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The Schmooze

Sukkahs for the Homeless

At Sukkot, as we build or assemble and decorate our temporary shelters in the backyard, we might complain about the chilly weather or having hammered our thumbs or the rising cost of etrogim. One Toronto organization is using the opportunity to draw community attention to a much more serious problem: homelessness. Kehilla, a community organization devoted to serving Jewish household experiencing a gap between their housing costs and what their families can afford, presented the 4th annual Sukkahville art show and competition this year to raise money (and awareness) around homelessness.

For the competition, Sukkahville solicits artist and architect proposals from across the world, requiring that the structures be built in accordance with Jewish laws that govern sukkah construction — they must provide shade in the daytime but be open to the sky, the roof must be made of natural materials that grow in the soil like leaves and branches, and the structure must provide some shelter from the elements. Beyond the traditional strictures (overseen by a Toronto rabbi) and a few practical matters, designs are beautiful and wild, opening the senses to the beauty and possibility of a sukkah that dazzles. Eight finalists are chosen from the designs submitted, and those sukkot are the ones exhibited during Sukkahville.

Finalists of the Sukkahville competition are displayed for several days on Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto’s City Hall. This year’s crop included a sukkah with a biodegradable skin, one inspired by the shape of a halo, a hexagram meant to evoke a Star of David and a sukkah in the shape of a halo. Entrants ranged across the world, and teams from Paris, Mexico City, and Cyprus to Teaneck, N.J. made the finals. Attendees have the opportunity to visit the sukkot and even enjoy lunch or a snack nearby (though not inside the booths at this stage of the competition) from an array of food trucks.

Local heroes (and favorites) Louise Shin, Nivin Nabeel and Daniel Bassakyros from Ryerson University in Toronto took first place with their luminous entry, “Cloud and Light.” This winning structure, with a taller profile than many and a repeating light pattern of fours (to echo the four kinds of Jews represented in the lulav and etrog), was a crowd favorite and had festival-goers streaming in and out during both days of the festival.

Sukkahville’s organizers have created not only an art installation but an opportunity to think about people whose housing situation is even more temporary, and often less lovely, than the sukkahs displayed. In combining the mitzvot of hiddur mitzvah (making ritual objects beautiful) and not only giving charity but creating an opportunity for hundreds of people to give, Kehilla’s Sukkahville event is a necessary — and beautiful — reminder to care for our community and we observe the holidays.

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