Volume 80, Number 7 | September 23 - 29, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Milo Hess

Checking out one of the entries in the Sukkah City competition on display in Union Square.

Not your grandma’s sukkah; Designers interpret holy huts

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke and Clifford A. Merin

One of the most unusual sukkahs in New York City — it looks like an explosion of marsh grass rather than the customary box-shaped hut of twine and plywood — will be on display at Union Square until Sat., Oct. 2.

“Fractured Bubble,” by New York-based architects Henry Grossman and Babak Bryan, was the winner of Sukkah City, a design contest exhibited on the square. The 12 finalist structures were selected from more than 600 proposals aimed to demonstrate the artistic possibilities within biblical constraints.

“We talked about a sukkah and we thought it was a little bubble where you take time out with your closest friends and family and reflect on the world outside,” said Grossman. “And it has apparently turned into a place where you take time out and reflect with a whole lot of your friends and family.”

A sukkah is a hut typically erected for the weeklong holiday that commemorates the temporary homelessness of the Jewish people in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. Jews traditionally build these structures on their property, eating meals and sometimes even sleeping in them.

In order to be considered properly built, or kosher, a sukkah must adhere to certain technical restrictions. It must have at least two-and-half walls and a top that both provides shade and a view of the stars — often achieved through a thatched roof.

“It’s a great conversation between Jewish tradition, ancient Jewish tradition and rigorous Jewish law,” said Dani Passow, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Passow inspected all the sukkah design entries to ensure they adhered to the proper biblical requirements.

“We wanted to get the best architects in the world reimagining what this ancient structure could be, while working within its traditional design constraints,” said Joshua Foer, co-founder of Sukkah City.

In addition to its artistic aspect, the event also aimed to raise awareness of the holiday among Jews and non-Jews alike.

“It’s really good as far as bringing awareness to people who didn’t know anything and were completely ignorant,” said Shade Tarver, who works for the Mayor’s Office. “I wish I had one in my backyard.”

Rabbi Larry Sebert of Town & Village Synagogue on E. 14th St. was impressed by both the traditional religious and artistic aspects of these designed sukkahs.

“They are beautiful and it’s great, just in terms of everyone getting to see what a sukkah is all about, or at least these beautiful interpretations of them,” Sebert said.

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