New York, NY – It is the hub of the Broadway theater district and a tourist attraction that draws visitors from all over the globe, but on Sunday afternoon, the major commercial intersection known as Times Square became the site of something truly unique: a Chasidic Jewish wedding.
Rabbi Shea Hecht, chairman of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education and a prominent Chabad rabbi, said that he had long dreamed of marrying off one of his children in Times Square.
Rabbi Hecht said that the idea had entered his head as a means of demonstrating the importance of the institution of marriage and as a way of adding an extra measure of holiness to the world.
The wedding of his son JJ was Rabbi Hecht’s final opportunity to see his dream come true. The 23 year old, who has traveled to both Hong Kong and Russia as a Chabad shaliah and went to the 2014 Sochi Olympics as an official clergy member, was the last of the ten Hecht children to be married. His shidduch came about at the official Chabad menorah lighting this past December in Brooklyn.
“Every year my wife and I go to the menorah lighting on the first night of Chanukah and this year my wife suggested we go on the second night as well,” said Rabbi Hecht. “While she was there, my wife met an old friend she hadn’t seen in years and when my wife mentioned that our son needed a shidduch, the friend suggested calling her daughter who was a shadchan.”
While it seemed like a long shot, Mrs. Hecht made the phone call and rest was history. JJ Hecht was soon engaged to 20 year Hadassah Halperin, a Toronto school teacher who was pursuing a degree in education and was also a direct descendant of the Schneerson family.
When Rabbi Hecht and his wife Baila met with the Halperins to discuss wedding plans, he cautiously pitched his idea of a Times Square wedding.
“I asked my mechutan if he would allow me to fulfill my dream and he told me it was really up to the kallah,” Rabbi Hecht told VIN News. “I had JJ present the idea to her and he called me up two hours later to tell me that she was on board with the idea.”
Most of the wedding, which was limited to just 300 invited guests, was held at the Edison Hotel located just west of Times Square on 47th Street. Having spent the previous four Sundays in Times Square to gauge the goings on, Rabbi Hecht was thrilled when it started raining heavily at 4:45 PM, clearing out most of the crowds from the area. Conditions had improved by the time a six piece marching band playing festive music accompanied JJ to the blue velvet chupah in Times Square at 5 PM.
“The place went crazy,” said Rabbi Hecht. “People were stopping to see what was going on. Cars were stopping and drivers were rolling down their windows to watch. And after they brought JJ to the chupah, the marching band went back to the hotel to get the kallah. And then they marched down the block again with her.”
The music switched from upbeat dance music to the traditional and more somber Alter Rebbe’s niggun for the chupah, with well known singer Shlomo Simcha serving as the chazan during the chupah. Rabbi Chanoch Hecht, the Chabad shaliach in upstate Rhineback and the brother of the chosson, explained the customs of the chupah to the assembled crowds.
The experience went beyond anything Rabbi Hecht could have ever imagined and added an extra message to the wedding: the importance of unity.
“There was a moment during the chupah where I looked up and I saw a black girl, who must have been around 15 years old, taking a picture of a Chasidic wedding as people were swaying to the Alter Rebbe’s nigun,” said Rabbi Hecht. “It was such a beautiful moment that I felt like someone should have been taking a picture of her taking a picture. Someone else told me that they saw a Muslim woman taking video of the wedding. It was the kind of achdus and unity that you can only get a wedding which is a tremendous unifier and an incredible opportunity to show that we can all live together.”
After the chupah, the invited guests resumed their celebrations at the Edison Hotel and a day later, Rabbi Hecht is still basking in the glow of the unique celebration.
“I have always tried to keep my children’s weddings very modest,” said Rabbi Hecht. “But with this wedding being our last I said to my wife that I wanted to do something that would make a statement at some level and send a message to the world.”
In this case, Rabbi Hecht’s message was threefold: the importance of marriage, holiness and unity.
“We are here to make the world a holier place, to elevate it and to bring the holiness of G-d into this world,” Rabbi Hecht explained. “What better way to do that than to say the words ‘harei at mekudeshes li’ in Times Square, the crossroads of the world?”