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A Hut in Bryant Park

By , NEW YORK, NY

Only fifty feet from the glamour and glitz of the fall fashion show in Bryant Park last week, an odd looking hut became a curiosity item drawing the attention of models, designers, and media personnel from the international press. Approaching, gingerly at first, they soon found themselves in the spacious Sukkah. Their curiosity only grew as they observed people taking the lulav and esrog and observing the unique mitzvah of the “four kinds.”

Pizza boxes, bagged lunches and other take-out meals were carried into the Sukkah by businessmen, professionals, midtown residents, and tourists, all wanting to fulfill the mitzvah of taking meals in a Sukkah while on their lunch break. Sponsored by Chabad of Midtown, the Sukkah was brimming with lively conversation as Rabbi Yehoshua Metzger, Chabad representative to Midtown, took the time to introduce himself to visitors and make them feel welcome.

Situated in the heart of Manhattan on 42nd and 5th, just behind the New York Public Library, more than one thousand people a day visited the Sukkah during the eight-day long holiday that ended on Saturday.

Attorney Michael Brown is especially grateful for Chabad’s Sukkah in Bryant Park. He lives in an apartment building in Midtown with his wife and two daughters, making it impossible for him to have a private Sukkah. So during the week of Sukkot, the Browns take their meals in Bryant Park. Michael, who met up with Chabad of Midtown four years ago and has since become an active member, says that sitting in the Sukkah amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan “sort of stops time and brings you back to where you came from.”

Established seven years ago, Chabad of Midtown, located on Fifth Avenue, addresses the needs of Jewish professionals and businessmen in the area, numbering in the tens of thousands. The community is also home to 50,000 Jewish residents. Three minyans daily attract close to 200 people collectively. Torah classes over lunch break and seminars throughout the day offer a spiritually stimulating respite from the busy work world. In a highly innovative program, several hundred attorneys participate at Chabad’s Continuing Legal Education program, designed for attorneys to keep their law licenses current by thought-provoking sessions on American and Jewish law.

Shabbat dinners and lunch at Chabad of Midtown is a 100-plus person affair every weekend. Mommy and Me Music sessions for mothers and their toddlers, and a full time hospital visitation program through which all Jewish patients at Bellevue and NYU receive a Challah and care package every week, courtesy of Chabad of Midtown.

But it is the Sukkah, by now a seasonal feature of Bryant Park, that has stopped so many in their tracks as they race their way through the busiest and fastest-paced zone in the world. Here, over a cup of coffee, a conversation easily becomes the first of many long lasting connections that point them in another direction.

Venture capitalist Mark Fischer, a regular at Chabad of Midtown, says that it is thanks to this Sukkah “that thousands of people who otherwise would not observe the holiday, were able to perform the mitzvot of Sukkot.”

“People are glad to have the chance to fulfill the mitzvot of the holiday,” says Rabbi Metzger. “And the experience usually makes them want to look into other aspects of their Jewish identity.”

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