yeshiva, but I always said no, I was looking for God. See what a knucklehead I was! From my studies about yoga, I still thought that God was to be found on some high mountaintop, not in room filled with books.

One thing was certain. I knew I had to make Israel my home. Everything here was Jewish. The language, the street signs, the food, the bus drivers, the soldiers, the cities, the deserts and Biblical landscapes of old. Even though God was everywhere, back in those days I hadn’t learned how to see Him, so not knowing how to begin a new life in Israel, I went back to America, returned to New York, and started learning Hebrew at the Jewish Agency Building in Manhattan. That’s when I met Meir Indor and Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, like I wrote, gave up my writing career, and spent the next two years helping them recruit volunteers to Israel.

So when I finally made aliyah, I knew lots of people, and was already half “Israeli”. I lived in Jerusalem with the saintly old lady I had met on my first visit, and spent my days running around with Rabbi Hazani, designing street posters and helping him with the campaign to free the Jewish Underground until he dragged me to the Machon Meir Yeshiva, sat me down with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Begun, and told him to make sure I learned Hebrew and Torah for at least one full year before letting me out of the building.

Tzvi Fishman

Holy Mission Carried Out in Hermon Closed Military Zone

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Seven men – including 4 rabbis – happened upon by an Israeli paratrooper in a closed military zone on the Hermon mountains on Monday, were on a mission of their own – to safeguard the sanctity of the Jews of the city of Metulla.

The Jewish Press’s Yishai Fleisher was on patrol during reserve duty with his paratrooper battalion on the snow-topped Hermon mountains when he happened upon an unexpected group of men. “As I was patrolling, I saw a group of people who were clearly Hareidi Jews using pitchforks on the snow, and approached them to ask what they were doing.”

As it turns out, the men – all of whom had military clearance to be in the area – were representatives of Israel’s National Center for Family Purity, and had made the trek to the Hermon to gather snow for a mikvah (ritual bath).

“The men informed me that they had clearance to be in the closed military zone for the purpose of collecting the snow for the people of Metulla,” Fleisher said.

Scraping the snow

It all began when the water of the mikvah of Metulla became dirty and had to be emptied.  The local religious authorities hoped that the water would be refilled by a late spring rain, but that rain never came.  Not knowing how to solve the problem, and wanting to provide the 1,500 residents of Metulla the ability to sanctify themselves in the ritual waters, as laid out in Jewish law and practice, the Rabbi of Metulla called Rabbi Shaya Pfoyfer of the Family Purity Center.

With a team of 3 additional rabbis and 3 workers, Rabbi Pfoyfer made arrangements to come to the Hermon, to collect snow for the mikvah.  Jewish law requires that mikvah water be “living” – rain or snow.  However, the means by which this water can be collected are laden with legal requirements and technicalities, necessitating supervision by religious authorities.

Rabbis collecting snow for the Metulla mikvah

Because the snow cannot be carried in vats or other closed containers, which would render it “non-living”, or drawn, huge construction materials sacks were marred by a series of rips in the bottom, to allow the snow to be collected in an incomplete vessel, and retain its “living” status.  The snow was not shoveled into the bags – which would have yet again compromised its “living” nature, but rather knocked off of snow drifts into the bags with pitchforks.

After 2 hours, 1500 liters of snow were collected in about 15 huge, ripped sacks, which rested on wooden palates.  The palates were forklifted onto a waiting refrigerated truck and transported to Metulla for the mikvah.

A sack of snow collected for the Metullah mikvah

 

“I took a few pictures of them, and I asked if I could join in and help fill a few bags, so that I could take part in this beautiful mitzvah,” Fleisher said.  “The Hermon is a beautiful place, but taking part in this mitzvah made it all the more meaningful.  Thank God for this year’s snowfall, which continues to be important for Israel and the Jewish people.”

Yishai Fleisher

The Hermon mountains are mentioned a few places in the Tanach, but the first mention is in Devarim (Deuteronomy), Chapter 3, Verse 8-9: “At that time we took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorite that were on the other side of the Jordan, from Arnon Brook to Mount Hermon – Sidonians would refer to Hermon as Sirion, and the Amorites would call it Senir”. Rashi, the great Torah commentator, notes in these passages that the names given to the Hermon by other nations were relevant because four nations contended for control of the Hermon, each giving the peaks a different name.  The Torah notes this, according to Rashi, to show how desired the Land was.

Malkah Fleisher

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

Friday, February 24th, 2012

A Female Member of the Satmar Community in Williamsburg takes Deborah Feldman to task for her allegations in a recent newspaper interview…

She now calls herself Deborah, but I remember her as Suri. We grew up together and attended the same school from fifth through twelfth grade. (She was actually my younger sister’s grade mate, a couple of years my junior.) She came to Satmar when Bais Yaakov of Vien, the most liberal of Williamsburg’s schools for girls, would no longer tolerate her behavioral issues.

Her aunt (whom she refers to as Aunt Chaya in her book and whom she speaks of disparagingly) was the English principal of our school. A highly respected, refined and with-it woman, she vouched for her niece and took upon herself to give Suri the best possible school experience.

Seems like Suri has repaid the kindness in spades. Based solely on her own dysfunctional upbringing (which has undoubtedly stoked her rebellious streak), she has shamelessly sunk so low as to trash an entire community. It boggles the mind… and sadly speaks for itself. What I can say with absolute certainty is that she did not undergo most of what she claims she did, and I would like to counter some of her blatant fabrications.

To begin with, classy and intelligent people do not grant interviews to tabloid papers, unless they are willing to do whatever it takes to get publicity. When I’ll be in a forgiving mood, I’ll be dan l’kaf zchus (give her the benefit of the doubt) that maybe the paper deliberately twisted her words. But something tells me they were her own. After all, sensationalism sells.

Deception: Suri lays it on thick when asked to describe a bathing suit worn in summer camp: “Picture this really shiny nylon fabric and thick, floppy, long sleeves, and pants covered with an extra layer of material to make it look like a skirt.” The real thing: At most, a “chassidish” bathing suit is a short-sleeve dress reaching mid-thigh, made of thin spandex fabric; quite comfortable, in fact, as well as modest.

Fiction: The subject of (sex) relations was a total mystery to Suri and her husband, she alleges. A bright, open-minded and inquisitive girl who managed to hide books under her bed, Suri would have us believe that she skipped the library’s reading material on anatomy and sex? Even the most naïve of Satmar girls are pretty much aware of what awaits them on their wedding night, so spare us the dramatics Suri.

Falsehood: As a longtime Williamsburg resident and a mother myself, I can attest that children transported in cars are properly buckled into their safety seats and that all mothers take their children for regular visits (and then some) to their pediatricians. If Suri was ever seated in the front of a car without a seatbelt and was never taken to a doctor (both of which she asserts), it could well have been the direct result of her dysfunctional home environment (what with a mentally unstable father and an absentee mother).

Distortion: Contrary to her assertion that at seventeen she was deemed to be on the old end of marriageable age, seventeen is, in point of fact, regarded as being on the young end, the norm being eighteen to twenty-one.

Invention 1: “Deborah” divulges that chassidish women are not allowed to eat out. Huh? I challenge anyone to walk down Lee Avenue in Williamsburg at any given time of day or night where eateries are packed with chassidish women. We may not be eating pork or crab cake sandwiches, but we are certainly enjoying the finest in heimishe food and delicacies. (You’ll find many of us eating out at kosher food establishments outside of Williamsburg as well.)

Invention 2: Curfew for women? That’s news to me. In my Satmar Williamsburg world, my friends and I have frequently returned home after midnight (unescorted by our men), and we have yet to be stopped or told that this is inappropriate.

A transcript of an ABC review of Deborah Feldman’s book has just diminished Suri’s credibility to zero in my book. Her claim of being “subtly molested during a cleansing bath – a mikvah – to ensure her purity” is utterly preposterous. No one gets into the mikvah water with a woman during her ritual cleansing. As for “the entire community” being in on her virginal status after failure to consummate her marriage, well, Suri, that sure is news to me. I had no idea!

Newly married couples in communities such as ours are fortunate to have a support system if and when needed, but at the same time a married twosome can just as well opt to maintain their privacy. Presuming Deborah’s grandparents/in-laws displayed over-protectiveness (a weakness on the part of many parents of married children across the globe), it may have been a manifestation of their compassion for a motherless child.

Rachel

An American Odyssey (Part 6)

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Were the “Hamish” Indians Jewish? On our way to Santa Fe, we stopped to visit the Jemez Pueblo and learn about the local Indian tribes. We mentioned to the squaw at the museum entrance that “Hamish” is a Yiddish word and that it had a meaning similar to the Indian word. She had never heard of that before (and she really did not look Jewish). As we left the Pueblo we viewed the magnificent red rocks and the nearby mountains and drove through an immense forest more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

We entered the town of Los Alamos. Forest fires in the area we had just left had threatened to cause the evacuation of the town, and we wanted to visit the Bradbury Science Museum before they closed the town. I, as an avid science fiction reader, had thought that the museum was named for the famous science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, and was a bit disappointed to learn that it was named for Morris E. Bradbury, the scientist head of the Manhattan Project. The disappointment dissipated when we saw the very interesting exhibits depicting the period of the development of the bomb during World War II. We enjoyed the many exhibits and the film about the super-secret town, “The Town that Never Was,” and the secret lives of the scientists, including Albert Einstein. It told of the cooperation between Roosevelt and Churchill to beat the Germans in developing an atomic weapon. The museum had replicas of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in August of 1945.

Barbara and Dov Gilor with Rabbi Levertov in front of the Santa Fe mikvah.

After leaving the museum, we visited the beautiful Capitol Building in Santa Fe and enjoyed a guided tour of the chambers and the lovely artwork displayed outside many of the offices. As Shabbat was approaching, we drove to the home of Rabbi Levertov, the local Chabad rabbi. When we arrived, we learned that his wife and children had left for Crown Heights for the Lubavitcher Rebbi’s yahrzeit commemoration and that Rabbi Levertov was scheduled to leave on Sunday. He told us not to worry, however, because one of the local women was in charge of cooking Shabbat meals at the Chabad Center and that we were eating all of our meals with the community.

On Friday night, more than 50 people came for tefillah, the Shabbat meal and the special Chabad Jewish companionship. Similar to what we experienced in many other Chabad locations, almost all of those attending were not (yet) personally religious, but they craved, at least once a week, to be in a Jewish surrounding. At the first Shabbat meal, I spoke about Israeli scientific and industrial innovations and enjoyed the questions of the many college-age participants. On Shabbat, I spoke about life in our settlement community and fielded many questions about the importance and legality of our community.

Words are never enough to portray the fantastic kiddush Hashem of the work done by the Chabad emissaries. Each time we visit a Chabad community, we are again impressed by the warm and wonderful Chabad families who willingly suffer their personal isolation from the centers of religious Jews in order to bring a little Yiddishkeit into the lives of their fellow Jews. We have travelled all over the United States and to many other countries, including China, Russia, Canada, Scotland, Australia, and Alaska, where we have enjoyed Chabad hospitality from the Rebbi’s shluchim and we are continually impressed by their mesirat nefesh.

By Minchah time, only one fellow religious traveler and a young man studying Hebrew with the rabbi showed up, yet we concluded the Shabbat in a warm and peaceful atmosphere. On Sunday morning, before Rabbi Levertov left for Crown Heights, he took us on a tour of the beautiful adobe-style mikvah that he had built adjacent to his home, with beautiful mosaic tiles and piped in music.

We had traveled more than 3,370 miles in the first two weeks of our trip, and were on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Comments may be sent to dov@gilor.com.

Dov Gilor

A Sense Of Belonging

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

“I just know you are going to love it here…” the sugary voice of the real estate agent broke through my daydream in which our future house featured prominently. “This yishuv is known for its warm and friendly atmosphere; there are several shuls to choose from; you’ll never find a house at this price so close to Yerushalayim; and the schools are some of the best in the country.”

My husband had known from the start that this was where he wanted to live: he had gone to yeshiva right nearby. Besides, his Australian country spirit had never been fully at peace in the city. Now it was up to me. I, on the other hand, had always lived in the city. I liked strolling down the busy boulevards, catching buses home after late-night events, and having the world within walking distance.

I stood silently, gazing out at the glinting sunset reflected in the surrounding mountains’ embrace. I visualized the mikvah the olei regel years ago immersed in that stood just outside the town’s borders, imagined walking up the hill to a morning Tanach shiur at eight and then down at nine. I admired the array of head coverings on the women – bandanas, hats, scarves, sheitels – and the little boys – kipot of blue, white, black, intricately embroidered Yemenite designs. It was a sea of color – past, present and future – nestled within the stark green and brown peaks of Midbar Yehuda. I liked what I saw. “It’s perfect,” I said. “It’ll be home.”

We moved in just before Pesach. I instantly loved my new house. And like any good relationship, it improved consistently with the time and efforts I put in, hanging pictures in the living room, planting impatiens and a real cherry tree in the front garden! My husband was welcomed in shul and soon had his makom kavua. The grocery lady quickly learned my name. And just as the real estate agent had promised, it was indeed the perfect place for raising children. There was just one problem: We didn’t have any.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t noticed until then. The fact that we were already married for five years and had yet to be blessed with children was rather hard to ignore. But the city had been…well… the city. I never knew whether the couple across the hall had two kids or five, or whether the noise over our heads came from a dozen kids under the age of ten or teenage boarders who liked to party. On the yishuv, by contrast, I knew for a fact that of the 278 families living there, we were the only ones without a child. And just in case I wanted to forget, the reminders were constant: In response to my friendly greetings, my new neighbors would immediately inquire “ages and grades,” wanting to know at the outset which of their own children could play with mine. My warm “good mornings” stopped cold.

I set out to shul on our second week. The grandmother in the next chair complimented me on my apparent diligence. “How impressive to see a young mother at shul. What a good example you must set for your children.” The following week I davened at home. The local playground loomed teasingly just a few houses down – at once so near and yet so far away. I started taking the long way up to the bus stop.

Two months after we arrived, the English-speakers’ email list announced the first-ever “women’s get-to-know-you” evening, designed to give all of us newcomers a chance to make friends. Finally, here was an opportunity to meet people that didn’t depend on one’s kids. I literally counted down the days until the big night arrived. I took my place and expectantly looked around at all the other people who would shortly become my friends. The organizer announced that we would go around and give each person a chance to introduce herself. I immediately began mentally planning my introductory speech; after all, I wanted to make a good first impression.

“My name is Esther,” the first woman began, “I moved from Monsey three months ago with my husband and four children, aged 2, 4, 6, and 8.” Linda was the next to speak: she was from Baltimore, had just had a baby, her third child, and celebrated her eldest’s fifth birthday. And she was an accountant.

I was starting to sense a pattern. Apparently, “introducing yourself” meant listing your offspring. With growing uneasiness, I calculated how much longer it would be until my turn. The woman two seats away had just finished holding up a picture of her happy family of seven. I mumbled something about a burner left on – and ran. My poor husband was at a loss as to why his wife had returned from the much-anticipated party weeping. I, in turn, had to force myself to go to the next get-together. I was determined not to let my self-consciousness imprison me inside my very lovely home. Instead, I would go out and mingle − and feel part of everyone around me. In this I rarely succeeded.

Yael Ehrenpreis Meyer

Would the Real (And Kosher) Sukkah Installation Please Stand Up?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

About half a year ago, my friend Miriam asked if I knew of any artists or architects whose repertoires included sukkahs. My thoughts immediately turned to the gorgeous sukkah my grandfather designed and built every year and to the retractable roof in the dining room at the Bostoner Rebbe’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Pinchas. But for the life of me, I couldn’t think of any artist who had developed an interesting aesthetic approach to the sukkah, which is the only Jewish experience (save mikvah perhaps) that completely surrounds us.

 

Although I remembered potentially playful fodder for aesthetic sukkahs from the Mishnah and the Talmud – with the pillars from a bed holding up the sch’ach, on the deck of a boat, on a wagon or on the back of a camel – I couldn’t think of a single artist, Jewish or otherwise, who had taken the legal questions of the Mishnah as a design challenge.

 

Log

 

I asked myself if artists had decided the sukkah, which commemorates the clouds of glory that protected the Israelites in the wilderness and thus symbolizes impermanence and vulnerability, was an object that one couldn’t beautify without making it too permanent – even though noi sukkah, decorating the sukkah, is one of the rabbinic commandments of the day.

 

Then I read about Sukkah City. The international contest, sponsored by the non-profit Reboot and author Joshua Foer, called upon contestants to “re-imagine” the “ancient phenomenon” of the sukkah and to “develop new methods of material practice and parametric design, and propose radical possibilities for traditional design constraints in a contemporary urban site.” The 12 finalists exhibited their designs Sept. 19 and 20 in Union Square Park.

 

The Sukkah City website has a rotating header that reveals that the sukkah: must admit more shade than sunshine, must have a roof that doesn’t obscure views of the stars, needs at least an incomplete third wall, must be 10 handbreadths tall, must not be made of utensils or “anything conventionally functional” when it’s not part of the sukkah and must have a roof made of something that grew in the ground but is currently detached from the earth.

 

In Tension

 

 

But however halachic the Sukkah City website’s conditions are, many of the finalists opted to take artistic liberties, to say the least.

 

“Repetition Meets Difference,” by German artist Matthias Karch, is not the sort of sukkah one could ever actually use, and it is not immediately clear that it would satisfy the Mishnaic requirements for walls. Karch modeled the structure on an invention by German-Jewish architect Konrad Wachsmann and the structure is made of a mixture of wood from American walnut and maple trees and olive trees from Israel.

 

Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan’s “Fractured Bubble” looks a bit like a cross between a haystack and Carrot Top’s hairdo. Though the marsh grass is affixed to plywood and bound in twine in a manner that evokes the lulav, the structure itself, which contains sch’ach which comes from marsh grass harvested from Corona Park in Queens, might require a creative interpretation of the notion of the diagonal wall – dofen akumah­ – to actually validate it as a kosher sukkah.

 

Fractured Bubble

 

 

SO-IL’s design, “In Tension,” could double as a sukkah and a screened-in tent to repel mosquitoes. The structure gets extra points for its portability – one person can carry it – which would certainly be useful for a desert wanderer, but the minimal foliage on the roof precludes the requirement to have more shade than sun.

 

“LOG,” by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams, takes the exact opposite approach. Lugging this sukkah through the desert would be like traveling with a suitcase full of rocks. As the name suggests, the sch’ach covering “LOG” is a large log from a cedar tree. The walls of the structure are glass – no stone throwing from this sukkah.

 

Repetition Meets Difference

 

Other finalists interpreted the sukkah in even more theoretical ways. Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello’s “Sukkah of the Signs” responds to the artists’ interpretation of the commandment to eat and sleep in the sukkah for a week as a political statement. Rael and Fratello built their submission out of cardboard signs they purchased from homeless people and they see it as a project that relates to homelessness. (Interestingly, there is no specific requirement on Sukkot, as there is on Passover, to invite the needy to a holiday meal.)

 

“P.YGROS.C” (Passive Hygroscopic Curls), by THEVERYMANY, is sort of the Shabbat-clock of sukkahs. As it gets more humid outside, parts of the wooden structure move and create curly shapes. It’s hard to imagine that such a natural process would be a violation of the spirit of the holiday, but a sukkah that is perpetually in motion could either be an ingenious response to the nomadic experience in the Sinai desert or dangerously close to a violation of the laws of the holiday.

 

It will always be an uncomfortable aspect of Jewish art criticism to require functionality – that is adherence to halakhic requirements – of ritual objects, particularly because many artistic projects are intentionally resistant to being practically usable. But many of the Sukkah City submissions try to align themselves with halacha.

 

Sukkah of the Signs

 

Volkan Alkanoglu’s egg-shaped “Star Cocoon” purports to exhibit the Talmudic minimal requirement of two-and-a-half walls. But the requirement – which can be seen in the typography of the Hebrew word sukkah – is classically formulated with respect to a rectangular sukkah. If the structure is rounded, as “Star Cocoon,” who is to say that it actually has two-and-a-half walls?

 

Looking through the submissions that didn’t make it to the final round one is struck that most of the artists focused their attention on architecture and only considered halacha as an afterthought – “Adam’s House on Union Square” by Alexander Gorlin and Daniel Schuetz is one of several exceptions. That artists are so publically engaging a holiday like Sukkot is undoubtedly great for Jewish art and for Judaism.

 

But one wonders if artists who also take the halachic side of their projects seriously couldn’t be impressed upon to tackle this Jewish aesthetic design challenge.

 

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Menachem Wecker

Would the Real (And Kosher) Sukkah Installation Please Stand Up?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

About half a year ago, my friend Miriam asked if I knew of any artists or architects whose repertoires included sukkahs. My thoughts immediately turned to the gorgeous sukkah my grandfather designed and built every year and to the retractable roof in the dining room at the Bostoner Rebbe’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Pinchas. But for the life of me, I couldn’t think of any artist who had developed an interesting aesthetic approach to the sukkah, which is the only Jewish experience (save mikvah perhaps) that completely surrounds us.

 

Although I remembered potentially playful fodder for aesthetic sukkahs from the Mishnah and the Talmud – with the pillars from a bed holding up the sch’ach, on the deck of a boat, on a wagon or on the back of a camel – I couldn’t think of a single artist, Jewish or otherwise, who had taken the legal questions of the Mishnah as a design challenge.

 


Log

 

I asked myself if artists had decided the sukkah, which commemorates the clouds of glory that protected the Israelites in the wilderness and thus symbolizes impermanence and vulnerability, was an object that one couldn’t beautify without making it too permanent – even though noi sukkah, decorating the sukkah, is one of the rabbinic commandments of the day.

 

Then I read about Sukkah City. The international contest, sponsored by the non-profit Reboot and author Joshua Foer, called upon contestants to “re-imagine” the “ancient phenomenon” of the sukkah and to “develop new methods of material practice and parametric design, and propose radical possibilities for traditional design constraints in a contemporary urban site.” The 12 finalists exhibited their designs Sept. 19 and 20 in Union Square Park.

 

The Sukkah City website has a rotating header that reveals that the sukkah: must admit more shade than sunshine, must have a roof that doesn’t obscure views of the stars, needs at least an incomplete third wall, must be 10 handbreadths tall, must not be made of utensils or “anything conventionally functional” when it’s not part of the sukkah and must have a roof made of something that grew in the ground but is currently detached from the earth.

 


In Tension

 

 

But however halachic the Sukkah City website’s conditions are, many of the finalists opted to take artistic liberties, to say the least.

 

“Repetition Meets Difference,” by German artist Matthias Karch, is not the sort of sukkah one could ever actually use, and it is not immediately clear that it would satisfy the Mishnaic requirements for walls. Karch modeled the structure on an invention by German-Jewish architect Konrad Wachsmann and the structure is made of a mixture of wood from American walnut and maple trees and olive trees from Israel.

 

Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan’s “Fractured Bubble” looks a bit like a cross between a haystack and Carrot Top’s hairdo. Though the marsh grass is affixed to plywood and bound in twine in a manner that evokes the lulav, the structure itself, which contains sch’ach which comes from marsh grass harvested from Corona Park in Queens, might require a creative interpretation of the notion of the diagonal wall – dofen akumah­ – to actually validate it as a kosher sukkah.

 


Fractured Bubble

 

 

SO-IL’s design, “In Tension,” could double as a sukkah and a screened-in tent to repel mosquitoes. The structure gets extra points for its portability – one person can carry it – which would certainly be useful for a desert wanderer, but the minimal foliage on the roof precludes the requirement to have more shade than sun.

 

“LOG,” by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams, takes the exact opposite approach. Lugging this sukkah through the desert would be like traveling with a suitcase full of rocks. As the name suggests, the sch’ach covering “LOG” is a large log from a cedar tree. The walls of the structure are glass – no stone throwing from this sukkah.

 


Repetition Meets Difference

 

Other finalists interpreted the sukkah in even more theoretical ways. Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello’s “Sukkah of the Signs” responds to the artists’ interpretation of the commandment to eat and sleep in the sukkah for a week as a political statement. Rael and Fratello built their submission out of cardboard signs they purchased from homeless people and they see it as a project that relates to homelessness. (Interestingly, there is no specific requirement on Sukkot, as there is on Passover, to invite the needy to a holiday meal.)

 

“P.YGROS.C” (Passive Hygroscopic Curls), by THEVERYMANY, is sort of the Shabbat-clock of sukkahs. As it gets more humid outside, parts of the wooden structure move and create curly shapes. It’s hard to imagine that such a natural process would be a violation of the spirit of the holiday, but a sukkah that is perpetually in motion could either be an ingenious response to the nomadic experience in the Sinai desert or dangerously close to a violation of the laws of the holiday.

 

It will always be an uncomfortable aspect of Jewish art criticism to require functionality – that is adherence to halakhic requirements – of ritual objects, particularly because many artistic projects are intentionally resistant to being practically usable. But many of the Sukkah City submissions try to align themselves with halacha.

 


Sukkah of the Signs

 

Volkan Alkanoglu’s egg-shaped “Star Cocoon” purports to exhibit the Talmudic minimal requirement of two-and-a-half walls. But the requirement – which can be seen in the typography of the Hebrew word sukkah – is classically formulated with respect to a rectangular sukkah. If the structure is rounded, as “Star Cocoon,” who is to say that it actually has two-and-a-half walls?

 

Looking through the submissions that didn’t make it to the final round one is struck that most of the artists focused their attention on architecture and only considered halacha as an afterthought – “Adam’s House on Union Square” by Alexander Gorlin and Daniel Schuetz is one of several exceptions. That artists are so publically engaging a holiday like Sukkot is undoubtedly great for Jewish art and for Judaism.

 

But one wonders if artists who also take the halachic side of their projects seriously couldn’t be impressed upon to tackle this Jewish aesthetic design challenge.


 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/would-the-real-and-kosher-sukkah-installation-please-stand-up-2/2010/09/28/

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