Has someone ever stopped you on the street to ask you if you are Jewish? Have you found yourself spontaneously joining grown men, clad in black hats and tefillin, as they danced in the streets? If so, you probably have come across the well-organized, enthusiastic members of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, a Jewish movement that has grown not just because of the ardor of its believers but because of its work in what the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) calls “the public space.”
This feature video by The New York Times illustrates how Chabad moved into the “public space” – literally by taking to the streets and bringing their pride in Judaism alongside. Rather than working solely within the confines of a synagogue, Chabad utilizes “mitzvah tanks,” big trucks that serve as mobile synagogues and allow Jews to take a momentary respite from the secular world. As Rabbi Mordy Hirsch explained, “People are depressed today. Everyone has their worries, their headaches. The mitzvah tanks idea is a warm, comfortable home environment in the hustle and bustle of Fifth Avenue.” Once in the “tank,” Jewish pedestrians have the opportunity to pray, put on teffilin, and find Jewish literature to take home. The “tanks” typically come out in full-force during the holidays, handing out matzah on Passover and transforming into a mobile sukkah (ritual hut) for Sukkot. Along with the blaring klezmer music, the “tanks” stand out.