News / USA

20 Years On, 'Lubavitcher Rebbe' Still Mourned, Celebrated

Visitors pray at the gravesite of the 'Lubavitcher Rebbe,' Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in the Queens borough of New York June 30, 2014.
Visitors pray at the gravesite of the 'Lubavitcher Rebbe,' Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in the Queens borough of New York June 30, 2014.
Adam Phillips

Tens of thousands of Hasidic devotees from around the world converged on New York City this week, to gather at the grave of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the “Lubavitcher Rebbe.” They came to pray, celebrate, mourn and ask for blessings from the man many in the Chabad-Lubavitch sect believe to be the Messiah, and others recognize as one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.

A sea of Hasidic men in their distinctive black coats and wide-brimmed hats packed a warren of huge rooms adjacent to Rabbi Schneerson’s gravesite. The Rebbe, as he is known, was buried there exactly 20 years ago. 

While they waited for their two minute turn at the grave itself, they studied Torah together and sang “niggunim,” or holy songs.

They listened to sermons about the significance of the man many believe to have been the long-awaited Messiah, the man Jewish tradition prophecies will be savior-king of the Jewish people, and ultimately, the world. 

Nearby, Berel Lazar, an American who is the current Chief Rabbi of Russia, praised Schneerson’s unflagging decades-long effort to reach out to Soviet Jews during the Cold War. 

“I was lucky enough to visit the Soviet Union in 1987-88 and I was privileged to meet Hasidim that had survived through Communism and kept the flame alive, kept Yiddishkeit (Judaism) alive in every city in the former Soviet Union. Most of the Jews left, ran away, gave up, didn’t see any future. But these people stood steadfast in their belief that the flame has to keep on burning. And the real backing for this, no question, came from the Rebbe. The Rebbe cried for them. The Rebbe pleaded God for them. The Rebbe sent emissaries in underground clandestine ways to bring them support, food, religious articles, money and mainly support - to keep on moving, to keep on going. But the main thing is these people felt the Rebbe is caring for them,” said Lazar.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe is said to have been shrewd and skilled in the use of indirect power. He worked discreetly with American and Israeli authorities to secure freedom for Soviet Jews to learn about and practice their traditional faith, and ultimately to emigrate.

Rabbi Chaim Bruk said the Rebbe did not need loud outward demonstrations or demands.

“The Rebbe was not a person looking to take credit. The Rebbe was an individual who wanted to get the job done and it didn’t matter who got the credit,” said Bruk. 

Tzvi Gerson Felderbaum is too young to have met the Rebbe personally, but he takes profound inspiration from his writings.   

“The one thing that he taught me is that every little action we do for ourselves or we help other people to do good is connected to the essence of God.  So everything you do, even very little things, it has a very big significance. And it’s something I live with every day, day in and day out,” said Felderbaum.   

The faithful continued to file past the Rebbe’s gravesite all night long and into the following day, to pray and leave handwritten entreaties. Even non-religious Jews - and non-Jews - were impressed.  As one security officer assigned to the site put it, “I don’t see it for myself, but I don’t make fun of people either. Let them believe. It’s all positive thoughts. Karma. Good luck. It’s heartwarming. That’s all that matters. Amen."

You May Like

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs