(RNS) On any given day, people will make a pilgrimage to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s grave.

A young couple might pray for his blessing before their marriage.

A rabbi might hope for a spark of insight about a theological conundrum.

Politicians — many of them not Jewish — may see it as a gesture of goodwill.

But on July 1, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of Schneerson’s death on the Hebrew calendar, crowds at his grave in Queens, N.Y., swelled. Followers of the black-hat-wearing Chabad-Lubavitch movement came from Brooklyn and New Jersey, but also every continent except Antarctica, to honor the memory of the man they affectionately call “the Rebbe.”

Schneerson, born in 1902 in the Ukraine, fled the persecution of the Nazis, landing in New York City in 1941. From his Brooklyn base, in the years and decades after the Holocaust, he imagined a vibrant revival of his shattered community. Today, Chabad emissaries work worldwide, inviting Jews from the Congo to Hollywood to Shabbat dinners, encouraging them to delve deeply into their faith.

Schneerson believed in optimism, preached kindness and taught that the mission of his followers was to understand their Jewishness and to help others do the same.  He reached out warmly to Jews who could not easily relate to Hasidism — the intensely spiritual Jewish movement, rooted in 18th-century Eastern Europe, of which Chabad is a part.

On the 20th anniversary of his death, many Jews outside his circle felt moved to remark on Schneerson’s influence. Wrote Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union: “The Rebbe was not just a rebbe for Chabad Chassidim. He was, and remains, a rebbe for us all.”

A fraction of his followers believe that Schneerson may be the Messiah. But that view is not endorsed by the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch. As Joseph Telushkin writes in “Rebbe,” one of several books out on Schneerson this year, the mainstream Chabad view is that the Rebbe felt it was pointless to try to figure out who the Messiah will be: “They recognize that they have no way of knowing and it’s all simply up to God.”


(Click on any photo to begin the slideshow.)


  1. “the Rebbe felt it was pointless to try to figure out who the Messiah will be: “They recognize that they have no way of knowing and it’s all simply up to God.”

    This sounds a lot like:

    “Why do you call me good, only god is good!”
    “Only God knows the hour” of the coming of “the Son of Man”

    Ah, yes. So it begins. Again.

    How long before we start hearing that Schneerson
    was actually born of a virgin?

    “Jews for Shneerson” anyone?

    • tmartin3333@yahoo.com

      If I were not a believer I would not want to be a non-believer after reading what you post on nearly a daily basis. It seems that you have no more to offer me than you say believing does. I at least do not have to spend my day looking for something to attack others about and surrounding myself with negative thoughts.

      • @tmartin,

        It is not negative to open the eyes of others. It is joyous.
        The cancer of religion must be defeated. And we atheists are making excellent headway.

        Cheer up.
        God isn’t real and someday you will see the light of reason.

      • The Great God Pan

        I wouldn’t want to be a believer after reading what Doc Anthony and Nats Lles post here on a daily basis. Doesn’t the Bible advise you to worry about the log in your own eye over the speck in someone else’s? If you were actually concerned about “attacks” and “negative thoughts,” you’d be calling out your fellow believers instead of Atheist Max.

        • Yes! I finally made it!

          Seriously though, I just hang around to give the humanist commenters a hard time. They banned me on their website cause they like to surround themselves with people who don’t think. I guess its easier that way. The rns wasn’t letting me post for a few days and there and some posts I did make disappered repeatedly….so yeah. Pan/Max, if you haven’t had your posts deleted yet it means you haven’t figured out who’s in charge here or offended the right people! Try harder my friends. Max is currently barking up the right tree.

          • @Lles Nats,

            I hate cancer, not cancer patients.
            I hate religion, not religious people.

            I think RNS knows I’m here. They don’t seem to mind as long as I am civil and refrain from furiously countering every single thing I disagree with.

            Religious people have the right to speak, too. These ancient philosophies are nonsense – but only by listening to why they believe in it can I help them out of that nonsense.

            As for ‘civilized’ I would remind you that you have crossed that line repeatedly with your term, ‘slut cheerleaders’ only being the latest.

  2. Atheist Max, it seems to me that atheism has become your “religion.” Anyone who’s objective is to “open the eyes of others” and believes it is his “joyous” mission, has made a “religion” of his belief and practice. In this case, you are part of the “cancer” that you so much condem of religious people. They also find “joy” in opening the eyes of others to the mercy of a living God. Perhaps, one day you will see His light of reason.

    • @Johann,

      You said, “They also find “joy” in opening the eyes of others to the mercy of a living God.”

      “I tortured and killed my son. I did it just for you. I want you to love me.
      I ripped him apart and he suffered terribly. Won’t you love me?
      If you don’t believe me I’ll do worse things to you” – Yahweh

    • @Johann,

      Atheism is only one thing. It means “I do not believe in a god”.
      Atheism is not a religion. There is no dogma. There are no leaders.

      But it is wonderful that people are dumping this nonsense.

      • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

        Of course atheists have dogmas they believe in. Some of the most dogmatic comments on this RNS site are by atheists. Also, some of the strongest evangelizers for atheism are commenters on various sites.
        And the dogmatism of atheists is probably the narrowest dogmatism of all because it’s core creed (“There is absolutely without doubt, no God”) is so constrictively narrow.
        On the other hand the depth and breadth and variety of religious choices available to spiritual seekers with open minds is almost limitless. One spiritual seeker I read recently described his spiritual journey as being like that of a bee going from flower to flower sampling delicious nectars–even in seemingly narrow churches like my Catholic Church

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