As the Biblically-ordained Sabbatical year came to a close this month, Jewish communities around the world marked the beginning of hakhel, a year kicked off during Temple times with the gathering of the entire nation to hear the king read from the Torah. In the modern era, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, stressed that although the Temple’s destruction precludes the possibility of a grand hakhel ceremony, the entire year should be devoted to celebrating Jewish unity.

For some people, such an outlook represents a magnification of what they’ve been doing every other year.

Take Rabbi Mendel Deren, who for more than 10 years has reached out to the thousands of Jews who pass through his section of Jerusalem’s Old City every day. As director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Cardo, which sits astride a carefully preserved section of a central Roman-era artery, Deren has made the holiday of Sukkot a central focus by erecting a sukkah on the steps leading tourists, students and residents into the Jewish Quarter’s central square.

On slow days this year, up to 60 people passed through the sukkah each minute. During special occasions, such as when a Priestly Blessing ceremony was scheduled nearby at the Western Wall, some 9,000 people walked by each hour. Greeting them was Deren, who offered the visitors a chance to make a blessing on the Four Species, as well as munch on a little snack inside the sukkah.

“There are people who come through our sukkah who haven’t had the chance to hold the lulav and etrog at all,” explained Deren. “We are their chance to do the mitzvah.”

Natanel Malka makes cotton candy for passers-by at Chabad-Lubavitch of the Cardo’s sukkah.
Natanel Malka makes cotton candy for passers-by at Chabad-Lubavitch of the Cardo’s sukkah.

One recent guest even discovered that he was Jewish during a stop at the Chabad House. As he was taking photos of the activity in the sukkah, the American tourist struck up a conversation with one of the rabbinical students working with Deren and mentioned that he had Jewish ancestry. Some prodding by the student revealed that the man’s mother was actually Jewish, thereby making the tourist Jewish himself. After the discovery, the man performed his first-ever mitzvah by holding the Four Species.

On every other day of the year, Deren or another staff member can be seen ushering people inside the Chabad House for a sip of water on a hot day, and the opportunity to screen one of several short educational films.

On a Mission in Paris

Thousands of miles away, Tunisian immigrant Daniel Mazouz of Paris walks the streets every day in search of fellow Jews that he can persuade to affirm their identity by either donning tefillin, learning Torah, making a blessing on food, or by holding the Four Species during Sukkot.

Described by acquaintances as outgoing, energetic and completely devoted to the Jewish people, Mazouz studied medicine in his native country. He become involved with Chabad 33 years ago after meeting Rabbi Nisson Pinson, one of the first emissaries to North Africa appointed by the Rebbe. Mazouz moved to Paris three years later, and kept in touch with the Chabad community there. He gave up his medical practice 12 years ago to work with the Jewish community full time.

Today, Mazouz teaches in a local day school and in the afternoons, takes the Metro from his home near the campus of the Complexe Scolaire Beth Haya Moushka, a Chabad-Lubavitch school for girls, to the station at Belleville, where he stands on the look out. Last week, between 150 and 165 people made a blessing on the Four Species with him each day; on other days of the year, between 30 and 60 men wrap tefillin with him. In the weeks leading up to Chanukah, Mazouz hands out menorahs, while before Passover, he helps people get rid of their non-kosher-for-Passover products.

The full-throttle approach doesn’t get everyone the first time around, Mazouz admitted, but even those who are seemingly turned off come back around.

G‑d always helps,” he said. “Each problem that comes up is solved.”