Up On the Roofs


I was married in 1943, during World War II. The ceremony was held on the roof of the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem. We were secular Jews but a religious marriage was the only option since Israel did not (and still does not) perform civil marriages.

In Jewish tradition, a wedding takes place under a chuppah (canopy). Chuppah means covering or protection and is intended as a roof under which the new couple will live in their newly established home.

Another roof experience was during a stay in Baghdad during a very hot month of August. At another time, I’ll explain how we came to be in Baghdad at such a miserable time of year. Sleeping indoors was out of the question and all the hotel guests spent the night on the roof under mosquito nets.

The roofs in the Middle East are flat since it seldom snows there and rooftops are multi-purpose areas serving as verandas, meeting venues, picnic places and lookouts. I remember a film with Marcello Mastroianni and Sofia Loren where they used the roof as a rendezvous.

Rooftop Image From Marriage Italian Style

From Marriage Italian Style

Besides their utilitarian function, roofs are a form of architectural art. The roofs in the Forbidden City in Beijing have graceful overhangs, often in several tiers with upturned eaves. They are also ornamented with figurines just as decorative as the statues in Gothic cathedrals.


Roofs in Forbidden City

More examples of roofs as artistic expression are domes like St.Peter’s in Rome, Hajia Sophia in Istanbul and of course the Taj Mahal.

Let me also mention the bright orange tiled roofs of Dubrovnik in Croatia, destroyed in the 1990s and later rebuilt in all their glory. You can get a magnificent view
of this roof ensemble by walking on the ramparts, absorbing the contrast between the golden tiles and
the vivid green of the Adriatic Sea shimmering below. It is a sight I will remember for a long time.

Recently we have witnessed the spread of green roofs. Rooftop gardens, though by no means a modern invention, have become very popular. Besides the ecological benefits they provide, green roofs also have decorative and recreational functions. I remember a BBC television series in which a crime is committed by an MP who murders a journalist by throwing her off a rooftop garden.

And while we are on ecological grounds (or rather roofs) we must not forget the new solar heating panels which now decorate many roofs.

Have you wondered about the symbolism of “The Fiddler on the Roof” in Sholem Aleichem’s story and the Broadway show adaptation? It captures the precarious existence of the Jew in a hostile world.
Tevye says: “Every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck.” The imagery is also present in two Chagall paintings: one in 1912 called The Fiddler, the other in 1920 called The Green Violinist.



Trinidad, Cuba

I know there are many more roof stories, I hope you have one too. For now I will leave you with this question: Why is the plural of roof not rooves? We have hoof/hooves, loaf/loaves, elf/ elves , calf/calves etc etc.

Editor’s note: Color photos by Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer


A Classic Rendition by the Drifters of The Carole King/Jerry Coffin song…Up on the Roof

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6 years ago

Two more stories about roofs, coming up! In 1970, I lived in the top floor of a pickle factory. On hot nights, we would step out of the window and cool off on the flat industrial roof. It was also a place to sit and think. It was so private and peaceful. In 1969, I lived in a shabby building and my window looked out, again, on a flat roof. There were riots going on. The National Guard had been called out to help local law enforcement. There was a young member of the National Guard stationed on the roof… Read more »

6 years ago

This comment came to admin.:

Was delighted to read your thoughts on roofs.

6 years ago

That is exactly the kind of story I was hoping to get. Thank you

Zachary Cramer
Zachary Cramer
6 years ago

Wonderful, I’ve never really thought much about roofs before but they are so distinct and interesting. I recently heard a story from a neighbor here in Portland. A man from out of the area moved in and bought a vacant lot. He built a house on the lot which all of the neighborhood found very ugly (it is next door to me, I can attest, it is still very ugly). When he first built it, though, to add insult to the ugliness, he built it with a flat roof! Now, I don’t know where the man was from, but in… Read more »