Striving to bring unity in Queens, the Queens Jewish Link spoke with Rabbi Mendel Scharf, lead organizer of the Queens Sukkos Unity Event in KGH and menahel ruchni at Yeshivas Lubavitch Queens.
QJL: How did the Queens Sukkos Unity Event develop into reality?
Rabbi Scharf: Contrary to popular belief, the mega Sukkos event was not thrown together overnight. The program was the brainchild of the Chabad Lubavitcher movement, whose various divisions arranged tens of similar events throughout the globe. The Queens event stood out as one of the largest events of its kind.
QJL: For such a large, phenomenal program, many individuals must have been involved. Please take us behind the scenes.
RS: As mentioned in your article, KGH Sukkos Mega Event Draws Over 2,000, October 20, this is the year of Hakhel, which symbolizes Jewish unity. Although this unique mitzvah is normally only performed when we have a Jewish king and the Beis Hamikdash, the Rebbe taught us that its lesson of unity and commitment to Torah is still applicable today. So while we are waiting for the ultimate ge’ulah to happen speedily when we will be able to properly perform this mitzvah, we can still heed its lesson of Jewish unity, by gathering and strengthening our commitment to Hashem and His Torah.
It was in this spirit that the collective initiative began forming between the numerous Chabad Lubavitch chapters of Queens. Our goal was to gather Jews from the many Queens communities, and celebrate as one fully united people. Many organizations joined forces, and together we were baruch Hashem successful in pulling off this amazing event, with over 2,000 participants.
Our hope is to include more shuls and organizations in next year’s Sukkos event, as well as future programming, bringing out strong feelings of unity throughout the neighborhoods of Queens.
QJL: How was the eventual location decided upon?
RS: Main Street and 72nd Road in Kew Gardens Hills, as the heart of the thriving Jewish community of Queens, was chosen as the venue to keep the Orthodox Jewry of Queens united.
QJL: When did planning for the mega event begin?
RS: Since its inception over a dozen years ago, Lubavitch Yeshiva Queens instituted a formative Shabbos afternoon program where students walk to over 30 shuls, throughout Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Kew Gardens Hills. The talmidim share divrei Torah between minchah and maariv and give chizuk.
Roughly six weeks before Sukkos, an idea was born, why not make a “Hakhel” and join Queens communities with a mega Sukkos event! This was no simple task and required lots of planning and logistical coordinating between many municipal offices, businesses, and organizations. The 107th Precinct was tremendously helpful in working together with us to make this happen, as well as the office of Councilmember James Gennaro and the Mayor’s office. Queens Borough Safety Patrol-Shmira and its volunteers were also extremely instrumental in ensuring the event ran smoothly.
QJL: Does Chabad have any other Hakhel programming in the works?
RS: I would like to announce that in honor of the year of Hakhel, our yeshivah has launched the “Hakhel Ambassador Initiative.” The program encourages anyone in the aforementioned neighborhoods who would like to make their own Hakhel gathering - be it at home or at work - and would like a senior yeshivah student or rabbi to attend and share divrei Torah and chizuk to call (347) 770-0103 for more information.
QJL: The organizers did a great job uniting the many Orthodox Queens Jewish neighborhoods. Tell us about each of the individuals who assisted in this monumental task.
RS: I would like to personally thank all of the organizations who brought Queens Sukkos Unity Event to fruition. A special mention goes out to Rabbi Shraga Zalmanov, Chabad of Flushing; Rabbi Eli Blokh and Rabbi Yaakov Z. Horvitz, Chabad of Rego Park, Rabbi Itzik Wolwick and Rabbi Asher Vaknin, BJCC; Rabbi Shlomo Nissanov, Kehilat Sefaradim; Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, Chazaq; and Rabbi Zalman Mergui, Tiferet Shalom at YIFH.
I would also like to give a special thank you to Kamin Health Urgent Care centers for their support of this event. Their healthcare and support of the Queens community is outstanding.
By Shabsie Saphirstein