SukkahPDX offers community, hospitality and sustainable twists on Jewish traditions

Sukkot, one of the most joyous holidays in the Jewish calendar, will take shape as SukkahPDX, an architectural design event hosted by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. SukkahPDX will run from Oct. 8—Oct. 17 and will be held in the museum’s parking lot. The festival will be hosted in partnership with the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.

SukkahPDX tasks both individual artists and teams with submitting proposals for temporary outdoor dwelling places, called sukkahs, in honor of Sukkot. Sukkot is an agricultural holiday that pre-dates Judaism and celebrates the ancient tradition of simultaneously living in the field while harvesting the autumn crop.

The building of the sukkah also honors the nomadic tradition of wandering through the desert for 40 years.

Artists participating in this year’s SukkahPDX come from as close as Eugene to as far as Parma, Italy. Artsits will be given an intentionally modest $400 budget to make their designs come to life.

The completed structures will be available to view free of charge from dusk until dawn throughout the festival.

Along with the design event, OJMCHE will be holding other festivities during the week, including a multicultural vegetarian dinner within the sukkahs on Oct. 12, and a concert held by singer Alika Hope on Oct. 14, where students will be educated about the American abolitionist movement.

Co-curator of the event, Sandra Oberdorfer, in partnership with Coren Rau, said that this year SukkahPDXwill be focusing highly on hospitality and conversation in their slated designs. Oberdorfer said that all of the artists come from very different backgrounds and that those who aren’t Jewish are especially thoughtful about the rules and symbolism that come along with building the structure.

There are strict regulations that go into building a sukkah. For example, the roof must be constructed from something of the earth or tied closely to nature. Oberdorfer said she isn’t surprised that SukkahPDX appeals to so many individuals who don’t practice Judaism, because with its playful nature it brings out the inner child in everyone who built forts when they were young.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a lunch to eat within a sukkah, because hospitality is such a major theme of Sukkot. Oberdorfer said that while some are initially hesitant to participate in a religious holiday they don’t celebrate, Sukkot is about unity and conversation rather than exclusion.

“It’s no more dogmatic than sharing a meal with your family every night,” she said.

Eddy Shuldman, a juror and chair of ORA Northwest Jewish Artists and a local glass artist, said she believes it to be a fun event for all.

“In Judaism we have a tradition of enhancing the beauty of ceremonial and ritual objects called hiddur mitzvah,” she said. “When we take a ritual object and beautify it we are more likely to display it, use it, enjoy it. A beautiful object is more likely to attract interest and attention. A sukkah can be utilitarian in nature and that is sufficient, but it is a mitzvah to enhance it, decorate it, beautify it and fill it with guests.”

Such designs featured this year will include materials like live wheat or canvas to bring up sensory images of traditional harvest and dislocation. One local team plans to construct a sukkah in the shape of a pomegranate, one of the seven species representing the bounty of the land of Israel.

Portland is not the first city to host such an event. Sukkah City was put on in New York City in 2010, but lasted for only one season. Oberdorfer believes that unlike Sukkah City, SukkahPDX has been able to thrive because of their aspiration to keep things sustainable and centered on the themes of Sukkot.

“Historically, this event hasalways had something for everyone…Jewish or not,” Shuldman said. “These selected sukkahs are exciting, innovative and certainly push some
of the ritual boundaries.”

Additional information and details regarding sukkahs, the vegetarian dinner and Alika Hope’s concert can be found on the museum’s website at