Communities worldwide are gearing up for commemorative events in honor of the 15th anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, which this year will occur next Thursday, June 25.
But not everyone has been waiting for the date, known in Jewish circles as a yahrtzeit, to honor the Rebbe’s memory and internalize his teachings. In cities large and small, Jewish men, women and children have been preparing for the auspicious date by attending classes and recommitting themselves to Torah study and acts of kindness.
For weeks now, students in Chabad-Lubavitch educational institutions have spent their summer days studying Torah and Jewish law, and examining the corpus of the Rebbe’s work, from his letters and public sermons to his in-depth Chasidic discourses.
At Tiferes Bachurim, a men’s yeshiva for people who may not have been raised in a religious home, more than 50 students have been participating in a “Taste of Yeshiva” program that will culminate with next week’s yahrtzeit observances.
“What better way to commemorate the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit than by bringing Jews together and giving them a chance to study Torah?” said Rabbi Baruch Hect, director of admissions at Tiferes Bachurim, which is operated as a division of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J. “So we scheduled our summer-beak program to run from Shavuot to Gimmel Tammuz,” the Hebrew date of the Rebbe’s passing in 1994.
In keeping with a long-established Jewish custom to learn the teachings of great rabbis in the days and weeks leading up to the anniversary of their passing, Lubavitch Chasidim the world over devote extra hours to studying Chasidic thought this time of year. The Morristown program has gone a few steps further, encouraging its students to immerse themselves in full-time Torah study. For many, the opportunity is a first.
Lee Bushman, a post-graduate student from West Bloomfield, Mich., originally came for just one week of the program, but extended his stay.
“Every concept that I’ve encountered in the learning here is life-changing,” commented Lee. “It is more intense than any other learning I’ve experienced.”
Next Thursday, the yeshiva will host a Chasidic gathering before taking its students to the Rebbe’s holy resting place at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights, N.Y., where tens of thousands of people are expected to converge to seek spiritual inspiration and blessing, reflecting on what the Rebbe’s life has meant to them. Hundreds of thousands more will send faxes, letters and e-mails containing prayer requests to be read or placed at the resting place.
College students reflect and pray to G-d at the Rebbe’s resting place in Cambria Heights, N.Y. (Photo: Y. Taichman)
Around the World
Across the globe, more than 5,000 men and women are participating in special learning programs leading up to Gimmel Tammuz, ranging from full-time courses to once-a-week sessions. This year, special study topics at Lubavitch yeshivas include the Rebbe’s many calls to learn Maimonides’ foundational legal code, the Mishneh Torah. That and other topics were compiled into a booklet by the Vaad Talmidei Hatmimim, the umbrella organization representing yeshiva students, which has organized similar study campaigns for nine consecutive years.
At the Machon Alte women’s seminary in Safed, and elsewhere, students are studying the last Chassidic discourse that the Rebbe personally prepared for publication, known by its first two words, V’Ata Tetzaveh.
In addition, anyone with an Internet connection can log onto a cooperative Web site dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing produced by Chabad.org and Jewish Educational Media. The site, which has Hebrew, French, Spanish and German versions, contains inspirational stories and recollections of the Rebbe’s life, as well as a forum for users to post their own thoughts and reflections.
Chassie Feldman, director of extracurricular learning programs for the Yeshiva Centre Girls’ Cheder in Sydney, Australia, is helping her younger students compile a video of community members’ memories of the Rebbe, while the institution’s post-high school students are helping their younger charges study for a knowledge-bee spanning the Rebbe’s life.
The video will be screened at a special women’s gathering on the night of June 24th, which will also include the final round of the knowledge-bee and a student-led choral performance.
Rabbi Eli Feldman, director of the Yeshiva Centre, has also organized programming both for day schools and Jewish students in the area’s public schools.
When asked what message he hoped people would take from the programs, he answered: “I think it is important to recognize that one of the main things the Rebbe communicated is the importance of loving one’s fellow Jew.
“This is something he excelled at, and it is what inspires everything Chabad does.”
The Lubavitch Foundation of Michigan, meanwhile, hosted its annual banquet in honor of the Rebbe this past Tuesday night at the Rock Financial Showplace in Grand River. The event, entitled “An Evening of Song, Speech and Vision,” featured an address by Israeli diplomt Yehuda Avner.
In New York City and Herzliya, Israel, alumnae of several seminaries will be hosting gatherings for former students and teachers.
Each program, said organizers, will focus on the theme of Jewish unity, which the Rebbe urged should be tangibly felt, and will include presentations by local community members who either met the Rebbe or were touched by his life.
“Especially now,” commented Feldman, “we need to know that what unites us is greater than what divides us. The Jewish People are one, and we are committed to each other and to making the world a better place.”
In Morristown, Bushman echoed the rabbi’s sentiments.
“There is a sense of unity here I've never seen or experienced anywhere,” he said. “This is the way it should be everywhere.”