Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Pilgrimage to Eastern Parkway” NY Times Article about “770”

Over the years the “pilgrimage to Eastern Parkway” was the goal of thousands who craved a glimpse of their leader to feel inspired and reenergized. The Avner Institute would like to present a magnificent photo of the Rebbe from 6 Tishrei 5732/1971, together with an article from the New York Times from September 24, 1977 describing the intensely spiritual atmosphere of a farbrengen, a Chassidic gathering.

With special thanks to the Minkowitz family.

Good Shabbos,

By Francis X. Clines

One good thing about traveling from Tunisia and France and Des Moines to Crown heights, Brooklyn, for the Jewish holy days this month is that a visitor can purchase necessities he can’t get anywhere else, such as a reliable water heater for the mikva [ritual bathing pool]. Or a handy little machine that kneads challah. And a fine selection of tefillin, the little containers of holy scripture worn near the heart and mind to show Divine dedication
Best of all about the trip, says Joseph Pinson, a 27-year-old Jewish proselytizer who came all the way from Nice, is the chance to crowd into the synagogue on eastern Parkway and hear the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, speak for four and a half hours straight on themes holy and human. More than 4,000 listeners per homily have been crammed together devotedly during this current holy season when the Rebbe, a man with 75 years of life and a long white beard, speaks.

He is enough of an attraction to cause something of a reversal of standard holiday travel patterns. The humble but sturdy neighborhood of attached brick houses and tired storefronts is hardly a resort area, but Crown Heights is currently brimming with hundreds of visitors who arrived by charter plane and auto caravan to hear the Rebbe and be near him.

Many of them are fervent members of the Lubavitcher coming home spiritually from overseas assignments. Spare rooms and cots are scarce among the 25,000 residents of Crown Heights. This patch of Brooklyn is the tightly knit heart of a worldwide campaign to renew ultra-Orthodox fervor for the ordinary Jew—a Hasidic branch that began 200 years ago in Russia
The Rebbe is a charismatic religious leader, more than a passive figurehead. Even in quieter periods curious visitors come to check what they have heard about him, and Jewish children from Reform and apostate precincts in the affluent suburbs are sent in tours by modern parents who feel an obligation to their progeny of curiosity, if not faith.

The Rebbe has a temporal role, too, that summons memories of the late Francis Cardinal Spellman. Twice each week at the Lubavitcher headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, he holds yechidus—private audiences—for all sorts of people, including politicians and business leaders. Last Sunday night, after the final television debate of the Democratic mayoral primary, the first thing Edward I. Koch, the eventual winner, did was to go out to Crown Heights and visit the Rebbe.

For the hundreds of pilgrims now in Crown Heights, the hotels of Manhattan are ruled out because the faithful must deny themselves transportation conveniences on holy days. Preference also rules out a fuller Big Apple splurge, because many of them have little more than plane fare and are eating free at a special community soup kitchen on Kingston Avenue.

For the Lubavitcher visitors, Crown Heights may as well be Jerusalem, and their whole year seems built around the visit.

These days the scene during the quieter hours at the somewhat ragged converted basement synagogue on Eastern Parkway is of a horde of bearded patriarchs in dull-colored suits and long coats side by side with their songs, whippets of the Holy Word, sitting and standing around benches, praying loudly or trance-like, chatting amiably through cigarette smoke, staring at words on pages and, for a few, snoozing through it all.

This mild hubbub is continuous. When the Rebbe comes to speak the room becomes glutted chaotically until he begins, and the women crowd up together separately in the glassed-in galleries.

Joseph Pinson timed his trip from France, where he has scratched out the roots of a Lubavitcher youth center, to catch the Rebbe’s address last Sunday night. Joseph’s 60-year-old father, Nison, had arrived from his Lubavitcher school in Tunisia, and Joseph had just enough time to drop his suitcase off at the house of his sister, Faggie Hecht, who lives in Crown Heights on Empire Boulevard.

“There is no four-star hotel in Crown Heights,” Joseph Pinson says. “But we manage gladly, for this is a personal meeting with ourselves and we are coming home to the source, the Rebbe, to get his blessing and advice, to put questions and problems to him.”

In this holy month known as Tishrei, the Rebbe has a heavy schedule for addressing the multitude—at least 25 hours, plus private audiences for many of the visitors. As the time for one of his addresses arrives, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky or another of his chief aides passes the signal to the Lubavitcher’s communications center and in less than an hour, the movement’s outposts across the country and the world are hooked together through 25 special telephone lines to carry his words live. In Jerusalem, there is a special siren signal to summon the Rebbe’s followers to loudspeakers by the Temple wall.

These broadcasts are religious events, and the only thing better, Joseph Pinson says, is to be in the great crowd these days in the Crown Heights synagogue when the Rebbe speaks In this visit home, the Pinson family celebrated the marriage of Joseph’s sister, Tscherna, to Laibel Matusof.

This union of two far-flung, devoted Lubavitcher families brought together 400 relatives and guests, many of them pilgrims from Africa and Europe. They celebrated for seven hours, until 1:30 in the morning, and the Rebbe offered a prayer book and his personal blessing for the families to take with them when they go back out from Crown Heights.