JCCSF turns its sukkah into an art experience

Who could have predicted way back in 1969 that a Rolling Stones song title would one day be put to use to reinterpret a Jewish holiday?

The song, “Gimme Shelter,” is the title and theme of the experimental new installation “Gimme Shelter: The Sonic Sukkah Experience.” The exhibit is an interactive audiovisual tapestry of Jewish voices, and it will be both online and on display at the JCC of San Francisco from Tuesday, Sept. 21 through Oct. 3.

Rapper Ephryme, among many others, offer their takes on Sukkot, home and shelter.

The installation is part of the JCC’s weeklong “Sukkot: Outside In” celebration, which also features a farmers market, lectures, workshops and a “Schmooze in the Sukkah” party.

Gimme Shelter’s free opening reception on Tuesday, Sept. 21, will include etrog drop cocktails, a blessing by Rabbi Elliot Kukla, and live music by Jascha Hoffman of Girls in Trouble and U.C. Davis American studies professor Ari Kelman with his band, Tukhes.

At the installation patrons will be able to step inside a traditional sukkah and pick up a pair of headphones (there will be many) to listen to different people interpreting Sukkot. The recordings also will be available online with accompanying photographs.

For the project, co-curators Dan Wolf and Brian Garrick, both of JCCSF’s The Hub, contacted artists, musicians, rabbis and community leaders around the world to get their takes on Sukkot, home and shelter. Local contributors were recorded onsite at the JCC or by Garrick; global participants sent in their pieces. The completed project includes recordings and photographs from 18 people scattered about the Bay Area, New York and Israel.

“The heart of the project is the audio recordings,” Garrick says.

Wolf and Garrick asked all participants the same six questions — including “what does home mean to you?” and “what gives you shelter?” — and received wildly different responses. While some of those involved, such as American Jewish World Service president Ruth Messinger, gave meaningful, straightforward answers, others stretched the idea even further.

“People really took the idea and ran with it,” Wolf says.

Jewish rapper Eprhyme chose to respond with a rap about home and shelter, in which he sampled the original Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” beat. Similarly, Michael Hearst of rock band One Ring Zero also chose to answer in song form.

Dan Wolf and Brian Garrick

Kelman, who’ll be performing at the opening reception, created a soundscape in which he sampled religious verses.

“For some people, it wasn’t just about a physical home as shelter, it was about the home as a metaphor,” Garrick says. “Things like rootedness and rootlessness came up, permanence and transience.”

Robbie Gringras, a British theater artist now living in Israel, recorded a humorous piece about descending into a bomb shelter — and what to tell your daughter if bombs are falling outside. His piece includes images of the actual shelter he hid in during the Lebanon War.

Kukla’s recording, about his work with Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, will be complemented in the sukkah by his paintings created in response to his experiences praying with patients.

New JCCSF executive director Barry Finestone recorded himself discussing his family’s move to the Bay Area.

After gathering all the responses this summer, Wolf and Garrick got to work editing the audio and visuals into 18 different pieces.

“We heard real and diverse stories, different voices and different kinds of music, different flavors — we heard the full range of expressions of people riffing on Sukkot,” Garrick says.

At the exhibit, artwork and photographs submitted by the different storytellers will accompany the recordings. After listening, visitors will be able to leave comment.

“Since [the installation] is people describing what Sukkot means to them, it would only be fair for the listener to be able to say what it means to them,” Garrick says, “especially since these stories are so personal. It really hits home. You realize everyone has their own story.”

“The installation is a response to our times,” Wolf says. “How can we do a lot with few resources? How can we engage the community and have them rethink what Sukkot means to them?”

The Sukkot reinterpretation is part of an ambitious plan from the Hub, a young adult organization that explores Jewish identity through arts and culture.

“We have an overarching goal to reinvent the entire Jewish calendar,” says Wolf, “to innovate ways for young people to get involved.”

“Gimme Shelter: The Sonic Sukkah Experience”
will run Tuesday, Sept. 21, through Oct. 3 at JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. Free opening reception at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21. Information: www.jccsf.org/gimmeshelter.