Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Creativity Corner
Painting on Your Succa Walls
by Devora Piha

The urge to paint or write on a wall has likely caught our creative spirit at one time or another. Most likely, it was when we were toddlers but has long since been forgotten. We, too, were once children going through the numerous stages of development. This urge wasn't limited to a freshly painted or wallpapered wall. It could have been on a stone wall or a freshly cemented sidewalk that we passed by on our way to school, or on a construction wall, or a blackboard, or a drawing in the dirt or sand with a stick. This innocent urge comes from a child's healthy desire to say, "Here I am and this is my mark in the world. The child's first marks are a sign that s/he is alive and well and longs to contribute his impressions and contributions to the world.

An understanding adult or sibling will pick up the clues discovered on the living room wall and provide the child with a stack of paper and drawing materials suitable to his age. When Mrs. Margolis saw Shmuli's writing on the wall, she quickly took the clue and looked into other drawing and painting options for him. Stacks of large paper, a blackboard or dry erase board (when age appropriate) were all vehicles of education for his pre-writing skills. As she watched him pick up the crayon and make contact with the paper surface, she concluded that each stroke was a prelude to writing and the divrei Torah that she prayed for would one day come from him as a result of his ability to write. In the meantime, she was pleased that he was able to learn hand and eye control and to communicate visually until that stage gradually arrived when words would replace visual images and marks as the important thing in his young life.

Yet, there is an ongoing place for visual imagery as well in the Jewish home. We have the dimension of hiddur mitzva, the embellishing and beautifying the mitzvos. At the crossing of the Red Sea, the Jews declared, "This is my G-d and I will adorn Him." In Judaism, we make tangible what is otherwise not in our grasp to touch; the divine and holy essence of the mitzvos. We do this with decorated, illustrated and constructed objects that we use in our physical world. The succa is a perfect example of a physical structure and is made especially beautiful in accordance with hiddur mitzva. The succa is a showplace under the stars. The humble booth that we dwell in for seven days is decorated in the finest fashion that we are able to devise. The embellishment of the succa is a requirement. Beautiful decoration lifts our souls heavenward and glorifies the name of Hashem. Jewish art raises our hearts and thoughts to our Creator.

Decorations and art done exclusively for the succa offer an opportunity to reconcile one's desire to make a mark in the world and to be creative. This is an especially good time to literally draw on the walls! Mother or older siblings can create a surprise for the rest of the family by doing a painting of the arba'a minim or the shivas haminim on the succa walls. Or, they can help the small children paint youthful designs on the succa walls. The simple pleasure of painting takes on an added pleasure when it is done for the enjoyment of the family and guests and for the hiddur mitzva.

Jewish ceremonial art is often referred to as Jewish folk art. Folk art can be sophisticated or simple. Both are nice. The distinction is a very fine line, often depending on the level of professionalism that the artist attains or the level of education in the craft. The Jewish folk art in your succa can be on any level that is pleasurable to your eye and neshoma. The desire to enjoy making something lovely on your succa walls is the main goal. The examples of homemade folk art that abound from the past and are done today in people's kitchens is an affirmation that our creative impulses can be successful with little or no technical training. Examples range of all hand crafts and hand work in all types of materials for all purposes both functional and decorative, expressive and non-expressive. Technique is a plus but at times set up limitations and inhibitions to talent if the talent must be tailored to fit the technique. Technique can be tailored to fit the mode of expression that a child feels more comfortable with. Mural painting can be done without much technique.

The following two examples of restored nineteenth century succos from Europe remind us of the remarkable care and appreciation of the hiddur mitzva that our fellow Jews practiced.

The Italian Jewish Museum on Rechov Hillel has on permanent display four wooden succa panels done with oil paints from nineteenth century Venice. The restored panels that now hang on the museum wall were donated by the Sullam family. The four remaining panels that survived were from a larger group of upper and lower panels that once connected together. The lower half is a garden design. The upper half are windows that look out onto different scenes from the Torah: the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea, the Jews gathering manna in the desert, Moshe hitting the rock and the Jews scooping up water.

In the Judaic section of the Israel Museum, on permanent display is a completely restored and immaculate succa from Southern Germany, 1837. How it came to be acquired by the museum is an interesting story. While at a bus stop on Rechov King George, I struck up a conversation with a friendly tourist. As we spoke, she told me that this very succa came over from Germany in her family's lift to Israel many years ago. I was struck by the uncomfortable thought of such a lovely wooden booth being used for a lift. It sounded practical, but didn't seem the best way to preserve a succa as ornate and detailed as this one. Later, while researching this article from the museum catalogue, I learned that her family's lift was not made from the succa panels themselves, but rather held the pieces within. "The succa was used by the Deller family until the beginning of the twentieth century when it was stored in an attic to prevent further deterioration. In fear of Nazi regulations, the succa was smuggled out of Germany in 1935. It was installed, facing inward, against the walls of a wooden crate containing the personal belongings of the Frankel family of Munich, then en route to Eretz Yisroel." According to a third source, the succa was eventually discovered in the Meah Shearim market.

This succa is a fine example of Jewish folk art that includes both traditional German folk art of everyday scenes and religious Jewish sources. On the walls are local village scenes, a shul and the Deller family home. There are vistas of holy sites of Jerusalem and scenes relating to major Jewish festivals that were copied directly from engravings. Succos such as these remind us of the value Jews have given to hiddur mitzva.

We do not have many remaining examples of succos from the past due to their nature of construction and the materials used. But we can imagine that they contained a charm and directness associated with folk art that may or may not have had anything to do with technique. Mural painting is for those who have the desire to put down a poetic image, however unsophisticated it might be. This art has its own charm and is highly valued for its honest and direct touch and because it was made by someone who put their time and heart into it.

To begin your own succa mural, choose subject matter that you and your children agree on. Present day scenes of your neighborhood at Succos time or your family members holding the arba'a minim are ideal subjects of the wood panels. Scenes from chumash, Simchas Beis Hashoeva, the instruments of the Leviim, verses and decorations of ribbons, flowers and fruit trees, scenes of Jerusalem, harvest scenes, are additional choices from the wide selection of Succos themes.



* Paper, pencil, eraser, ruler

* Old shirt, hat, shoes, disposable glove, drop cloth and rags

* Sand paper, white mat paint or wood primer

* Oil or waterbase outdoor paints

* Brushes. Roller and paint tray, sponges, rags, wooden fork are optional

* Turpentine for oil paints or water for water-based paint and tins cans large enough for your brushes etc. DO NOT MIX TURPENTINE AND WATER TOGETHER or OIL PAINTS WITH WATERBASE PAINTS

* Polyurethane (optional)


1. Choose a design or illustration. (See above)

2. Trace or draw design onto a standard sheet of paper.

3. Draw a grid of squares across your drawing. Each square should be the same size, 1/2 inch to 1 inch in size.

4. Prepare the succa wood by sanding it to a smooth surface.

5. Coat the area to be painted with white mat paint or a wood primer. (Check with your local hardware store for the best type.) Let dry.

6. On the wooden wall, draw another larger grid of squares that is identical to the first grid, with the exact same amount of squares and proportionately as correct as you can.

7. Transfer the drawing from the smaller grid to the larger wall grid by copying each part of the drawing in its corresponding square.

8. Choose oil base paint that cleans and dilutes with turpentine or a waterbase paint such as latex or acrylic paint and thins and cleans with water. Follow manufacturer's directions. Choose colors. Mix additional colors if desired.

9. Select two or three different size brushes and perhaps a roller for large background areas such as the heavens. Rollers also come with long broomstick like handles. Sponges or small crunched up rags are good for leaf and foliage effects, mountains or ground. A wooden fork is good for making several lines at once.

10. Prepare area for easy cleanup with a drop cloth, cans with turpentine OR water (depending on the type of paint you use) and a tray for a roller if you use one.

11. Cover up in an old shirt and hat. Disposable gloves make cleanup faster.

12. Begin painting, working from the top to the bottom to prevent drops of paint from falling on finished sections.

13. Paint large areas in solid colors first. Do details and highlights last.

14. Protect succa mural with one or two coats of polyurethane varnish against the elements and for easy cleaning.


This method is spontaneous and quick. The results are always surprising.

* Do the drawing freehand in pencil directly on a light colored or white succa panel.

* Use colors or paints avialable at home.

* Make decisions as you or your child paints along.


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