Temporary Shelter is a collection of narrative panels that tell the stories of homeless New Yorkers in an installation that mimics the shape of a sukkah. Artist Heather Stoltz relates the homelessness found in New York City to that of the Jews in their journey in the desert following the exodus from Egypt and concepts found in Judaic texts.
Stolz created this piece after reading a passage from Sefer Hasidim (a Jewish legal text from the 12th Century) relating that “If a community lacks a place of worship and a shelter for the poor, it is first obligated to build a shelter for the poor.” She adds that in Vayikra Rabbah 34:1 (a book of homiletic commentaries on the book of Leviticus), where we learn from Rabbi Yonah, “The verse does not say ‘Happy is the one who gives to a poor person’ rather, it says: ‘Happy is the one who considers a poor person’ (Psalms 41:2). Therefore, you must consider how best to benefit such a person.”
In addition, Stoltz brings the idea that inviting the ushpizin (exalted guests) of the Sukkot holiday can also mean inviting homeless men, women, and children instead of the traditional Biblical ancestors.
Stoltz relates, “I was struck by the directive to build a home for the poor before a house of worship and wanted to create a piece that would resemble a permanent structure. A closer inspection of the piece, however, reveals its temporary nature with fabric walls and a sheer roof, reminding us that although we have built shelters for our poor, we do not yet have a permanent solution to the problem of homelessness.”
Upcoming Exhibitions of Temporary Shelter
September 25 – October 3, 2012 – Kol Ami, White Plains, NY
Saturday, September 29: Heather will discuss the Jewish texts that inspired the piece as well as the stories told in the art at the 9:00am adult study.
Sunday, September 30: Heather will do a hands-on project with the religious school students.
October 3 – 10, 2012 – Temple Israel Center, White Plains, NY
Featured Panel: “Steven”
Steven grew up on the streets of New Jersey. His mother was unable to take care of him and his three sisters so he was raised by his grandmother. He dropped out of school in 6th grade and, by the age of 13, he was getting high with his friends, which led to a life of petty crime and hard drugs. Now, at the age of 42, he is ready to break away from that world. He is in a 12 steps program as well as programs for behavior modification and relapse prevention. He is also learning the trade of plumbing and writes poetry that reflects his new outlook on life.
This piece shows his journey from the darkness of drugs to the light of religion, poetry and an honest profession. The words from two of his poems are included in the piece. The first, which speaks about his belief in God and the need to do the right thing, acts as a divider between his two lives. The second, a poem he wrote for his mother about believing in yourself, pours out of an open journal toward the light of his new life.