by Ashira Weiss – Lubavitch.com
The Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, New York, is known as the heartland of the Chabad movement. Millions around the world have been touched by Chabad emissaries who were educated in the neighborhood’s yeshivahs and nurtured by renowned Crown Heights personalities. They were guided by the Lubavitcher Rebbe who led and grew the movement from his office and synagogue at the iconic Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters on the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, 770 Eastern Parkway.
This weekend, hundreds of adults and children from seventy five cities around the world will spend Shabbat in Crown Heights exploring the Chabad heartland. “Many people are intrigued by this mythical-sounding ‘factory of rabbis and rebbetzins,’” says Rabbi Chaim Hanoka, director of Chabad of Pasadena, CA. “But once they visit, it brings the concept of who we are and what we are doing, to life.”
“Many Chabad emissaries had a similar feeling,” says Rabbi Shmuly Karp, who coordinates the annual event, dubbed ‘Shabbat in the Heights’. “They wanted to introduce their communities to the source from which they sprang, but from their far-flung locations, such a visit was difficult to organize.” So in 2015, they approached the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), Chabad’s preeminent provider of adult-education who, together with the local Lubavitch Youth Organization which has hosted Crown Heights guests for decades, created the first ‘Shabbat in the Heights.’
Rabbi Efraim Mintz, JLI’s executive director explains that the program fit in perfectly with the Institute’s objective. “We develop content with the overarching goal of illustrating the profound relevance of Torah in our day-to-day living. How better to do this than experiencing an authentic Shabbat while encountering the heart and soul of Chabad?”
It is this dual intention that motivates the planning of every aspect of this weekend, now in its fifth year. Participants visit various notable communal figures, like members of the Rebbe’s secretariat, community activists and figureheads in the world of Chabad outreach, at their homes, and are hosted for Shabbat dinner by Crown Heights families. They attend lectures and join discussions, study Chassidic philosophy and fire questions at a panel of rabbis and rebbetzins. They visit local artisans, like a scribe who writes tefillin, Torahs and mezuzahs, and tour the iconic cornerstones of Chabad, like the Rebbe’s home, offices and synagogue—culminating in a visit to the Rebbe’s resting place in Queens. “The schedule is tightly packed, with a focus on giving our guests an insight into the inner workings of Chabad while encountering the hospitality for which the Crown Heights community is renowned,” says Yisroel Beenstock, director of outreach for the weekend.
Eighty-five adults attended the first year and since then the number of participants has grown so that this year organizers expect 320 adults and 100 children. Many, like Greka and Yitzchak Isaac Leimberg, are repeat guests. The Pasadena couple have come every year since the inauguration of Shabbat in the Heights. “It is enlightening to meet fabulous guests from all over,” Greka explains to Lubavitch.com, “We, spiritually and emotionally recharge our batteries when we go to Crown Heights with our rabbi.”
Rabbi Hanoka, now chairman of Shabbat in the Heights, has brought guests from all levels of Jewish observance and involvement. He says the feedback, both from his colleagues and his congregants shows the effect the weekend has, even once it’s over. “People go home with renewed energy and vigor in their own Judaism, becoming ambassadors to their communities, where they encourage others to become more involved.”
“We are humbled to see the impact Shabbat in the Heights has on participants. They bond together and come face-to-face with the source that fuels their rabbis and rebbetzins and that, in turn, infuses them,” says Rabbi Mintz.