Contact Us

Why Did I Attend a Dinner with 4,500 Rabbis?

Why Did I Attend a Dinner with 4,500 Rabbis?

The 27th annual International Banquet of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries.
Pictured (L to R): Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia, Neil Ackerman and Rabbi
Mendy Weiss of Chabad of Virginia.
The 27th annual International Banquet of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries. Pictured (L to R): Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia, Neil Ackerman and Rabbi Mendy Weiss of Chabad of Virginia.

On November 7th of this year, I was invited to attend the 27th International Conference and Banquet of Chabad Emissaries in Brooklyn, New York. Together with Rabbi Yossel Kranz of Chabad of Virginia, I joined almost five thousand Chabad rabbis and lay leaders from all over the world for a weekend of inspiration, learning, and camaraderie.

Within the Richmond Jewish community, many wanted to know: why did I go? Well, first of all, my terrific wife was giving me a free (I hope) four-day pass to NY! She said, “You can go as long as you promise not to come back wearing a black hat!” Second, I really love food, and a banquet with 4,500 rabbis was sure to be filled with great food. So I promised not to get a black hat, and set off to Brooklyn.

I always felt wholly accepted the way I wasI was really motivated to go. I couldn’t help but wonder: was my assessment of Chabad correct, or did I just have one too many l’chaims?

Just three years ago I thought Chabad was trying to “reel me in” to a hardcore religious lifestyle. That’s what they do, right? But no matter how many times I spent Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Kranz and his beautiful wife Nechomi, I never felt pressured to do anything. On the contrary, I always felt wholly accepted the way I was. I never felt judged for what I did or didn’t do, only genuine delight in my being there. I started going to the Chabad Community Shul a couple times a month, and once again, there was only sincere pleasure in my participating—in English, mind you, as I don’t read Hebrew.

Can it be, I thought to myself? Chassidic Jews who don’t frown on those less observant? Jews who are true to our traditions themselves but embrace every Jew as they are?

My visit to New York left no doubt. These people are for real. When they say their whole mission is to help another Jew in any way they need, they mean it. One cannot help but to be inspired by their sincerity, honesty and joy.

While I was there, besides eating at every house I walked into, I also met many new friends, and of course a few thousand rabbis along the way whom became my new friends very quickly. It was the strongest connection to Judaism I ever felt. True to the philosophy, there was no judgment. Only love for every one there. It was obvious and honest. From the “Shabbat Shalom” that greeted me from every person I passed to the incredible hospitality that beckons from every house, I couldn’t have felt more welcome.

I’m not religious and I’m not wealthy. I’m Jewish, and that’s all that seemed to matter.

I’m not religious and I’m not wealthy. I’m Jewish, and that’s all that seemed to matterI was surprised how many supporters Chabad has from all over the globe. Like me, each one had a story of how they came to Chabad. We all felt so lucky to be a part of this unbelievable movement and blown away by how many people—Jew and non-Jew alike—Chabad inspires all over the world.

Chabad-Lubavitch came to America with the fundamental belief that every Jew, regardless of affiliation or background, possesses a G‑dly spark, common to all Jews and equal in all Jews. Even in Brooklyn, at Chabad World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, I was an equal with 10,000 other chassidim dressed in black.

I’m so happy I went, and I thank my wife and rabbi for giving me the opportunity. If there’s one thing I learned from everybody I met, it’s that I too can open my home to guests on Friday night. I too can be more accepting and loving. I too can reach out a helping hand to a fellow Jew who may have given up on an uplifting, nurturing, inspirational Judaism.

Neil Ackerman is an active member and leader of Chabad of Virginia and is a lead member of the Chabad Advisory Board and President of the Richmond Aleph Bet Preschool.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous NEW YORK METRO November 23, 2014

The Total Acceptance and Warmth of Chabad I agree with most of the accolades written here by Chabad (non-Lubavitch) sympathizers. I have had contact in various ways over 12 years, and most Chabad rabbis are warm AND accepting

Even to a certain extent for a single female..... my Hebrew is close to perfect, (unless compared to Israeli university graduates), but speaking and reading are on very high level. i can negotiate the siddur and machzor to a fair extent.

alas, as a mature divorced female, chabad can offer me challah baking classes. thank you, but i don't bake. nor do i have for whom to bake.. story for another day.
Chabad like all charedi groups (and even MO) is a MEN'S club, a home away from home for the family-less (non-lubavs).
That being said, there have been a few Chabad rabbis who have through email been extremely kind and supportive and always ready to answer questions. Reply

Artie Samuel November 21, 2014

Neil, I thoroughly enjoyed your article.....exactly my experiences with Chabad for the last 12 years! I don't read Hebrew either; I'm not rich, and although I haven't been invited as you have, i can share in your Joy and blessings as you are chosen to inspire others to embrace Chabad's non-judgmental and "ahavat yisrael" lifestyle. May you continue to give over you special encounters with all Jews, wherever G-d leads us to meet them. Reply

Anonymous November 12, 2012

Beautiful - answer to Marcee question Beautiful article - may you put into practice the beautiful revolution you made for as

The Rebbe always taught us, practice what you preach is what matters most, for the main thing is the good deed!

Marcee, Chabad as all Orthodox Jews, follow the Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish law, which encourages/mandates a person should wear a second covering while praying in honor of God. Reply

miriam March 31, 2012

Wow. Your account brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. Reply

Yehudis April 14, 2011

The Rebbe You write, "Chabad-Lubavitch came to America with the fundamental belief that every Jew, regardless of affiliation or background, possesses a G‑dly spark, common to all Jews and equal in all Jews."

I would modify that to read, "The Lubavitcher Rebbe (both Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok and R' Menachem Mendel) came to America .... etc."

The Rebbe (both of them) inspired the Chassidim who in turn, inspire the Jews they encounter. Reply

Anonymous w April 13, 2011

been around I have never gone to any synagogue where i wasn't met and welcomed, from St. Petersburg Russia to Marrakech, Morocco to Jerusalem , to USA and Canada and places in between and beyond. Never a failure to be invited for Shabbat dinner, accepted as a Jewish stranger. Vienna , Bucharest, Venice - you name it. All cordial, whether Reform or Chassidic or somewhere in between or beyond, to a member of the Tribe.

In other words, Judaism is alive and well, no matter which choice of observation, or not. Even when a Jew is non-observant, there is still that intangible but palpable something, that spark of Moses, that inhabits all Jews. I think the term used to be in : " Are you a Lanzman " where Lanzman was akin to member of the Tribe. Reply

Joyce Voorburg, Netherlands April 13, 2011

stillness thx so much, many thoughts and a deep stillness at the same time...can I ask you what you mean when you say you are not religious? Reply

Liliana Goldberger Scottsdale, AZ USA April 13, 2011

Finding Chabad I did not go to a meeting with 4500 Chassidic rabbis but I did go to very electrifying Yom Kippur Service last year and was instantly caught up by the welcoming approach and non judgemental attitude.

I am currently attending the Chabad of AZ services as frequently as I can and find the Rabbis and all the members caring and embracing as you did.

It is a wonderful experience for a Jewish person like me who never had a really intense experience in Jewish life and now has found it!!! Reply

Marcee April 12, 2011

Black hats ~ What a story!
4,500 rabbis? For sure ..... a lotta prayin goin on .... haha! Who cooked all that kosher grub? Whoa. Amazing.
Question: my father (we were reform Jews) never wore a black hat. What is the history/purpose?
Thanks. Reply

Aunt Bonnie Dresher April 12, 2011

inspiring Wow... I am blown away. I think you have inspired me! Lots to think about. You're terrific! I'm so lucky you're my nephew! Reply

izzy n April 10, 2011

very beautiful keepup the amazing work! amazing article! Reply