(lubavitch.com) The 22nd annual International Conference of Chabad women representatives convenes this week Wednesday. The five-day affair pulls 2,500 women (shluchos) from 70 countries back to their Brooklyn base in Crown Heights. A whirlwind of a weekend, participants have an opportunity to catch up with colleagues and family, explore new techniques and programs, and enjoy that rare chance for some “me” time. The women who come say they wouldn’t give it up for the world.
But meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone’s got to take care of the kids.
Mrs. Chanie Bukiet, a conference organizer, has been attending the annual retreat for the past two decades. Her husband, Rabbi Zalman, remembers the early days of the convention with many little ones at home and the onus of running a busy Chabad house all on his shoulders. “We were hungry and bruised when she came back,” he jokes, “but we’re parents too, we managed.”
Despite temporary discomfort, Bukiet believes the convention is a vital opportunity for his wife and a powerful indication of the importance the Lubavitcher Rebbe placed on the woman’s role as a Chabad representative. Each year, during the Shabbat of the convention, Bukiet uses his time behind the pulpit to explain to congregants “what Chabad is all about.”
“The Rebbe made women equal in this job,” he says. “They have their own convention, their own speakers and agendas while the men stay behind with the kids.” His community, he says, is impressed with the way he manages the family (“I don’t let them see that we’re falling apart”) and equally impressed with Chabad’s approach towards women.
It is apropos then that Mrs. Bukiet will be presenting at a Thursday workshop entitled “The Better Half.” The session will focus on the woman’s role in her community, which far surpasses “preparing the kugel and chulent.”
Guests will choose from a smorgasbord of offerings all weekend long. While some seminars will stick to “female” topics, much of the schedule transcends traditional gender lines. Mrs. Chanie Deutsch of Fairfax, VA, will join several of her colleagues on a panel discussion concerning the employee-employer relationships in the altruistic world of Shlichut.
Gourmet cooking on a shoestring budget is offered alongside discussions on fundraising, professional speaking, and web design. A session on fundraising strategies will explore the art of direct solicitations; another will focus on identifying factors to determine whether a community is ready for a pre-school. Parallel programs, of a similarly broad nature, will run for educators, guests, and post-seminary women.
Mrs. Hadassah Lieberman, wife of Senator Joe Lieberman, will deliver the keynote address at Sunday evening’s banquet session at the New York Hilton, where the conference will formally conclude.
With his wife Elana on her way to New York, Rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld is revving up for a “guy’s weekend.” Five of their six children (between the ages of 18 months and 11 years) will stay with Kornfeld at their Burbank home. He hosts a guys-only Friday night, “the only time in the year when we can use paper plates,” and says that cooking (“the basics”) is manageable. To survive without his wife, Kornfeld “reduces obligations at the Chabad house and increases involvement at home.”
North of the border, in Vancouver, Rabbi Binyomin Bitton has his own methods for survival. “Keep the kids happy, keep things simple,” he says. Meals will be a combination of his wife’s carefully-labeled cooking, hot dogs and fries, and restaurants. “All rules,” he confesses, “are off.”
Like the other rabbis interviewed, Bitton says the weekend in his charge makes a big impression on his community. “When they see us holding it together and taking care of the kids, they are really astonished.” It also helps, he adds, for couples to see that his wife gets her own time away to rejuvenate.
There’s another plus side. “Every year, over this weekend, I discover new things about my kids,” Bitton adds. “I get to really hang out with them and enjoy them.”
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Rabbi Berel Levertov is not worried about the practical details. “I can cook my own meals and take care of the kids,” he maintains. “We will miss her most during discussions at the Shabbos table.”
“When my wife leaves I realize all the things that she takes care of each week,” continues Levertov. “This is the week of appreciation, when we recognize how much our wives really do.”