They gathered to commemorate what would have been an influential rebbe’s 120th birthday.
Town of Hempstead officials and rabbis from across Nassau County got together at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Merrick last week to honor the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
He was a leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, becoming its seventh rebbe in 1951. Schneerson transformed the Chabad into one of the most widespread Jewish movements, establishing a large network of institutions across the world to serve religious, social and humanitarian needs in the community. In fact, many of these Chabad centers can be found throughout Nassau.
Schneerson died in 1994. He was 92.
Hempstead town officials proclaimed April 12, the rebbe’s birthday this year on the Jewish calendar, as “Education and Sharing Day.” Officials were joined by several Chabad rabbis including Shimon Kramer of Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh, Anchelle Perl of Mineola, Zalman Wolowik and Meir Geisinsky of the Five Towns, Yossi Leiberman of West Hempstead, Eli Goodman of Long Beach, Zevi Baumgarten of Oceanside, Mendel Gerkov of Rockville Centre, Nochem Tenenboim of Hewlett, and Shmuel Lieberman at Hofstra University.
Congress has recognized Education and Sharing Day every year since 1978 to honor the late rebbe. Because the date it falls can vary on the Gregorian calendar, it usually occurs between late March and late April.
“The rebbe’s legacy — for anybody that is standing beside me — is tremendous,” Town Supervisor Don Clavin said. “At a time when we’re seeing people’s faith attacked for who they are — or just for being of the Jewish faith — it’s important that we remember the rebbe’s teaching.”
The Town of Hempstead has one of the largest Jewish populations in the United States, Clavin noted, comparable to the size of Jewish communities in New York City.
“His work was essential to the expansion of the Chabad dynasty throughout the world,” Clavin added. There are now more than 5,000 Chabad centers worldwide.
“They are carrying on the legacy of the rebbe’s teaching and education to the next generation,” Clavin said.
Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, whose district includes parts of the Five Towns where there is a particularly large Jewish population, said Chabads welcome people regardless of their religion to see the world through different glasses.
“Here in the Town of Hempstead, we have Chabads. We have community organizations that open their doors each and ever day to celebrate the diversity of this great town,” he said. “It’s an honor to be here to celebrate the great work the rabbis and their staff, and (what) all of the Chabads in the Town of Hempstead do.”
Kramer, whose Chabad center hosted the ceremony, recounted some of the lessons he had learned from Schneerson. In fact, Kramer said, 40 years ago, he received a Tanya — a holy book that teaches human selflessness — from the rabbi.
“That’s what the rebbe was,” Kramer said. “Always selfless. He was always there for everybody else. I am honored to stand here, with my colleagues — and all of the officials of the town council — to honor the rebbe with what he stood for: education.”
Perl further emphasized Schneerson’s belief in education.
“The rebbe taught that education in general should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge,” Pearl said. “Instead, the education system must pay more attention to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values.”
Each Chabad in Hempstead, Clavin said, would receive a commemorative sign in honor of the rebbe and his legacy.
“It really is something about education,” the town supervisor said. “That is why we are so honored to join with you, in honor of the rebbe’s 120th birthday. We want to thank you for the work that you do for the children, the adults, and for everybody in all of your communities.”