We were eight Jews from Gloucester County in Southern New Jersey led by our Chabad Rabbi Avi Richler of Mullica Hill, NJ.
We were traveling by limousine on a beautiful Sunday to Brooklyn, NY. More specifically, we were headed to Crown Heights to experience the important life aspects and visit places of interest in the world of the Chassidim.
It was a privileged opportunity for insight into the close communal world of Crown Heights and the traditions within. We were Jews too, but different Jews. It was obvious.
Our first stop, at the Beis Ohel Chabad Lubavitch, confirmed we looked like tourists. While congregating outside the Welcome Center, we were immediately approached by a man leaving the building who wanted to know where we were from. He was sincerely pleased to meet us and told us he was from Queens but he visited to the Ohel every Sunday for the last 15 years. That was impressive and piqued our interests as to what could be so alluring.
Inside we found a warm, respectful atmosphere. There were people writing prayers, people noshing, men wrapping Tefillin, and women covering their heads with scarves. I was glad to look up, while writing my prayers and requests, to see another woman wiping tears from her eyes after the strong emotional experience of listing her heartfelt prayers. I was not alone in my feelings.
The Ohel itself was also an intense experience. As the warmth of the many shelves of lit candles penetrated our skin, the intensity of the act of praying at the graveside of the Rebbe was unlike anything I had ever experienced. That alone was worth the trip. It was so fascinating to see such a well-maintained and well-protected holy place.
Later, after a delicious deli lunch at Bunch O Bagels, we stopped at 770 to visit the various sections of the Yeshivah, the library, the shul and the Rebbe’s office. All were so very rich in history and Chabad tradition and practices. We found it very interesting. And what an amazing story to see the growth of Chabad from the small Shul upstairs to that gigantic Shul downstairs… and I hear that even in the big Shul there is not enough room for everyone.
It was also very interesting to see how many people on each and every street in Crown Heights recognized Rabbi Avi and were so glad to see him again, even though it was just for a momentary reunion.
Thereafter, we walked to the Oraita Sofer to witness just how Tefillin, Mezuzahs and Torah scrolls are written and inspected. Rabbi Gad Sebag was an excellent tour guide and teacher, relating the importance of accuracy and concentration in his craft.
In the streets we mingled with all the Chassidic families and residents who attended the joyful street fair sponsored by COLlive.com who provided music and festivities for young and old alike.
After a little grocery shopping for hard-to-find Jewish delicacies, we concluded our busy day with a relaxing tasty dinner at Esther’s Deli and Grill. That was where I was introduced to Shwarmah and Israeli salad. Yum!
I must conclude by thanking all those in Crown Heights who helped us along the way for making this trip the special experience it was. Your community is blessed with a tremendous warmth and exuberance. It was certainly an exceptional learning experience and will be a lasting memory for all of us.
Resident of Swedesboro, NJ, and member of Chabad of Gloucester County