Thursday, "Gimel Tammuz" [the third day of Tammuz) on the Hebrew calendar, marks the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory, when the man arguably most responsible for outreach to the unaffiliated Jew-in-the-street in the past century had left this world.
“The Rebbe,” as he was known by Jews the world over, was the seventh and last spiritual leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic world movement, and his Chassidim observe the anniversary of his death with various events in every continent on the planet. His marriage did not bear any children, and the Chabad movement has felt it inappropriate to appoint a successor.
Tens of thousands of people are already flocking to visit the Rebbe’s gravesite in Queens, New York, where his body is interred next to that of his father-in-law, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson.
The burial site today is comprised of a huge outdoor dining hall, a smaller building with a full library, a media center constantly showing videos of the Rebbe, a mikvah (ritual immersion poll) and a bustling office that receives e-mails and faxes from supplicants around the world.
It is a year-round magnet for Jews who seek solace, intercession with the Creator on special issues and sometimes even simply an ancestral shoulder to cry on. Millions visit the Rebbe's grave annually.
Among those expected to make their way on Thursday to the Ohel, as the gravesite is called, are at least some of the 15 Chabad rabbis named by an independent researcher as the generation’s top global leaders of the Rebbe’s movement.
The one-year report “assessed the impact of more than 3,500 Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis in close to 1,000 cities worldwide.” The selection was based on grassroots achievement, depth of knowledge, mainstream political influence, leadership and peer support and financial backing.
INN Opinion Writer Named Among Chabad's Top 15 Global Rabbis
Rabbi Shea Hecht, chairman of the board at the U.S.-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, made the cut. He is a contributing writer to the Opinion section of Israel National News.
A Commissioner of Human Rights of New York City for seven years, Hecht “assumed the mantle to the family dynasty in 1990 following the passing of his father, Rabbi JJ Hecht, one of the Rebbe’s closest confidants,” noted the author of the survey, who deliberately remained anonymous. The NCFJE, he pointed out, is Chabad’s “oldest outreach institution in the United States,” with a “must attend service for virtually all aspiring emissaries.”
Hecht is one of Chabad’s foremost experts in conflict management, and served as point man during the tumultuous Crown Heights riots in 1991, in part because he has access to both politicians and peons alike, everywhere.
A Who's Who in Chabad
The list was topped by Chabad’s man-in-Washington, Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov, who serves as chairman of the New York-based Agudas Chasidei Chabad (Association of Chabad Chassidim), the umbrella organization of Lubavitch. Shemtov was appointed by the Rebbe as his personal emissary to the capital.
Rabbi Moshe J. Kotlarsky, second on the list, supervises the more than 4,000 Chabad emissaries who serve Jewish communities in 75 countries and more than 900 cities around the world. Kotlarsky is vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (Merkos), the educational arm of Lubavitch.
Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos, was third on the list. He also served as the chief spokesman and chauffeur for the Rebbe and was sole executor of his will.
The most well-known Chabad rabbi to Jews on the West Coast – and certainly to stars in Hollywood -- was Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, number four on the list. Nearly a full 10 percent of the movement’s emissaries report to Cunin at present, whose operations extend throughout California, Nevada and Oregon.