Remembering the Rebbe, 20 Years Later


(JTA) — It has been two decades since the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the rebbe whose influence was felt far beyond the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic sect he led.

Within hours after the long-ailing Schneerson, more commonly known as “the rebbe,” died at age 92, JTA reporters visited Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Chabad is based, to report on the scene there:

Meanwhile, in Israel:

While attendance at the burial, in a Queens cemetery, was restricted, JTA described the “emotional scene earlier in Crown Heights” as an estimated 35,000 people gathered “under overcast skies” outside Lubavitch headquarters in hopes of catching a glimpse of the rebbe’s coffin:

In the days that followed, JTA pointed to the many questions swirling about: Who would succeed the childless Schneerson as leader of the movement? Would a schism emerge between Chabad Jews who believed Schneerson was the Messiah, and those who did not? Would the movement be able to continue its rapid international growth, without the rebbe there?

A year later, as Schneerson’s first yahrtzeit approached, some answers had emerged. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the rebbe’s aide for decades and the executor of his estate, had assumed responsibility for day-to-day operations. And rather than letting its activities and influence abate, in the absence of the rebbe, Chabad had redoubled its efforts, adding 100 new couples to the movement’s more than 3,000 emissaries in “locations as disparate as Vilna, Lithuania; Marumbi, Brazil; and New London, Conn.”

In addition, JTA reported, “roughly $200 million worth of new capital projects have been initiated by Chabad emissaries all over the world,” including a planned $40 million synagogue and Jewish program campus in suburban Detroit and a $10 million complex in Paris. Chabad was also expanding its presence on the then-fledgling Internet, where it was setting up online chat rooms and study sessions.

In the 19 years that followed, Chabad never anointed a replacement rebbe. Yet its growth, both online and in the physical world, continues.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


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Remembering the Rebbe, 20 Years Later

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