According to Rabbi Nechemia Vogel, the life of a Chabad Rabbi and campus emissary can best be described as “as close as it gets to 24/7.”
Vogel, a campus Rabbi with over two decades of experience with Jewish students at the University of Rochester, New York, is one of a committee of emissaries behind the annual International Conference for Campus Shluchim, which ran last weekend in upstate New York. At the conference’s opening session last Wednesday at Chabad of Midtown, Manhattan, he outlined the objectives for some 70 conference participants.
“Within the family of Chabad Shluchim,” he told his colleagues, “campus Shluchim are a family unto themselves. We lead lifestyles and face challenges different from other emissaries.” The purpose of the weekend, he explained, was to address the unique issues facing a campus Shliach and to provide a forum where they, together with their wives and children, could share experiences and gain insight and inspiration from each other. The conference schedule, according to coordinator Rabbi Menachem Schmidt of Philadelphia, includes lectures and workshops on a wide range of topics, “everything from family issues to faculty involvement to fundraising,” and ample opportunity for informal interaction.
For the Shluchim attending the opening session, a highlight of the evening was the inspiring address of Mr. George Rohr, founder and primary benefactor of dozens of Chabad centers on campus’ across the country and beyond.
“In your work on campus,” he told the Shluchim, “You are faced with nothing less than the future of American Jewry. It is perhaps the most powerful, most deeply impacting mission a person can undertake.” The explosive growth of Chabad on campus in recent years comes at a propitious time, he observed. “You’d be hard pressed to find an involved Jew in America unconcerned with the effects of rampant assimilation, intermarriage and Jewish ignorance,” he said. “And all of them are aware that not enough is being done for Jewish students on campus.”
“Chabad is increasingly being recognized as a vital Jewish force on campus- often the only Jewish force- working to combat the challenges facing Jewish students today,” he said. That recognition can be a major development in terms of community support and financial backing, and Rohr encouraged Shluchim to “ride that positive wave and continue building.”
Rohr, whose remarks were greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience, is also behind a new initiative introduced at this year’s conference, known as the “Rohr Scholars.” The program, entering its inaugural year, selects twenty students from colleges across the US and sponsors a semester for each at Mayanot, a Chabad Yeshiva for newcomers to Judaism in Jerusalem. The program’s vision, according to Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, director of Mayanot, is for the students to then return to their campus and assume a leadership role at the Chabad center, inspiring fellow students with their studies and experiences in Jerusalem.
In all, some fifty Shluchim couples and a lively group of over 120 of their children, from campus across the US and several from abroad, participated in the weekend-long conference. A wide range of workshops ran the gamut from the practical to the inspirational, covering topics such as “Maximizing the Birthright Experience for your Students,” “Creating an Alumni Base,” “Starting Out on Campus,” and more.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, spent the opening session and the Shabbos portion of the conference with the Shluchim. Most inspiring to him, he says, was the tremendous amount of networking going on between the Shluchim, and their remarkable degree of camaraderie. “Participating in the conference were both the seasoned campus Shluchim, out there in the field for decades, and the ones who have only been there several years or are just starting out.” For all of them, he says, there was much to learn. “The younger Shluchim were very eager to learn from the experiences of the more seasoned Shluchim, who wanted to hear all about their new ideas for campus programming.”
A major focus of the weekend was a recent initiative aimed at coordinating joint programming between Chabad campus centers in various regions. According to coordinator Rabbi Moshe Chaim Dubrowsky of the Chabad-Lubavitch National Campus Foundation, the potential benefits of such an arrangement, where the United States is divided into five regions with Shluchim in each region working on joint Shabbaton weekends and other programs, are tremendous, both for the coordinating Shluchim and the students involved.