Last week, during the holiday of Sukkot, I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of teenagers at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. I shared with them my Temporary Shelter project, highlighting the stories of two homeless New Yorkers as well as the texts that guided the creation of the piece.
The students then worked in groups to create their own art inspired by one of those texts. First, the students and teachers chose one of the following texts and discussed it in their groups:
Vayikra Rabbah 34:1
Rabbi Yona said: The verse does not say “Happy is the one who gives to a poor person. Rather, it says “Happy is the one who considers a poor person,” (Psalms 41:2) therefore you must consider how best to benefit such a person. (Translation by Rabbi Elizabeth Richman)
Sefer Chasidim (Legal text from the 12th Century)
If a community lacks a synagogue and a shelter for the poor, it is first obligated to build a shelter for the poor.
Next, they designed fiber art pieces that best expressed the thoughts, ideas, and emotions that came out of the text study. The photos below show the students creating their artwork. When they were happy with their pieces, they ironed everything in place.
When all the pieces were completed, the students shared their work with the whole group, explaining the meaning of behind the art. Below is a selection of their work. The group at the left chose a black background to represent the darkness of homelessness. The “sparks” of light that cover the piece symbolize the moments when people reach out to the homeless and bring light to the darkness.
The next group spoke about hope and how one maintains hope in a dark place. Included on their piece is a “golden door.” They explained that not everyone in need is offered a “golden door” to help them out of the situation, but if one is available, you should not refuse the help.
Another group emphasized the importance of thinking out of the box and getting out of our comfort zone when thinking about the problem of homelessness. For example, during Sukkot, the synagogue hosts a festive meal for congregants. The space is reserved for members, but the teens urged everyone to think about how that meal would be different if we opened our sukkah to those in need as well.
The fourth group discussed the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” They felt that, while it is admirable to give money to someone in need, it will only help them with their next meal. Instead, we should try to do something to change their lives in a more meaningful way. Perhaps that money would be better spent supporting an organization that is working on permanent housing or another long term solution.
The next group created a piece showing two figures giving love and assistance to a someone who is in need.
And the final group spoke about the importance of lending a helping hand and created a piece with an open hand with a person on it and two overlapping hearts.