Rabbi Abba Refson, head of Congregation Ohel Chabad Lubavitch in Cambria Heights, says this year’s pilgrimage to the grave of the sect’s beloved leader, the Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, will be “more orderly.” It is scheduled for June 21 to 24, and about 20,000 people are expected to make the trip.
Schneerson and his father-in-law, Yosef Schneersohn, the prior rebbe, are buried at Montefiore Cemetery. Congregation Ohel Chabad Lubavitch, located at 226-20 Francis Lewis Blvd., is a synagogue and community facility that abuts the graveyard.
In years past, residents have complained about blocked driveways, traffic jams, excessive trash and people urinating in the streets, despite efforts by the congregation to tackle the problems.
On many occasions the pilgrimage coincides with the Sabbath, as it does this year, so individuals will not able to leave until the next day. Members of the sect are not allowed to travel by vehicle, carry things in their hands or push baby carriages on that day.
“Most visitors will not be staying on the Sabbath,” Refson said. “We expect most of them to come on Thursday and Sunday.”
A special event permit has been approved to allow Ohel Chabad to erect tents with tables and chairs at the Delphin H. Greene Playground on 121st Avenue between 235th and 237th streets, a spokesman for the Parks Department said in an email.
Refson said the playground will be equipped to feed 1,500 pilgrims their Sabbath meal, which will consist of fish, challah bread and salad, among other things.
The usage of the playground would increase the traditional pilgrimage area by six blocks, Larry McClean, the district manager of Community Board 13 said, stretching from Springfield Boulevard and 229th Street to Springfield Boulevard and 235th street.
McClean said he had to push the city to notify PS 276, a nearby school, that the playground would be used by the pilgrims while classes are still in session, which they did last week.
Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said Tuesday that she had spoken to the principal at the school and she did not have any safety concerns nor anticipated any problems. Feinberg also noted that the city’s Law Department is in agreement with the Lubavitchers being able to use the park.
“Parks are considered public spaces for speech purposes and First Amendment uses cannot be refused based on the content of the message, whether the proposed message is religious or secular,” the Law Department said in a prepared statement.
The congregation has also applied for a Department of Buildings permit to erect a tent in the parking lot at the cemetery, which would provide sleeping accommodations for 1,500 people.