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
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
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.
HOW TO PAINT A MURAL IN YOUR SUCCA
* Paper, pencil, eraser, ruler
* Old shirt, hat, shoes, disposable glove, drop cloth and
* Sand paper, white mat paint or wood primer
* Oil or waterbase outdoor paints
* Brushes. Roller and paint tray, sponges, rags, wooden fork
* 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
* 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
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
7. Transfer the drawing from the smaller grid to the larger
wall grid by copying each part of the drawing in its
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
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
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
14. Protect succa mural with one or two coats of
polyurethane varnish against the elements and for easy
This method is spontaneous and quick. The results are always
* 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.