(lubavitch.com) Each week, Detty Leverton, 40, and her eight-year-old daughter, Tehila, change the linens on 14 beds. A large pot of chicken soup simmers on the stove, and when her guests walk in Friday afternoon, they’ll take in the aromas of her Shabbos cooking.
This week every bed in the Leverton home is taken. Almost 3,000 Chabad rabbis are arriving in Crown Heights for the 25th International Conference of Shluchim this weekend. Eleven of them—from Israel, Australia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and New Jersey—are staying at the Levertons. When they clear out on Monday, Detty’s cousins from Canada will be arriving for a wedding.
The Crown Heights community’s hosting marathon begins in September, when thousands of visitors arrive for the High Holidays—often staying as long as six weeks, from Rosh Hashanah until after Simchat Torah. Then, just as the neighborhood begins to empty out, hundreds of teenagers arrive with their respective Chabad leaders for a Shabbaton program sponsored by the Chabad Teen Network. The week after that, the annual Chabad on Campus Shabbaton brings 800 students from campuses in the US, Canada and the UK to Crown Heights. After that, thousands arrive for the five-day International Conference of Shluchim, which opened this week Wednesday and runs through the coming Monday.
Chabad representatives are dispersed worldwide, but Crown Heights is the place they call home. This is where family weddings take place, and it’s to this neighborhood of Brooklyn brownstones that Chabad shluchim bring their communities for Shabbaton weekends. As each new wave of visitors fill the streets of Crown Heights, they manage to find warm beds, great food and welcoming hosts.
“It’s amazing how people are willing to open their doors again and again within a short period of time,” says Rabbi Moshe Bleich, Chabad representative at Wellesley and Babson College in MA, who is on the Chabad on Campus Shabbaton Organizing Committee. ”They’ve never experienced this before in their lives. It’s life altering for them.” Bleich explains.
For many residents of Crown Heights hospitality comes naturally, and they take on the responsibility with pride.
At Rabbi Simon and Shaindy Jacobson’s home on Eastern Parkway, 25 students joined in a Shabbos dinner last weekend. The same evening, an additional 150 students dropped by to shmooze, eat, sing and learn through the wee hours of the night.
Shaindy stayed up all night talking with students over late night snacks.
“They had a very inspiring, uplifting time,” she says. “One girl left saying she now knows this is the kind of home she wants when she gets married.”
One of five siblings, Shaindy she grew up in a house always full of guests.
“As kids we always gave up our beds. We lived in small quarters but there was always room for more.” Now she says her guests provide excitement for her own children who experience an eclectic mix of company each week.
Detty says she “couldn’t do without guests.” She grew up as one of 16 siblings, and for the first 11 years of her marriage, she and her husband, Yossi, were childless.
“I was used to a lot of people at the table,” Detty explains. “People to share with, stories, noise.”
The Levertons’ four-bedroom apartment had ample space for guests, and Detty informed the Lubavitch Youth Organization, which matches guests with appropriate homes, that she wanted to open her home to guests. The couple has been hosting ever since.
Now, after 18 years of marriage and the blessing of an only child, Tehila, Detty says her guests have become part of the family. Two years ago, the Levertons purchased a seven bedroom house, which they try to fill every weekend.
Preparing the house for its Shabbos guests “gives meaning to the whole week and to the family unit,” Detty says. “I make salads with my daughter, we change the sheets ourselves—it’s a family activity that we relish.”
Acting as a sort of matchmaker between host families and their guests is Faigy Benjaminson of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, who arranges accommodations for visitors to Crown Heights. Four times a year, groups of singles come hoping to find their soul mates on the Chabad Shabbaton Weekends organized by the LYO.
“Crown Heights is a powerhouse,” Benjaminson says. “People here don’t get a breather, they keep going. They open their home for a month or more during the High holidays and take in strangers. Visitors love it so much, some come back to live here.”
Benjaminson points to the home of the Rosenblums on President Street in Crown Heights, with its hotel-like accomdations – from the towels folded just so, to the pretty soaps.
Menachem and Faigy Rosenblum have been hosting guests for years. Faigy believes in the importance for the community to open up its homes to emissaries – and their local community members – who have both grown significantly in number.
“If people don’t open their houses what would they do?” asks Faigy. She also enjoys the inspiration and enthusiasm guests share at the table with her many children. Faigy repeats something a friend of hers recently said: “If there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your home.”
Having just returned home to Duke University in North Carolina, Chabad representative Yehudis Bluming is feeling energized by her visit to her hometown last weekend. She brought 15 students to the neighborhood and many Birthright and Israelinks alumni joined them for Shabbos dinner.
“The students are so welcomed and loved, this is ultimately what inspires them,” Bluming professes. “It’s a haven that doesn’t exist anywhere else. You can find great food, lectures and classes in many places, but this is one place on earth where you’re guaranteed to find warmth, family and community.”