Amidst the Darkness, Chabad Offers Light Unto its Neighbors on Vanderbilt Ave


By Caleb Bloomfield


Usually, the questions of how and why this night will be different from all other nights are reserved for Passover. However, since COVID-19 has swept the United States, and the world, that has been the question we must ask ourselves before every holiday to ensure everyone’s safety. And in a sea of confusion, unanswered questions, and often time darkness, the Chabad of Prospect Heights answered the call. 

Over the past few weeks, Chabad of Prospect Heights on Vanderbilt Avenue has been having outdoor, socially distant, masked Shabbat services. The consistency of precautions during this weekly ritual has been upheld to the highest degree. But what happens when a holiday comes around? With different celebratory standards for Sukkot, what are we to do?


On Sunday night, October 4th, Chabad took to the open-air street of Vanderbilt in Brooklyn, which is closed for pedestrians for almost all of Saturday and Sunday, to celebrate this momentous occasion. But most importantly, to do it safely.


Rabbi Mendy Hecht, one of the co-directors of Chabad of Prospect Heights along with Rebbetzin Chaya Hecht, could be seen meticulously measuring the distance between chairs for the outdoor Sukkot concert that was about to commence in front of the Chabad house.


When the music started moments later, all of the cries of sadness of the world quieted, as Rabbi Mendy offered an open invitation for all neighbors and anyone in the neighborhood, not just fellow Jews, to join the celebration.


Morchechai Dovid played songs of immense joy and excitement, yet with grace and elegance, on his keyboard. As his fingers were effortlessly gliding along his keyboard, brushing off the chill in the air, the music brought light to the darkness on the street, and hopefully it permeated to the rest of the world that needs it so desperately.


Yankey Desser grabbed the microphone and sang both wordless tunes and songs that made the small, yet vibrant, spectators unable to resist the urge but to clap their hands and kick their feet to the rhythm. Just two nights earlier, after Kabbalat Shabbat, Yankey gave an acapella rendition of a Yiddish Sukkot song called “Sukkahle.” Prior to singing, he explained that the song was written in the Warsaw Ghetto. This was after Rabbi Mendy also explained that during those times in Eastern Europe, Jews were very poor, and had no choice but to use scraps they could find to make a Sukkah. Given this grave context, “Sukkahle” is a song of resilience, expressing gratitude to have a Sukkah at all. In those moments, Yankey brought us all back to the shtetls of our families, and connected us all to our traditions, culture, and heritage, and he brought that same exact depth to the musical night of Sukkot this past Sunday night.


While the streets were not filled with people on that chilly Sunday night, the streets were certainly filled with the joy and wonder of song that touched every soul, of those who were there for the concert as well as those who clapped or danced as they were just passing through. Thanks to careful planning and putting our safety first, Rabbi Mendy and Rebbetzin Chaya have created a space where Jews, and non-Jews, can experience pure, communal joy in a physically healthy way. And thanks to those efforts, the beautiful Sukkah concert, and many other special nights, are able to happen in a little corner or Vanderbilt Avenue.