At this moment of national religious anxiety, it’s tempting to ask what would happen if other religious rituals were turned inside out and opened to public view. If the people behind the proposed Park51 Islamic cultural complex had put all their plans forward and invited the entire city to comment, could outside observers have made them sound so scary? One of the Sukkah City architects wrote about the goal of making a structure “transparent enough to be inclusive, but dense enough to create a sense of belonging.” Inshallah.
I returned to Union Square Park on Wednesday night, as the actual holiday began, worried that the winning (and by then only remaining) structure might have devolved into a battleground, with different tribes of Jews trying to lay public claim to it. But I found no black hats and gray beards wielding prayer books. No blissed-out Israeli ravers eating organic produce from Whole Foods. No observance of any kind. The sukkah was roped off and ignored.
It seemed sad that a competition that spawned such excitement about design and open-mindedness made no effort to also support actual religious practice. But on the Upper West Side, where one of the runner-up sukkahs had been deposited on a sidewalk, a few neighborhood families that discovered it had run home and grabbed food, then reconvened for dinner under the stars.