Photo Credit: Marc Gronich

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, famously known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was once again the center of attention at the state Capital on Monday, March 13, 29 years after his passing at age 92.

In 1994, Schneerson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his outstanding and lasting contributions toward improvements in world education, morality, and acts of charity.


At a luncheon in his honor, Jewish and non-Jewish lawmakers – two Senators and 17 members of the state Assembly – took time out of a busy schedule to recognize the Rebbe’s achievements. Also in attendance were rabbis from the Orthodox and Lubavitch sect of the Capital District Jewish community.


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The event has been held continuously since the Rebbe’s passing, with a two-year hiatus during Covid. Rabbi Shmuel Butman, the executive director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, has spearheaded this event each year, handing out 20 boxes of shmurah matzah. Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, z”l, blessed the event, which once attracted close to 100 members. Assemblyman David Weprin (D – Hollis, Queens) has since picked up the mantle to continue the longstanding tradition.

“To all of you who are here today to support education, to support love, to support tolerance, which were the foundations of the rabbi’s philosophy, thank you very much,” said Assemblyman Chuck Lavine (D – Glen Cove, Nassau County), president of the New York Chapter of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. “Rabbi Yehuda Leib Posner taught me, whatever the consequences, just do what’s right. That’s a philosophy that is part of the Lubavitch movement. I have a great bias in favor of the Lubavitch movement, having been a student of this famous rabbi who, by the way, knew Menachem Schneerson, of blessed memory, very, very well. In fact, the first wedding that Rabbi Schneerson officiated was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Posner and Thirza, of blessed memory.”

Other lawmakers at the event shared their connections with the Lubavitch movement.


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Assemblyman Brian Cunningham (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn) said: “The staple of our community of Crown Heights is unity and today is about unity, education and tolerance.”

Assemblymember Vivian Cook, 85, (D – Jamaica, Queens), a member of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Asian Legislative Caucus, said: “We knew, through my grandmother’s stories, what the Jewish people meant to us. I want them to know that I am eternally grateful for what they have done for people who look like me.”

Assemblymember Scott Bendett (R – Averill Park, Rensselaer County) said: “I too had a famous rabbi as my teacher, Rabbi Moshe Edelman from North Shore Jewish Center on Long Island.”

Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz (R – Oyster Bay, Nassau County) said: “I studied under Rabbi Mendy Heber of the Chabad of Brookville.”

Assemblyman Ari Brown (R – Cedarhurst, Nassau County) told the gathering: “May the Rebbe’s neshama have an aliyah

Assemblyman Steve Stern (D – Dix Hills, Suffolk County) opted for action over words and put on tefillin during the luncheon.


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At least one lawmaker had a personal connection to the Rebbe.

“I still carry a dollar in my wallet from the early 1980s when I went to see the Rebbe,” Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D – Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn), the longest serving woman in the history of the Assembly, told The Jewish Press. “I’ve had many wallets but that dollar has stayed with me. It was a wonderful experience meeting the Rebbe. When I was first elected I represented 770, so there are a lot of acquaintances and memories that go back to the early 80s with people who have remained friends. The Rebbe told me good health and good luck. It was brief but meaningful.”

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a former assemblyman, told The Jewish Press, “I never had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe, but certainly over the years I always appreciated that Rabbi Butman would come up when I was in the legislature. The presence of Chabad across our state, including my community on Long Island, has been very impactful and very meaningful and supported families both Jewish and non-Jewish. I eat shmurah matzah. It’s better than the store-bought Manischewitz matzah, no offense to Manischewitz, but in a pinch I’ll eat that too. There’s nothing like shmurah matzah.”

One person who knew the Rebbe best was Rabbi Butman.


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“Everybody’s worried about security. The Rebbe’s message is that you could take care of it when you take care of the education of the child,” Rabbi Butman told The Jewish Press, where his columns appear regularly. “Don’t wait until the child is 20 years old because when he or she is 20 years old that may be a little late. You start when they’re young. This is why the Rebbe always cared for education. He said he wants every single child, regardless of race, regardless of religion, to know that there is an eye that sees and there is an ear that hears and that the world is not a jungle. If we would follow that, the world would be a much better place. This is why we appreciate so much that the legislature is dedicating 121 days of education for 121 years since the birth of the Rebbe, because the Rebbe was and is the champion of education throughout the world.

“I’m also going to ask them for money. For one dollar. We tell the state lawmakers each year that it’s not fundraising but it’s an act of goodness and kindness and that’s what the Rebbe wants. I do that every year because the Rebbe told me to do that. In 1991, I opened the United States Senate and before that I went to see the Rebbe. The Rebbe told me to take a pushka with you and give tzedakah when you’re doing the prayer and let everybody see that you are doing that and let them know what the money has to be used for. The United States Senate gives out hundreds of billions of dollars. I want to tell you what the money should be used for the right thing – to educate a child – that he should know that there is a G-d in this world and there is an eye that sees and that there is an ear that hears. That was the Rebbe’s message.”

At the Assembly, during the opening prayer of the day’s session, Rabbi Butman pressed the matter of giving tzedakah with a bit of humor.

“I’m going to put in $1, as the Rebbe told me to do, into the pushka as an act of goodness and kindness,” Rabbi Butman told lawmakers. “If you notice the pushka is new. It is transparent because I heard that in Albany you like transparency. Therefore, when you put in the dollar in the pushka people will be able to see it.”


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“The Rebbe once said to a reporter, my message to the world is that Mashiach is coming but we could bring him closer by doing more acts of goodness and kindness,” Rabbi Butman told The Jewish Press. “The Rebbe could have said to do more Torah and mitzvot but he didn’t say that; he said do more goodness and kindness. Torah and mitzvot is a Jewish message. The Rebbe wanted to deliver a universal message for everyone and everyone can do goodness and kindness.”

On the floor of the lower house, Weprin read the resolution he sponsored honoring Rabbi Schneerson and celebrating “121 days of education for the 121st birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

“Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who served for more than 44 years of dedicated leadership of the Chabad movement, established more than 1500 Lubavitch Centers helping people of all walks of life throughout the world, from Australia to Africa, from Holland to Argentina and from Moscow to Jerusalem.

“Whereas, Rabbi Schneerson’s educational activities throughout the globe have enriched and strengthened the religious educational, cultural, moral and ethical fibers of all citizens of the world.

“Whereas, he was a remarkable and holy man who inspired millions of Jews and non-Jews alike to greater dedication, loyalty and commitment in all matters between man and G-d and between man and man and woman as well.

Whereas, Rabbi Schneerson proclaimed the redemption is on its way and he called upon all citizens of the world to prepare with a personal commitment to increase all activities of goodness and kindness and commemorate his birthday. This will correspond to April 2, which corresponds to the 11th day of Nissan, which is on the eve of the High Holiday of Passover.”


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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].