East Brunswick Sentinel, June 24, 2004

Chabad marks 10th anniversary of loss

Rebbe is recalled as symbol of optimism amid doubt and chaos

By Tara Petersen

Monroe — Followers of Menachem Mendel Schneerson still look to him for spiritual guidance, though he died 10 years ago.

Known as the rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson was the last in a line of seven Lubavitch leaders of fathers and sons or sons-in-law, according to Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of the Monroe Chabad on Gravel Hill Road.

The Lubavitch Hasidic sect started in a small town in Russia in the 1700s. Schneerson took the role of rebbe during the 1950s, leading the sect for more than 40 years.

During his tenure, Schneerson sent emissaries all over the world to put Jews back in touch with their spirituality. According to sect officials, the belief is that helping each Jew do one more sacred thing, or mitzvah, each day will bring the messiah.

Zaklikovsky commemorated the 10th anniversary, or yarhzeit, of the loss of the rebbe during his regular Bible study class Monday night. The rebbe died childless at the age of 92 on June 12, 1994, but the observation of the anniversary began at sundown Monday because of the Hebrew calendar.

Also, Zaklikovsky and several other New Jersey rabbis joined Gov. James E. McGreevey in Trenton on Tuesday to mark the anniversary.

"He was a symbol of optimism in a world of doubt and chaos," Zaklikovsky said of the rebbe.

The rebbe is credited with expanding the Lubavitch movement through his famous outreach, or kiruv.

Zaklikovsky, since his infancy, knew the rebbe and studied with him for many years. Zaklikovsky was sent to Monroe to start a new Chabad center about two years ago. His is one of 41 in the state, though there are more than 4,000 worldwide.

"The real credit for this Chabad goes to the rebbe," Zaklikovsky said. "My being here is a direct result of his teachings."

Zaklikovsky recalled the rebbe's Saturday afternoon gatherings of "insightful talks and lessons" where the leader would speak for four or five hours.

"He was a wellspring of fresh new perspectives. It was very, very mesmerizing," he said.

Lubavitchers believe that when you are alive, you are limited by your body, but once the soul departs from the body, you have unlimited power, Zaklikovsky said.

"Although the rebbe is dead, he is still with us, and his message keeps on growing and growing," he said.

Zaklikovsky said he most remembers the rebbe for his ability to see the potential in every individual, Jewish or not.

"He had an unconditional love of every person regardless of background, level of service, knowledge or affiliation," Zaklikovsky said.

A few who were present spoke about the rebbe, including Leonard Posnock and Zaklikovsky's father-in-law, Rabbi Avrohom Altein, who flew from Winnipeg, Canada, that evening.

Posnock recalled going to the rebbe in 1974 to ask if he should go to Russia to try to help other Jews during the difficult Iron Curtain days.

"His eyes were so penetrating it was almost scary. He said, 'You must go,' " Posnock said. "That's when the rebbe became interested in the Soviet Union."

Posnock said the rebbe told him to get ready for an influx of people from Russia to Israel and the United States, but that at the time it was difficult to believe.

"Some of his insights were just amazing. He was an elderly gentleman who was hunched over and looked you in the eye," he said. "Some things he said were going to happen you couldn't believe would ever happen, and they did."

Zaklikovsky recalls the day the rebbe died very clearly.

"We were at his bedside in the hospital for the 2 1/2 months he was in a coma," he said. "When he died, there was a sense of void, despair and emptiness. Everything became dark around you. I didn't want to go on with life."

He said he felt a need to continue the rebbe's work.

"At the same moment of crying and suffering, people dedicated themselves to his cause. At the same moment you realize the magnitude of the tragedy, you realize the need for continuity," he said.

The growth of the Chabad movement since his death has been remarkable.

"His legacy is almost a miracle," Zaklikovsky said. "People thought that the Lubavitch will not be able to continue without a rebbe. The growth is unexplainable. It has doubled since his death. Every 10 days a Chabad opens in some part of the world."

Since the rebbe had no children, Lubavitchers have no official leader.

"There is no one that can take his place," Zaklikovsky said.

He said many still look to his spirit for guidance, often bringing messages and questions to his grave in Queens, N.Y. Zaklikovsky said he believes the rebbe was a righteous person who is closer to God, and is able to intercede on behalf of others. Zaklikovsky said he visits the grave about once per month.

Zaklikovsky and Altein wrote down messages for the rebbe from the Bible study group and took them to the grave that evening, rather than waiting in line for hours on Tuesday when thousands were expected to visit the Old Montefiore Cemetery.

Zaklikovsky said he is amazed at the continued effect the rebbe had with his teachings of kindness and trust in the individual to make a difference.

"The ripple effect of his good will is seen today throughout the world," he said.