It was a scene to behold. Over the course of 90 minutes on Sunday, some 50,000 Jewish men, women and children from cities that spanned the globe practiced a 3,000-year-old tradition with a 21st-century twist.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses told the people of Israel that once they settled the Land of Israel, every seven years (following the Sabbatical year), every single Jewish man, woman and child was to gather (Hakhel) in the Temple in Jerusalem to hear the Torah read by the King and to be inspired to walk in G‑d’s ways.

The Davidic monarchy was suspended during the Second Temple period, and the Temple ceased to function with the fall of Jerusalem in 71 C.E. Yet the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—encouraged Jewish people everywhere to gather during the Hakhel year to re-create the experience through Torah study, camaraderie and inspiration.

On Sunday, just a week before Sukkot—when the original Hakhels would take place in the Holy Temple, and an ideal time for to host contemporary Hakhel gatherings—Jewish communities in locales as far and wide as Buenos Aires, Argentina; São Paulo, Brazil; Johannesburg; Kfar Chabad, Israel; Moscow; Paris; London; Toronto; New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Detroit; Houston; St. Paul, Minn.; Morristown, N.J.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and tens of thousands of online viewers joined together for a modern-day Hakhel, in which they simultaneously sang, prayed, shared and celebrated.

“The purpose of this Hakhel gathering was to relive and re-enact the unique experience of the G‑dly revelation at Sinai, at the giving of the Torah, in the presence of all the Jewish people—men, women and children—for future generations,” says Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Alaska who serves on the Vaad Or v’Chom Hahiskashrus that organized the event. “The Hakhel year is meant, according to Maimonides, to re-experience that feeling of the eternal and ongoing relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people.”

in Moscow, women hear from Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar.
in Moscow, women hear from Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar.

“It was very inspiring for us to connect with so many people all over the world,” says Aaron Kaplan, who attended with his wife and children in the FREE Synagogue on Chicago’s North Side. “The message of Hakhel is that we are part of a nation that is greater than me, my circle of acquaintances and even my local community. The Torah is what meshes millions of Jewish individuals into one cohesive unit, and here we saw it before our very eyes.”

Similar sentiments echoed around the world. “It was an amazing and emotional event,” enthuses Rabbi Dovid Goldberg of Morumbi, Brazil. “The entire Chabad community and many others were packed together. [It was as if] the Rebbe’s presence was felt in the room.”

A Feeling of Global Connection

Even a few technical glitches could not dampen the spirit of camaraderie and joy. While facing the temporarily frozen face of Rabbi Mendel Kaplan—the director of Chabad Flamingo in Toronto who hosted the event—nearly a thousand strong in Chicago sang psalms from Hallel, depicting how the entire world humbles itself in G‑d’s presence. Even babies in strollers clapped along as the singing rose and fell.

Between speakers streamed live from around the world sharing Torah thoughts and words of inspiration, appearing on the screen was a video of the Rebbe analyzed the biblical verse that discusses Hakhel and galvanized his listeners to unite the Jewish people through holding Hakhel gatherings throughout the year.

Many of the other speakers employed a comfortable mix of English and Hebrew as they addressed an international audience.

Children fill the Rebbe’s office in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Children fill the Rebbe’s office in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The 12 special Torah passages that the Rebbe wanted Jewish children to know (the 12 pesukim) were led by youngsters in a cavernous tent in London as both their peers—and adults—in all other locations thundered their enthusiastic response. They were then followed by a small group of children who had gathered in the synagogue in the wood-paneled room in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., that has served as the Rebbe’s office for more than 50 years.

After the verses had been recited in unison all over the world, all hummed along to lively rendition of the classic song, “Am Yisrael Have No Fear,” by a boys’ choir in Paris.

Kids (and their parents) around the world also twittered in unison as the beloved Jewish.tv puppets Rabbi Itche Kadoozy and Jono took center stage, drawing meaningful lessons from a home video of a drone flying around a Pittsburgh neighborhood populated by fellow puppets.

A particularly poignant moment was when a child read a pahn (prayer request) on behalf of Jewish children worldwide at the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. As the broadcast progressed, children distributed quarters for each participant to place in tzedakah boxes that circulated through the crowd.

Women and girls listen in London.
Women and girls listen in London.

Of course, no international Hakhel would be complete without hearing from the Holy Land, the site of the original Hakhel. Despite the fact that night had set in there, a lively crowd had gathered around the replica of the Lubavitch World Headquarters that sits at the entrance of the Chassidic village of Kfar Chabad, about a half-hour south of Tel Aviv.

“It was really special to hear from speakers in Hebrew, French, Russian, Spanish and so many accents of English,” notes Aaron Kaplan. “Yet the message of unity and inspiration was exactly the same.”

“Ultimately, the Rebbe wanted one Hakhel to lead to more Hakhels over the course of the year,” concluded Rabbi Yossi Deren, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Greenwich, Conn., who was among the event’s organizers. “It is our hope that the inspiration for this important Mivtzah [campaign] will only continue to grow over the course of the year.”

Moscow before the big event
Moscow before the big event
Students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York watch the live-streamed event as host Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, director of Chabad Flamingo in Toronto, appears on screen.
Students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York watch the live-streamed event as host Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, director of Chabad Flamingo in Toronto, appears on screen.
Chicago
Chicago
In London, boys and men get together for the proceedings.
In London, boys and men get together for the proceedings.
São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil
Children enter the Rebbe’s office in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Children enter the Rebbe’s office in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
A boys’ choir in Paris performed classic songs. including “Am Yisrael Have No Fear.”
A boys’ choir in Paris performed classic songs. including “Am Yisrael Have No Fear.”
Johannesburg, South Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa
Capetown, South Africa
Capetown, South Africa
Texas
Texas
Beth Rivkah Girls School in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Beth Rivkah Girls School in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Morristown, N.J.
Morristown, N.J.
Kfar Chabad, Israel
Kfar Chabad, Israel