Inmates at Rikers Island Prison were treated to simchas yom tov with a sukkah on site, dancing, shaking the lulav and esrog, and davening.
Did you ever think about what Sukkos would look like in a dark and cold jail cell or how that would feel? What about how such a lonely experience could be so crushing?
No Sukkah to eat in. No Yom Tov food to enjoy. No lulav and esrog to shake. No music to dance to. No Torah for a minyan. All that remains are the memories of the past and the aching reality of the inability to fulfill the Mitzvos of Sukkos.
Thank you to the Lubavitch Youth Organization (LYO) for not allowing a Sukkos to go by, while a Yid sits behind bars without the means to truly experience Zman Simchaseinu. LYO does everything they can to ensure that the Yidden on Rikers Island receive and experience the joys of Sukkos.
Early Thursday morning on Chol Hamoed, a bus full of Yungerleit and Bochurim headed out to Rikers Island to bring the Mitzvos of Sukkos and the joy of Yom Tov to Neshamos who were eagerly awaiting this opportunity.
Once clearing security the group cheerfully made their way to the big gym, as the sounds of V’samachta B’chagecha echoed through the long hallways of darkness, bringing light and warmth to all those close enough to hear.
In this big room, facial expressions began to change. The mood began to shift and positive vibes picked up speed. There was so much human interaction between one Yid and another that the smiles and laughter started to create a ripple effect throughout the room.
Thanks to Avigdor Zeitlin and his Orchestra, a full band was set up. The Arba Minim slowly made its way around the room, enabling everyone to fulfill this precious mitzvah. Then in small shifts, through metal detectors, Yidden made their way outside to the Sukkah. Once inside the canvas walls and beneath the bamboo mat, a hearty Leishev B’Sukkah was made. Yidden were inspired and uplifted by learning that being in the Sukkah is like sitting in Hashem’s hug, regardless of where a person stands. With tablecloths on the tables a full Yom Tov meal, with snacks and treats, was spread out for everyone to enjoy.
An even bigger treat, a Sefer Torah was brought to jail, something rare and extremely special. Everyone got to hear the sweet melodies of Torah leining, and every Yid got an Aliyah!
After the Torah was wrapped back up in a Tallis, the dancing and singing began. With each new song that played, the joy in the room intensified. Rounding everyone up together to take part, no one was left out, everyone was involved. Clown costumes were donned, and juggling acts were performed. The room was warm with spirit, and everyone was pumped up with joy.
At one point during the celebrations, one woman expressed, “This is the happiest day of my life.”
Another individual, upon seeing a picture of the Rebbe, cried and said, “The Rebbe touches my heart.”
The program closed with an emotional Ani Maamin, standing united, with arms on each other’s shoulders. Then the Shema was recited, and organizers expressed their eagerness to celebrate with everyone in true freedom on the outside very soon!
Everything was packed up and loaded back onto the bus. It was a beautiful day and a truly uplifting event. The organizers of this day said, “Thank you to the Rebbe and the kochos bestowed upon LYO, and all of the volunteers, to be able to arrange this event.”
Thank yous are also in order for Rabbi Zalman Tevel, who organized and arranged all of the day’s events. and to Rabbi Hecht, Rabbi Kresmersid, and Rabbi Mia, chaplains at Rikers Island, who’ve been so dedicated to ensuring that the needs of every Jew at Rikers Island are met.
Further, this program was dedicated in memory of R’ Avrahom ben Chaim Mordechai a”h Kessler, whose Shloishim was that day. May his Neshoma have an aliyah.
May we have no need to organize events like this in the future!