From New Zealand to Hawaii, via Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Jews all over the world marked the blessing over the sun with prayers, dancing, yoga and environmental messages.
New Zealand’s Jews proudly claimed the title of the first to celebrate. Americans defied poor weather forecasts to organise a huge range of services including a mystical beach ceremony in Seattle, a service near Ground Zero to commemorate the 9/11 victims and a yoga event in Manhattan.
More than 50,000 prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem while others watched the first rays break at the ancient desert fortress of Masada. In Tel Aviv, people gathered on the roof of the Azrieli building.
Nearly 40 Facebook groups were set up to mark the event, attracting hundreds of members eager to download prayers, swap reports of events and post photos.
In New Zealand, Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, who runs the Chabad house in Canterbury on the South Island said: “New Zealand Jewry feels very privileged to be the first in the world to celebrate this wonderful mitzvah.” In Australia, Chabad held many ceremonies.
“More Jews in more places will participate in this rare opportunity than ever before,” said Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, chief rabbi of Chabad in New South Wales.
“From Jerusalem to New York, San Francisco to Sydney, this unique ritual will connect people in always remembering the divine miracles of daily existence.”
Jewish environmental group Hazon planned a rooftop ceremony in New York. Its founder, Manchester-born Nigel Savage said: “It makes sense to connect blessing the sun with the power of the sun and with some understanding of how the sun’s rays are affecting the planet in the 21st century.”
Another group sent a vegetable-oil fuelled birchat hachamah bus to synagogues along the East Coast sharing information about solar power and other environmentally-friendly technologies.
Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says the explosion of interest reflects an environmental link. But he added: “It’s far easier to observe a once-in-28-year ritual than a daily one.”