Sixteen years later, I can still hear the sudden gasp, followed by a loud, spontaneous and mournful wail that erupted from the thousands gathered outside 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when the simple wooden casket carrying the remains of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, emerged from the movement’s headquarters on June 12, 1994, corresponding to the third of Tammuz (this coming Tuesday).
Ever since billionaire diamond and real estate magnate Lev Leviev began to raise his profile and personalize his brand with the opening of deluxe diamond shops in London in 2006 and here in 2007, the 51-year-old Uzbekistan-born tycoon has run into a sustained string of bad news and adverse publicity. Even a hagiographic profile in The New York Times Magazine last September — in which he revealed a secret desire to become prime minister of Israel within 10 years — seems not to have helped.
It's a question rooted in an age-old practice but made new by the vicissitudes of modern technology: Is it kosher to ask mechila by e-mail? Asking forgiveness, or mechila, for wrongs committed against others is emphasized during the month of Elul, and given particular attention during the 10 Days of Repentance from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur.
On his first visit to New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks a year ago, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, from Los Angeles, was talking with some fellow Lubavitchers about a Jewish response to terrorism.
"What would the rebbe do?" one of the chasidim asked, referring to the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Chabad movement.
"The rebbe would give New York City a gift," was the answer.