Whether huddled together to share a prayer book as the sun set over the South China Sea, or to converse over hot soup in a sukkah in bone-chilling Finland, a common thread among Jews at Chabad Houses throughout the world last month was the feeling that – wherever they were – they’d found a home for the holidays.

All told, tens of thousands of people joined Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world for holiday celebrations.

In Vietnam, the novelty of celebrating Jewish traditions in Ho Chi Minh City hadn’t worn off two years after the arrival of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Menachem and Rachel Hartman. Over the Hebrew month of Tishrei – a month spanned with holidays, from Rosh Hashanah to Simchat Torah – Jewish residents mingled with Israeli tourists amidst the sites of a land known for its sense of adventure and exotic tastes. More than 40 people congregated at the Hartmans’ Chabad House for a pre-fast meal just hours before Yom Kippur; another 40 joined in at the start of services, leading attendees to double-up on prayer books.

Writing for the Vietnam Jewish community’s blog, Gershon Riesenberg noted a number of firsts that took place during the holiday season: Chief among them was the excursion by two visiting rabbinical students and a community member to supervise the operations at a dairy farm so that the community could have special kosher milk. The Chabad House, flush with the new shipment of dairy products, invited everyone over for an ice-cream making party in its sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot. Later that week, a local television personality came by to help prepare kosher sushi for guests.

Taking a cue from their surroundings, the Hartmans borrowed from local building techniques to construct their sukkah – a temporary dwelling that recalls the accommodations used by the Jewish people during their sojourn in the wilderness. For the vegetative material used to cover the roof, the Hartmans turned to area-grown rattan canes.

A rabbinical student in Vietnam supervises milking operations at a dairy farm in order to provide special kosher milk to Jewish tourists in Ho Chi Minh City for the fall holidays.
A rabbinical student in Vietnam supervises milking operations at a dairy farm in order to provide special kosher milk to Jewish tourists in Ho Chi Minh City for the fall holidays.

The highlight of the season was Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, a two back-to-back holidays characterized by joyous dancing with a Torah scroll. At the end of the first night, the dancing had the community thirsting for more, said Rachel Hartman.

“By 7:00 the following day, there was already a group of community members sitting and waiting for the night to begin,” she said. “The Torahs looked right at home amonst the sea of Jewish hands that night.”

In Tokyo, meanwhile, hundreds of people enjoyed High Holiday services last month in Chabad-Lubavitch of Japan’s new building. Rabbi Mendi and Chana Sudakevich had moved into the building just one month before Rosh Hashanah. Throughout the inaugural weeks, the couple hosted tourists, students and local residents for Wednesday night dinners and a regular class on the customs and inner meanings of the fall holidays. By the end of the season last week, dozens of new faces had appeared at the Chabad House.

Thousands of miles away in Helsinki, Finland, Rabbi Benyamin and Fruma Ita Wolff hosted a series of Simchat Beit HaShoeva celebrations, which recall the unbounded joy displayed thousands of years ago at the Holy Temple during Sukkot. Activities included a Sukkot-themed carnival, an evening of wine tasting in the sukkah, and the ever-practical soup dinner.

Further west, reports from Manchester, England, revealed that the Chabad “Sukkah Station” in the city’s center was a huge success. Businesspeople from the surrounding office buildings took advantage of their lunch breaks to visit the temporary structure, make a blessing on the Four Species and even brownbag it inside. At the same time, an army of volunteers drove mobile sukkahs across town.

On the Arabian Sea, more than 300 people in Goa, India – mostly Jewish tourists – came to the Chabad House for Simchat Torah celebrations. According to Rabbi Guy Efraim, locals in Anjuna Village have become accustomed to such revelry, as they have to the site of the rabbi going up and down the streets looking for Jews to offer them a chance to do a mitzvah.

“The people who came here danced like they’d never before,” he exclaimed.