This past weekend, a team of volunteers from the Congregation Emanu-El gathered to realize Jonathan’s sukkah design in the temple’s courtyard. Constructed for the Jewish festival of Sukkot, a sukkah is a temporary hut intended to replicate the wilderness dwellings built by the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land. Traditionally, a sukkah has three sides, branches for a roof, and serves as a space for eating, gathering, and sometimes sleeping during the holiday. Always, the roof should be thin enough that one can see the stars from within the dwelling.
Like traditionally simple sukkahs, Jonathan’s design celebrates the harvest with modesty. Twelve burlap panels are suspended in the temple’s courtyard, rising in height as they slope up around the fountain at the space’s center and towards the doors of the temple itself. Each constructed of four slender wooden beams creating a rectangular frame for the burlap, the panels billow and bend gracefully in the wind and leave bold, geometric shadows on the bricks below.
“We challenged a group of architects to design a sukkah using creative form and the whole courtyard,” Rabbi Jonathan Singer explained to me on Saturday, emphasizing his desire to expand upon the temple’s previous smaller, wooden structures and create a site open to the entire community. Even during its construction that afternoon, the suspended panel design proved inclusive; with direction from Jonathan and the other architects present, families stapled the burlap screens’ sides to the wooden beams and knelt to tuck uneven edges beneath the frame. A congregation member and his son had stopped to help on their way to a soccer game, another woman had dedicated her entire afternoon to the project, and a mother ran to pick up another staple gun with her son in tow. Rabbi Singer himself pulled a pair of scissors from his pocket to help the volunteers, saying “In the season of our joy, we remember with humility not to compartmentalize ourselves from nature.”
The sukkah will remain in place for the duration of the holiday, which ends on Sunday, October 4th. For more creative sukkah designs, check out this gallery of entrants in 2010’s Sukkah City competition, which selected 12 designs to be constructed and displayed in New York City’s Union Square Park: http://www.sukkahcity.com/
Update: The sukkah continues to welcome the community with great success throughout the holiday. Sunday evening, a crowd of people enjoyed fulfilling the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah, and the courtyard has since hosted preschool breakfasts, staff lunches, the congregation’s Youth Education family day, and Wednesday night’s Women’s Group gathering.