The menu offerings of workshops, sessions and lectures at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchos that formally ended on Monday, read like course options in a college catalogue.
Public speaking; school administration; organizational leadership; community relations; culinary arts; counseling; pedagogy; dealing with bereavement; fundraising; marketing and social media. The list went on. Remarkable, however, was that every selection offered here was immediately relevant to the chosen career of the women attending this unique conference: shlichut, or the life of a Chabad emissary.
Despite harsh weather conditions and many canceled flights last week when the conference opened, well over 2500 leaders representing communities from dozens of countries, converged at Lubavitch Headquarters in New York. The six-day event, including educational multi-media presentations, lectures by renowned speakers, inspirational material, entertainment and networking opportunities, was topped off Sunday, January 26, by a grand gala banquet at the Hilton Ballroom in Manhattan.
In a live interview with two Chabad representatives, Mrs. Baila Olidort, editor of lubavitch.com and Lubavitch International, raised questions about the sacrifices they make by moving out to remote places with no Jewish community. Mrs. Esty Greenberg, from Anchorage, Alaska, pointed out that sending her children abroad when they were young so that they can have the kind of Jewish schooling she wanted for them, was “a sacrifice.”
“But we dealt with it as we do with any challenge that we encounter in our Shlichus.”
Responding to Mrs. Olidort’s question about the lifelong commitment that a Chabad representative makes, Mrs. Chana Mondshein—originally from Pittsburg, but now serving the Jewish community in Smolensk, Russia—said: “It’s like marriage or motherhood. When things get difficult, I do sometimes ask myself, ‘is this what I signed up for?’ But then you deepen your relationship to your community and your vision.”
The keynote speaker spoke dramatically of her journey that began in 1969, when she and her husband were assigned to Florida by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. What kept Mrs. Chana Lipskar going through the first difficult decades of her life in Bal Harbor where Jews were not welcome until as late as the 1980s, were the Rebbe’s words to her. “I am going with you, but [go] with joy.” The idea that she is a “representative” of the Rebbe lessened her sense of feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the mission, and made it possible for her embrace it and fulfill it with joy.
Mrs. Mushka Greenberg moved three months ago to Oxford, Ohio, where she began her career as a Chabad representative on campus at local Miami University. This was her first time attending the conference and was grateful for the opportunity to meet experienced representatives and get tips for the road ahead. Living at least an hour away from the closest metropolis, she especially enjoyed “Small Town, Small Community, Meaningful Relationships,” a session helping leaders of the small community leverage its close-knit nature to their advantage.
“I was glad to hear ideas of how to meet new people and make smaller events meaningful,” Greenberg said. “The session really addressed the day-to-day issues I face back home.”
Mrs. Ruta Okonov, director of a Russian/American Hebrew school in Brighton Beach, NY for the past 6 years joined experienced educators in a session entitled “Hebrew School 101.” The session included techniques in motivating students and designing curricula, and advice on incorporating technology into classrooms.
“The session, presented by four Hebrew school directors with schools of varying sizes was very useful.”
For some,the best part of the multi-faceted conference was the rare opportunity to just get away and be taken care of both spiritually and physically. Mrs. Gitty Blotner, co-director of Chabad of Mesa, Arizona and a busy mother of 9 children, who says she has “full faith” in her husband pulling double parent-duty, really appreciated the “time to rejuvenate.”
“It’s only this one weekend a year where for a few days I can get away and am free from my daily responsibilities. For a couple days I can just leave go and take in all this inspiration in full confidence that everything is taken care of back on the home front.”
Mrs. Sarah Kats of Saskatchewan, Canada missed last year’s conference because she was having a baby but returned this year with her small one-year-old in tow. Kats, who lives in a remote northern city with “miles of prairies in all directions,” said couldn’t contain her emotionswhen she walked into Lubavitch World Headquarters after two years of being away.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” says Kats. “But I just had this overwhelming feeling that I was home. Here among the thousands of women, I am among my sisters.”