The main reception hall at the Brooklyn Marriott was filled to capacity last night, in the culmination event of the five-day Annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchos (emissaries). One thousand seven- hundred women represented Jewish communities from across the country and around the globe. Some of them the daughters of shluchim and shluchos, others first-generation shluchos, some who began their outreach careers during the 40’s and 50’s, others in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and hundreds more who have taken up a life devoted to their fellow Jews in the last few years. A singular commitment to Jewish life and Jewish continuity was the common thread bonding this otherwise diverse group of women—a commitment that emboldens them all to reach past their own limits for the sake of a single Jew, a single mitzvah.
It is the commitment born of the vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, who, upon assuming leadership of Lubavitch back in 1950, invited the men and women of Chabad-Lubavitch to reawaken the innate Jewish faith in G-d that had become dormant in Jews around the world in the aftermath of the Holocaust and now vulnerable to assimilation.
In his greetings to the Convention, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of the Lubavitch educational and social services division, related a Talmudic passage about the great sage, Reb Yosi, who met a blind man walking at night with a lantern. “Why are you carrying a lantern?” asked the sage of the blind man. “I carry a lantern for others to see me—so that they may prevent me from falling into a pit, or walking into a wall.” (Talmud, Megillah 24:B)
“Such is the nature of the work of Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim,” said Rabbi Krinsky. “There are so many people out there suffering spiritual blindness waiting to meet the person who will prevent them from stumbling . . . This is the work you do—you find the people who do not see, and you guide them and hold their hand as you lead them to safe ground.”
Rabbi Krinsky also reflected on the inspiration for the women’s conference—Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia Schneerson, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose yahrzeit is marked during the days of the conference. He spoke of the growth of Chabad-Lubavitch and its pervasive reach, with thousands of representatives actively building Jewish communities around the world.
For Miriam Moscowitz, Master of Ceremonies at Sunday’s event and shlucha to Kharkov, Ukraine, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, her work and the work of her colleagues wherever they may be aims at the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s vision. Nearly 15 years since her arrival there, Miriam has helped transform Kharkov from a city tone deaf to Judaism and spirituality, to a center of Torah and Yiddishkeit. It is a thriving Jewish life and observance such as exists in her city today, which exemplifies “the ultimate act of defiance against the Nazis, who sought to destroy the Jewish body, and later the communists who sought the destruction of the Jewish soul.”
Chabad outreach is not only about the extraordinary achievements of a thousand-person Passover Seder. It is first and foremost about the small acts of kindness exercised daily on a global and personal scale by shluchos, internationally. Keynote speaker Faygie Matusof, representative to the University of Wisconsin at Madison since the early 80’s, described arriving to the campus a bride, married only a month, and completely unprepared for the wild partying that characterizes campus life. But the gift of shlichus (the life of an emissary), she said, enabled her to perceive the preciousness of a Jewish soul in the student who, in place of a menorah she did not own and in her desire to observe Chanukah, pasted a paper menorah to her window, adding a paper flame to its branches each night of Chanukah. “This kind of sincerity is precious,” said Mrs. Matusof, “if only we recognize it.”
Many identified with the challenges that accompany shlichus life. In particular, Mrs. Matusof and Mrs. Nechama Kantor—Chabad representative to Bangkok who shared some of her experiences during Chabad’s tsunami relief effort—alluded to the difficulty of sending their children away from home at a young age, so that they could receive proper Jewish schooling. “There are difficulties, there are frustrations,” said Mrs. Matusof, “but by and large there are triumphs.”
The banquet session also focused on the children—a vital component of the Chabad-Lubavitch outreach dynamic. “The greatest sacrifice,” said Mrs. Moskowitz, “is made by the young children who grow up without the camaraderie of friends and cousins who share the same values and lifestyle.”
But a lively choir performance by the 500 young daughters of shluchos who came with their mothers to New York to participate in a program designed especially for them, suggests that these young shluchos wouldn’t trade roles with anyone. Bursting with enthusiasm, the girls sang songs to themes of their lives as junior shluchos.
Guest speaker at the event was Phyllis Heideman, Chair of The Israel Forever Foundation, a member of the President’s Council of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a Trustee of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. Mrs. Heideman, who was also appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, recalled how, when her husband was president of international Bnai Brith, and the couple spent time traveling around the globe, they took comfort in the knowledge that wherever they went, Chabad would be there. “From Hong Kong to Uzbekistan, from Kfar Chabad to Buenos Aires, S. Paolo, Monteviedo, Berlin, Prague, Riga, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Australia, and S. Africa,” said Heideman, “Chabad was there, offering kindness, compassion and hope.” It was the Rebbe’s wisdom, said Heideman, that challenged us to turn pain into renewed energy and it is through their embrace of an entire generation of Jewish people that Chabad “ensures that the ‘never again,’ recited at last week’s memorial of the 60th anniversary since the Auschwitz liberation are not mere slogans.
What better proof of this than the Chabad representatives who escorted many of the world leaders who convened for last week’s event in Poland. Presidents and prime ministers from France and Russia, Romania and Germany arrived escorted by the Chabad representatives to their respective countries. “These shluchim and shluchos are the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s vision,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the conference and vice chairman of the Lubavitch educational division, “to bring G-d and Judaism to the farthest reaches of the world, to instill Jewish faith and commitment in those who had been through the fires of the Holocaust and who seemed to be lost forever to the faith of our fathers.”
The traditional roll call included shluchos from across six continents, and several dozen countries. In a heartwarming display of unity, all the guests joined hands and weaved their way through the hall in dance and song, celebrating a privilege and a partnership they share.
“In their tireless laboring to deliver the Rebbe’s message,” said Heideman, “Chabad is creating a pathway to a better tomorrow, by honoring the past and lighting the way to the future.