Beth and Joe Krush Build a Sukkah

All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown – Sydney Taylor and Beth and Joe Krush, Follett, 1972

cover

To appropriate Tolstoy’s famous quote, “Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” each book in the All-of-a-Kind Family series, featuring a happy family, is illustrated in its own way, because each has its own illustrator. (Well, not quite. Mary Stevens illustrated both More All-of-a-Kind Family and All-of-Kind Family Uptown.) The five Jewish sisters and their little brother of All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown have the good fortune to be brought to life by the Krushes.  This is a family of full-scale humans, not the miniature universe of The Borrowers, (regular readers of this blog know that I often blog about the Krushes, as here and here and here; I have also written about them for The Horn Book) , but they do for a short time live in a miniature house, the temporary dwelling built for the Jewish festival of Sukkot (Sukkos in older Eastern European pronunciation).

sukkah

The sukkah built by the Krushes is partially covered by greens so the sky is visible. It has three freestanding wooden sides, but is built against the brick wall of a building so that one wall is solid. The residents of this little house, meant to represent the fragility of Jewish life, vary in size, from the bigger than a Borrower, but still quite small Gertie, the youngest sister, to Guido, a non-Jewish friend from the Settlement House, a community center for improving immigrant life.  The Krushes’ drawings are black and white; Guido’s dark and tightly curled hair contrasts with the girls’ waves and braids. Shaded areas and repeated lines add detail without color: the creases in the children’s coats, the fringes on a scarf. The scalloped leather on high-button boots. The tallest person in the picture is not inside the sukkah, but looking in tentatively. Miss Carey, the social worker, is amazed at this oddly playful Jewish custom:  “‘It’s a child’s perfect little dream house!’ she exclaimed.”

The chapter then goes on to describe the family’s celebration of Simchas Torah (Joy in the Torah), the festival which comes at the end of Sukkot and marks both the end and a new beginning of the yearly cycle of readings from the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.  Synagogue services culminate in worshippers parading through the aisles and the neighboring streets with the Torah scrolls.  The Krushes depict a scene quite typical of early twentieth century Jewish immigrants, when it was accepted that women, although not permitted to carry the Torah, were allowed to touch and kiss it with reverence.  (Increasing restrictions on gender roles in a more stratified world of traditional Judaism has made this less common today.) Taylor, herself religiously and politically progressive, specifies that “The curtain separating men and women was thrust aside, and so contagious was the revelry, many of the younger women joined the dancers.” So here we have the non-Jewish Krushes’ ecstatic portrait of Jewish love for the book which gives structure their lives.  Bearded men in black coats and hats embrace one another and the sacred scroll. So do young women, and Father is dancing with one daughter on his back, another grabbing the edge of his coat. The Krushes have always been wonderful portrayers of old age; we see the lined faces of older women as they clap along with gnarled hands.

simchat torah

Another note about gender roles.  Today’s sukkah sometimes has elaborate store-bought decorations, in addition to the traditional fruits and vegetables and pictures hung on the walls. Children still make paper chains.  Guido is annoyed at being asked to participate in this activity, claiming that is “silly,” and “for sissies!” Yet the Krushes’ picture of him shows him smiling broadly and looking comfortable at being the only male in the room, enjoying himself with his affectionate and kind female friends.  If only he had also attended the Simchas Torah service with them, the one where “Papa cried gaily. ‘It’s God’s party and everyone is invited.’”

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