Thousands of rabbis and well-wishers flooded Brooklyn Monday and Tuesday to observe the 20th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Lubaivch Chabad movement of Hasidic Jews, which is ubiquitous on college campuses and far-flung remote Jewish communities worldwide. To many, the death felt fresh. “It’s not just a one-time thing. We’re re-experiencing it, re-living it today,” one man told reporters.
The “Rebbe,” as he was known, built a massive return-to-religion movement that inspired millions of Jews to embrace their faith, and is largely responsible for reviving Judaism in the post-communist world. He was the seventh–and last–of the line of Lubavitch Chabad rabbis to lead the movement, but the movement has continued to grow worldwide after his passing, following his teachings and continually inspired by his charismatic persona.
The Rebbe enjoyed friendships with many world leaders, and is known to have had a special admiration for Ronald Reagan. Such was the Rebbe’s influence that some Hasidic Jews, in the last years of his life, considered him a possible Messiah. Those ideas have faded, but the ideas of the Rebbe have not. Many of his political prognostications–including the danger of Iran and Palestinian terror, for example–have stood the test of time.
Chabad Rabbis convene every year for various conferences at the Rebbe’s headquarters in Crown Heights, and people pray at his gravesite often, but the 20th anniversary has brought a particularly large outpouring of grief–and gratitude. The Rebbe’s life is documented in two new biographies, one of which is performing strongly on Amazon.com’s bestseller lists. Observances will continue through Tuesday, in Brooklyn and worldwide.