The screens at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge flashed images from past and present as the 2,160 Chabad-Lubavitch women emissaries and their guests took their seats in a banquet area spanning several ballrooms. The annual Sunday night banquet, the culmination of the five-day International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries, was clearly an event not to be missed.
For many, it was their one chance to catch up on past friendships and meet new faces.
Miriam Lipskier, co-director of the Chabad House at Emory University in Atlanta since 2002, opened the banquet by recounting a conversation she had with a veteran emissary soon after the conference began.
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"What is your name?" the elderly woman asked Lipskier. Examining her young face further, she asked further: "What is your maiden name?"
"Greenberg," answered Lipskier.
"Ahh, is it Greenberg from Alaska?"
"Is it Greenberg from Israel?"
"Is it Greenberg from Paterson?"
"She was looking for some background," said Lipskier, who chaired the gala event.
The woman rattled off all of the Greenbergs she knew were Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries – there are 15 families of them, stretching from Shanghai, China to Anchorage, Alaska – but Lipskier was from an entirely different line, she explained.
Her parents, Stanley and Sherry Greenberg, studied at the University of Maryland and an engineering school in New York City, respectively, and found each other through chance encounters with emissaries at their schools. Lipskier said that it was thanks to the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory – who dispatched emissaries all over the world – that her parents reconnected with their Jewish roots.
"Someone who they had never met, someone who they had never seen and probably they never knew had existed, was concerned about their spiritual wellbeing," stated Lipskier.
An Evening of Inspiration
Two Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries confer during the International Conference of Women Emissaries.
Lipskier's sentiment set the tone for an evening that has always occurred around the anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of righteous memory.
The purpose of the conference was to strengthen the emissaries, who work to spread Judaism throughout the globe, by infusing their mission with time-tested techniques and skills. The participants spent hours immersed in in-depth study of Jewish law and Chasidic thought; they networked, visited area schools and Chabad Houses and shared new ideas. The banquet, consequently, served to inspire the attendees, reminding them of their awesome purpose, and pay tribute to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, the driving force behind the modern-day focus on Jewish outreach.
Many of today's emissaries are the children of those the Rebbe sent out to college campuses in the 1960s.
"You give your life to the communities," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, in his address. "The title of emissary is not an appellation. It is earned by each and every one of you."
And it is the woman emissary, he continued, "who actually sees that the many visions and plans for the Chabad House are actualized."
At one point during the banquet, the emissaries' daughters were welcomed to a chorus of clapping and a Chasidic march.
"Buenos noches, ladies!" intoned Chaya Mushka Rosenblum, daughter of Rabbi Yehoshua Dovid and Chana Rosenblum, directors of Hogar Jabad Lubavitch in Caracas, Venezuela. "Us shluchot [the Hebrew word for woman emissary] take no siestas. Join me in welcoming my amigas."
The participants also screened a new documentary film, "The Rebbetzin," produced by Jewish Educational Media.
In his speech, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, told of a person's encounter with the Rebbe in 1992, just a short time before his 90th birthday. The Rebbe was distributing dollar bills to the thousands who had lined up at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn one Sunday when a journalist appeared on line with a question.
"Rebbe, we are doing a story on your 90th birthday," the journalist began. "Tell me, what is the significance of 90?"
According to Krinsky, the Rebbe responded: "In Hebrew, 90 numerically is [the letter] tzadik. Tzadik means righteous. We must always strive to be more righteous. What was enough for yesterday is not enough for today. What is enough for today, we must prepare for a better tomorrow."
Speaking for the lay leaders who had gathered at the banquet, Molly Resnick – a former NBC news producer whose son and daughter-in-law, Rabbi Raleigh and Fruma Resnick, direct Chabad-Lubavitch of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton, Calif. – asked the women emissaries: "How many lives like mine have you changed?"
"How many searching souls like mine have you brought back home?" she continued in wonder. "How many people's journeys have you redirected?"
"You were brought up by great role models, great women to emulate. You stand on the shoulders of giants," she said. "You are the world's greatest experts on love of your fellow. Thank you for being my role models."