By Libby Herz
Photos: Shmuel Amit/COLlive
770 Eastern Parkway, the world-famous Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters, was jam-packed from wall to wall. Thousands of guests that had flown in from every corner of the globe were occupying every square inch of the shul as the tefilos began.
Amongst them, Yeshiva student Mendel Mintz was doing his best to hold his spot, but as he looked around at the thousands of people in the Shul, hardly a familiar face was visible in the sea of black hats. Guests were filling every nook and cranny of the shul, but Mintz noticed that there were so many more people that weren’t there– the locals of Crown Heights. Being more familiar with the neighborhood, they had opted for other quieter, more spacious shuls, over the packed 770. For a large percentage of the community, attending 770 during Tishrei was just not possible with the annual influx of international guests.
Thinking about what could be done to accommodate the overflow, it just seemed so obvious that an outdoor tent would be the solution. It could provide shelter and cool air to hundreds of additional guests, while keeping them in the vicinity of 770, Mintz thought.
And so with help from various community leaders, permits were obtained and the planning and building of the “Tishrei Tent” became a reality.
For the third year running, the huge 200-foot tent with its transparent side panels has become a regular sight outside 770 on Eastern Parkway, occupying the service lane and providing a ventilated, spacious and dry location for hundreds of Chassidim to Daven, learn Torah, and Farbeng throughout the month of Tishrei.
Putting up the tent is a twelve-hour process, which takes two teams of workers to set up the actual tent and install the air conditioning. As soon as the tent goes up, programs for thousands of people begin. Two of the four Aron kodesh Torah arks are moved into the tent from 770 to be used for minyanim prayer services. Five Minyonim can take place at once in the spacious tents.
Students studying in both American and Israeli Yeshivos learn in the tent as well. Twenty-four hours a day, the tent buzzes with davening, learning, and shiurim.
The walls of the tent are purposefully transparent, so those inside the shelter can see the exterior of the shul. “When you’re inside the tent, you feel like you’re in 770,” says Mintz.
Mintz sees the tent as an extension of the main shul; and he’s not alone. Last year, Mintz was not sure that people would daven in the tent on High Holy Days, but he was surprised when he saw that the tent was completely packed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “There was not one empty seat,” he says. “For the highlights of Davening, like Tekios on Rosh Hashana and Napoleon’s March at the end of Yom Kippur, everyone joined together inside the Shul at 770.”
Mintz takes pride in the quality provided within the tent. “We only use the best,” he says. A long table is set with cookies, milk, coffee, and tea from Chocolatte Cafe. Piled beside the refreshments are stacks of free Chayenus and Dvar Malchus booklets which read, ‘Do not remove from ‘the tent’.’ A team is constantly cleaning the tent, keeping the atmosphere neat and pleasant.
The tent also doubles as a safety feature for those standing on the service lane in front of 770. “One of the reasons we erected the tent was for security,” says Mintz. Before the erection of the tent, delivery trucks would often drive onto the service lane, causing a hazard for the thousands of pedestrians who fill the streets during the month of Tishrei. The tent is a visual reminder for cars to stay on the main parkway, and police barricades won’t allow cars into the service lane.
Mintz is grateful to the NYPD 71st Precinct and Detective Vinny Martinos, who go out of their way to secure the perimeter each year, he says.
In addition, the tent enhances the ambiance around 770.
“With the amount of people who live in and are visiting Crown Heights,” Mintz says, “the space in 770 is not enough to hold them.
The tent means that instead of loitering, people can do quality things with their time.”
Non-stop shiurim and davening in the tent creates a tone that encourages everyone to be a part of the Tishrei atmosphere.
It takes teams of people to keep the tent up and running. Hatzolah accommodates the use of the tent by moving their trucks down the block during the month of Tishrei. Mintz is especially grateful to the neighbors of Eastern Parkway, who are instrumental in this special project.
One passerby was inspired by memories of the ‘Shalash’ 60 years ago, when a makeshift tent was erected outside the 770 courtyard. The ‘Shalash’ eventually led to expending the Shul to its current size.
When the tent was first erected, it was 100 feet long, had no air-conditioning, and was up for only ten days. The following year, the tent was up for a full month.
“That year, Tishrei was hot and the sun was baking,” recalls Mintz. He managed to rent two gigantic air-conditioning units. This year, the tent stands almost double in size, and includes four 15-ton air-conditioning units, and a 34-foot long generator.
Mintz has a large vision for the future. He is spearheading a project to create a permanent plaza in front of 770 to create more open space. This includes redirecting the traffic in front of 770 so that there is space for pedestrians in front of the building. Mintz sees this as a matter of security, he says.
“This will hopefully work to prevent car rammings,” Mintz says. “It will be safer to hold gatherings, weddings, and events which draw huge crowds.”
“The Rebbe always wanted to expand 770,” Mintz says, and hopes that this will only be a beginning.
This article was first published in the COLlive Magazine – Tishrei Magazine for 5780, distributed free to Crown Heights residents and guests. Copies are available in local stores.