By Menachem Posner, Chabad.org
Photos by Omega Photo and Mendel Dahan
Record temperatures of 18 degrees below zero (-28 degrees Celcius) couldn’t keep the hardy denizens of Montreal from banding together this month for an evening of inspiration, camaraderie and unity.
A crowd of nearly 1,000 people spilled into the aisles of the giant social hall of Beth Chabad Cote S. Luc, where Jews from miles around had gathered for a Hakhel event that was a combined project of Quebec’s nearly 40 Chabad centers.
“It was a true celebration of Jewish community,” says Dr. David Shapiro, who attended with Rabbi Nachum Labkowski, co-director of Chabad S. Lazare, which serves a growing Jewish population in a rural community outside of the Montreal metropolitan area.
“You had lots of teens, 20-somethings—all the way to the bubbys and zaidys [grandparents].”
Original Hakhel gatherings were held in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, as the Torah commands that every seven years, the Israelites are to “assemble the people … men, women and little ones” to hear the king read the Torah and be inspired to follow its ways.
Even though the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., the Rebbe encouraged that the entire Hakhel year be celebrated with communal gatherings big and small.
Back in Montreal, one of the highlights was a talk given by Rabbi Bruno Fiszon, chief rabbi of Metz, a city in northeastern France with a long and storied Jewish history.
Representing France’s Jews, who are now facing a significant increase in anti-Semitism, Fiszon encouraged the crowd to continue the tradition of Hakhel for the remainder of the year.
Speaking in French, he emphasized Jewish unity and how it can serve as spiritual armor to protect the Jewish people against its challengers.
The crowd also recited Psalms with Rabbi Berel Mochkin, director of Chabad Lubavitch Youth Organization of Montreal, as well as heard from Rabbi Moishe New, director of the Montreal Torah Center, and Rabbi Mendel Raskin, director of Beth Chabad Cote S. Luc.
The evening included a number of specially prepared video presentations from the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) and recorded talks of the Rebbe provided by Jewish Educational Media (JEM).
Following the Rebbe’s directive, the participants were each given cards on which they could sign up to host Hakhel gatherings of their own.
Shapiro, who practices dentistry in the Côte des Neiges area of the city, pledged to hold a lunchtime Hakhel meeting next week in his office.
With 10 individuals already confirmed, Shapiro says he looks forward to the Torah thoughts and fellowship these kind of small get-togethers tend to rouse.
“The Rebbe’s idea of bringing Hakhel to the people even today is such a wise one,” he notes. “In these troubled times, it’s really what is needed for our people—and for the world.”
VIDEO: Thge clip inviting Montreal’s Jews