The US is home to many Jewish Hasidic communities. Hasidism arose as a spiritual revival movement within the territory of contemporary Western Ukraine (Podolia bordering the Ottoman Empire) during the 18th century. The term Hasid means ‘pious’ in Hebrew. Hasidism was influenced by Islamic and Orthodox Christian mysticism and even the Ukrainian folk culture of the Carpathian mountaineers (Hutsuls). Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the world’s best-known Hasidic communities. It is also one of the largest Jewish religious organizations in the world. The center of Chabad-Lubavitch can be found today in Brooklyn. In 1978, the US Congress established ‘Education and Sharing Day’ in honor of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty. The day corresponds with the rabbi’s birthday according to the Jewish calendar, which generally falls between March 21st and April 21st.
The rabbi is considered to be one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century. The day calls for an increased focus on education and recognizes the rabbi’s lifelong achievements in that field. The name Lubavitch derives from a small town located in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Today, it is located in Russia near the border with Belarus. The dominant line of the leaders of the community resided in this town from the beginning of the 19th century until the First World War. The Chabad was founded in 1775 by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, an Orthodox rabbi born in Vitebsk region, Belarus. In the interwar period, Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s father-in-law moved the centre of the movement from Bolshevik Russia to Poland and finally, after the outbreak of World War II, to the US. He was the first leader of the Hasidic community to settle in the US. Given its attempts to speak to all Jews, including those indifferent to the religious Jewish tradition, the Chabad is held in great esteem by large segments of American Jewry.