Rabbi's devotees have made his grave in New York a tourist destination

News Summary/February 23, 2007
By Rick Ross

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the seventh leader of a Jewish sect known as the Lubavitch. He served as its "rebbe" from 1951 until his death June 12, 1994. Revered by his followers as a "messiah" his mausoleum at the Montefiore Cemetery in Queens has become something of a shrine and tourist attraction. On the tenth anniversary of his death 25,000 came, overwhelming the neighborhood.

People visit a nearby synagogue and the rabbi's mausoleum 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And especially around the Jewish new year, on the anniversary of his death and on his birthday, which is on April 18th.

The Lubavitch movement began in Russia in the late 1700s and its members immigrated to the United States in the 1880s. Though some claim that the movement includes 100,000 members worldwide, the 2000 U.S. census counted 11,000 in Crown Heights, which is its spiritual center, within Brooklyn, New York.

Known as the only Jewish sect that actively proselytizes, Schneerson devotees drive "mitzvah mobiles," and ask people they pass, "Excuse me, are you Jewish?"

Schneerson did not name a successor and the Lubavitch sect has no new "rebbe" named. Instead, it is currently governed by committee. The organization has opened more than 1,000 Chabad houses, in its ongoing recruitment and fund raising efforts.

To accommodate tourists, the Lubavitch organization bought three homes near the cemetery. One is a "welcome center" and synagogue, the others house out-of-town guests.

When large crowds come to the grave visitors often sleep on mattresses and in sleeping bags. There are even climate-controlled tents.

The granite mausoleum contains prayer books. And men can be seen there rocking back and forth in prayer.

People also leave behind little paper messages to the rabbi, as is the custom with prayers to God at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The little papers are collected three times a week and burned. "Going up to heaven with the smoke," a Lubavitcher spokesperson told Newsday.

Note: This news summary is based upon an article titled "Rabbi continues to draw crowds at gravesite" by Marc Ferris published by Newsday September 26, 2004

Copyright © 2007 Rick Ross.

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