NY community takes to the skies for Birkat Hachama

Rabbi Hanoch Hecht of the Rhinebeck community to lead four balloons in prayer from the air.

sun 88 (photo credit: )
sun 88
(photo credit: )
A New York rabbi will lead a minyan in the sky on Wednesday morning as he and his congregants perform Birkat Hachama (Blessing of the Sun), a rare ceremony occurring every 28 years, from a number of hot air balloons. Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, 26, who heads the Rhinebeck community, is expecting to lead four balloons in prayer from the air - two balloons carrying a minyan, one carrying women and another whose passengers are yet to be confirmed - in order to celebrate the sun's return to its starting point when the universe was created, according to Jewish tradition. The service will also be transmitted to the crowd below via radio. The balloons, part-funded by Chabad and the National Committee for the Furtherance of Education (an American charity), are scheduled to ascend at 6:26 a.m. from James Beard Park and will contain people of all ages. A 15-year-old boy and a 79-year-old man from the community are both set to take to the skies for the service. The 28-year cycle is known as the "machzor gadol" or "large cycle" and the event always takes place on a Wednesday, as the Bible states that the sun was created on the fourth day of creation. Hecht, who said in a phone interview that he "loves heights," said he has received a barrage of phone calls from members of the community wanting to take part in the service. It is hoped the event will attract people who don't typically attend services, said Hecht. "This is a momentous event not just for the phenomenon itself, but for the way we're celebrating it. It's also significant that it falls on the eve of Passover. Even the most unaffiliated Jew goes to a Passover seder, it's a holiday that provides a tremendous amount of excitement and then you add something in that only happens three times a century and it makes it so much more exciting."