By Faygie Levy Holt
Imagine having to coordinate a sit-down dinner for thousands of people all eating at the same time. Not only do you have to find a venue large enough to fit everyone, you have to find a caterer who can handle cooking for that large a crowd. These are some of the many welcome challenges faced by organizers of annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim) in New York, which is currently underway in New York City.
The nearly week-long event, will be held at the Bedford-Union Armory in Brooklyn, N.Y., and bring together more than 5,200 emissaries and guests from 86 different countries. Workshops will cover a variety of topics – education for youth, fundraising, adult-learning programs, Israel – and be offered in various languages, including English, Hebrew, French and Russian and Yiddish.
This year’s conference carries added significance as Jewish communities worldwide celebrate the year of Hakhel, a time to promote Jewish unity and learning. Throughout the year, Jewish synagogues and organizations will host communal gatherings for men, women and children dedicated to encouraging the observance and study of Torah.
Yesterday, thousands of men marched down the streets of the Crown Heights neighborhood, joyously parading the Seventh Unity Torah Scroll that belongs, literally, to hundreds of thousands of Jewish people all over the globe.
On Shabbat, the emissaries will spend time praying in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. They will also participate in farbrengens (informal Chassidic gatherings), where they will sing and share Torah thoughts and stories.
A focal point of their time in New York will be when participants and guests will visit the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory – and his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
The Benefits Ripple Worldwide
The Kinus represents an opportunity for shluchim to come together from all corners of the world – to inspire and reinvigorate one another.
“Every part of the Kinus is exciting,” says Rabbi Shneur Nejar, the Kinus office coordinator at the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. “The shluchim are so happy to be here. They come to recharge their batteries and when they leave, they are ready to go back out to their communities with new energy, enthusiasm and ideas.”
According to Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos Suite 302, which oversees educational programming for the Kinus, planning for this year’s conference began almost as soon as last year’s ended. To help ensure its success, organizers sent participants a survey afterwards to gain their feedback. The goal is to make sure that each year’s programming is better and more substantial than the year before.
The culmination of the activity-filled weekend is a Sunday-night gala dinner at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which becomes completely transformed for the evening: Organizers “redesign” the warehouse space with elegant lighting, carpeting, tables, chairs and more.
A particular emphasis at the annual celebration will be on Chabad on Campus centers. While Chabad’s activities on university settings date back to the 1940s, the vast majority of the nearly 230 centers that serve Jewish students at 500 schools around the world were established in the last 15 years.
As such, the keynote speaker will be Rabbi Shlomie Chein, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Student Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., and the conference itself will explore ways of expanding the services, classes, programs and other opportunities offered to young Jewish men and women. It will also address concerns that students face in university settings, specifically regarding matters having to do with Israel.
According to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and chairman of the conference, “Chabad currently spearheads the development of Jewish life worldwide through continuous activity with children, youths and adults. In many places, Chabad shluchim are the sole Jewish voice in their region, and this makes them ambassadors of Judaism in the face of the recent awakening of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel.
“Chabad emissaries see importance in instilling Jewish pride, along with the providing of information to students and the general Jewish public, to strengthen their ability to withstand the attacks against them.”
The rabbi will address the audience at the Kinus, as will Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.
Nine-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, who will be participating in simultaneous children’s programming during the Kinus, will lead the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms). The only child of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg – murdered in a 2008 terrorist attack at their Chabad House in Mumbai, India – Moshe lives in Israel with relatives. The seventh anniversary of the attack on the “Nariman House,” as the Chabad House was known locally, will be marked on Nov. 26.
Local dignitaries, communal and lay leaders, Chabad supporters and other guests will join the thousands of emissaries at the gala dinner. Inviting these partners gives community members – whether they are from Brooklyn or Buenos Aires, Kansas City to Kiev – the chance to see their local shaliach as part of a broader global effort and to reconfirm that the benefits of a strong Jewish people ripple worldwide.
And that, in turn, gives the emissaries the strength to go back home – back to small enclaves, remote locations or metropolitan centers, whether in the United States or abroad – and know they are helping to spread the Rebbe’s message of the beauty and importance of Torah.