10/02/2012 05:18 EDT | Updated 12/02/2012 05:12 EST

The House That Sukkahville Built

Something awe-inspiring is afoot in the heart of Mel Lastman Square in Toronto. Scattered around the usually open concrete space are six unusual edifices. One hut is constructed of wooden slats that resemble the ribs of an overturned canoe while another is comprised of white helium-filled balloons of varying heights. Yet another calls to mind a tall teepee, but it's built of bamboo. Passersby pause to peruse the captions which explain the intent and meaning behind these frankly strange structures.

They are sukkahs which are temporary shelters, built according to a very specific set of rules. We are right now in the middle of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which calls for these shelters to be built for eating and even for sleeping inside. You can spot them in backyards, front yards and on decks and balconies this week, as Jews commemorate the holiday. But what are they doing in a public place?

Five in all went up overnight last Saturday in time for a design competition, pop-up exhibit and event called Sukkahville 2012. A sixth was constructed as part of an interactive programme at the event, which took place on Sunday afternoon. Again, you might ask why.

According to Judeo-Christian and Islamic doctrine, God provided manna for the Israelites during their travels and travails in the desert during biblical times. Well, now it's 2012, and social service agencies are trying to augment whatever miracles may occur to help those in need. Kehilla Residential Programme is one such agency. The creative people who work at Kehilla decided to use the symbol of the sukkah, a temporary shelter, to draw attention to the need for permanent shelter, otherwise known as affordable housing.

How fitting to use this flimsy structure to draw attention to the need for real shelter and the security it provides.

Among the miracles associated with Sukkahville, despite gloomy forecasts to the contrary, clear skies prevailed for the four hours designated on Sunday afternoon to celebrate good design, to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot and to select the winner of a competition.

The design competition element had begun months earlier with a call to any and all interested parties to submit creative designs for a sukkah. Entries came from as far afield as Tunisia and India. Submissions were sent by individuals and teams, artists and architects. None of the finalists are Jewish but all were captivated by the concepts: shelter, harvest, gratitude, opening one's door -- and one's heart -- to a stranger. Funds raised through Sukkahville 2012 will go into a rent bank to assist families in need.

The sukkahs will remain on display until October 3. Following that, The Daniels Group, lead event sponsor, will transport two of them to display indefinitely. The others are available for purchase, but hurry -- only until October 3. For further information about purchasing a sukkah, supporting the cause or getting involved, please contact The Kehilla Residential Programme.

If you haven't yet done so and you possibly can, get yourself over to the free exhibit at Mel Lastman Square before end of day October 3. You will see prize-winning design. You will learn about history and the power of interpretation. You will catch a unique and amazing exhibit. And you just might catch the spirit.

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