Pilgrimage to Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave and Crown Heights
deepens Detroiters' connection to Judaism and to God.
and other guests
at the gravesite of
New York City
xcitement takes over as 13 people ages
13-60 get ready to board a plane for a
two-day visit to Queens and Brooklyn.
At the top of their agenda is a visit to
the ohel (tent) or gravesite of the revered late
Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the sev-
enth and last great Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The group also will see the Chabad Lubavitch
World Headquarters in Brooklyn's Crown Heights
as well as nearby Boro Park, which has the largest
concentration of Orthodox Jews in the world.
Here, they will shop, celebrate a wedding and
take in the Jewish atmosphere. It's all part of an
annual pilgrimage Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg
makes with members of his Sara Tugman Bais
Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield.
The rabbi's wife, Chaya Sara Silberberg, cradles
her siddur (prayer book) for a moment to wave
hello, then quietly finishes her morning prayers,
moving from side to side and back and forth in a
less-crowded area at the airport gate. Her husband
clearly is the only Lubavitcher, with his character-
istic long beard and traditional capata (black coat)
and black fedora.
A passerby might not guess the others in the
group are members of his synagogue. The men
wear leisure clothes, a few don baseball and cow-
boy hats. The women, modestly covered,.dress
comfortably in summer outfits.
In fact, most in the group are not Lubavitcher
Jews, but "friends of theirs," says Steve Fink, 52,
of West Bloomfield, a synagogue member making
the trip. "We folloW a lot of the customs of
Lubavitchers, and most people at the shul are
baalei teshuvah [non-observant Jews who become
observant]," he adds.
"I call myself a very big friend of Lubavitchers,"
says Marty Goodman, 55, of West Bloomfield,
who teaches classes at Bais Chabad. "The rabbi
calls me a Chasid." That is someone who is "a
model of fidelity to Torah and who has humility,
happiness and spiritual fervor," says Rabbi
"I daven [pray] in the shul. But I don't put on
tefillin like a Lubavitcher because my dad put it
on Sephardic," Goodman adds. "But I follow the
dictates of the Rebbe [as Lubavitchers refer to
Menachem Mendel Schneerson] and study his
works. He's had a profound effect on my life."
Goodman explains that the Rebbe helped him
to become a better person. "My whole attitude
toward life has changed since meeting the Rebbe,"
he says. "I've become more a giver and less a
taker. Like in business, I want everyone to be bet-
ter than me. I'm not concerned with me being the
greatest, but making my business as good as I can.
I'm no better than others, and I don't swear or
The other travelers at the airport include
Goodman's wife, Dale, and son, Ian, 23; Kenny
Borin of West Bloomfield; Dr. Jeff Klein of
Southfield; Ron Miller and son, Daniel, 14, of
West Bloomfield, and their friend BrUce Stein of
Southfield; Mickey and Myrna Shanker of West
Bloomfield; and Mitch Singer, and son, Nathan,
18, of Saginaw.
Though Rabbi Silberberg takes congregants and
guests to the Rebbe's gravesite in Queens two or
three times a year, there's a special feeling about
going around the time of the Rebbe's yahrzeit,
which fell on June 13 this year and marked the
eighth anniversary of his death.
More than 19,000 people from all over the
world visited the Rebbe's gravesite on that day, yet
many continued to come through the weekend —
as many as 1,000 to 2,000 a day, says Rabbi Abba
Refson who oversees the house, tent and gravesite,
which is open 24 hours a day, every day.
Cult Or Righteous Man?
To outsiders — even other Jews — visiting the
Rebbe's grave evokes critical reactions, and travel-
ing with Lubavitchers raises eyebrows.
Many worry that this worship of the Rebbe bor-
ders on idolatry or seems like a cult.
Chabad Lubavitch-is a Chasidic Orthodox
Jewish sect founded by the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi
Yisrael ben Eliezer) in Eastern Europe in the
1700s. Chabad is an acronym from the Hebrew