Brooklyn, New York's best-known beach, Coney Island, was the site of an annual sand sculpting contest. Held on a hot August summer day but buffeted by beach breezes, this event drew thousands of on-lookers (many toting cameras) and a strong media presences (TV, radio, etc.) who watched as dozens of people, of various ages and abilities, tried their best to create attractive pieces of art from just sand and water. Talk about ephemeral arts: these sculptures of castles, sea and land animals, pop culture symbols and more, were not made to last. These pieces of folk art can only last at best for a few days. If strong winds, rain and obnoxious beach-denizens have their way, these pieces of art may collapse much sooner.

The way in which these sand art pieces do survive is certainly through documentation-- photographs, videos and film, sketches. And of course through the memories of people who see and create these sculptures.

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I thought about these here-today, gone-tomorrow artworks not only because my family and I love to visit Coney Island each week during the summer time, but also because they remind me of mandalas. These are the Buddhist colored-sand artworks created by monks, which are displayed but then destroyed. This is to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. A friend of mine lives in suburban Maplewood, New Jersey, where there was a recent mandala project that was completed and destroyed...on a Shabbat, August 15. (Not sure if they planned it that way, but that kind of seems...unkind.)


These two sand-filled events got me to thinking: does sand sculpting and sand art have any intrinsically Jewish connection? Is sand art just some activity for kids and architects in training? Or can it be seen in a more serious fashion?

Apparently the  Temple Institute, the non-profit group devoted to the rebuilding of the Jewish Holy Temple, did see a link. In 2012 they produced a wordless video, showing two children at a beach who construct a sand version of the Holy Temple, which awes their unsuspecting father.

Lest I tread upon a topic with which I am not well-enough versed, let me just state that I have no easy answers here, just questions and observations (some bloggers, such as myself, are prone to writing such open-ended pieces). My questions are: is making a piece of art that you know will just be destroyed, worth the effort? Is that really allowable within the scheme of Judaism? If one were to make a sand sculpture with Jewish symbols, would that be wrong? Or is sand art merely perceived of as rough draft work, playful creations, stepping stones to expression?

Or sometimes a sand castle is just a sand castle.

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