770 Eastern Parkway-Home of the Messiah?
Orthodox and Lubavitch Judaism
|On 770 Eastern Parkway, in the Crown Heights section of
Brooklyn, stands the former home of the man whose followers regarded him
as holy. The late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whom many believed to
be the messiah himself, was the leader of the Lubavitch movement of Chassidic
Judaism for forty-four years. Rabbi Schneerson lived in New York for more
than fifty years, and almost single-handedly created one of the largest
minority communities in Brooklyn. Religious Jews from all sects concentrated
in areas all over Brooklyn such as Crown Heights, Boro Park, and around
Ocean Parkway. This phenomenon attracted religious and non-religious Jews
from all over the world to visit Brooklyn and meet religious leaders among
whom Rabbi Schneerson was the most prominent figure. Rabbi Schneerson not
only represented an icon to his followers, but was also heralded universally
as a very influential and moral figure. President Clinton spoke these words
at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony that took place after the Rabbi's
"The late Rebbe's eminence as a moral leader for our country was recognized by every president since Richard Nixon. For over two decades the Rabbi's movement now has some 2000 institutions; educational, social, medical, all across the globe. We, (The United States Government) recognize the profound role that Rabbi Schneerson had in the expansion of those institutions."
The Chassidic sect of Judaism originated as a liberal alternative to Orthodox Jews. The main difference between Chassidism and the preceding sects of Judaism was that Chassidic Jews did not banish those that did not follow them, but rather attempted to educate and even convert non-orthodox Jews. Other variations between the two sects included a looser interpretation of Jewish law by the Chassidim, and a more earthy approach to religious rituals [such as songs, dances, and festive meals]. Different sects of Chassidism formed as it grew in size, but these sects differed very little from each other. These sects grew around the court of a particular rabbi or tzaddik, who passed his teachings on to his followers. The Chabad-Lubavitch sect was founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman towards the end of the eighteenth century in the city of Lubavitch, Belorussia. "Chabad" is an acronym deriving from the Hebrew words for wisdom, intelligence, and faith.
Rabbi Isaac Schneerson's daughter, Chaya Mushka, married a very educated man who was accomplished both as a Rabbi and as a mathematics and science scholar. They lived in Berlin and eventually moved to Paris as the Nazi party took over Germany. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his wife, [Chaya Mushka], migrated from Paris to New York in 1941 to, once again, escape religious persecution.
When Rabbi Isaac Schneerson passed away in 1950, he left his son-in-law to succeed him. At first, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was reluctant to accept the mantle of leadership. A year later he formally assumed the title of Rebbe, explaining to members of the movement that while he would be devoted to his work as leader, each man and woman was ultimately responsible for his or her own actions, and for his or her pursuit of G-dliness.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson rarely left his community
in Brooklyn and didn't leave New York during his 44 year tenure. His contention
was that he would not travel, not even to Israel, as long as the Messiah
did not arrive. The arrival of the messiah in the Jewish religion symbolizes
the redemption of all Jewish people and their migration to the Holy Land,
Israel. Thus, the headquarters for the Lubavitch community grew and developed
in Brooklyn, around the Rebbe. Followers from around world migrating to
the United States preferred to settle down in and around the Crown Heights
area to benefit from the religious infrastructure that was already established.
A small congregation grew into a large community due to accessibility
of synagogues, kosher restaurants, kosher grocery stores, and religious
schools [Yeshivas]. In many respects, the Chassidic communities in Brooklyn
resemble that of the Eastern European Shtetyls of the nineteenth and early
The Lubavitch community that developed in Brooklyn soon spread to over one hundred and ten countries worldwide. In the process, Chabad emerged as the most prominent faction in the Chassidic world.
"The key to success is the ballroom in the Brooklyn Mariott: the emissaries. Here, Thousands of smart, idealistic young men and women, filled with zeal, energy, and love of the Jewish people, leave comfortable homes and families and move to Fairbanks or Peoria or Hong Kong or Khabarovsk, where they dedicate their lives to running Chabad Centers they usually build themselves, from the ground up. And they do it, they say, because the Rebbe wants them to." - Sue Fishkoff [Moment Magazine]
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson passed away on June 12, 1994, at the age of ninety-two. His death came two years after he suffered a serious stroke. There has yet to be a successor named to the Rebbe, and many believe that one will never be named. Many of the Rebbe's followers are still awaiting his return, as they believe him to be the messiah. An exact replica of his house on 770 Eastern Parkway was constructed in Israel, so that if he were to ever make the trip, he would feel at home.
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