HOUSTON, Texas – It was unseasonably bright and sunny last Wednesday morning as about 500 people from a string of communities around Texas’ largest city shielded their eyes to participate in a momentous ceremony that occurs just once every 28 years.

Known in Hebrew as birkat hachama, the Blessing of the Sun service in Houston corresponded with thousands of others taking place all around the globe. Marking the time at which the sun returns to the point in the sky it occupied on the same day of the week as during the creation of the world, the ceremony blesses G‑d for constantly renewing His creations.

By day’s end, millions worldwide had participated similar ceremonies stretching from New Zealand to Hawaii. More than 1,000 gathered at Sydney, Australia’s Yeshiva Centre, while 200 people took part in an event sponsored by Chabad of Sharon in suburban Boston.

In Houston, the citywide, unified gathering at the central Jewish Community Center brought together Jews of all ages and backgrounds on a very busy morning, coming just hours before the onset of Passover. The JCC sponsored the event, while the city’s Chabad-Lubavitch centers provided brochures and staff for the mega-gathering.

“It held special meaning for me to say the blessing with the crowds at the JCC, rather than from my back porch,” said Dan Gordon, a leader of a Jewish congregation in the suburb of Humble.

Dr. David Cotlar, a local pediatrician, compared the event with the last Blessing of the Sun, which took place in 1981.

Back then, “there were only about 50 of us in the parking lot at Chabad,” Cotlar reminisced. But, “this year was so different, because it took place after so many people embraced their Jewish heritage.”

The physician attributed the Jewish revolution in Houston to Chabad, which began laying the groundwork for a communal transformation 30 years ago. Today, he said, hundreds of people now keep Shabbat, attend synagogue regularly, maintain kosher kitchens and follow the laws of family purity.

Rabbi Moishe Traxler, director of Chabad Outreach of Houston, called the ceremony a “one-of-a-kind event, because it really spanned many communities.”

All told, in addition to Chabad of Houston, Chabad of Sugar Land, Chabad of Uptown, Chabad of the Medical Center and the new Chabad of Pearland, many other synagogues participated in the event, including the local Young Israel, United Orthodox Synagogue, the Meyerland Minyan and Bet Rambam. Jonathan Fass, the JCC’s director of cultural arts emceed the event.

“It was unique how everybody was worshipping and embracing together,” commented Gordon. “I found it symbolic of what the sun means to everybody. We are all one people and we all show our gratitude to G‑d.”

In his address, Traxler explained the significance of the once-in-28-years ceremony.

“We bless our Creator,” the rabbi told the anticipating crowd, “for the conjunction of the moment during the sixth hour of Tuesday evening, when the planet Saturn is governing the Seven Stars.”

People of all ages and backgrounds came from communities throughout the region for the event.
People of all ages and backgrounds came from communities throughout the region for the event.

Children Take Part

Rabbi Betzalel Marinovsky, adult education director at the Chabad-Lubavitch Regional Headquarters in Houston, called the gathering “unique.”

“This was not a political rally, nor was it a social event,” he said. “People got up early in the morning just to do a mitzvah, to make a blessing!”

The crowd’s younger members opened the service.

“All children to the front!” Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, director of Chabad of Uptown, called out.

Together, dozens of boys and girls raced to the front of the assembly to pray the Shema.

Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, the regional director of Chabad of Texas and of the Chabad-Lubavitch Center of Houston, then led the hundreds gathered in the Blessing of the Sun.

“In 28 years, we should do this again, but at the Kotel,” he proclaimed afterward, referring to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Amen!” the crowd thundered in response.

“The Houston Jewish community came together to say birkat hachama despite denominational differences,” said Fass. “It was a pleasure to see this gathering happen at the Jewish Community Center, and my hope is that similar community-wide programs are on the horizon.

“This is a reminder for us that we should not only celebrate the new and unexpected,” he continued, “but also appreciate the routine – G‑d, family, our faith – present in our lives every single day.”