Orthodox Jews expected to make yearly pilgrimage to Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson's grave on Saturday
A Queens community has established a plan to cope with the annual Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage — and the trash left in its wake.
Up to 25,000 Chabad-Lubavitch Jews are expected to gather in Cambria Heights this weekend to pay tribute at the grave of their leader, the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The rebbe died June 12, 1994, but this Saturday marks the 18th anniversary of his passing under the Hebrew calendar.
“It is a time to ask for blessing and to connect with his soul,” said Rabbi Abba Refson, of the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch, the synagogue hosting the event.
But the annual pilgrimage, which draws Orthodox Jews from all over the world, irritates residents in the middle-class, African American enclave. Neighbors have said some visitors hog parking spots and leave trash strewn over otherwise well-kept yards.
“The ruder ones think nothing of urinating on our front lawns or defecating in the bushes,” said Richard Davis, 73.
An added complication: This year the event falls on the Sabbath, meaning the Ultra-Orthodox followers cannot drive or ride the subway Saturday and some will camp overnight.
As a result, synagogue representatives and community leaders say they have hammered out a plan to help. There will be trash collection and police and emergency services on hand, according to the event plans.
“I’ve been trying to make sure the community is not overrun,” said Queens Community Board 13 district manager Lawrence McClean. “At the same time, we have to accommodate their religious experience.”
About 1,500 of those worshippers were expected to arrive after midnight on Thursday and stay through Sunday, Refson said.
Those pilgrims will sleep in tents at the Montefiore Cemetery parking lot — the graveyard where the rebbe is buried. A tent for Sabbath meals is set up on the basketball court next to nearby PS 176.
McClean and other community leaders will recap and evaluate the event next week.
“I think (the synagogue) has worked to quell the fear that the community goes through every year,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), who lives near the Ohel. “But I can’t tell you how it’s going to go this time.”