Hakhel celebrations are underway around the world with the onset of the joyous holiday of Sukkot, and Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries are finding new ways to engage Jewish people of every age and background in every corner of the world to inspire them to participate in the festival’s many mitzvahs.

The seven-day holiday—observed in 2022 from before sundown on Sunday, Oct. 9 and ending after nightfall on Sunday, Oct. 16—commemorates the wandering of the Jews in the desert on their way to the Promised Land and the miraculous clouds that surrounded them. It is immediately followed by the especially joyous two-day holiday of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

A special focus this year is on Hakhel. In ancient times, once every seven years, Jews would stream to Jerusalem before the holiday of Sukkot to unite in the Holy Temple and hear the Torah read by the king. In modern times, celebrations of Jewish unity and pride throughout the Hakhel year were encouraged by the RebbeRabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. In addition to the millions who will be attending Hakhel celebrations throughout the year, tens of thousands are signing up to host their own Hakhel celebrations.

It was this unity of the Jewish people that the Rebbe stressed when he first launched his Sukkot Campaign in the fall of 1953 and was a theme he constantly sounded in the years that followed. Over the course of Sukkot, the Jewish people are commanded to dwell in the sukkah—a walled structure covered with organic material—and the Rebbe would regularly note that this applied equally to all, from the greatest of rabbis to the simplest of lay people. The Talmud even speaks of the big Sukkah, within which the entire Jewish people can (conceptually) dwell. The same unifying principle appears in the mitzvah of the arba minim, the “Four Kinds” or “Four Species,” in which Jews combine and make a blessing on the four different species of etrog, lulav, myrtle and willow branches.

Chabad has ever since been bringing the holiday of and its celebrations to Jews of all backgrounds and wherever they may be, inviting them to step inside the sukkah and make a blessing over the lulav and etrog. On most years, the scene of young and old out in the streets armed with the long green lulav and yellow etrog asking passersby if they’d like to make a blessing would not be an unusual one.

The Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan sukkah outside the stately main branch of New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
The Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan sukkah outside the stately main branch of New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

A Sukkah in Every Driveway

Each year, Chabad representatives around the world find new and innovative ways to engage their communities in the holiday. In 2019, before Rabbi Chaim and Bassy Landa moved to St. Charles County, Mo., to open the local Chabad-Lubavitch center, they arranged a series of Jewish events, including assembling a sukkah on the driveway of a local family, and invited dozens to join them for a celebration inside of it.

But shortly before it was to be put up, the agreeable hosts backed out. In their suburban American neighborhood, a sukkah would stick out, and they were concerned about reactions by their neighbors. After asking nearly all the others who had signed up if they’d be willing to host the sukkah and seeing that they, too, had the same concerns, the Landas were forced to cancel the celebration. At the time, the couple resolved that one day, “sukkahs would dot the driveways of St. Charles.”

At Chabad’s second annual St. Charles Jewish Festival mid-August of this year, visitors were greeted by an oversized shipping container and artist Zack Smithey. Together, the community helped paint the container and decorate it with hundreds of hearts and Jewish-themed imagery, like Shabbat candles and tefillin. It would be converted into a community sukkah that the Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County plans to use for years to come.

The St. Charles County Unity Art sukkah
The St. Charles County Unity Art sukkah

The container was donated by Super Cubes LLC a shipping container company that supplies the public with individual containers. Julia Mozumdar, president of Super Cubes, met Landa in Minneapolis, where her company is based, and was taken by his vision.

Landa explained that when they moved to St. Charles, many of the 6,000 local Jews all believed they were the only Jews in town. People weren’t comfortable sharing their Jewish identity in public—or erecting a sukkah.

“This was such a special project for me on two levels—a cultural level and on a container level,” Mozumdar told Chabad.org. “I have traveled and lived abroad in five different countries, and I am married to an Indian immigrant to the United States. I certainly understand that feeling of finding a home within a broader community; I was so excited to be a part of that!”

She added that “this was also a fun container challenge as well. Bringing that all together into one project for a group that was doing so much good in the community really made it such a special and fun project for me and Super Cubes.”

Rabbi Chaim and Bassy Landa of the Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County, Mo.
Rabbi Chaim and Bassy Landa of the Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County, Mo.

Today, with the Unity Art Sukkah proudly sitting on the property of Chabad’s future Jewish Community Center, the Jews of St. Charles are embracing their identity.

Though sukkahs don’t yet dot the county, there will be at least five of them, including at the home of a family with young children who committed to construct one for the first time and has rallied the community’s support.

“That’s 500% growth in the three short years,” says Rabbi Chaim Landa enthusiastically. “Hakhel gave us a push … next year, we will hopefully grow the movement, and eventually, they’ll indeed dot the county.”

The local effort by the Landas will indeed be part of a global one: Chabad-Lubavitch is the largest Jewish organization in the world, with 3,500 educational, religious and social-service institutions in 110 countries and territories. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2020 Portrait of Jewish Americans, two in five Jewish adults—some 38 percent of American Jews or 2.2 million people—report having some interaction with Chabad. It’s a level of engagement that extends to Jewish communities large and small around the world.

One of the two sukkahs that Chabad of Naperville's CTeen chapter has put up on two local high school campuses.
One of the two sukkahs that Chabad of Naperville's CTeen chapter has put up on two local high school campuses.

Unprecedented Joy

One of the highlights of Sukkot is the Simchat Beit Hashoevah celebrations that hearken back to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, when all-night dancing, singing and acrobatics would accompany the joyous drawing of water that was poured on the Altar each of the holiday’s seven days. In 1980, the Rebbe called for the modern revival of the festivities of old, and ever since, the celebration has taken many forms, including sit-down farbrengen gatherings in sukkahs, as well as lively dancing in the streets.

The celebrations are more joyous than ever during a Hakhel year and to assist in creating an experience that is celebratory, spiritual and user-friendly, a Hakhel guide for the coming 12 months is available for downloading, reading and printing.

In addition, the printable DIY Ultimate Chabad.org Sukkot Guide provides an easy-to-share Torah thought and story, as well as an insight into the daily ushpizin, or “spiritual visitors.” Coupled with links to a lively dance track to play at home, everything is provided, save for refreshments and participants, which must be sourced locally.

In addition, the Chabad.org Sukkot mini-site provides a wealth of information and inspiration about the holiday.

Rabbi Tzvi Tornek assembles a sukkah at a Naperville high school ahead of the holiday, with volunteers Eli and Yisroel Goldstein.
Rabbi Tzvi Tornek assembles a sukkah at a Naperville high school ahead of the holiday, with volunteers Eli and Yisroel Goldstein.

Teens Set Up Their Own Sukkahs

Chabad is always looking for ways to reach different demographics wherever they are, and in Naperville, Ill., another movement is growing. Chabad of Naperville’s CTeen chapter, led by Rabbi Tzvi and Tova Tornek, has put up sukkahs on two local high school campuses, Naperville North and Naperville Central. A teen will manage the kosher snacks provided in the sukkah, and help fellow students wave the lulav and etrog. During the intermediate days of the holiday, the Torneks will visit the sukkah with fresh baked goods and spend quality time with the students.

“The dean of one of the schools told us she wished this had been done years earlier,” says Rabbi Tornek, “and she hoped that students of all faiths would be proud to embrace their heritage on campus like the Jewish students.”

In Arizona, Chabad centers across the Greater Phoenix region will come together at the Scottsdale JCC for a Hakhel gathering and concert with Jewish music star Boruch Sholom Blesofsky. “We usually have a smaller event at a local Chabad center,” says Rabbi Laibel Blotner, co-director of Chabad of Mesa, “but we decided to go all out for the Hakhel Year. We’re expecting 300 people.”

Tornek says that Sukkot embodies the ideal of Hakhel: “We pray for all Jews to ‘sit in the same sukkah,’ with a spirit of true unity and togetherness. In this Hakhel Year, may we finally all gather in Jerusalem with the Moshiach for the ultimate Hakhel gathering—under one sukkah.”