Chabad followers flock to rebbe’s Queens grave

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Thousands of admirers and followers of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson flocked to his Cambria Heights gravesite Tuesday 16 years after his death to pay their respects to the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Orthodox Judaism.

Visitors from as far away as Australia and South Africa stopped by the grave in Old Montefiore Cemetery, praying at the grave of Schneerson, who was known as “The Rebbe.”

According to Judaic tradition, the gravesite of a righteous person becomes a holy place and it is most auspicious to visit the grave on the anniversary of their passing.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a branch of Hasidic Judiasm and Schneerson became the leader of the sect in 1950 following the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson.

Schneerson has no connection to Cambria Heights as his synagogue was based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn but is buried there because it is his father-in-law’s resting place.

Schneerson was responsible for building between 3,500 and 4,000 Chabad houses, or Jewish community centers, in 70 countries.

He died in 1994 at age 82.

Yoram Bar-Gal, a professor at Haifa University in Israel, said Schneerson’s grave was “very special.”

He and his wife, Bruria, also a Haifa University professor, have been in New York for two months studying Jewish cemeteries and have visited the cemetery several times but never before for the anniversary of Schneerson’s death.

“I’m so touched [by] this place that I feel the energy in my blood,” said Bruria Bar-Gal. “It was something else ... something we cannot explain; it is something in the air.”

Menachem Mendel Eisenbach of Israel, who is studying the Torah in the United States, said through an interpreter that Schneerson was “much more than a teacher.”

“He is a father, everything to me,” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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