Grave Encounter: Gimmel Tammuz

For the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Yahrtzeit, Gimmel Tammuz, this year on Shabbat Parshat Korach, tomorrow.

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff,

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff
Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff

As a Conservative rabbi for 20 years I had certainly attended my share of hospital visits and, in more severe situations, stood with the family alongside their loved one as he or she left this world. And that is why when my father lay in his hospital bed with hours remaining to his life I wanted my moment with him; and indeed, I knew the importance of that moment.

It was Saturday night and the doctors said he would most likely pass sometime the next day. And the conflict was in front of me. I was to officiate at a funeral that Sunday morning but I wanted to stay with my father. Every rabbi knows that often he has to tend to his flock prior to even his own family, but there is only one time when the soul leaves the body and I had been there for others; it just felt correct and fair that I should be there for my own beautiful father.

But the family who had already sustained their loss was counting on me and it seemed like the logistical choice to preside at the funeral and then rush back to the hospital, hopefully in time. As I drove to the graveside funeral that Sunday morning I kept wondering if my father was perhaps leaving this world at that very second and I was not there. The clock was ticking. I arrived at the Queens, New York cemetery and found the open grave, which was situated alongside the very edge of the grounds next to the fence on Francis Lewis Boulevard. Trying not to let the mourners realize that I was on borrowed time, I respectfully recited prayers; but my heart and head were miles away. I didn’t want to rush, but I had to be efficient while being compassionate, as they deserved their sacred time as well.

Perhaps I didn’t notice it right away because of all that was whirling through my mind, but just a few feet away was a tremendously large mass of human beings in a line. All types, looks, styles and ages stood there waiting; they were entering and exiting a small structure right there in the cemetery.

Although I was not involved with Chabad, I realized that this place was the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I knew that there had been this master rabbi of Chabad who was very special and who with great wisdom and compassion, in his life, advised everyone from the homeless to heads of state. And now in his death he obviously continued to draw hundreds of souls waiting for a moment of his time.

I thought about all this while juggling the funeral psalms and sentences and the thought sustained in my mind about wanting to be with my father. The eulogies and interment finally concluded and although I am usually the last one to leave as everyone typically shmoozes their way back to the cars, I knew what I had to do; but something stopped me from fleeing.

I was drawn to the sight of the Rebbe’s grave. When I was a teenager growing up on Long Island, I remember our Conservative synagogue’s youth group had a field trip for a Shabbos in Brooklyn. At the time I really didn’t know much about where we went, other than we were observing the day of rest in traditional homes and eating Sabbath foods. I remember seeing a noisy tumultuous room of black beards and hats come to a complete silent stand still as a white bearded man walked through an aisle that was instantaneously created by two walls of attentive, respectful men.

I also recall the memorable fun and interesting songs we sang that Shabbat afternoon, “Ufaratzta,” “Ain’t Gonna Work on Saturday,” and “Little Bird.” But why am I thinking about beards and “Ufaratzta”? I need to run to the car, jump in and race to the hospital.

I truthfully don’t remember how it happened, but I found myself in that structure known as the Ohel where the Rebbe rests alongside his father-in-law, the previous Rebbe.  People encircled the graves with their pleas and supplications; perhaps they were petitioning for health issues or business deals or brides to find grooms. My prayers for health had concluded the night before with the knowledge of the inevitable; I just wanted to be with my father when he passed from this world.

Even though the clock was still ticking, the sentiment of the very first of the seven Lubavitcher Rebbes is so true. Sometimes the long road gets you to your destination faster than the short trail, which will delay your journey. I took the time to place my tearful request.

Upon my arrival to the hospital my family was gathered around the bed and they all grabbed a well-deserved break from the difficult emotional moments they were experiencing; I found myself alone in the room with my father. Never have I witnessed such a dignified, noble, sacred exit of one’s G-dly soul from this material world. The date was Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av. Who could have thought that the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar could feel a little more pain?

My father had shown me how to walk and dance on this earth and I had the great merit and honor to learn from him how to step from this world as well.

And so I saw the Rebbe from afar when I was a teenager, and then I experienced his compassionate blessings and warmth up close in the Ohel that very memorable Sunday.  As a Chabad Jew today, I have continued to form a deep relationship with this Rebbe through literally the hundreds and hundreds of his beautiful Shluchim, emissaries, that I have visited on my speaking tours throughout the world.

My father, may he rest in peace, I am sure is proud to know that his grandson Adam and his granddaughter Shira are now Lubavitcher Chasidim; and that they both lead lives of true Yiddishkeit, as they pursue the Rebbe’s directives to follow Torah and mitzvos, to conduct acts of kindness and to endeavor to transform darkness into light.


(Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff is an internationally renowned speaker on Israel, anti-Semitism, Judaism, Chasidut and media. His popular website is and his video interview exposing and expelling the anti-Semite Helen Thomas from the Washington Press Corps went viral and became global news.