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Marilyn Lazar

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Welcome to Sukahville

Posted: 09/14/2012 5:00 pm

Sukkahville 2012 is difficult to explain, mainly because it's a complex concept, but also because it comprises so many surprises and contradictions.

Part design competition, part fundraiser, the multi-faceted celebration will culminate in a Pop-up exhibit to which everyone is invited on Sunday September 30, from 12-4 pm at Mel Lastman Square, 5100 Yonge Street, Toronto.

Sukkahville is a celebration of design as well as an observation of a religious holiday and harvest festival. A sukkah is the name of a temporary shelter constructed by observant Jews at this time of year. It commemorates the temporary shelter used by Jews wandering the desert long ago. Though our weather here is far colder, people eat under this thatched roof. Sukkahville is using the symbol of temporary shelter to draw attention to the need for a permanent solution in the area of affordable housing.

The design component of Sukkahville invites participation from individuals and teams, artists and architects, to re-imagines this temporary dwelling, following "halachic" rules, or rabbinic guidelines. Submissions came in from all over the world and were judged by some very high profile professionals in the field. Five finalists were selected and given a stipend with which to erect their structure. The winner will be chosen at the free event on September 30.

The event is free thanks to corporate sponsorship such as that of lead sponsor, The Daniels Corporation. Proceeds will go into a "rent bank" to help families in need bridge the gap between what their rent costs, and what they can afford. We want to encourage a large turnout because Sukkahville is also about raising awareness. The event is being put on by Kehilla Residential Programme, an agency that identifies and champions affordable housing in the GTA.

The date of the event is nigh, so I thought I'd share some observations at this juncture.

I came on board the steering committee for Sukkahville 2011 with a vision of helping write some material. Writing was something I felt I could do, but I soon found out I knew nothing about my topic: the lamentable state of affordable housing in my own city. So what began as an opportunity to give back to the community in a small, comfortable way, transitioned into a journey of research, discovery and amazement at people's resourcefulness on so many levels.

What struck me are the contradictions. How we are using the symbol of something so flimsy to inculcate the importance of something permanent and secure. How one specific religious festival has appealed so easily to people of many faiths. How an event conceived to raise funds for and awareness of a specific organization has united several agencies, with individual egos falling by the wayside. How something so ancient and traditional could be so contemporary and relevant. How an event in one city attracted participants from around the world.

The broad and universal response from the design community has in turn made it easier to pitch to non-Jewish media. The interest and reception has been heart-warming. Naturally, there were multiple issues with the city bureaucracy but all sides persevered and cooperated. I'm proud that we're holding fast to our idea of actually feeding social service clients under the roof of a sukkah, as Sukkot is not only a celebration of bountiful harvest but a reminder from biblical times to "open our tent to a stranger."
The submissions blew me away with interpretations I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams -- truly not our Zayda's (grandfather's) sukkah.

The designs, like all good design, managed to remain within the constraints imposed and yet find solutions bursting with creativity. What a perfect echo of what Kehilla is striving to achieve: to within our constraints -- lack of government funding, competition for charitable dollars, rising cost of housing in the city and growing numbers on the waiting list -- forge ahead and find creative solutions for affordable housing.

For those who don't feel motivated to build their own sukkah, Sukkahville affords the chance to do so with a hands-on build opportunity by Habitat for Humanity. It makes it easy, fun, interesting and cultural to observe one of the high holidays that can slip through the cracks after the height of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. There will also be the opportunity to complete another "mitzvah" or good deed as a lulav and etrog will be available.

Come celebrate Sukkahville.

 

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