The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, passed away on the third of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, 5754, corresponding to June 12, 1994. As the 19th anniversary of that date (known in Hebrew as Gimmel Tammuz) approaches, Jewish communities around the world have been preparing to commemorate his yahrtzeit, which begins at sunset on Monday, June 10.

Tens of thousands of people have been arriving from the United States and other countries to visit the Rebbe’s resting place, known as “the Ohel,” at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, N.Y. Many arrive straight from the airport with luggage still in hand. Inspired by the auspiciousness of the day, they have been waiting patiently in line for hours to deliver their handwritten requests for blessings, and to internalize the Rebbe’s devotion to G‑d, the Torah and the Jewish people.

Countless others around the globe will join locally with rabbis, friends and family to study and reflect, using the time as an opportunity to more intensely absorb the Rebbe’s message and goals.

Widespread special events have been held in the week leading up to the yahrtzeit. Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, director of The Shul in Bal Harbour, Fla., celebrated an expansion of their facilities on June 5, which kicked off a week-long period of intense programming with his large community.

This past weekend, they welcomed scholar-in-residence Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, chairman of the board of Agudas Chasidei Chabad and director of Lubavitch activities in Greater Philadelphia. He gave classes on Chassidic thought, discussed the Rebbe’s leadership and international impact, and participated in a lively and inspiring Chassidic farbrengen. Classes also included a special session for women with Batsheva Shemtov, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Philadelphia.

The Shul is also planning to take a group of community members to the Ohel for the actual yahrtzeit.

“We are going to continue during that day and the time surrounding it to talk about how we can each fit into the Rebbe’s mission and vision,” said Lipskar.

Rabbi Abraham Shemtov was the leading speaker at events in Florida and Pennsylvania.
Rabbi Abraham Shemtov was the leading speaker at events in Florida and Pennsylvania.

Some people in his community remember visiting the Rebbe during his lifetime, he explained, and were deeply impacted by their time in the Rebbe’s presence. Some even made films about their visits, in which they described their interactions with the Rebbe.

Meanwhile, Lipskar said he hopes that people today take the energy they get from the Rebbe’s Ohel back home with them, and return elevated, with renewed connection to G‑d and to Judaism. More broadly, he added, in whatever ways individuals involve themselves with Gimmel Tammuz, they should gain a deeper appreciation for and be impacted positively by the Rebbe’s teachings and inspiration: “I would hope that they would appreciate the contribution of the Rebbe, the mission of the Rebbe, the objective—and, most importantly, become partners in that process.”

Gaining a Deeper Appreciation and Connection

For Rabbi Sholom Ciment, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Boynton, also in South Florida, Gimmel Tammuz has an additional personal twist this year.

His sister’s husband, New York-based Chabad Rabbi Shaya Gansbourg, who spent a large part of his life working to reinvigorate Jewish life in Harlem, passed away earlier this year at the age of 57. A four-segment study of the last discourse the Rebbe personally distributed to thousands, titled “V’atah Tetzaveh,” was offered in his memory.

“The third of Tammuz is about connecting soul to soul with the Rebbe, to become more Jewishly invigorated,” said Ciment. “The way to do this is through studying his Torah discourses, which inevitably contain practical application to our lives.”

Participants from places like Cleveland, Chicago, upstate New York and Florida downloaded the Hebrew and English texts, and learned together via daily teleconference, with a four-day planned study project turning into six. “We are doing this because we believe it’s the most efficient way to capture that soul connection,” he said.

While discussion evolved about the Rebbe’s greatness and global works, Ciment noted that he wanted to take it to the next level. “It’s time to go a little deeper, to have it be a bit more of a focused attempt to imbue oneself with the Rebbe’s message. It’s a legacy that must be studied and shared.”

To that end, their successful project has resulted in the launch of a Tanya session. “It’s having a sort of snowball effect,” he said.

Thirty Chabad Centers and an Unexpected Story

The Philadelphia Jewish community held a June 3 event that attracted people from the metropolitan area’s 30 Chabad centers. This year, it focused on “The Rebbe and Israel: The Story of a Unique Relationship,” complete with a film, speakers and niggunim (songs).

“The Rebbe was personally involved with the land of Israel; he cared about Israel, he worried about Israel, physically and spiritually,” said Rabbi Yossi Kaplan, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Chester County, about 30 miles outside of the city. “We don’t realize the extent of how he was involved.”

Kaplan added that every year for 19 years, the event has been noteworthy. “To a Chassid, it’s the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit, and it’s a very special day. Everyone holds it near and dear. People came, heard something new and marked Gimmel Tammuz in their own way.”

He also mentioned that despite the fact that it was a school night, a children’s program took place simultaneously.

Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, director of Lubavitch of Bucks County, also right outside Philadelphia, noted that this year’s event was more “farbrengen-style.”

A violinist and a pianist set the tone, as did the singing. While the Rebbe and Israel were the subjects of much of the sharing, there was no main speaker. “It added a different dimension,” Shemtov noted. “There was a very warm feeling; it was very personal.”

His father, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov (who also highlighted the program in Florida), stood up to speak. As the Rebbe’s longtime shaliach to Washington, he brought messages from the Rebbe to the government. Shemtov started talking about the Rebbe’s behind-the-scenes influence there.

The Rebbe was “not only a spiritual giant, but extremely wise, and many people—including non-observant Jews and even non-Jews—appreciated and sought out his wisdom, counsel and intellect.”

Also at the event, which was attended by more than 500 people, was Sherwood “Woody” Goldberg, chief of staff for Gen. Alexander Haig during his tenure as secretary of state during the Reagan administration. Shemtov would often bring political, social and religious sentiments from the Rebbe to Goldberg, who would relay them to Haig. As such, Haig became familiar with the Rebbe’s strong and protective positions toward Israel.

Goldberg spoke after Shemtov, noting that the Rebbe was “not only a spiritual giant, but extremely wise, and many people—including non-observant Jews and even non-Jews—appreciated and sought out his wisdom, counsel and intellect.”

He was apparently so moved by Shemtov’s sincerity that shared this historical anecdote:

Following Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor—without first informing the United States it was doing so—President Ronald Reagan called an emergency cabinet meeting to determine how the administration would respond.

Goldberg recalled how, one by one, Reagan polled Vice President George H.W. Bush and his staff. To a man, they advised that the American reaction should be sharp and condemnatory.

That is, until it was Haig’s turn to weigh in.

“One day, you will get down on your knees and thank Israel for doing that,” Haig said, making him the lone dissenter, but a powerful one. The net result was no negative U.S. reaction.

“This was a true farbrengen,” said the younger Shemtov. Referring to his father, he said, “he spoke from the heart, and when you do that, amazing things can happen.”

Other Events Mark Yahrtzeit

In other events, the Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury, Conn., just held a special weekend of programs in honor of the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit, hosted by director Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky. A kiddush luncheon on Shabbat featured inspiring stories and teachings of the Rebbe, as well as niggunim.

The Shabbat program was followed by a “Yeshivah Day” on June 9 that emphasized the Rebbe’s teachings. The program included “Women in the Torah” by Esther Kosofsky of Chabad of Longmeadow, Mass.; “Who Needs Religion?!” by Rabbi Mendel Samuels of Chabad of the Farmington Valley in Weatogue, Conn.; and “Wisdom of the Tanya” by Rabbi Baruch Kaplan of Chabad-Lubavitch in Wallingford, Conn.

The day concluded with a presentation by Rabbi Yosef Y. Hodakov, of Chabad-Lubavitch of Westville, Conn., titled “Inspirations From My Rebbe.” The Chabad Jewish Center is also hosting a group trip to the Ohel on Gimmel Tammuz itself.

Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, director of the Chabad Lubavitch of Idaho, also led a farbrengen last weekend in honor of Gimmel Tammuz, where people made resolutions, and wrote emails or letters for Lifshitz to bring to the Ohel for the Rebbe’s blessings. As is customary, Lifshitz will read the contents, then tear up the letters at the Rebbe’s resting place.

“What I hope people take away is the Rebbe’s care for every single Jew—the value the Rebbe placed on every single soul,” he said. “And that all have a personal connection with the Rebbe; that it’s not an abstract thing.”

On Gimmel Tammuz, he will join tens of thousands of other Jews making the trip to the Ohel. All the travel and delays, the long lines and the planning to make it happen—it’s worth it, he insisted. Upon his return, his Chabad House will hold another farbrengen to share his experiences with the Boise-area community.

A wealth of information about the anniversary of the Rebbe’s life and teachings can be found at the mini-site on Gimmel Tammuz devoted to the yahrtzeit, as well as at, which contains first-person accounts by Jewish and political leaders, recordings of some of the Rebbe’s many public addresses and scholarly explanations of the Rebbe’s teachings.