His grave and visitors center expect 50,000 in the coming week.
Twenty years ago, the heart of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson began to fail, revive and finally expired in the cool of the night between 1 and 2 a.m. By that Sunday’s dawn (the Hebrew date was Gimmel Tammuz, this year corresponding to the night of June 30 and July 1) chasidim started arriving in Crown Heights by car, subway and chartered planes from every continent. To look at their faces was to think their best friend died, as he had. Many experts were writing the chasidim off, as well. Chabad-Lubavitch was doomed to decline, said the experts, who predicted chaos in the absence of a rebbe and no way to pick a new one. It was a movement supposedly crippled and discredited by its messianists, rivalries and fantasists.
In the 17 years since the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, died, celebrities have come and gone. But the chasidic movement he helped grow into an international phenomenon has kept up with the times. A Facebook page with thousands of fans and the 50,000 — chasidism, non-chasidism and non-Jews — who paid their respects at the Ohel at Old Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights, Queens, this week are indicators that the rebbe’s influence is as strong, if not stronger, than during his life.