Ushpizin (literally, guests) is the tradition of inviting the exalted men and women of the Bible into the sukkah. During Sukkot 5772, professional artists as well as amateurs who are JTS students, faculty, or staff have taken the concept of ushpizin as the centerpiece and inspiration for an art installation in the famed sukkot built each year in the JTS courtyard.
The newest program of the JTS Arts Initiative, the Sukkot installation for this inaugural year is complemented by historical pieces from the collections of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
"The Jewish arts," said JTS Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen, "attract and hold Jews through a combination of meaning and community available to them nowhere else. JTS chancellor Louis Finkelstein founded The Jewish Museum to show that Judaism is more than texts and rituals, more too than religion and ethics: the arts too constitute an essential element and expression of Torah. With the help of Artist-in-Residence Tobi Kahn, our unique joint MA program in Jewish Art and Visual Culture, and our Arts Advisory Board—whose members include Provost Dr. Alan Cooper, representatives of The Jewish Museum, professionals from several artistic disciplines, arts philanthropists, and collectors, among many others—we intend to take this key area of human learning and experience and make it an integral part of all JTS study and programming."
"In the spirit of hiddur mitzvah (fulfilling commandments artfully)," said Dr. Cooper, "it is customary to embellish the sukkah with plaques that incorporate the names of the ushpizin—traditionally Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David, and more recently including Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther. Shirah Rubin, who received a master's degree in Jewish Education from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2003 and whose support helped make the display of these works possible, wishes to dedicate it to the memory of her beloved mother, a teacher of art who saw the creative process as a spiritual act and who sought to inspire everyone to explore their creativity to the fullest."
The ushpizin Sukkot collection, now on display in the Adele Ginzberg Women's League Sukkah, is designed to spotlight the essence of Judaism, Torah, and the history of the Jewish people. The website Jewish Art Salon has excellent coverage of the installation, including more photography of the featured artwork.