As the sun set on the East River, approximately 4,500 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and their supporters from 76 countries across the globe awaited entry to Brooklyn, N.Y.’s massive Pier 12 complex. The line snaked along the shoreline with the Statue of Liberty framed in a pink horizon and the silvery metallic sheen of the Manhattan skyline across the way.
As the thousands of guests waited, a gusty wind from the north cast an icy cold air on the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, but inside – in a warehouse transformed seemingly overnight into an elegantly lit hall for the gala banquet of the 27th annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries – they found the warmth of family.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, “would always emphasize the critical importance of the moral support and spiritual sustenance the emissaries give to one another during the conference,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the conference and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. “The conference itself has a strong familial atmosphere. It’s like a large family gathering.”
For five days, emissaries from as far away as Australia and as near as Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood home to Lubavitch World Headquarters, attended sessions, workshops, lectures and inspirational gatherings to derive strength for the coming year and their multitude of Torah classes, holiday services, and other Jewish programs back home. But this year’s conference also stressed the power of family, and the necessary and vital roles filled by children and wives who make a Chabad House a home away from home for Jews wherever they are.
At the banquet, videos and speeches focused on the idea that Chabad Houses offer something for everyone, from a Ukraine businessman like Gennady Bogolubov, who delivered the lay leaders’ address, to young Jewish families in Bogota, Colombia.
“I go to hundreds of events throughout the year, but this is my favorite because of the intensity of the passion of thousands of Jews united in one mission,” said attendee Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group. “I have no doubt that this energy will help” usher in the final redemption.
“Every year I come to the conference, I am impressed by the new ways people are spreading and living the word of G‑d,” similarly noted Rabbi Yerachmiel Zalmanov co-director of Chabad of Eastern Queens, N.Y. “A lot of new ideas are generated here.”
That’s important, Rabbi Moshe New, director of Canada’s Montreal Torah Center, stressed in his keynote address, because the actions of emissaries literally change lives.
“Never before have people needed a haven, a place to nurture their Jewish roots as today,” he said. “We can provide that by bringing the aura of our Jewish homes wherever we are, in whatever we do.”
Ukraine philanthropist Gennady Bogolubov addresses the banquet.
Under One Roof
In his speech, Bogolubov, who is building what is slated to be the largest Jewish Community Center in the world, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine’s Menorah Center, described the transformative experiences he had with Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetski, the city’s chief rabbi. He used to shun wearing a skullcap, he noted, but now, he wears the ritual fringes known as tzitzit. His Simcha Fund – which awards grants to emissaries on the occasion of births, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings – represents an embrace of Chabad Houses and their directors around the world, he said. And he wants to do more.
“For years, Chabad came to me to make me a partner in [in its work],” he stated. “Now, I come to Chabad and ask to become a part of [your family].”
Following the address, Kotlarsky presided over the event’s traditional roll call, inviting emissaries from each country in the roll to stand up. Nearly every continent was represented, and some delegations, such as from South Africa, Israel and California, included hundreds of emissaries.
“The whole world is under one roof tonight,” Rabbi Yisrael Haber, who directs Chabad of Chispin in Israel’s Golan Heights, exclaimed from his table.
As the role call ended, the room erupted in dance, the thousands of guests joined arm-in-arm and circling the room.
“The dinner is the one time of the year where so many emissaries and so many of their supporters get together like one big family celebrating,” noted French native Moishe Scllem. “It is extraordinary.”