Thousands pay tribute on the Rebbe’s 25th yahrzeit

HOMAGE: Four hundred thousand a year visit the Rebbe’s grave

A FEW days ago, it was 25 years since the leader of Judaism’s Chabad-Lubavitch movement died.

And, as they do every day, a stream of visitors converged on a cemetery in residential Queens, New York.

Thousands young and old from around the world made their way to this unassuming site — the burial place of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe.

People sometimes wait hours to spend a couple of moments at his mausoleum, where they pray and leave notes.

There are now about 400,000 visitors a year to the grave, with about 50,000 in the period surrounding the 25th yahrzeit.

“If you’re coming here, you’re coming here for the real deal,” said Rivky Greenberg, 19, of Alaska, who timed her travel plans to coincide with visiting around the anniversary.

Greenberg, raised in the chassidic movement of Chabad-Lubavitch, she has come to the site several times in her life for the connection to the rabbi that it gives her.

“It’s not a tourist site,” she said. “It’s very rare that people will come and not feel something.”

Mark Stein, 66, on a visit to New York from Johannesburg, is not a Lubavitcher but admired the Rebbe and his teachings.

“It’s authentic — it’s not contrived,” said Stein, who made a point of specifically visiting the grave. “There’s no pretence here.”

Rabbi Schneerson led Chabad-Lubavitch for more than four decades as the seventh Rebbe, or spiritual leader, following the death of his father-in-law, whom he is buried next to at the Montefiore Cemetery.

The graves of his wife and mother-in-law are a short distance away.

In those years, he was one of the most influential global leaders in Judaism, pushing for all Jews to become more deeply connected to their faith and do more good in their everyday lives. He sent Chabad representatives to live all over the world.

Israeli social media has been filled with tributes from politicians on the 25th anniversary of his death.

Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset who spent three years in a Soviet jail in the 1980s before emigrating to Israel, said the Rebbe “was a model of love for Israel and instilled in the Jewish nation a belief in its eternal values that protected us for thousands of years and will protect us for ever”.

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