“My mother and father had gone to the Edison Cinema not far from our house, and he remained at home with us children… Gabriel Jonathan Luria sat reading a French book. When I approached him, he got up, took me into his arms and went outside with me into the night. The first meeting with the night sky shocked me and filled me with muffled dread. I saw the sky and suddenly it was black with tiny points of light in it. “Those are the stars,” said Gabriel and added, “the host of heaven,”…the Old City Walls and the mountains around them, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus, were present in the darkness and heavy with the weight of an ancient–breathed quality, terrible in its dimensions which were beyond the dimensions of man, and its eternities which were beyond the eternity of man, and its indifference to the little men stirring on its back…”
David Shahar/Summer in the Street of the Prophets, Jerusalem 1996 [first published 1969] (translated by Dalya Bilu, New York 1988)
“And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years; And let them be for lights in the firmament of the Heaven, to give light upon the earth; and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the Heaven, to give light upon the earth. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 14-18).
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) expounds: Two great lights: meaning that originally they had been created equal. Subsequently, the moon was made smaller because it protested that two kings cannot share one crown. And the stars: because he had made her smaller, God placated the moon by providing her with numerous companions.”
The experience of the night, as described in the biblical story, is gradually disappearing from much of the planet. In urban skies the moon abides in loneliness, deprived of the company of the calming, placating stars. The potency of artificial light is such that it creates an intense halo that colors the sky in muddy orange, screening and concealing the stars. The reliance on large sources of light, projecting a superfluous radiance, as well as the spread of large urban areas flooded with unnecessary brightness, creates the phenomenon of “light pollution”. Modern-city life therefore, deprives us of the unique moments that exist only after nightfall. Furthermore, it almost annihilates the natural day-and-night cycle, substituting a new type of artificial daylight. Thus, humans pollute not only their tangible environment but also the mysterious world, located light-years away, glimpses of which are revealed in the night sky. (Star-gazing embodies the light-matter dichotomy: because of the enormous distance and the speed of light, distant stars reach us by an “emissary” – light – which began its journey from its material source dozens, hundreds or thousands of years ago.)
It is not only the night sensation that makes the stars so important; it is also their practical significance in Jewish tradition. The times for lighting the Shabbat candles as well as for reading the evening She’ma prayer are determined by the stars: “One should read the She’ma evening prayer when he is able to perceive three small stars. If the sky is cloudy he should wait until free of doubt” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, reading of She’ma regulations). The building of the Sukkah roof is likewise associated with the stars: “It is advisable to leave space between the branches and leaves so that the stars can be appreciated. If, however, they are thickly intertwined, the Sukkah can still be used” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Sukkah regulations). And symbolically: “It is customary to place the Chuppah wedding-canopy under the open sky as a sign of blessing, for I will make your descendants as numerous as the night stars” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chuppah).
The Chuppah-Canopy is a temporary installation that is designed to be placed in cities in open squares, gardens, parks, or walkways. It is built to direct our gaze upward, as if reminding us of the night-entity above us. An opening in the canopy frames a segment of the city’s night sky. A screen on the side displays the sky as revealed, in that same moment, at another place, for example, in a desert. Thus, the canopy invites a comparison of the city’s sky with the sky of another, pollution-free, area. It is hoped that this project will create a greater awareness of light-pollution and its effects. It is likely that the phenomenon will decrease when city-planners, municipal authorities and the public understand light pollution and its causes.