Dozens of rabbinical figures and Talmudic scholars have gathered this weekend for a scholarly conference at Camp Gan Israel, the flagship Chabad-Lubavitch overnight camp in Parksville, N.Y.
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The high-level study conference, known as Yarchei Kallah and held under the auspices of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, emulates Talmudic-era conferences, when Babylonian scholars and laymen would gather semi-annually for month-long learning.
The annual summer event, amid hundreds of camp children, celebrates the life and scholarship of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, who served as the chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, during some of its harshest Soviet-era conditions. He was equally known for being a fearless leader of the Jewish people and Judaism during that trying time, as well as an extraordinary Kabbalistic and Talmudic scholar.
This Shabbat (July 26-27), Jewish communities worldwide mark the anniversary of his passing in 1944, on the 20th of the Jewish month of Menachem Av. Due to illness incurred during his Soviet incarceration and subsequent exile to the remote Kazakhstani village of Chi’li for spreading Judaism throughout the Soviet Union, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, of righteous memory, passed away prematurely in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he is interred.
The communal gatherings serve as a time of increased learning and prayer to honor his teachings and leadership. At the same time, they aim to increase individual observance and spiritual commitment.
The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—regularly held a farbrengen on the anniversary of his father’s passing, which was also attended by many Gan Israel campers. He would show particular attention to the children, often connecting the meaning of the day to these youngsters as part of a special talk, and then ask them to sing a camp song.
In 1974, on the 30th anniversary of his father’s passing, the Rebbe welcomed the Yarchei Kallah initiative to be held at Gan Israel. Organizers point to the convergence of advanced Torah learning among the crowds of children as highlighting convergent key aspects of the Rebbe’s father’s life, beginning with his self-sacrifice on behalf of Jewish education for the young in the face of Soviet prohibition of such activities.
Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, director of Camp Gan Israel and initiator of the annual scholarly gathering, said: “The Rebbe considered Yarchei Kallah to also be an actual fulfillment for him of honoring his father on the day of his passing.”
Rabbi Shemtov pointed to the Rebbe’s words of appreciation to participant Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Hirschberg, chief Rabbi of Mexico, stating that this is related to the command to “honor your father.”
In the bucolic setting, the group will tackle Jewish texts on specifically chosen topics. The kids, too, will get a firsthand look as friendly debates fill the air for a period of five days.
On Saturday night, following the completion of Shabbat, the wider community will be invited to join as rabbis and heads of Talmudic seminaries will present talks on Jewish law, the Talmud, Chassidic teachings and more, specifically the teachings of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.
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The Grand Melave Malka on Motzoei Shabbos will be begin at 10:30 PM. Addressing it will be the Rebbe’s choizer Rabbi Yoel Kahn, Rabbi Yehuda Yaroslavsky of Chabad Beis Din in Israel, Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky of Vaad Rabbonei Lubavitch and Boro Park posek Rabbi Gavriel Tzinner.
The main speaker will be Rabbi Yitzchok Raitport, known Talmudic scholar and author of the Dvar Melech series on the Rambam.
Famed chazzan Yaakov Lemmer will be singing again. A separate program will be held for women.