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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs