Sukkah doppelgangers reinvent contemporary Jewish artistry

Lea Mauas and Diego Rotman’s vision explores immigration & destiny

LEA MAUAS and Diego Rotman stand in one of the sukkot that are part of the ‘Permanent Residency’ exhibition. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
LEA MAUAS and Diego Rotman stand in one of the sukkot that are part of the ‘Permanent Residency’ exhibition.
Three sukkahs are on view at Hansen House, one from Kingstown, Canada of our own times, one from 19th century Fishach in the south of Germany, and the last one, a Bedouin sukkah, can be seen in a 2014 video documentation.
Layered together, the artistic structures contain roughly six years of artistic couple Lea Mauas and Diego Rotman’s interest in immigration, and mark 20 years of their ongoing work as the Sala-manca [the empty hall] group: a loose artistic network which dared produce cultural events under the title of He’arat Shulaym (Footnote) from the days of the Second Intifada in Jerusalem to our own times of the novel coronavirus.
While the official opening of  the exhibit “Permanent Residency” had been postponed due to the lockdown, the public is welcome to take part in a Wednesday Zoom discussion with the artists, as well as with Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem and Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, world-class experts on Jewish folklore.
Like the Talmudic page, which has a core text and a textual aura of footnotes around it which explore the many different ways to make sense of what is suggested, He’arat Shulaym offers to take those interested on a journey of what might have been.
In 2017, Mauas and Rotman offered their own voices to a special screening of the 1937 Yiddish masterpiece Der Dybbuk, which featured a live musical score and their own daughter, Ashu, who also offered her voice-acting talent. This interest in what is supposedly dead, Yiddish culture destroyed in the Holocaust, is manifested in exploring how such cultural currents found other ways to rejoin the living ocean of Jewish culture.
Their fascination with recording that which has passed is the reason for their creation of the Museum of the Contemporary: an oxymoron, as a museum is usually meant to present the past, not what’s happening in our own times.
The couple created their own artistic version of the South American soap opera, Argentinian-Israeli telenovela, The Story of Batya M., starring their own family, including their son Nahuel. A recent episode in this family saga was a public auction of all their things before moving to Canada to reside in Soberman House.
Home of the late Jewish-Canadian legal expert Dan Soberman, the house and the paintings in it were kept as they were during his lifetime, offering the Israeli family a unique experience, living in Canada in a “ready-made” Canadian-Jewish home lifted from the 1980s. The unique décor had been recreated as one of the rooms at the exhibition, the name of which was derived from Mauas and Rotman waiting to obtain their permanent resident status in Canada. Eventually the family headed to Israel with Rotman securing a teaching position at Hebrew University, leaving behind the option of building a Jewish life there.
“For us,” Mauas explained, “there is a great deal of wealth in the [Jewish] cultural works created in Diaspora and they are important to the internal discourse which is taking place here in Israel.” Rotman, who holds a PhD in Yiddish Theater, added that in a similar way to how Yiddish comedy in 1950’s Israel was able to address issues “below the radar,” they too are able to “show another perspective to what is happening here, a sort of double existence, underground, which expands the cultural canon.”
THE CANADIAN sukkah, for example, replaces the traditional painting of Jerusalem with that of Lake Ontario. The German sukkah, a copy of the original one built by the Deller family currently in the Israel Museum collection, restored a painted church tower that existed in the original art. The structure was smuggled here in the pre-state period when the Nazis took over Germany. The Deller sukkah does have Jerusalem painted at its center, but it’s a Jerusalem placed on the green landscape of Fishach.
The last Sukkah at the exhibition is, chronologically speaking, the first one: a hut built in Khan al-Ahmar by the Bedouin who reside there. The artists bought it for NIS 6,000 and had it rebuilt in the Israel Museum. The transformation of what some regard as an illegal house into a cultural object did not go unnoticed by some in the Israeli Right, who argued that it makes little sense for the national museum to purchase a construction which the IDF is meant to destroy.
The sukkah had been purchased by the museum for NIS 60,000 with half that sum going to the family which originally built it and the other half used to cover the costs of the exhibition. The family used the funds to begin an eco-tourism business.
The importance of landscapes is a recurring motif in the exhibition. The German sukkah paintings are rich with acts of violence such as a dove being attacked by black birds and a dog seeking prey. 
The online panel discussion on the Museum of the Contemporary with Hasan-Rokem and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett will take place, in English, on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Israel time (12:30 EST). Registration is possible through the website: