Tuesday, June 2, 2020 -
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The sukkah endures

A night gathering in a sukkah — sort of under the stars — is always a treat. To be in the outdoors in a little hut you build and decorate for just one week feels special.

It is different from the ordinary patio. Most of the decorative art in a sukkah are layers of emotions and memories, craft projects from generations past — maybe even yours from when you were a child — and, of course, all of the colorful ones from the current kids’ generation. Like the four species, this child art, representing the generations and past Sukkos memories, all come together and literally touch one another in the sukkah.

Julie Geller is becoming a household name in Denver. Her warm, informal musical style and compositions are inviting and soulful. Julie sings and plays from the heart. And like Julie herself, her music carries a depth and resonance that goes beyond the melodious notes.

Like really good music, her songs are often insightful teachings and messages to us and to the world about the human condition, about life, about joy and meaning in life.

Julie cradles her singing companion, guitar in hand, plucking its vibrational strings, her lovely voice floating in unbridled expression.

Julie Geller and Agi Fried. What a combination. Julie with her singing talent, and Agi Fried, a gracious hostess in the community whose panache transforms any setting into the loveliest of gatherings.

So when Agi, in her usual hospitable way that so many have come to expect and love, opened her sukkah for a women’s night of singing by hosting Julie Geller, you can imagine the atmosphere and spirit.

In the shadow and soft glow of Agi’s sukkah was an intimate and cosy atmosphere. A variety of lights strung across the pungent canopy of green s’chach, the sukkah lit up in a melange of shapes, of pastel crescents and stars, with an amber glow of round oranges and petite lanterns, and with colorful parrots strung across the sukkah.

And Agi’s daughter Shevy Fried — her artistic flair was on display in the many beautiful sukkah decorations adorning the walls from her childhood days in that very sukkah.

An array of treats, apricot and raspberry swiss tarts as well as powdered sugared shofar cookies are all delectable, but outshone on this night by a popular bundt cake, playfully called the “Dr. Bird Cake.” By the end of the evening everyone is copying this recipe out of Agi’s old cookbook from which she has been baking for years. The “secret” of this recipe is that it doesn’t need a mixer. In fact, the less tampered with, the better. Hence its popularity (aside from how moist and delicious it is). You can easily bake it on yomtov.

When Julie was basically just a kid, already a burgeoning artist, I would accompany her to the random musical gigs she got. Sitting there in some doughnut shops, along with her father, beloved Dr. Ivan Geller, and sometimes Elchanan Popack too, right from the beginning it was clear Julie had that most elusive of qualities growing within her: talent.

As Julie went from singing joyful holiday tunes to more serious introspective ones, such as the nightly Jewish prayer about forgiveness, she prefaced each song with some contextual and meaningful thoughts with which to enter the song.

Some of her songs in the sukkah are solo performances, and some participatory, with us, an intimate circle joining in, harmonizing.

As we are all there soaking in the singing and music, and talk of Sukkos songs ensues, suddenly the mother of Agi’s husband Yossi, Mrs. Dena Fried, a Holocaust survivor here in Denver from Bnei Brak for the holidays, begins quietly and gently singing an old Yiddish Sukkos song, “A Sukkah a Kleine.” It was a song that, before actually understanding a word of it, one senses is tinged with that old world pre-Holocaust quality of nostalgia and melancholy of the shtetl gone by.

She sang the touching song, and then when she finished Elka Popack translated it for the rest of us — a poignant metaphor and millions of Jewish moments throughout history packed into it. A kleine Sukkah: that small, flimsy, and simple sukkah, when a gust of wind comes and attacks it, causing its fragile boards to shiver, its candles to flicker, and just then the daughter of the family is entering the sukkah with a bowl of hot chicken soup in hand, fearful of the sukkah collapsing. She is reassured by her father not to fret, as the little sukkah hasn’t fallen yet. There have been such fears about the sukkah falling for thousands of years, yet the sukkah remains standing.

Just as the sukkah endures, so does the Jewish people.

As the musical circle was coming to a close, Julie’s mom, Dr. Barbara Geller (Julie’s biggest fan, of course) pipes up and says, “Hey, why don’t you play the Trader Joe’s song.” The Trader Joe’s song? Well, yeah. Aren’t you excited about the upcoming opening of Trader Joe’s, finally coming to Colorado? Well, so is Julie! And so together with her 10-year old son, Ilan, she has playfully captured it in this fantastic little Western ditty which I suspect you’ll get to hear in person on opening day of Trader Joe’s.

Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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