Seventy-one years ago, on 10 Shevat, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, assumed the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement after the passing of his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. In the decades that followed, the Rebbe revolutionized, inspired and guided the post-Holocaust transformation of the Jewish people that continues to this day.

Popularly known as Yud Shevat (corresponding this year to Saturday, Jan. 23), the days around it are times for reflection, study, prayer, positive resolutions, public gatherings and acts of lovingkindness.

The Rebbe’s teachings and example are urgently relevant to a world consumed by political turmoil and a global pandemic. As Jewish communities around the world prepare for this day, they are faced with what has become an all-too-familiar challenge during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic: Typically, the day’s observances include communal gatherings and prayer, as well as visits to the Ohel, the Rebbes’ resting place in Queens, N.Y., for those who live close enough.

Of course, a pandemic not yet under control makes much of that impossible for many. But as with everything else throughout this unusually challenging year, the foot soldiers of the Rebbe are not deterred, and plans are well underway to make this special day as meaningful as possible under the circumstances.

Mindful of the fact that 10 Shevat will be on Shabbat, when access to technology is forbidden, editorial staff prepared a 10 Shevat Home Companion PDF, for people to print before the onset of the day.

They also published a list of 10 ways to celebrate 10 Shevat at home to ensure that everyone—location and isolation notwithstanding—is able to tap into the spiritual energy of 10 Shevat.

With the general sense of apprehension swirling in the air, it is even more important to recalibrate our values and bring matters into focus. To this end, rabbis around the world will be sharing much-needed wisdom, inspiration and guidance this coming weekend to mark this important date on the Chassidic and Jewish calendar.

Farbrengens’ All Over

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson will lead a 10 Shevat online farbrengen sponsored by Chabad of Baka in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson will lead a 10 Shevat online farbrengen sponsored by Chabad of Baka in Jerusalem.

As a hallmark Chassidic holiday, much of the planning involves what Chassidim affectionately call a farbrengen. One of those inimitable Yiddish words that is enduringly difficult to translate, a farbrengen is an informal gathering something in between a lecture and a bar mitzvah party. Words of inspiration are shared, songs are sung, and food (and l’chaim)is passed around with everyone leaving a bit more inspired.

While it’s difficult to pass a plate of herring over Zoom, it’s entirely possible to gather your own condiments at home and say “l’chaim!” with friends as all gather virtually to hear words of inspiration.

“We were planning a farbrengen for a little while now,” explains Rabbi Dov Drizin who with his wife, Hindy, is co-director of Valley Chabad, N.J. “After securing the venerable Rabbi Manis Friedman to join us on Zoom, we settled on a theme of ‘Who’s in Charge? Balancing faith with personal responsibility and the secret to staying positive in tough times.’ When current events recently heated up, it just seemed ever more prescient.”

Joining Valley Chabad are their neighboring Chabad centers—Chabad of Old Tapan under the leadership of Rabbi Mendy and Devorah Lewis, and Chabad of North Bergen County under the leadership of Rabbi Chanoch and Mimi Kaplan.

As a frequent author on and a sought after speaker since publishing his popular book Positivity Bias (among others), Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson of Chabad Belgravia, London, will be addressing the community of Baka, Jerusalem, under the leadership of Rabbi Avraham and Nechama Dina Hendel.

Rabbi Shlomo Elkan will host an online event in Oberlin, Ohio.
Rabbi Shlomo Elkan will host an online event in Oberlin, Ohio.

The community of Chabad of Springfield, Mass., under the leadership of Rabbi Noach and Esther Kosofsky usually gather together every year on the Friday night closest to Yud Shevat for a Shabbat dinner that turns into a rousing farbrengen. Pivoting away from that this year, the plan is to gather virtually on the Wednesday evening beforehand to hear the wise and humorous Rabbi Abba Perlmutter lecture over Zoom. A “Farbrengen in a Box” option will be available, giving community members the opportunity to pick up a delicious deli dinner to enjoy while they farbreng together over Zoom.

In the more remote pockets of the rural United States, Rabbi Yossel and Bina Goldwasser have been organizing a farbrengen in a friend’s office about an hour away from their town of Mobile, Ala., for a number of years now. While the coronavirus is certainly complicating matters, Goldwasser is holding out hope that his home state of Alabama’s health regulations will be compatible with some sort of revised plan this week. Time will tell, but come what may, a farbrengen of some sorts will take place.

As Rabbi Lavy Kosofsky, also of Springfield, Mass., told “In these times of uncertainty, the lessons of leadership we’ll be commemorating at this event are a true beacon of stability for everyone around us.”

To find a 10 Shevat program near you, contact your local Chabad center here.