It turns out that Dudu Fisher is the king — at least, if you take the religious underpinnings of his upcoming bergenPAC concert seriously.
Mr. Fisher, star of Broadway and bimah, will perform Wednesday night in a concert sponsored by the nine Chabad chapters of Bergen and Hudson counties.
A commemoration of the ancient Jewish practice of having the king in Jerusalem publicly read from the Torah every seven years on Sukkot.
“When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which He shall choose,” commands Deuteronomy, “thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law.”
The ritual is known as “hakhel,” for the Hebrew word for “assemble.” According to the Mishnah, it is the king who should read from the Torah. And not the entire Torah, but rather selected passages from Deuteronomy.
While the hakhel ritual ended with the fall of the Kingdom of Judea back in the year 70, it was revived with public readings of the Torah in Jerusalem in 1945. It has featured the participation of Israeli government officials, including chief rabbis and presidents.
Chabad, though, takes the idea of hakhel less literally.
“While this practice doesn’t have any technical enforcement today, spiritually the concept is still relevant,” according to Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, who heads the Chabad Center of Northwest Bergen County in Franklin Lakes. “It was all about unity, about bringing the Jewish people together, and strengthening our communal resolve and commitment to the ways of Torah and the teachings of Torah.
“The rebbe” — Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who led the Chabad Lubavitch movement until his death in 1994 — “always emphasized that this be a year for public gatherings of Jews to strengthen connections and commitments to Torah and mitzvot,” Rabbi Kaplan continued.
Which led the local Chabad rabbis to plan an event “to bring together as many Jews from as many parts of county at one time, one place,” he said. This is the first countywide Chabad event.
“It was a bit of a challenge, figuring out something that would be relevant to every type of Jew and would have a Jewish theme,” he said.
The answer: Dudu Fisher, a successful cantor and a Broadway performer who, as the performer for hakhel, will be playing the part of the king — though his set list will probably not include very much of Deuteronomy.
“It is a special production he has that features a mix of Jewish songs and some of the Broadway songs he is most well known for,” Rabbi Kaplan said. “The main theme we want to emphasize is bringing together Jews from every corner of the county. We want to draw people from as many different and diverse communities and backgrounds as possible to create a unity event.” Seating at the concert will not be separated by gender.
Since it is a Chabad event, and since it is a couple of days before the rebbe’s yarhzeit, the evening also will feature a 15-minute tribute to the rebbe and his vision “as it relates to hakhel and uniting the Jewish people,” Rabbi Kaplan said.
Chabad houses all over the world have been doing hakhel events all year, Rabbi Kaplan said.
“We did one on Sukkot where our Hebrew school and the Valley Chabad Hebrew school did a joint program,” he said. “Yesterday my family participated in an online event that was brick-and-mortar at six or seven different locations, and there were tens of thousands who participated online.”
Who: Chabad of Bergen County
What: Unity Concert with Dudu Fisher
When: Wednesday, July 6, 7:30 p.m.; doors open at 6:45