On Rosh Hashanah, it is a custom to go to a lake, pond or other body of water to perform the Tashlich service. There we "cast away" the sins we may have accumulated during the previous year. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where "770" (as Lubavitch World Headquarters is affectionately known) is located, there is no lake or the like (until later years, when a well was dug behind 770).

Since the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of righteous memory, arrived in New York in 1941, it became the custom to walk to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, located approximately one mile from 770. A beautiful parade of chassidim jubilantly singing marched down Eastern Parkway—joined along the way by many others.

The lake in Botanical Gardens (Photo: Freida Glassner)
The lake in Botanical Gardens (Photo: Freida Glassner)

This particular year, 1956, there was a drenching rain downpour. Three minutes outdoors was enough to soak you to the bone. But the annual march proceeded as usual.

It was a sight to behold. I was walking behind the Rebbe, who held his prayer book closely, so it should not get wet.

We arrived at the park, only to find that the gates were closed and locked. Apparently, the one in charge of the Botanical Gardens reckoned that no one would visit during the rain, so he locked up and went home.

I watched as the Rebbe handed his prayer book to one of the chassidim, Rabbi Yisroel Duchman. Because you cannot climb and hold the book in your hand.

He quickly started climbing the wall. As he got to the top, he leaned over, athletically rolled over, then turned around and went down the other side.

And then he signaled to us, as if to say: Nu? What are you all waiting for? All the chassidim climbed over, young and old alike.

We arrived at the lake and recited the traditional prayer. The Rebbe then started to sing and motioned that we should dance. It was one of my happiest experiences, truly one that soaked me through and through...

We then trekked back at 770. The hats manufactured in those days had dyed ribbons that would bleed if gotten very wet. So people came back with blotches of dissolved ink on their faces, their skullcaps, and even their shirts.

The Rebbe then came out of his office with a big bottle of wine. He climbed up on a bench and distributed some wine to all those who had joined him on that very memorable Rosh Hashanah march.

For the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks', take on the story, see The Chabad Approach to Life.