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December 21, 1990 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-12-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 1990

Crown Heights Excursion

Detroit area group travels to New York to visit the
Lubavitcher Rebbe and spend a Sabbath with his followers.

ANNE R. LEHMANN

Special to The Jewish News

F

or most people the first
Friday in November
was rather unremark-
able despite the unseasonably
warm temperatures. For 38
Michiganders including my-
self, it marked the begin-
ning of a weekend that would,
if nothing more, provide us
with striking memories of a
unique world.
Together we headed to the
nerve center of the Lubavitch
movement in Crown Heights,
770 Eastern Parkway,
Brooklyn, N.Y., for a Pegishah
(encounter) weekend.
The trip, arranged by Rab-
bi Elimelech Silberberg of
Bais Chabad of West Bloom-
field, would introduce us to
the Chasidic world, some for
the first time. During the en-
suing two-and-a-half days we
would reside with Lubavit-
cher families, dine with
friends acquired during the
trip, hear lectures by a varie-
ty of Jewish notables, be
entertained and, of course,
meet with Rabbi Menachem
Shneerson, referred to as "the
Rebbe."
The excitement bred a
camaraderie and people talk-
ed freely as they headed east
aboard a Continental flight.
The group was a composite of
single and married people,
some with young children,
from West Bloomfield, Ann
Arbor, Flint and Southfield.
Some came as spectators,
others as participants — but
all would leave knowing what
it was like to spend a Shomer
Shabbat (observant Sabbath)
Saturday in a Chasidic
community.
A bus awaited us at the air-
port. For some it would be a
first visit to New York, for
others like myself a native
New Yorker, it was more like
a homecoming.
As we boarded, Rabbi
Silberberg pointed out a large
curtain suspended from the
luggage racks above the
seats. This, he explained, was
the mechitzah (separation)
used to divide men and
women during morning
prayer aboard the bus into
work. For Lubavitchers,
spiritual details are address-
ed even in the mundane world
of buses.
We arrived on Kingston
Avenue, the main commercial
thoroughfare in Crown

Michael Lehmann of West Bloomfield is given a customary dollar bill by
the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Heights and the street was
bustling with pre-Shabbat ac-
tivity. It was a visual study in
contrasts: Chasidic men, clad
in black, carried lavish bou-
quets of brightly colored
flowers; mothers and children
scurried in and out of stores
for last minute items.
We were assigned to stay
with a couple who, with their
five children, lived in a three-
story brownstone on Carrol
Street. When we arrived we
were greeted by the delicious
aromas of a Shabbat meal in
preparation. The older
children volunteered informa-
tion easily and later that
evening told us that "if
Mashiach (Messiah) had
already arrived, there would
be legs on our house; we
would be floating on a cloud
or we would be soaring on the
wings of an eagle headed for
Jerusalem." Beautiful images
to most, but for them, this
was something that would
most certainly happen
someday.
We prepared hurriedly for
the Shabbat, and with 15
minutes left until
candlelighting, a siren sound-
ed. "One of the advantages of
living in this neighborhood,"
our host joked. Amazingly,
nine people managed to
shower before the second
sounding of the siren which
meant Shabbat had just
begun. Only in Crown
Heights, I thought to myself,
is it conceivable that nine
people could shower in less
than 15 minutes.

After the men returned
from services, we had a Shab-
bat meal. At the table sat two
newly-emigrated Russian
Jews, yeshiva students. One
of the young men joked easi-
ly with the small children un-
til we began singing zemirot,
songs honoring the Shabbat.
He closed his eyes and sang
movingly in a tune none of us
Americans had heard before.
Though he was sitting in
Brooklyn, his demeanor sug-
gested that he had been
transported to another place
and time by the sump-
tuousness of the meal, the
pleasure of the company and
the spiritual feeling that he,
like many of his friends,
associated with Shabbat. The
children were silent, recogniz-
ing that they had witnessed
something very special. It
was an exceptionally moving
moment for us all.
Walking home after an
evening lecture, we were
struck by the festive mood
and relaxed pace of people
strolling the streets. Couples
chatted quietly; two men
argued animatedly — it was
hard to believe that people
would venture out after dark
in a neighborhood known for
its high crime rate. These peo-
ple walk fearlessly, confident
in the safety of their spiritual
haven.
Following lunch the next
day, we were escorted to 770
for a fahrbrengen (Chasidic
gathering). Clearly once a
home for the wealthy, the
building's sturdy and solid

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