If you don’t know what a sukkah is, don’t feel too bad. Neither did I. I’ve been around Jewish people all my life, had and have Jewish friends, even lived with a Jew for about a year, but the topic of the sukkah just never came up. A sukkah is a kind of hut — a temporary structure used during the festival of Sukkot that is meant to symbolize when God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness after they were freed from Egypt. The idea, which is subject to conditions, is to essentially live in the sukkah for seven days. Though there are certain rules about what a sukkah must have — three walls, a roof made of organic material thick enough to provide shade but thin enough to see the stars, etc. — there are no specifics as concerns what it should look like. This was the impetus behind the architectural competition of Sukkah City, culminating in a display of the 12 winning entries in New York City’s UnionSquarePark in September of 2010.
The winning designs are indeed pretty fanciful — one so much so that it was too fragile to survive installation. The most interesting perhaps is the one made of (or covered with) signs purchased from homeless people, something that is also symbolically relevant considering what is being commemorated. Easily the least practical, and, to my mind, downright gimmicky, is one made of glass walls topped by a giant log. But all are interesting. The film itself is good but not all that creative. It’s essentially a fairly straightforward record of the event, and it sometimes doesn’t really capture the finished designs all that well. Even so, it’s a worthy work and worth a look.
The Asheville Jewish Film Festival and Fine Arts Theatre will screen Sukkah City April 10 at 7 p.m. with an encore showing on Friday, April 11 at 1 p.m. Admission is $8.50.