Jewish communities throughout the world gathered this week to celebrate the 210th anniversary of the release of the first Chabad Rebbe from a Russian prison. Tens of thousands of people took part in the celebrations, which stretched for two days and looked at the life and teachings of the first Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

In the Brooklyn, N.Y., enclave of Crown Heights, rabbinical leaders and hundreds of residents packed a yeshiva for newly-married men to hear words of spiritual encouragement from Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg, the father of slain Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who perished in the Mumbai terror attacks.

In an emotional speech, Holtzberg relayed a few stories that encapsulated the religious conviction that led his son to eventually move to India on a mission to strengthen Judaism wherever Jews could be found. The conviction, he noted, was rooted in the approach outlined by the first Rebbe in the Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic thought for which its author was falsely accused of subverting the ruling Czarist regime.

“An extremely left-leaning Israeli who associated himself with [a Marxist-affiliated group] traveled to India,” related Holtzberg. “On arrival, he contacted my son and told him, ‘I need a place to eat. Nothing else. I don’t want to hear about religion.’

“My son said to him, ‘Don’t worry. I will not ask you to do anything, not even to put on tefillin.’ This happened each time this Israeli traveled to India. Each time my son said nothing,” continued Holtzberg. “Finally, unable to contain himself, the Israeli man blurted out, ‘I come here and I eat, and you never ask me to do anything in return!’ My son answered him simplistically and beautifully: ‘The fact that you come here and eat and enjoy yourself is the greatest thing that you could do for me.’ ”

The father also relayed that his son, who was known as a great scholar, would wake up early every day for months to make sandwiches for local businesspeople and their visiting colleagues. He would deliver the sandwiches personally to Jewish people at the Bombay Stock Exchange, so that they would have kosher nourishment, irrespective of whether they would have otherwise sought it out.

During the Tuesday night gathering, Rabbi Yitzchok Raitport, a Talmudic scholar, author and philanthropist, gave a sermon on occasion of completing the study of the Talmud. Halachic decisor Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, meanwhile, spoke about the spiritual significance of the first Rebbe’s release.

For his part, Rabbi Yisroel Deren, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Fairfield County in Stamford, Conn., urged the attendees to live in a spirit of unity, just as the first Rebbe taught: “Chasidim should be one family.”