The 11th of Nissan, this year corresponding to April 2, marks the 102nd birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. For thousands of Jews, it is a day of intensified outreach activity, Torah study and rededication to the teachings and legacy of the Rebbe.
Thousands will make their way to the Montefiore cemetery in Queens, New York, where they will pray at the Rebbe’s resting place. Yeshiva students worldwide will participate in various educational and outreach programs and assume additional commitments in Torah study and Jewish outreach to honor this day.
A 90-minute video of a farbrengen with the Rebbe will be shown simultaneously in 102 Jewish communities worldwide. The video, produced by Jewish Educational Media, was taken in 1985 when the Rebbe addressed his disciples on the occasion of his birthday, captures the unique phenomenon of the farbrengen—a “get-together” of Chasidim, during which the Rebbe would speak for hours, his discourse interspersed now and then with Chasidic melody and toasts of l’chaim. The tradition of Chasidic farbrengens continues today, but the video conveys to a new generation of Chabad-Lubavitch students who had never participated at a farbrengen with the Rebbe, something of the energy that permeated these events, and the inimitable bond between the Rebbe and his Chasidim, as glimpsed on this footage.
The Rebbe was seventh in a dynasty of Chabad leaders, descending from R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. Chabad Chasidism has always been known as the intellectual branch of the Chasidic movement, as compared to the more emotive approaches of the other groups.
The Rebbe assumed leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in 1950, after the passing of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, and would set a course for the most dramatic outreach program ever to draw Jews back into the fold. Under his leadership, the now unbiquitous Chabad Houses opened in cities worldwide, staffed by what may well be the largest human resources team in the world—Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim. The urgency which characterized the Rebbe’s initiatives, and for which Lubavitch would earn its reputation, has often been attributed to the Rebbe’s determination to effect a tikkun—reparation, in a post-holocaust milieu.
After the Rebbe’s passing in 1994, many feared that Lubavitch would be unable to sustain its passion. In fact, the movement’s growth in the decade since the Rebbe’s passing brings the number of Chabad-Lubavitch facilities today to some 2700, in 65 countries worldwide, and growing still. The Shluchim serving at these Chabad Houses have been responsible for building numerous communities from the ground up, creating Jewish infrastructures where none existed with Jewish day schools, synagogues, summer camps, community centers, mikvahs, and libraries.
Today, the Rebbe’s vision continues to inspire and motivate young couples to dedicate their lives to Jewish outreach. According to the placement office at Lubavitch World Headquarters, applications by young couples prepared to relocate to distant and isolated places, come in daily.
Through the Chabad Houses and their diverse range of educational, spiritual and social outreach activities, the Rebbe was responsible for achieving a remarkable transformation in the Jewish life experience of whole communities around the world, and in the individual lives of countless Jews.