According to the sages, sanctity lingers. “Holiness,” the Talmud says, “does not depart its place.”
There are many places holy to Jews — the Western Wall and Joseph’s Tomb among them — but one of the plainest and least-known is the empty ground-floor study just inside at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.
There, in 1942, a young rabbi and electrical engineer named Menachem Mendel Schneerson settled in, having fled the war in Europe and spent a year doing classified military work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Rabbi Schneerson was the son-in-law (and cousin) of Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, who then led the Lubavitch movement. Over the next half-century, as he took the reins, no other physical location, from his house on President Street to his eventual grave in Queens was ever more connected to the great, respected man.
“People look toward the rebbe’s room today as they did to the rebbe himself, as a beacon of light,” said Rabbi Krinsky, “One might think of it as suffused — with awe.”
Few people realize how small the study is, a tiny, although tasteful, place with a chandelier and ornamental moldings. It is a testament to his presence that while many were permitted in, they were so intimidated that they scarcely had the wit to look around.
Back in the day, the study was a mess, a disorderly scholar’s cave strewn with books, religious tracts and mountains of correspondence. The small space functioned as an office and, despite the clutter, as a throne room: for there, among the letters and the papers, the Rebbe courted mayors, senators, presidents and every prime minister of Israel.
On Sunday and Thursday nights, from 8 p.m. until 6 the following morning, the study was transformed into a parlor, as Rabbi Schneerson met his flock, listening and solving problems, not unlike a clubhouse politician. The sessions were so popular that reservations were required — often months in advance. People got as little as a minute. When your time was up, a buzzer would sound.
In 1988, after Rabbi Schneerson’s wife died, he moved into the study full time. He slept there, and disciples brought his meals. Four years later, when he had a stroke, the study became his private I.C.U. Medicine went to him.
These days, the study is a shrine of sorts, mostly empty beyond a clock, a desk, some glass-fronted bookcases and a decorative style that is classic old-time Brooklyn. There is a 1950s-era telephone, and the window facing Eastern Parkway is made of bulletproof glass.
Grooms meditate there before their wedding days, and people pray. On any morning when the Torah is read, the worshipers flow from the study out into the hall.
“This great world leader lived in one room, as simple and as plain as could be,” Rabbi Krinsky said. “There was no embellishment, no opulence. It was exactly like the man.”One more thing about the all-night advice sessions: A story is told that when Senator John Kennedy was running for president, he sought an audience with Rabbi Schneerson. He happened by one night when a session was afoot. As the senator had no reservation, he was politely turned away.