By: Ty Milburn, NY1 News
Tens of thousands of people filtered into a Queens cemetery Wednesday night to honor a former leader of the Jewish community. NY1's Ty Chandler filed the following report from Cambria Heights.
It's been 15 years since Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneeron died, but those paying tribute Wednesday night said the man who became known as "the Rebbe" left behind a legacy that is everlasting.
"It's special to us, he's special to us," said one young mourner. "And he died, so we come here to pray to him."
"The Rebbe really changed the face of Judaism, post-Holocaust Judaism, to a message of hope," explained Rabbi Motti Seligson of Chabad.org. "And the 50,000 people that come here every year, is really a tribute to that."
Observances of the anniversary of his death began at sundown, but visitors began to file into his final resting place long before that. Notes to the Rebbe were everywhere from everywhere, each containing a message for him or a request for blessings.
"I'm carrying from Thailand hundreds of requests from members of our community who have been touched by our work and asked when I visit the resting place of the Rebbe if I would deposit their names," said another mourner.
The Rebbe served as spiritual leader of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in Crown Heights.
"I still remember getting a nickel one night from the Rebbe and he told me to take it and put it inside the charity box," said a third mourner.
But his teachings of good will and charity went much further than Brooklyn, with a network today of more than 4,000 emissaries in 74 countries.
"The 50,000 people who show up here and the 100,000 messages sent via fax or email speak to the inspiration that people get from the Rebbe's teachings and his life," said Rabbi Seligson. "And that continues still today and, in fact, is in increasing."
The lines looped around Montifore Cemetery, with some waiting more than three hours just for a few moments at the Rebbe's grave site. It may be quick, but many find it moving.
"Before that, I was very heavy," said a mourner. "After that, I am very light, like everything is off my shoulders."
"I go out feeling heavier," said another. "I go out feeling like I haven't done enough this past year, and this year I need to have more of an impact with those I come in contact with, starting with myself."
People of all faiths are expected to visit the Rebbe until sundown Thursday. Beyond that, the hundreds of thousands of letters, emails, and faxes sent by those who could not be here will also be placed at the grave site.