More than 700 Lubavitcher Chasidim came to Washington this week to remember their spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and see him posthumously awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
His followers came from all over the world, from as close as New York and from as far away as South Africa and Australia, to join in the celebration.
One of them, Lieba Rudolph of Pittsburgh, brought perhaps the gathering’s youngest participant: her 3-week-old son, named Menachem Mendel for the rebbe, who died last year at the age of 92.
“It’s a wonderful way to commemorate what he did for the world,” Rudolph said of the award bestowed on the rebbe.
Rudolph expressed the sentiments of many of the Lubavitchers at the ceremonies. Although the rebbe is physically gone, they all said, his work and his legacy continue.
The first anniversary of Schnnerson’s death, which falls, according to the Hebrew calendar, on July 1, is being marked with tributes and ceremonies around the world.
“While the rebbe is not physically present, his spiritual presence is very much felt,” said Emily Sherwinter, who came to Washington, D.C., from Atlanta with her mother, Anne Fried.
“It’s our responsibility to carry on the work of the rebbe,” Sherwinter said.
Throughout the day, congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, paid tribute to Schneerson.
Gingrich, who helped spearhead legislation to honor the rebbe with the medal, praised Schneerson for not only believing in his ideals, but for living them.
Gilman, who sponsored an international lunch for the gathering, said the medal “honors the life and teachings of the rebbe.”
Gilman spoke at the lunch, while Gingrich addressed a breakfast gathering.
A banquet featuring a musical tribute by violinist Itzhak Perlman and the presentation of the medal was scheduled to cap off the day.
Nearly 60 members of Congress, along with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and 700 Lubavitchers, were set to attend the gala, where Rabbi Abraham Shemtov of Philadelphia, the national director of the Friends of Lubavitch, was to accept the award for Schneerson.