Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz, director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County in West Orange, N.J., had been looking forward to the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries that began Wednesday in Brooklyn, N.Y., with intense anticipation. Focused all last week on relief efforts and community rebuilding following Hurricane Sandy, he needed the several days of workshops, classes and lectures more than ever.
“I need to recharge my batteries at some point,” said Kasowitz, one of thousands of emissaries who came to New York from points all across the globe. “It’s something I look forward to all year, something that gives me a spiritual boost and a lot of energy.”
Though Sunday’s gala banquet was switched at the last minute from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to the New York Hilton in nearby Manhattan because of the hurricane, organizers reported that the program of both the banquet and the larger conference have remained largely the same.
“We expect a very moving program,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of the conference and vice-chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.
Rabbis and lay leaders have traveled from near and far to attend, with some delayed due to the snowstorm.
Coming in from Cincinnati, Ohio, Chabad Jewish Center of Blue Ash youth and family program director Rabbi Berel Cohen’s flight got diverted to Albany en route to New York City. He came with a box of some 250 pairs of socks collected from his community during a sock drive that he delivered to hurricane victims on Friday. When he checked in for the flight, they didn’t even charge him for its contents.
“It’s all kinds of socks – men’s, ladies, kids’ socks, all sizes,” he said.
Rabbi Levi Brashevitzky of Chabad-Lubavitch of Tidewater in Norfolk, Va., also came to help. Arriving late Tuesday night by car, he carted in four non-electric heaters and two large tanks of propane, along with eight one-pound cylinders for smaller heaters to help the Chabad House in Brighton Beach get its school back up and running. He also filled five gallon fuel tanks and brought gas to help volunteers get to where they need to be.
“Coming from an area which sometimes does get affected by hurricanes, I understand what it can do,” he said. “I’m grateful on behalf of myself and my community that we survived well and that we were able to provide.”
As for what he’d like to share with the people back in Norfolk, he says he’s looking forward to taking in some workshops before heading back for a circumcision ceremony taking part in his community this weekend.
“I hope to bring them a more focused and structured and empowering leader that can help them grow in their Judaism and their connection with themselves,” he said.
Stuck in Albany while he waited for updates on his flight, Cohen emailed the network of fellow Chabad rabbis online to find out the local rabbi’s cell number.
“He reached out within two minutes and offered to come get me to let me stay at his house,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling that anywhere you may be, you know you have a fellow emissary, a colleague and a family member you can call upon in need.”