(photo credit: Courtesy of David Geffen.)
The 1920s was a time of growth in Jewish art, partly because of the development
of the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. One of the leading artists and teachers
at the school, Ze’ev Raban, was asked to do a series of drawings depicting the
holidays as observed by the children in Palestine during the British
A Hebraist, Levin Kipnis, was asked to compose verses for
children to accompany the drawings. The combination of the two turned into the
lovely little book, now a classic, entitled Hageinu – Sefer Temunot (Our
Holidays – a Book of Pictures).
An instant hit when it appeared in 1928,
the book is considered to contain the most important depiction of the children
of Eretz Yisrael observing the holidays throughout the calendar year in that
decade. The children in Raban’s work are not Western or east European and not
American; they are the newborn youth in their homeland.
In the catalogue
of an exhibition of Raban’s works, the following was written: “Raban easily
navigated a wealth of aesthetic sources and mediums, borrowing and combining
ideas from the East and West, fine arts and crafts from past and present. His
works blended European neoclassicism, Symbolist art and Art Nouveau with
oriental forms and techniques to form a distinctive visual lexicon.”
we think about our perception of what the Palestinian Jews were like in
Jerusalem in the first decade of the Mandate, we understand what a great gift
Raban gave us. He drew in a variety of media not just in books, but the only
time he captured all of the holidays is in Hageinu.
Presented here is the
Succot illustration which contains within it people young and old, buildings and
the texture of the city. The wooden succa on the ground has a Middle Eastern
elder seated as the door stands open. The children, however, represent a blend
of East and West in their garments. The young boy proudly holds the lulav and
etrog, the produce of the Holy Land once more renewed. Raban has also drawn
succot hanging on the walls, which we know from our present experience of
Jerusalem that they are placed on balconies of various sizes. In the background,
barely visible, is Migdal David (the Tower of David), that eternal symbol of the
The drawing of Simhat Torah captures the joy of the festival in
which the men and the children combine together in one of the lovely synagogues
of Jerusalem. The men are wearing colorful kittels and they carry the Sifrei
Torah with much love. The boys and girls are waving their flags topped by apples
and candles. Raban has portrayed the culmination of Succot in the celebration in
which the Torah is the central figure.
We cross the ocean and pass over
World War II to find a succa in the western part of the United States.
resident of Jerusalem for the last decade, Rabbi Stuart Geller is a native of
Denver Colorado where his grandparents were pioneer Jewish settlers in the early
20th century. When Geller attended the University of Colorado 1960-1964, the
Hillel Foundation on campus bought a garage and transformed it into the Hillel
Because of the weather, Rabbi Milton Elefant, the Hillel director,
had a piece of roof of the former garage structure cut away. Then he had that
piece bolted on so it could slide and be totally open when the succa was in use.
Most people believe that was one of the first succot in Boulder, Colorado where
the university is located.
Arriving at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in September
1965 as the new Jewish chaplain, I became a succa designer myself. There, the
Quartermaster Corps required me to submit a very detailed work order for “the
construction of my temporary Jewish annex,” as it was delineated in military
Since there were several hundred Jewish men, women and children
who would use the succa, including the post commander – a two-star general who
was the honored guest each year – the non-Jewish soldiers sent to erect “the
Jewish annex” was ordered to make sure that no expense was spared.
the succa structure was completed, the women and children of the post plus the
Jewish families from Lawton, Oklahoma next door did a wonderful job of
decorating so that the splendor of the holiday could be felt in Fort Sill. In
addition to the Jewish individuals, military and civilian, who used the succa,
we had a number of visitors.
On two evenings during succot, a message
went out to the Christian chaplains and their assistants to be our guests in the
succa. It would have been too difficult to invite all 60,000 Christian
soldiers on post.
Fort Sill was adjacent to a Native American reservation
and a Native American Boarding School, both funded by the US government. At
least 150 Native American teenagers accepted our invitation and looked with
wonder at the succa.
The rabbis in the Talmud discussed the succa in
detail. A succa of more than about 12 meters in height was declared to be
invalid, though Rabbi Judah’s minority opinion noted that even such a high
structure was permissible.
Jewish law indicates that you can build one
succa on top of another. However, only the upper one was legal for use.
Furthermore, the succa had to be covered with enough branches or foliage so that
the succa would have more shade than sun.
The most interesting succot in
ancient times were those erected on the backs of camels and
The IDF matches that today with the succot built on open army
trucks.They are mobile, and like the ancient beastback succot, can be sent to
the most isolated bases where soldiers are stationed. In the last 25
years, Chabad has developed its “sukkah mobiles” which operate in both civilian
and military neighborhoods.
Once the succa interest began to flourish,
numerous companies sprung up, marketing succot for easy building.
Jewish statisticians now believe that annually there are more succot than ever
before. What is most heartening is that the building of succot is a
family project. Herman Wouk, the noted author, caught that spirit when he
described succabuilding as “construction Judaism for parents and children.”