A time to build- Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council will support a yearlong sukka project in collaboration with Hillel at the University of Minnesota


Nothing says summer is on the wane more plaintively than harvesting vegetables from the garden as the air begins to cool. Tomatoes today, autumn squashes tomorrow. Warm summer nights give way to a new school year, and September’s arc of Jewish holidays culminates in the harvest festival of Sukkot.

Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, recently gave a project support grant to Hillel at the University of Minnesota to help launch “Extreme Makeover: Sukkah Edition.” Teams of students will be matched with artists to create inventive, artful and inviting sukkot — the temporary booths that Jews have built for more than 2,000 years.

The historic and modern are fused in this symbolic act, reminding Jews throughout the world of the ancient Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert, as well as of the fragile underpinning of our contemporary lives.

Sarah Routman, Hillel’s executive director, says the project is a great fit for students at the U.

“Students are in a transitional phase of life in college,” she said. “A sukka, a temporary structure, is a perfect symbol of this time.”

This sukka by architect Kent Simon was one of six selected for inclusion in The Sukkot Project at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1999. Rimon was the co-sponsor with the MIA of that project. (Photo: Courtesy of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council)

Students will learn about “Extreme Makeover: Sukkah Edition” as soon as they return to campus this fall. Hillel’s resident Rabbi Yosi Gordon, scholars and artists will advise the students on the basics for what’s needed to create a sukka that’s connected to tradition, social consciousness and playful imagination.

By November, teams of students will be formed. By March, their maquettes, or models, of the sukkot will be completed and ready for evaluation by a panel of three judges.

In the tradition of ushpizin, or guests, who are welcomed into the sukka, art critic Roslye Ultan, textile artist Sandra Brick and architect Jay Isenberg will step into “Extreme Makeover: Sukkah Edition” and consider the merits of the applicants. The winning submissions(s) will be publicly displayed during the holiday of Sukkot 5774 (2013).

Andrea Golden, director of student life at Hillel, is thrilled to offer the opportunity to the community at large to learn about, build and visit sukkot.

“The tradition of a sukka as a welcoming place fits with our goal of educating and welcoming at the university,” Golden said. “This is a place Jewish students can bring their non-Jewish friends… Wherever you are on the Jewish continuum, you’re welcome.”

This is not the first time Rimon has been the catalyst for creating artistically inspired sukkot. In 1999, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts collaborated with Rimon on The Sukkot Project. Artists and architects from diverse backgrounds were invited to submit models that, while staying true to the requirements of building a sukka, also addressed the pressing issues of homelessness and affordable housing.

Six stunning sukkot were selected, built to scale and installed in the larger community. Some of the sites included Peavey Plaza outside Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the two JCCs, and three synagogues in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. The sukkot were then transported to Target Park outside the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where they delighted visitors to the museum with their intriguing shapes and elegant designs.

One of the winning architects, Kent Simon, wrote about his creation: “The inspiration for this sukka is in seeking a balance between enclosure and exposure, between walls and roof, between the world we have so carefully constructed for ourselves and the vicissitudes of life.”

Keep your eye on the U in the coming year, as new ideas and friendships form around this uniquely Jewish form of architecture.

The next deadline for Rimon’s project support grants is Sept. 7. For information about the application, visit: www.rimonmn.org, or contact the Rimon staff at 952-381-3449.

Rimon is an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.