By Emily J. Weitz; Image by Erling Hope
Sukkot, which runs September 30 to October 7, is considered the happiest holiday on the Jewish calendar, and for this year’s festivities, Temple Adas Israel has decided to throw its doors open to the whole community. The Sukka, an outdoor structure where all meals are meant to take place during the festivities, is the most distinctive part of the holiday, says Rabbi Leon Morris. And this year, Temple Adas Israel will unveil its beautiful new Sukka, designed by local architect Nilay Oza and local designer Erling Hope.
“Sukkot is the holiday of hospitality,” says Morris. “It’s part of the ‘It takes a village’ approach. We are sharing our tradition with the larger community, inviting people to participate on their own, and to share our joy.”
All activities throughout the week will take place in the new Sukka, which was designed sticking to Jewish legal requirements, with interesting aesthetic choices, like the unusual roofing.
“One of the rules,” says Oza, “is you can’t mechanically secure anything — so no screws. We took wide, thin pieces of wood and did a cross weave. We wanted the pieces of wood to be thin enough that you could see the light through them. Then, if you vault a ceiling it will have some strength, like an arch. This makes it self-supporting. It’s really simple.”
For a secular person like Oza, working on the Sukka was refreshingly spiritual.
“Whether you like it or not,” he says, “this is a spiritual construction. I understand that as an architect, a primary task, which borders on the spiritual, is to provide people shelter. I am emotionally tied to everything I do because I am providing people a home. That is very central. This was a way to connect with that. It was more than a job.”
But the construction of the Sukka is only the beginning. The structure will also be a work in progress, evolving as people from the community come and contribute to it. To that end, the temple has scheduled special community events daily throughout the week of Sukkot, including a screening of the award-winning Israeli film “Ushpizin,” a reading by local poets, a discussion with farmers from the East End, an evening of storytelling, jazz music and even a puppet show.
“Whenever someone comes,” explains Morris, “whether it’s for the poetry reading, the jazz concert, or the harvest discussion, they will create a panel that Erling Hope will then transform into the interior of the Sukka.’
“It will be a growing art project that the entire community will create,” he adds. “On the last day, we’ll have an open hut where people can come and see what was created over the course of the week.”
This communal aspect of building the Sukka and celebrating this holiday with the whole of the village is very much in line with the spirit of Sukkot.
“Even though this is a Jewish festival,” says Morris, “it’s always had a universal thrust to it. In the ancient temple in Jerusalem, over the course of the week, there were 70 bulls sacrificed, to represent the 70 nations of the world. The sacrifices were offered not just for Jewish people, but for all the world.”
So when Rabbi Morris and the members of the congregation started planning the weeklong celebration, it only made sense to draw on the abundance of the entire community.
“This holiday resonates with themes that speak to everyone who lives on the East End,” says Morris. “It’s about ecology, hospitality, universalism. It’s about getting in touch with how tied in to the earth we are and about getting in touch with our vulnerability.”
But he returns to the heart of the holiday, which is this element of joy.
“Some rabbis teach that what we accomplish on the High Holy days through tears,” explains Morris, “We accomplish on Sukkot through joy. Joy is no small aspect of religious life. It’s no small aspect of Jewish life, and I think it’s an aspect that some Jews on the periphery haven’t experienced how central the idea of joy is in Judaism. This holiday underscores that, and it’s something we can share with the larger community as well.”
This degree of inclusion, getting the whole community involved, is quite rare, said Morris. He said he does not feel there is a contradiction in being a devout Jew and being open to the whole community.
“They are not mutually exclusive principles,” he says. “The robust Jewish life that we experience personally and we share with our congregation is one that equally embraces and is non-judgmental. I think those are really complementary ideas, rather than contradictory. We’re so excited to share how relevant and meaningful Jewish life and traditions can be.”
Still, Morris attributes the plausibility of a collaborative project like this to the larger culture of Sag Harbor.
“This is a project that could only have come together as a result of our experience in living here,” says Morris. “This is a Sukkot with a Sag Harbor vibe.”
Celebrate Sukkot: The Jewish Harvest Festiva
Temple Adas Israel, 30 Atlantic Avenue, Sag Harbor. 725-0904.
Monday, October 1 -Screening of “Ushpizin” an Israeli film. 8 p.m.
Tuesday, October 2 -Poetry reading by Scott and Megan Chaskey, Pamela Kallimanis and Barbara Leff. 8 p.m.
Wednesday, October 3 - “A Day in the Life of Local Farmers” from Sunset Beach Farm and a sampling of squash soup. 8 p.m.
Thursday, October 4 - An evening of storytelling with local residents. 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 6 - Jazz concert with Bryan Campbell and friends. 8 p.m.
Sunday, October 7 - “Open Hut” viewing of the community Sukka. 3 p.m.