Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries throughout the world—in places near and far, and in houses of worship large and small—will open their doors to Jewish families and individuals looking for High Holiday services for the Jewish new year, 5776. As part of a decades-long tradition at Chabad centers around the world, services during the holiday season are offered free of charge and open to all Jewish people, residents and visitors alike.

The festival of Rosh Hashanah—meaning “head of the year”—is observed for two days beginning on 1 Tishrei, the first day of the Jewish new year. The holiday begins at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 13, and continues through the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 15.

In Mesa, Ariz., Rabbi Laib Blotner—co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mesa with his wife, Gitty—expects as many as 175 people for services on Rosh Hashanah. He plans to speak about the Hakhel year, which refers to a biblical mitzvah (commandment) of assembling Jewish men, women and children to hear the reading of the Torah by the king of Israel once every seven years, following the sabbatical year known as Shemittah.

In ancient Israel, every seventh year was a Shemittah (“sabbatical”) year. For 12 months, the nation’s economy came to a standstill as farmers and agrarian workers abandoned their fields and flocked en masse to the study houses, where for a full year they focused on their spiritual, rather than their physical, needs. At the onset of the eighth year (the first in the new seven-year cycle), the nation readied to head back to the fields and orchards. But first, on the second day of the holiday of Sukkot—16 days into the new year—all gathered in the Holy Temple for a dose of inspiration to tide them over for the next six years, much of the time which would be spent on business endeavors.

This event was known as Hakhel, meaning to “assemble.” It was the only event that required the attendance of every Jew, reminiscent of the historic moment when the Jewish nation stood at Mount Sinai and every member was present when G‑d handed down the Torah.

Jewish men, women and children throughout the world will get together this year to celebrate Hakhel.
Jewish men, women and children throughout the world will get together this year to celebrate Hakhel.

Hakhel: Emphasis on the Unity of the Jewish People

“It emphasizes the importance of unity of the Jewish people and significance of the individual Jew, regardless of background, level of observance or affiliation,” he explains.

He will also talk to those gathered—regulars, visitors and even first-time attendees—about the importance of coming together to show support as a Jewish people, among other topics. Blotner says he wants worshippers at this year’s services to come away with a message of being proud of their Jewish heritage and ready to take part in communal activities.

“In a year of gathering, one should attempt to participate throughout the year in communal events, classes and services,” he says. “This will enhance the spirit of togetherness and the unity of our community. “

As for his New Year’s resolution, he says he intends to use the Hakhel year to focus on the fact that “we are one people,” and that everyone should “try to judge the people you already know, as well those you newly come in contact with, more favorably.”

‘Warmth and Light’

Rabbi Mendy Wineberg and his wife, Devory, are looking forward to welcoming new faces and greeting familiar ones as they celebrate their first Rosh Hashanah in their new location, a modest storefront in Leawood, Kan.

The Winebergs are expecting anywhere from 50 to 100 guests to join them at the only synagogue in Leawood (population 32,000). Chabad there holds services in the storefront that it moved into this past spring.

It’s especially significant, notes the rabbi, as there was a time when Jews were not able to own property in the area. “When we talk about bringing the light into a place it hasn’t been before, I feel like that’s what we’re doing here—bringing the light of Yiddishkeit into a place it wasn’t even allowed before,” he says.

Wineberg has his sermon all planned out: “I’m going to be talking about what we can do for G‑d, our father, as opposed to what we expect from G‑d for us. Ask not what your G‑d can do you for you, but what you can do for your G‑d.”

His aim is that people come away with a commitment to accepting at least one new mitzvah for the coming year. “Hopefully, they’ll join us throughout the year as well,” he says, for the various programs, classes, events and holiday celebrations that Chabad will hold. Their doors are open to the entire community.

Rabbi Pinny Weinman, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch @ Edinburgh in Scotland with his wife, Gitty, will hold Rosh Hashanah services at the Chabad House geared for students.

Rabbi Pinny Weinman, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch @ Edinburgh in Scotland
Rabbi Pinny Weinman, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch @ Edinburgh in Scotland

They’re also revving up for the more than 150 students and tourists anticipated for dinner as the holiday begins. They’re renting space at an arts center in the middle of the University of Edinburgh’s campus to accommodate the crowd.

“We are expecting many people for the first night of Yom Tov, which particularly attracts students and young professionals who live in Edinburgh,” says the rabbi.

Meanwhile, Weinman specifies his goals for the year ahead: “My New Year’s resolution is to reach out to every single Jew in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland for the coming year, and to bring them the warmth and the light of Judaism.”

An Emphasis on Character

Rabbi Heshy Epstein, co-director of Chabad of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., with his wife, Chava, says about 900 families reside in the city, and they expect about 100 people for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

He plans on speaking about a whole host of topics, with the emphasis on individual behavior. For example, the book “The Road to Character” by David Brooks discusses two types of virtues: one based on professional résumés and one based on personal eulogies. The first concerns building careers and acquiring possessions, and letting the world know about one’s many successes and achievements. The second revolves around the eulogy, what people say about others when they are no longer here—in the end, what matters most.

Rabbi Heshy Epstein, co-director of Chabad of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
Rabbi Heshy Epstein, co-director of Chabad of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.

“There are two different ways at looking at our culture,” states Epstein. “What kind of world are we raising our children in? Where do we get our moral clarity, our moral vision?

“In essence, what kind of people do we want to be?”

There’s an advertisement he saw recently in the window of a Whole Foods supermarket about a new water bottle that promises to keep liquids either really hot or really cold. Its tagline: “Saving the world from lukewarm.”

“That’s a real message for the holidays,” says the rabbi. “This Rosh Hashanah, let’s try to save ourselves and the world from being lukewarm. To be truly alive is to be passionate, with a clear understanding of our moral goals and our inner self.”

He sums up: “We all have this view of ourselves—of who we are and who we ideally wish to be. It’s a humbling gap. And for Jews—on Rosh Hashanah and the following holidays, and in the coming year—we aim to close that gap.”

For more about Rosh Hashanah, visit The Jewish New Year megasite for everything from a how-to guide to Rosh Hashanah observances to profound insights into the significance of the festival.

To find out more about High Holiday services and programs at a Chabad center near you, visit the directory here.

Coming Soon: Join Jews in 85 countries and 1551 cities who will be getting together this year to celebrate Hakhel.