Messianic fervor stymied once again in New York

February 01, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- The boiling pot of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, long one of the city's most racially turbulent zones for blacks and Jews, has been spiced with a new ingredient: a surge in messianic fervor.

Followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 90, gathered last night for what they hoped would be a coronation -- the recognition by God that their ailing leader had become "Ha Mosiach," the King Messiah.

But they were to be disappointed. The arrival of the messiah and the commencement of eternal peace had been postponed again.

"The rebbe's participation in this evening's services should not be interpreted with anything to do with a coronation," said one of the Rebbe's top aides, Rabbi Leibel Groner A groan of dissatisfaction spread quickly through the audience of 3,000, followed instantly by murmurings that there was still hope Rebbe Schneerson would be revealed as the messiah.

"He will come, he will come," said one man, hugging another in consolation. "If not today, then surely tomorrow."

For years, members of the Lubavitcher movement of Hasidic Jews have done their best to conceal their faith in the Schneerson's messianic status -- covering a grin with a hand when asked if they believed it, or sidestepping the issue in a Talmudic discourse.

"But what you're seeing now is that clearly it has moved into the foreground," said Dr. Edward Hoffman, a Long Island clinical psychologist who wrote the book "Despite All Odds" after studying the Lubavitchers for several years in the 1980s. The change began after the Persian Gulf War, when Rebbe Schneerson told his followers, "The time of our redemption has arrived." The clamor for revelation has grown despite the rebbe's loss of speech and increasing infirmity following a stroke last spring.

Anxious for God's intervention, some in the community have even begun a campaign for the messiah.

"Everything has been done, the world is ready," said Rabbi Shmuel Butman, chairman of the International Campaign to Bring Moshiach, which faxes updates on the subject around the world each day.

Some within the Lubavitch community chafe at the campaign -- which has included billboards along highways in Israel and advertisements placed in Jewish newspapers around the world.

"If the rebbe were actually revealed as Moshiach, you would know about it without having to place an ad in the paper," Rabbi Groner said last week.

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