For weeks now, Jewish communities and individuals around the world have been preparing to mark the 21st anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. This year the anniversary, which takes place on the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, begins on the night of Friday, June 19, and ends after Shabbat.

Over the next few days, more than 50,000 people from around the world are expected to visit the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., to visit the Rebbe’s resting place both leading up to and following Shabbat.

Shiffy Landa, co-director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis with her husband, Rabbi Yosef Landa, flew into New York with a group of five other women ahead of Gimmel Tammuz.

The group, which one of the women calls the “Torah Sisters,” bakes challah and studies together, meeting at least once a month. Last year, they read Joseph Telushkin’s best-selling book Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History. This year, “they decided they really wanted to make a trip to New York, and go to the Ohel and experience Crown Heights,” she says.

Landa, who had an audience with the Rebbe several times throughout her life, trusts that the women will have a meaningful experience and return home feeling closer to the Rebbe. “I think they want to feel that connection and see things they read about,” she says. “I hope they come home wanting to make a stronger connection in terms of their own Yiddishkeit, and spread that Yiddishkeit to their friends and family.”

In Oak Park, Mich., students at the Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch Yeshivah-International School for Chabad Leadership are on their way to the Ohel as well.

Many of the school’s elementary-school boys will visit the holy site with their families, while the 80 high-schoolers travel together to spend a long weekend in New York. The school trip has been taking place annually for more than a decade, according to Rabbi Mendel Stein, the school’s development director.

Rabbi Mendel Groner, mashpia of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kiryat Gat, Israel, spoke at the second annual “Day of Reflection and Unity” in the Chicago area. The event was attended by about 300 adults, with concurrent programs for children of different ages.
Rabbi Mendel Groner, mashpia of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kiryat Gat, Israel, spoke at the second annual “Day of Reflection and Unity” in the Chicago area. The event was attended by about 300 adults, with concurrent programs for children of different ages.

The elementary-school students in the associated Chabad cheder—students up to eighth grade—prepared for the experience as part of a campaign that adds on special mitzvot. “Before you visit the resting place of a righteous person, we believe you need to prepare yourself to visit a holy place,” explains Stein. “It’s a way to connect to G‑d through a holy place on earth.”

Going to visit the Rebbe’s Ohel on his yahrtzeit, he adds, is an even more elevated occasion: “It’s an opportune time to tap into the energies that exist in proximity to that special day.”

Gatherings and events to strengthen connectedness to the Rebbe’s ideals and teachings have been held throughout the week in cities and towns around the world, drawing participants from all walks of Jewish life.

In Israel, the Knesset recognized the Rebbe’s tremendous global impact with speeches, displays and videos, and a steady stream of Knesset members took to the podium to speak of their personal admiration for the Rebbe and Chabad, in addition to the resulting positive impact on their lives.

Concurrently, the halls of the Knesset building are lined with a specially curated gallery of photos of the Rebbe, his shluchim (emissaries) and Chabad’s activities all over the world. The gallery was painstakingly created by Chassidic writer Rabbi Zalman Ruderman. The images and inspirational texts are displayed alongside a multimedia presentation of the Rebbe’s leadership and messages of empowerment.

“Torah Sisters” affiliated with Chabad of Greater St. Louis arrive in New York for their visit to the Ohel and Crown Heights, from left: Peggy Umansky, Debbie Barash, Julie Eisenberg, Shiffy Landa, Susan Scribner and Rhonnie Goldfader.
“Torah Sisters” affiliated with Chabad of Greater St. Louis arrive in New York for their visit to the Ohel and Crown Heights, from left: Peggy Umansky, Debbie Barash, Julie Eisenberg, Shiffy Landa, Susan Scribner and Rhonnie Goldfader.

‘Much More Learning’

Meanwhile, Rabbi Laivi Forta, director of the Aventura Chabad in Southeast Florida—his wife, Chani, is the program director—is planning something different and more extensive this year because the holiday falls over Shabbat.

Chabad is hosting a Friday-night dinner open to the entire community, with a guest speaker who will address them that night and again on Saturday. There will also be classes taking place locally for adults and kids, focused on the Rebbe and his teachings. Forta says he is hoping to exceed the regular crowd of between 200 and 250 people.

“There will be much more learning going on,” he says. “It’ll be more like a yeshivah atmosphere.”

He adds that he wants attendees to come away knowing more about the Rebbe and his impact on world Jewry—in the United States and beyond. “The fact that they have a place to call home for their spiritual needs and to come to every Shabbat is essentially a testament to the Rebbe’s work because without that, none of this would have ultimately transpired,” he says. “Therefore, it’s as important a day for them as it is for us.”

Chabad centers in most major cities in North America hold Gimmel Tammuz-related events open to the public, though smaller locales also work to incorporate the import of the anniversary into their activities.

Rabbi Yossi and Malkie Korik, who run Chabad of Roseville in Granite Bay, Calif., held their community’s first Torah completion and dedication ceremony on Monday night. A scribe from Los Angeles came in to finish up the last few letters of the Torah, which was written in Israel.

Monday was also an important day because it marked the day on the Hebrew calendar that the Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson came to the United States in 1941, he adds.

“As we approach his yahrtzeit, it is important that we heighten and strengthen our commitment to the things the Rebbe specifically instructed us to do.” He pointed to the Rebbe’s campaign that every Jew should own a letter in a Torah scroll—one of many initiatives the Rebbe championed for Jews’ participation in their heritage and traditions.

Lectures and study groups around the world, like this one in Chicago, have been held to strengthen people's connection to the ideals and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Photo: Menachem Posner)
Lectures and study groups around the world, like this one in Chicago, have been held to strengthen people's connection to the ideals and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Photo: Menachem Posner)

Other related programs that have already taken place include a Sunday event in the Chicago area, featuring Rabbi Mendel Groner, mashpia of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kiryat Gat, Israel. The second annual “Day of Reflection and Unity” was attended by about 300 adults, with concurrent programs for children of different ages.

It represented a fresh new effort to include every member of the community—and entire families—in learning based on their level. Simultaneous programs in different suburbs fell under the heading of the day’s activities.

Monday night also featured the annual event in the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia, which brought out 500 people to “The Living Legacy” evening celebrating the Rebbe’s lifework. The program has a tradition of focusing on nigunim, spiritual song and melodies favorable to the Rebbe.

Learning is a large part of commemorating the anniversary of the Rebbe's passing. (Photo: Menachem Posner)
Learning is a large part of commemorating the anniversary of the Rebbe's passing. (Photo: Menachem Posner)