Painted murals, Sukkot-themed banners, laminated prints, posters, children’s creations or recycled Jewish greeting cards brings art inside the sukkah’s temporary structure. Creativity extends from its walls to the schach (pronounced skah–ach) the prescribed sukkah roof.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman of Congregation Beth Shalom explained, “It’s not only permitted, but it is praiseworthy to make your sukkah beautiful or ornate.”
Atlanta artist Miriam Karp has a heirloom sukkah, the walls of which her parents asked her to paint in 2002 to show the seven male ushpizim (guests). Instead, Karp painted a mural with portraits of 23 relatives, whom she said “included both dearly beloved deceased and current male and female family members.” Clothed in biblical dress and representing the traditional ushpizim, as well as other figures from the Torah, they’re seen conversing with each other while sharing a meal. Karp pointed out that their table is set with family heirlooms: Kiddush cups and candlesticks brought from Eastern Europe when her family immigrated to the United States. Everyone at the table has a piece of homemade challah honoring Miriam’s mother, Hazel, who baked it every week. After her parents moved into assisted living a few years ago, the heirloom sukkah was moved to Karp’s home to be used each year.
Zimmerman told the AJT how incorporating art in a sukkah fulfills the concept of hiddur mitzvah, the Jewish principle of enhancing or making the observance of a mitzvah more beautiful. “Where one fulfills the commandment to ‘dwell,’ to sit and eat in the sukkah, and in addition, to make it more beautiful by adding art, a mitzvah in itself, then one is doing an ‘extra mitzvah.’” In his own family sukkah, the poster art displayed is often based on a ushpizim theme, the honored guests who may be the biblical visitors of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.
Judaic artist Barbara Ladin Fisher said her daughter Yosepha (Joanne) Krohn ordered an easy-to-assemble sukkah kit, similar to a pop-up tent construction, using a straw mat for the schach. It’s to be shipped to Fisher’s home in Toco Hills. Because the sukkah may already have some applied decorations, Fisher intends to hang up some of her gigantic pinecones once found in the state of Washington and use some of the many interesting artifacts she made years ago.
Her grandchildren, who live nearby, will not be coming over because of
COVID-19, but promised to send Mama and Papa some of their own drawings to be hung in the tiny 6-foot sukkah. “Sukkos has always been one of my favorite holidays,” Fisher said. “In a way, it is like having Thanksgiving for a whole week. We wear our nicest clothes and eat lots of great food. Adding beauty and splendor to a simple tent is considered a great mitzvah and as an artist, it is what I love to do.”
Eric Miller’s sukkah, made from a kit, is filled with art from a tapestry cloth to cover his 8-foot table to the profusion of about 40 ornaments hanging from the schach roof made of bamboo branches that had fallen at nearby Piedmont Park. With the help of Judy Marx, each year they decorate the schach using artificial fruits and vegetables handed down from Miller’s childhood years, miniature chandeliers, and a wide variety of artful decorations. Miller said, “My favorite pieces are the fruits from my family’s old sukkah; each one is a treasure.”
About 30 candles in candleholders of different shapes and heights illuminate the sukkah’s decor. When guests come to Miller’s sukkah asking what they can bring, his response is: “We have all the food we need. But if you’d like, bring something to hang in the sukkah.”
The ornament collection keeps growing, with the sukkah roof large enough for more. Miller and Marx say creating an artistic sukkah together with their friends and family makes the space even more sacred. “Every ornament comes into our sukkah with love and a great story,” Miller said. “Isn’t that what Sukkot is all about?”
Inexpensive and easily accessible ephemera or found papers provide another way to dress up a sukkah. Recycled Jewish New Year and other Judaic-themed greeting cards or pages of outdated Jewish calendar art can be inserted into plastic storage bags or laminated. Craft stores carry items such as artificial flowers, small pumpkins, gourds, corn husks, plastic apples or fruits to add to your schach with wire or string.
Surrounding yourself with art while “dwelling” in a sukkah may increase the enjoyment of Sukkot. Chag Sameach Sukkot!