So long, palm fronds: Sukkah goes digital in cutting-edge installation at JCCSF

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Traditionally, the sukkah is a simple structure, intended as a remembrance of the dwellings the Israelites slept in during their 40 years in the desert.

But at the JCC of San Francisco this Sukkot, what appears to be a simple dwelling is actually part of a modern, multilayered approach to the holiday.

“Gimme Shelter: The Digital Sukkah Experience” is at once an audio, video, photography and interactive online installation that brings together some of the Bay Area’s most innovative artists — both Jews and non-Jews — to explore concepts of home and shelter, roots and rootlessness, permanence and transience.

An image from one of the Digital Sukkah videos includes Dan Wolf (left) of the JCCSF and Tommy Shepherd of Felonious.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, visitors to the JCC can see the installation in person; some of it also will be online at 3200stories.org throughout October.

The video project — titled “we are not permanent but we are not temporary” — features videos by four artists from different mediums exploring Sukkot’s core themes.

In one, a San Francisco hip-hop music and theater collective, Felonius, takes on big questions about making art in the face of one’s mortality. In another, performer Sean San José and the local multicultural dance crew Mix’d Ingrdnts explore immigration issues.

Choreographer Nina Haft touches on ownership and generosity with a different team of dancers in another video. And in a video set at one of San Francisco’s curbside parklets, visual artist Wendy McNaughton looks at the concept of temporary shelter in an urban setting.

The audio portion of the Digital Sukkah is titled “Sonic Sukkah” and it’s based on hospitality and the custom of ushpizin, the tradition of inviting biblical figures as guests into the sukkah.

The Sonic Sukkah includes recordings from 25 artists, musicians, writers, chefs and other community leaders. They have been, in essence, “invited” into the sukkah to relay their thoughts and stories about Sukkot. Their stories can also be heard at http://gimmeshelter.jccsf.org.

Another part of the Digital Sukkah is a photography installation titled “Built.” It includes sukkah-related images that have been shared on Twitter and other social media by teens and young adults.

They were asked to capture images from their everyday lives that include the essence of one of the five rules for building a sukkah: more shade than light; walls that must be sturdy enough to withstand wind; the eye should be drawn to the roof and the sky; the dwelling must be temporary; and sharing with others is a mitzvah.

Those interested can still submit a photo, as a launch party for “Built” won’t be held until Oct. 4 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Citizen Film and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival are also involved in this part of the Digital Sukkah.

Dan Wolf, creative content producer at the JCC of San Francisco, said the scope of this year’s project was reflective of his desire to reach beyond the Jewish community when talking about Sukkot’s themes.

“For me, as an artist, what’s really interesting about Sukkot is this process of literally breaking down walls and barriers, and inviting people — strangers and friends — into this space,” Wolf said. “That’s part of why I thought it was important to get a really diverse group of people involved, to be as inclusive as possible when inviting folks to talk about what Sukkot means.

“This project was a lot of fun and a lot of work,” he added. “Throughout, it was that sense of ‘There are so many forces trying to pull us apart  as a community — let’s find the universal thread that ties us together.’ ”

In addition, the JCCSF will celebrate Sukkot by, for the fourth straight year, by transforming the Pottruck Family Atrium and rooftop into a three-story sukkah for one week. The main event is an Oct. 3 party; details of all events are on the website.


“Gimme Shelter: The Digital Sukkah Experience” will open Sept. 30 at the JCC of San Francisco. Free. Live online at www.3200stories.org through October. For more information, visit www.jccsf.org and click on “Jewish holidays” on the “Programs” pull-down menu.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.