By COLlive reporter
On Lag B’omer, 2017, the first-ever Chasidic wedding ceremony, under an authentic chuppah, took place in Times Square in New York City known as the “Crossroads of the World.”
The wedding of JJ Hecht to Hadassa Halperin was organized and officiated by the chosson’s father, Rabbi Shea Hecht, longtime Chabad activist and Chairman of the Board of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE).
He recently spoke to COLlive.com about the reasoning behind the showstopping wedding.
Q: Why hold a wedding in such a public place?
To make the pe’ulah of a chuppah in Times Square has been my longtime dream.
What do you mean by ‘the pe’ulah of a chuppah’?
Studies show that marriage in America is at an all-time low, and unfortunately, intermarriage is at an all-time high. It is the obligation of chassidim to spread mitzvos to inspire others. Making a kosher chuppah in the Crossroads of the World sends a message to millions of people that marriage is important. It displays the sanctity of marriage, the benefits of marriage, and the beauty of marrying someone within your own faith with all the authentic traditions. I believe this pe’ulah of a kosher Jewish wedding in the center of Times Square is a great Shlichus and Kiddush Hashem.
Wasn’t the Rebbe a strong proponent of holding weddings specifically in Crown Heights to strengthen the neighborhood?
I am a strong believer that Lubavitchers should make their weddings by 770, Beis Rabbeinu. However, the Rebbe encouraged Shluchim to make simchos b’makom hashlichus. My shlichus, NCFJE, is focused on all of New York. Therefore, I felt that the Rebbe would approve of me making a simcha in the center of New York, Times Square.
Have you consulted with anyone about this?
I spoke with my mashpia who emphasized that the wedding should be portrayed as making a pe’ulah. I also spoke with the strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who is a friend and longtime acquaintance, on how to best articulate the message to the public.
Getting the permits must have been almost impossible…
That’s the word everyone I spoke to told me, “impossible.” I needed authorization, approval, and permits from the Times Square Alliance, the NYC Police Department, and the Mayor’s office. Impossible means a challenge and my conviction to make this happen only grew.
I presented the idea to a very influential friend who can help with permits. He looked me in the eye and said, “Rabbi Shea, I will get it done. But what are you going to do about the weather?” I answered, “you worry about the permits and I’ll worry about the weather.” I was confident the weather would be nice for the Great Parade.
The wedding wasn’t a conflict with the Lag B’Omer Parade at 770 which your family is involved with?
Lag B’omer is a day for R’ Shimon bar Yochai and our Rebbe. My father OBM had the privilege to serve the Rebbe on this day. Making a wedding on this day is a zechus for my family especially because my son carries my father’s name. My family members who were busy with the parade all made it to the wedding.
So how did the weather turn out?
The chuppah was scheduled for 5:00 pm. At 4:30 pm, Times Square was packed with people with absolutely no room to set up a chuppah. Unexpectedly, 20 minutes before the chuppah was planned to begin, it started pouring rain. The crowds dispersed. By 5:00 pm, the rain completely stopped, the sun came out, and the chuppah was set up under a shining sky. This was clearly tremendous hashgachah protis.
What was a memorable moment for you?
The klezmer band marching up 47th street to the center of Times Square and accompanying the chosson and kallah. It was a sight to see. Two Lubavitch families singing the Alter Rebbe’s niggun while bringing their children under the chuppah in Times Square with the whole world watching, a true exhibit of Kiddush Hashem. Thousands of tourist, pedestrians, and bystanders stopped to observe, film, and even sing along with this historic event. At that point, I knew the pe’ulah was a huge success. The Kiddush Hashem was reaching far beyond anyone’s imagination.
Share with us a reaction that you got to the Times Square Chuppah?
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky honored us by reading the Rebbe’s letter under the chuppah. The next day when I called to thank him, he said to me: “Shea, I did not come to the wedding because of the friendship between our families. Rather, I came because for 50 years I was the Rebbe’s public relations manager, and I believe the Rebbe wanted your chuppah in Times Square.” These words were of great affirmation that we made the right decision to make our wedding a display of mivtzoyim.
Do you have any final comments?
I would like to bless all those that need shidduchim for their children, to find shidduchim speedily. Until they too will be able to dance the mezinka tantz.