Hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide gathered in venues large and small to begin two days of commemoration and celebration of the 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, a date known as “the New Year of Chassidism.”

The 19th of Kislev marks the day in 1798 that a Czarist commission acquitted and freed from imprisonment the first Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, on charges that included subverting the government in S. Petersburg and aiding the Ottoman Empire. The acquittal is regarded in Chassidic circles as signaling a heavenly decree that the rabbi’s teachings should be publicly disseminated. As a result, the annual daily study cycle of the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s seminal work of Chassidic thought, began anew today.

In celebration of the 19th of Kislev, visitors from across the former Soviet Union and the world gathered at Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s resting place in the Ukranian city of Haditch to attend the inauguration of Heichal Admur Hazaken—a new synagogue, mikvah and welcome center inspired by the late philanthropist Sami Rohr.

On hand for the inauguration were his son, philanthropist George Rohr, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement worldwide, and the new Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Haditch, Rabbi Mendel Teichman. Also in attendance were Chabad emissaries and members of their communities from across the former Soviet Union.

In Jerusalem, more than 5,000 students and an even greater number of adults from every walk of Jewish life packed into the city’s International Convention Center for a gathering sponsored by the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel.

In New York, Rabbi Moshe Feller, the Upper Midwest Regional Director of Chabad-Lubavitch, spoke at a gathering at Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights, at an event co-sponsored by Chabad of Prospect Heights West, Chabad of Brooklyn Heights, Chabad of Clinton Hill, Chabad of Windsor Terrare and Chabad of Park Slope.

Learning from the groundbreaking text of Chabad philosophy, the Tanya, authored by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in Russian.
Learning from the groundbreaking text of Chabad philosophy, the Tanya, authored by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in Russian.

Feller spoke of his work in Minnesota and his personal experiences as a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who did not come from a Chabad background. “Being himself drawn to Chassidus, Rabbi Feller was able to inspire the crowd with what it is that Chassidus adds to your life, and what he felt he was missing,” said Rabbi Mendy Hecht, director of Chabad of Prospect Heights.

Rabbi Feller’s enthusiasm for doing good deeds, or mitzvot, is clear and contagious, Hecht noted, adding that “[Chassidus is] an element of Torah that brings out a new element in a Jew’s life in everything he does and breathes. The Alter Rebbe brought new depth to that.”

This year also marks 200 years since the Alter Rebbe’s passing, a number which Hecht says is important because it signifies not just the completion of 100, but double completion at 200.

“There’s no person in the world who can’t connect and learn from the teachings of the Alter Rebbe and especially with the Internet, its broadcast to the entire world,” said Hecht.