Daniela Voda traveled to New York from Hawaii to join thousands of women at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries, which held its grand banquet at the Hilton New York Sunday night. She came with Pearl Krasnjansky, co-director Chabad of Hawaii. They’ve known each other for just a few months, but when the annual conference veteran suggested Voda attend, she knew it would be worth it.
From the workshops Voda attended to the women she met, she said she has been inspired by the personalities and integrity of everyone around her. “Just seeing the leadership and the influence for good that they have has been powerful,” said Voda.
As for the sessions, “I didn’t miss anything,” said Voda, speaking from a candlelit table amidst hundreds of tables packed with more than 3,000 women who traveled in from around the globe. The four days of battery-recharging programming was aimed at women devoted to making a difference in Jewish communities around the world as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and lay leaders.
Louise Hager spoke at the gala banquet of her longstanding relationship with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
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Krasnjansky, who has been attending the conference for well over two decades and brought guests both last year and this, said she is deeply moved to see the conference through Voda’s eyes: “I’m really awed by seeing it through the lens of her perspective.”
The annual event highlights the women and those like them, added Krasnjansky—women who are using their talents and efforts in spiritual pursuits furthering the wishes of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. “To me that’s beyond words,” she said.
For Miriam Amzalak, co-director of Beis Chabad of North Oak Park, Mich., who has been coming to the event for about a dozen years, the weekend is also an opportunity to rededicate her efforts to her husband and six children “to be the best mother and wife I can be.” And it’s a time to see friends and grow together, she explained, as builders of Jewish communities around the world.
“I feel proud to be a part of it,” she said. “I take strength to go home and help build my own community.”
Speakers at this year’s gala included Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, who reflected on harmony in the home and the Rebbe’s teachings through stories of his experience with the Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of righteous memory. Other speakers were Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch; Louise Hager from London, U.K., who spoke of her longstanding relationship with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka; and a keynote from Chanie Baron, co-director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Center of Howard County in Columbia, Md.
Debbie Denenberg, who traveled all the way from Nebraska, stood watching Kotlarsky’s speech in the ballroom, nodding as he talked. Denenberg said she benefits from the learning she does at the conference and at Chabad back home, and also from the emissaries as role models. It helps enhance her holidays and Jewish expression, she said, adding that she also plans to take her conference experiences back home with her. She said she’ll take what she gained and share it with her children, so they will understand why community involvement and leadership are important in and of itself, and to pass on.
“I go home with renewed vigilance, a little more energy, some good stories and more knowledge of the Rebbe,” she said, adding that the smiles, kindness and clout of all the generations of women there will stick with her long after she returns home.
Rhonda Gellerman came to the gala dinner from Chico, Calif., with Chabad Jewish Center co-director Chana Rochel Zwiebel to see what the event was all about. She first got involved with the center, which serves California State University, two years ago, in tandem with her daughter Rebecca, who attends the local Chabad school. “We’ve really taken each other into our lives,” she said of Zwiebel.
The women packed the gala dinner for a night of camaraderie and motivation, soaking up the strong sense of connection and holiness.
Over the course of the conference’s four days of programs and workshops, she said she enjoyed hearing, from a variety of strong presenters, the message that doing mitzvot, or good deeds, was as much about building positive connections as it was about observing commandments.
And on Sunday night, she said she was glad to be one of the 3,000 Jewish women packing the room for camaraderie and motivation, soaking up the strong sense of connection and holiness. She hopes to take as much of it as possible back with her as part of the spirituality she shares with family and friends.
Still, “you have to be here to feel it,” she said. “To not be on the outside looking in, but to be a part of the Chabad experience.”
Chayah Kaye, an emissary from Sydney, Australia, noted that even for those who couldn’t make it to New York, there was a way to feel as close as possible: the event was being broadcast live. People back home were in fact gathering early Monday morning to see it all take place, to witness the unity of so many women embarked on the same task, she explained.
And while their friends in Australia ate breakfast, the banquet concluded with the roll call, which sent each country’s representatives cheering as their names were announced. That was followed by dancing, the women weaving around the room in celebration of their most important tasks.
“It’s so electric, so special, to have everyone in the same room,” said Kaye. “It’s so powerful, you can’t explain it.”