The Jewish Week
Rabbi Hanoch Hecht’s six minutes of Torah in Manhattan one recent day lasted seven and a half hours.
Earlier this month, the rabbi, an emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement in upstate Rhinebeck, arrived at 8:34 a.m. on the Amtrak Empire Service, walked to a nearby Shacharit minyan, then began a daylong series of one-on-one learning sessions in offices around the borough. His last class ended at 5 p.m., followed by a personal counseling session. He got back to Rhinebeck at 8:30 p.m.
Another day in the life of the “6-Minute Rabbi.”
That’s the trademarked name that Rabbi Hecht, a 31-year-old Canarsie native, gave himself when he began his short-length, long-lived educational program eight years ago.
Every Thursday, no matter the weather, he meets with doctors, attorneys, real estate developers and other professionals, sharing an insight into the week’s Torah portion, an inspirational story and some words of spiritual encouragement, all in the time it takes to get a cup of coffee.
Most days he rides from lesson to lesson on Citi Bikes he picks up at stations around Manhattan, parking them when he arrives at each venue, hopping on another bike after a class, covering some 15 miles a day.
To stay light, he carries no books, no texts on his jaunts around Gotham; lunch is a Power Bar he picks up along the way.
For many of his students, the 360 seconds with him are usually the only Torah learning they can squeeze into their schedule each week. “I want to get the high-powered people, the busy people,” Rabbi Hecht said.
Sheldon Lobel, a zoning and land use attorney who lives in upstate Millbrook, has hosted Rabbi Hecht’s six-minute class for five years after the two encountered each other at a menorah-lighting ceremony.
“I’m always anxious to meet up with him. I learn something every time,” said Lobel, a member of a Conservative synagogue in Poughkeepsie. “I’m not that learned in Jewish law or Jewish history. This brings me closer. It’s made me more knowledgeable in the beauty of the religion and of the history.”
A member of the prominent Chabad family of Hecht rabbis, on this recent Thursday, Hanoch Hecht sports a distinctive maroon velvet kipa, a light-blue striped suit and an open-collared white shirt. Despite the cold, he left his coat at home, opting instead for a light brown plaid scarf.
The rabbi has lived in Dutchess County with his wife, Tzivie, and children for nine years. He began his six-minute gig when someone he knew in Manhattan indicated an interest in incorporating some regular Torah learning into his schedule, but couldn’t find the time.
Rabbi Hecht did some online research and found a study that reported that the average person’s attention span is about six and a half minutes.
The “6-minute Rabbi” (6minuterabbi.com) was born.
“Everyone has six minutes,” the rabbi said. “This is not just a gimmick.” It’s serious, albeit abbreviated, learning. For people too busy to travel to a class, he brings his classes to them. It’s a bit like the popular lunch and learn programs, but in far less time, and without the lunch.
No homework, no tuition, no pitch to put on tefillin or commit to doing any specific mitzvah. “I don’t come with any hidden agenda,” he said.
He compares his program to Speed Dating (which was invented by another, albeit much larger, Jewish educational organization, Aish HaTorah).
“The concept is very similar,” Rabbi Hecht said. “In a short period you can accomplish a lot.”
He spends up to an hour or two each week deciding on that Thursday’s topic and boiling all the material down. “It’s hard work – but it works,” he said. “The hardest thing is juggling the schedules.” Midtown, downtown, then midtown again. Sometimes, students cancel at the last minute.
With Purim approaching, Rabbi Hecht recently touched on some features of the holiday that celebrates Jewish survival in ancient Persia.
“Which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar?” he would typically ask.
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