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A “UNITY” sukkah takes shape in Stamford

By Cindy Mindell

STAMFORD – Over the next two weeks, a sukkah will literally be woven into existence, beginning as a community-wide interactive public art project and culminating as the traditional temporary shelter used during Sukkot.

The idea for the unusual sukkah structure came about when Stamford resident Betsy Stone saw a video about the UNITY public-arts project and approached Rabbi Jay TelRav and Cantor Micah Morgovsky of Temple Sinai in Stamford, where Stone is a congregant. The clergy agreed to implement UNITY on the synagogue grounds, customizing it for the congregation by also putting it to use as a sukkah.

The UNITY public-art project is the brainchild of Nancy Belmont, CEO and Chief Inspiration Officer at the Virginia-based Vessence Corporation. In June, Belmont launched UNITY in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va. as a response to the divisiveness and negative rhetoric in American politics and as way to foster community-building. She then invited other U.S. communities to create UNITY projects of their own and share photos and videos of the process via social media.

The UNITY structure consists of 32 posts arranged in a circle, each inscribed with an identifying phrase such as “I’m a survivor,” “I speak English as a second language,” “I identify as LGBTQ,” etc. As participants tie yarn to the post or posts that reflect their individual identities, the yarn intertwines to create a colorful web.

“In the end, we see that we are all connected by something, and it’s our diversity that builds a strong and vibrant community,” Belmont writes. “With this project, we hope to raise consciousness about the labels we give ourselves and others and explore how those labels both support and limit building interconnected, interesting communities.”

Temple Sinai in Stamford is sponsoring the project on its grounds until Oct. 23, inviting congregants and the community at large to participate, and reaching out to the Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut, local government officials and law enforcement, and community organization like the Boy Scouts.

“I am very aware of the general divisiveness in our country right now,” says Stone. “In an attempt to bring our community together and to see ourselves in one canopy, we hope to make a ‘sukkah’ of peace.”

Morgovsky did not hesitate to endorse the project.

“Betsy and I agreed that, in this day and age and political climate, we need more opportunities to bring people together, rather than pull us apart,” she says. “We both loved UNITY because it highlights that, even though we are all unique individuals, we all share many things in common. We are a stronger community because of our diversity. We can and should celebrate our differences as much as, if not more than, our similarities.”

Morgovsky sees the project as a meaningful way to mark the Jewish new year. “This multi-faith endeavor is an effort to bring all of us together, quite literally, under one canopy,” she says. “We are particularly excited to run this program in conjunction with the High Holy Days as a way to encourage reflection and inspiration for the coming year, and so that UNITY can become our sukkah – so that we may be sheltered beneath strands of yarn comprising our entire Stamford family.”

Stone is on the same page. “I am so pleased that Rabbi TelRav and Cantor Morgovsky responded with such enthusiasm,” she says. “This structure allows us to be both personally and community-focused. What a wonderful way to bring in this season of introspection and renewal.”

UNITY will be in operation on the following dates and times and all are invited and encouraged to participate. The project will complete its transformation into a sukkah on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Friday, Oct. 7 , 1-2 p.m. and 4 – 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 12,  12:30 – 2 p.m. and 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 16,  9 a.m. – 12 noon

Sunday, Oct. 23,  4 – 5 p.m. UNITY closing ceremony and de-construction

Temple Sinai is located at 458 Lakeside Drive in Stamford. For more information: cantor@templesinaistamford.org.

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