Times Square is not what it used to be. Once a shady, drug-infested corner of Manhattan, the neighborhood is now a bustling center filled with restaurants, shops, shiny office buildings and, most recently, two 48-foot-long sukkahs, courtesy of Chabad-Lubavitch.
For the past 20 years, Chabad has thrown makeshift sukkahs onto the beds of pickup trucks “to bring mitzvot to the Jewish people’s doorsteps,” said Rabbi Levi Baumgarten, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch mitzvah tank. The idea came from the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who led the Chabad-Lubavitch movement until his death in 1994. The sukkahs are fully equipped with lulav and etrog, allowing passersby to fulfill the biblical commandment to make the blessing of the Four Species on Sukkot.
In addition to the massive stationary sukkahs, Chabad has more than 40 traveling sukkahs roaming New York, New Jersey and Connecticut during Sukkot. Chabad also reaches thousands of people all year long with its “mitzvah tanks,” or mobile mini-synagogues.
According to Baumgarten, one traveling sukkah costs around $720 per week. Regardless of cost, fatigue or inclement weather, Baumgarten and dozens of other emissaries hope to draw Jews back to their roots.
“If I touched one person, if I brought one person closer to Judaism,” he told The Shmooze, “then it was a great day.”