770 Eastern Parkway

770 Eastern Parkway

by Raphael Halff

At 770 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights stands an inconspicuous gothic-style brick building. It faces the busy Brooklyn thoroughfare, buzzing with cars, and two shared-use paths, sprinkled with cyclists and pedestrians. The Kingston Avenue subway stop sits at the corner, passengers coming up and down the steps. A disproportionate number of Hasidim people the street and occupy the benches. The sounds of Yiddish, Hebrew, and accented and unaccented English intermingle. Nearby advertisements and storefront signs are in Yiddish or Hebrew. Though the neighborhood is clearly Hassidic, nothing indicates that 770 Eastern Parkway houses the Lubavitch world headquarters.((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.))


In 1940, Agudas Chassidei Chabad, “the Chabad-Lubavitch community,” purchased the 1930s building that was formerly a medical clinic.((Bronner, Simon J., ed. Jews at Home : The Domestication of Identity /. Oxford ; The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. Print.)) It served as the residence of Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, and housed a synagogue, a study house, a yeshiva for roughly twenty-five students, and headquarters for a number of Chabad organizations.((Ehrlich, M. Avrum. The Messiah of Brooklyn : Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism Past and Present /. Jersey City, N.J. : KTAV, c2004. Web.)) The Rebbe hosted farbrengen, joyous informal Hasidic gatherings often accompanied by a discourse on Hasidic ideology and scripture, and gatherings for shluchim, Hasidic emissaries.((Ehrlich, M. Avrum. The Messiah of Brooklyn : Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism Past and Present /. Jersey City, N.J. : KTAV, c2004. Web.))((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.))

Shlukhim assembled outside of 770 in honor of the Internation Conference of Shluchim
Shlukhim assembled outside of 770 in honor of the Internation Conference of Shluchim

Farbrengen are usually held in Yiddish, the language of the Lubavitch masses. Here is a talk given by the Rebbe in 1972:


For more videos from Chabad, click here.

On January 28, 1950, Rebbe Schneersohn passed away.((Ehrlich, M. Avrum. The Messiah of Brooklyn : Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism Past and Present /. Jersey City, N.J. : KTAV, c2004. Web.)) “3,000 persons jammed the streets and sidewalks in front of 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, where a funeral service was held,” wrote the New York Times.((“PARKWAY IS BLOCKED BY FUNERAL CROWDS.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 2. Jan 30 1950. ProQuest. Web. 10 May 2016.)) A year later Menachem Mendel Schneerson was appointed Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn’s successor (for an interesting discussion on how this decision was made, see chapter two of ((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.))). Under Menachem Mendel’s leadership the messianic overtones encouraged by his predecessor where further amplified and Chabad’s global outreach initiatives were intensified. The symbolism of “770,” already strongly associated with the Chabad movement and the Rebbe—it is sometimes referred to as “Bais Rabbeinu Sheb’bavel” (“our rabbi’s house in Babylon”), or just “Bais Rabbeinu”—grew tremendously.((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.))

Rebbe Menachem Mendel expounded in a sicha (a talk) that the gematriyah, the Hebrew numerology, of “770” corresponds to that of “paratzta,” “break through.” In the context of Genesis 38:29 and in light of certain commentaries “paratzta” can be linked to Mashiach (Messiah). The Rebbe quotes from Micah 2:13, “The one who breaks through (הפורץ) shall ascend before them.” This is to be understood as a reference to Mashiach.((“A Sanctuary In Microcosm, 5752(1991).” Free translation from the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Web.))((Bronner, Simon J., ed. Jews at Home : The Domestication of Identity /. Oxford ; The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. Print.))((Levin, Shneur Zalman. “Beis Moshiach.” Beis Moshiach Teives 5771: 8–15. Print.)) Since the gematriyah of “770” and “paratza” are equivalent, “770” has also become know as “Beis Moshiach” (“House of Messiah”) as well as “Yerushalaim delaila” (“Higher Jerusalem”).((Ehrlich, M. Avrum. The Messiah of Brooklyn : Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism Past and Present /. Jersey City, N.J. : KTAV, c2004. Web.))((Bronner, Simon J., ed. Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity /. Oxford ; The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. Print.)) (The Rebbe based his “Uforatzto” policy (“you shall break out”), the imperative of reaching out on the global scale to all Jews, on similar ideas.) A weekly Lubavitch publication titled “Beis Moshiach” elaborates on the symbolism of “770:”((Levin, Shneur Zalman. “Beis Moshiach.” Beis Moshiach Teives 5771: 8–15. Print.))

770 is not only a particular location, nor is it merely a house number. During the past seventy years, this building has become a symbol for hundreds of thousands of Jews who derive their chayus from here; for whom this building is a source of joy and bitachon, faith and courage. To seekers and those who have lost their way, 770 provides a clear worldview. For countless souls who have spent time there studying Torah and praying, this building and the heavenly bounty that flows forth from it form a beacon of Torah, emuna, and guidance in the service of Hashem.

The house on Eastern Parkway grew so synonymous with the Rebbe, Holiness, Torah, and the coming of Mashiach and so central to the Lubavitch community that the Rebbe requested an exact duplicate be constructed in Kfar Chabad, Israel for the Lubavitchers unable to travel to Brooklyn.((Bronner, Simon J., ed. Jews at Home : The Domestication of Identity /. Oxford ; The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. Print.)) Though the Rebbe requested that only one such building be made, after his death in 1994 at least ten other replicas have been built. Alex Weingrod explains what the Kfar Chabad “770” evokes:((Weingrod, Alex. “Changing Israeli Landscapes: Buildings and the Uses of the Past”. Cultural Anthropology 8.3 (1993): 370–387. Web…))

They [Lubavitchers] recall situations and persons from when they visited there in the past and recount experiences that took place “in this very building,” but in Brooklyn! What is missing, they continue with a wistful smile, is the Rebbe. The building—and in fact, the entire experience—is not the same without his presence. But it is as close as they can come while in Israel, and they value the experience.

Andrea Robbins and Max Becher undertook a project to photograph the many seven-seventies around the globe. Below you can see a few of them, including the “original” duplicate in Kfar Chabad. You can see the whole project at the artists’ website, here.

After the Rebbe’s death in 1994, the Lubavitch community was in confusion. The Rebbe had spoken about the imminent arrival of Mashiach—some Lubavitchers believed the Rebbe himself was Moshiach—and yet he died leaving the messianic prophesy unfulfilled. His death accentuated what was a subtle divide between messianic Lubavitchers, meshikhistn, and non-messianic Lubavitchers, non-meshikhistn. The non-meshikhistn do not oppose the Lubavitch goal to hasten the coming of Mashiach, but they are disinclined to publicly display their Messianic beliefs and their former/current conceptions of the Rebbe. Meshikhistn, on the other hand, continued to proudly pronounce the Rebbe Mashiach, even after his death. The divide was most powerfully articulated in a dispute over control of “770.”((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.))

Spanning almost a decade, the legal case that aimed to resolve this dispute eventually made its way to New York’s Supreme Court. The dispute was sparked by an incident of vandalism of a plaque affixed to the outside wall of “770,” which displayed a cornerstone placed by the Rebbe himself on the day in 1988 on which the groundbreaking ceremony marking the third expansion of the building occurred.((Ḳaminetsḳi, Yosef Yitsḥaḳ. Days in Chabad : Historic Events in the Dynasty of Chabad-Lubavitch /. Brooklyn, New York : Kehot Publication Society, c2002. Print.)) You can watch the Rebbe place the cornerstone here. The engraved text on the plaque read, after the name of the Rebbe, “of blessed memory.” Because of their belief in the messianism of the Rebbe, the meshikhistn objected to the implication of “of blessed memory”—that their messiah had died before the fulfillment of his messianic prophecies. They believed, instead, that the Rebbe had merely temporarily disappeared. This conviction led to the defacement of the plaque (they scratched out “of blessed memory”), which in their view was sacrilegious.((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.)) Though the case was superficially about the physical control over “770,” Zalmen Lipskier, the lead gabay, stated that “The real issue in dispute involves conflicting views on how our faith views the passing of the Grand Rebbe Schneerson and whether or not at this time he may be referred to publicly as the Messiah.” ((Popper, Nathaniel. “Lawsuit Over Chabad Building Puts Rebbe’s Living Legacy on Trial.” The Forward. N.p., 16 Mar. 2007. Web. 11 May 2016.)) The Judge ruled in favor of the non-meshikhistn (Agudas Chassidei Chabad), though the dispute has not entirely been put to rest.((Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe : The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.))

As part of Chabad’s outreach initiative, the movement has developed a tremendous online trove of information, resources, archives, and multimedia of every variety. One feature which specifically concerns “770” is “www.770live.com,” a website through which viewers can access live footage of the beis midrash at “770” around the clock (but not on Shabbes or Yom Toyvim). Tune in at three in the morning and you can see a vibrant community of scholars still awake and poring over volumes of Talmud and Tanakh. Click here to find out what’s happening at “770” right this minute! You can read more about the development of the site here in the 770th issue of Beis Moshiach.((Berger, Shneur Zalman. “Beis Moshiach.” Beis Moshiach Teives 5771: 32–35. Print.))

Although “770” has huge cultural import in NYC and around the world, media portrayals of the Hasidic community it serves and the neighborhood it sits in have almost exclusively centered on the few and far between episodes of ethnic tension and rare outbreaks of violence in Crown Heights.((Berger, Joseph. “Officer Fatally Shoots Man After Stabbing in Brooklyn Synagogue.” The New York Times 9 Dec. 2014. NYTimes.com. Web.))((Kifner, John. “A Boy’s Death Ignites Clashes in Crown Heights.” New York Times. 21 Aug. 1991. Web.)) Scholarly portrayals similarly hone in on a single feature of the Chabad community—their messianic beliefs. The focus on the messianism of Lubavitchers suggests an unsettling underlying prejudice. In these accounts of Chabad life, the community seems exoticized and sometimes even gently ridiculed.((Weingrod, Alex. “Changing Israeli Landscapes: Buildings and the Uses of the Past”. Cultural Anthropology 8.3 (1993): 370–387. Web…))((Dein, Simon. “What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch”. Sociology of Religion 62.3 (2001): 383–401. Web…))

Crown Heights is one of the very few existing enclaves in which Yiddish is the primary language of the Jewish population. Not only that: linguistically, “770” stands apart from other Yiddish-heavy areas of New York because of its assemblage of Yiddish speakers from all over the world, who arrive speaking a variety of dialects and Yiddish tinged by their home countries’ language.

Watch the Rebbe walk to 770:

 

Works Cited

Berger, Joseph. “Officer Fatally Shoots Man After Stabbing in Brooklyn Synagogue.” The New York Times 9 Dec. 2014. NYTimes.com. Web.

“Day View.” Chabad.org. http://www.chabad.org/calendar/view/day_cdo/aid/299457/jewish/Day-View.htm.Web.

Jacobs, Louis. “Lubavitch.” A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion. : Oxford University Press, 1999. Oxford Reference. 2003.

Ḳaminetsḳi, Yosef Yitsḥaḳ. Days in Chabad: Historic Events in the Dynasty of Chabad-Lubavitch /. Brooklyn, New York : Kehot Publication Society, c2002. Print.

Kifner, John. “A Boy’s Death Ignites Clashes in Crown Heights.” New York Times. 21 Aug. 1991. Web.

Levin, Shneur Zalman. “Beis Moshiach.” Beis Moshiach Teives 5771: 8–15. Print.

“Lubavitch.” The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Abington: Helicon, 2015. Credo Reference. Web. 9 May 2016.

Mahler, Jonathan. “Waiting for the Messiah of Eastern Parkway.” The New York Times 21 Sept. 2003. NYTimes.com. Web. 12 May 2016.

Milligan, Amy K. “Hasidim.” Encyclopedia of American Studies. : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. Credo Reference. Web. 9 May 2016.

“PARKWAY IS BLOCKED BY FUNERAL CROWDS.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 2. Jan 30 1950. ProQuest. Web. 10 May 2016 .

Popper, Nathaniel. “Lawsuit Over Chabad Building Puts Rebbe’s Living Legacy on Trial.” The Forward. N.p., 16 Mar. 2007. Web.

Sanders, Gabriel. “The Portable Legacy.” The Forward. N.p., 29 Dec. 2006. Web.

 

Suggested Reading

“A Sanctuary In Microcosm, 5752(1991).” Free translation from the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Web.

Bronner, Simon J., ed. Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity /. Oxford ; The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. Print.

Dein, Simon. “What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch”. Sociology of Religion 62.3 (2001): 383–401. Web…

Ehrlich, M. Avrum. The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism Past and Present /. Jersey City, N.J. : KTAV, c2004. Web.

Heilman, Samuel C. The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson /. Ed. Menachem Friedman. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010. Print.

Weingrod, Alex. “Changing Israeli Landscapes: Buildings and the Uses of the Past”. Cultural Anthropology 8.3 (1993): 370–387. Web…

One thought on “770 Eastern Parkway

  1. It’s truly remarkable that just strolling around Brooklyn–say after a visit to the central library–you can bump into such an iconic Jewish landmark a hear the soothing sounds of Yiddish! Wonderful piece!

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