Kenneth Alan Spector’s mother’s medical bills were such a puzzle that when the insurance company’s telephone rep read the record she could not help but sigh, “Oy vey.”
Spector, a new congregant at Chabad of Northridge heard her classic Jewish groan and replied, “Chag Sameach!” After a beat, the rep returned the happy holiday greeting. As the two chatted about the Jewish New Year, Spector asked if the rep had fulfilled the Sukkot observance of waving the four plant species: palm, myrtle, willow and citron, known as lulav and etrog. When he got a negative reply, Spector–who bought his first lulav and etrog set this year–explained the practice and its message of Jewish unity.
After the rep ironed out the insurance problem, Spector told his local Chabad representative, Rabbi Eli Rivkin of Northridge, CA of his conversation with the insurance rep. Rabbi Rivkin asked Spector if he’d like to “close the circle with another mitzvah.” Spector called the rep and found out she worked in Arizona. Rabbi Rivkin placed a call to Chabad’s head representative in Arizona, Rabbi Zalman Levertov. By the time the rep returned from her lunch break, two junior rabbis were waiting at her desk, lulav and etrog in hand.
“She was delighted, excited,” said Spector after receiving a thank-you call from the rep. “This experience is really beyond logic. It is something very inspirational. For forty years, I have been trying to make a connection to my Jewish roots. Through Chabad and its philosophy, everything I have been searching for and experimenting with has collapsed into my heritage. I am finally home.”
Again, this Sukkot, branches of Chabad Lubavitch spread out far beyond the comfort of their centers and synagogues to offer Jewish people wherever they may be–on the road, at IKEA, in a hospital bed and at roadside carnivals–an opportunity to get in touch with their Jewish roots and fulfill the holiday’s lulav and etrog mitzvah.
Chabad of Saratoga took a note from Father Abraham and pitched their sukkah along the wayfarers’ path. Commuters and vacationers craving a snack and a driving break from traveling the 90 and 87 interstate highways–along eastern corridor from Boston to New York to Montreal–pulled up by the busload at Chabad of Saratoga’s International Travelers’ Sukkah. Smack in the middle of Price Choppers’ supermarket parking lot, the plywood sukkah attracted piles of visitors and lots of curious locals. “People in Albany who would not otherwise see a sukkah saw hundreds of people stopping by a little wooden shack and decided to take a look for themselves,” said Rabbi Rubin. He started building the sukkah at the supermarket several years ago, a venture that ties in nicely with Price Chopper’s on-site kosher deli, to answer demand from Jews driving between Montreal and New York.
But this year’s demand for information about the holiday from local Jewish people has been so great that two yeshiva students manning the sukkah throughout the holiday had little downtime. “It’s a welcoming event and pleasant for all to see,” said the manager of Price Chopper’s kosher department, Rabbi Shmuel Kochman.
Jews setting out on the road for new furnishings at IKEA in Southern California were also greeted by Chabad. Rabbi Yanky Kahn, director of development for Chabad of the Valley, took a Chabad sukkah-mobile for a spin and stopped at the furnishing superstore’s parking lot. The wood frame sukkah wobbled slightly atop its base on the pick up’s truck bed, much like the IKEA shopper’s purchases would if not assembled with care, but that did not stop Jewish people from mounting the steps up to enjoy a few moments in the sukkah. Rabbi Kahn, 26, has been piloting mobile sukkahs for more than a decade. Chabad of the Valley’s truck-top sukkah is a step up from the one Rabbi Kahn pushed on luggage trolleys in his hometown, London, England, and certainly more stable than the one he manned in Venice, Italy, that was built to float in the canals.
Among the youngest children to fulfill Sukkot mitzvahs through Chabad were found in Brooklyn’s Jewish Children’s Museum, run by Chabad’s youth division, Tzivos Hashem. Preschoolers, not much taller than the lulav frond itself, waved the holiday symbols with help from Museum docents. In addition to the hands-on techno-wonderful exhibits inside the six-story building that explain everything from charity to the mystical connection between Shabbat and salt, the Museum hosted a lively street carnival with more than a dozen rides. “At an amusement park, the thrill lasts a moment,” said Jewish Children’s Museum marketing director Chaim Benjaminson. “By enjoying the rides and a trip to the Museum, children had fun and learned lessons that last a lifetime.” Throughout Sukkot over 5,500 visitors explored the Museum.
For those too ill or frail to get to the synagogue this Sukkot, Chabad brought the holiday celebration to them.
Among the thousands of Chabad rabbis and volunteers canvassing hospitals and nursing homes for Jews in need of a mitzvah was Rabbi Yossi Malka, director of development for Chabad of the Valley. Notty, 13, and Eli Zilberstein, 15, accompanied Rabbi Malka on his rounds, a tradition the Zilberstein boys began last year. Why would high school students spend their holiday off from school in the hospital? “Once you do it, you see you can change someone’s life,” said Rabbi Malka. “It becomes something you want to do.”