Celebrating 70 years of their movement being directed from the United States, almost 4,000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from around the globe are making their way to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., for an annual conference exploring everything from energizing teenage congregants to strengthening Jewish activities in the wake of an economic downturn.

A family reunion of sorts for attendees, many of whom haven’t seen one another since last year’s gathering, this year’s International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries will celebrate the establishment of dozens of new centers. But it will also take a look back at a turbulent year that began just days after last year’s conference with the murder of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and four of their Jewish guests at their Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

“This is a significant year for us, a time to take a look at where we are as a movement and where we should be,” stated Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, director of Chabad of Bucks County in Yardley, Pa., who will deliver the keynote address at Sunday night’s banquet. “We will also address the down to earth, practical side of how we’re going to get there.”

Following an opening general session on Thursday, attendees will mark a year since the Mumbai terrorist attacks – which in addition to virtually destroying the Chabad House, wrought mayhem throughout the city and claimed the lives of almost 170 people – with the completion and dedication of a Torah scroll to be used by new Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in the Indian financial capital.

Speaking from his home in New York, Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg expressed his family’s gratitude to people all over the world who have carried on the memory of his son and daughter-in-law in countless ways, including in supporting the writing of the Torah scroll.

“We want to thank everyone for the things they have done in Gabi and Rivky’s memory, and also for the unity that people have shown,” said Holtzberg. “So many Jews were brought together in the past year and have made an effort to increase their performance of good deeds and love of their fellow. This is so important to us.”

Reflecting on the Jewish teaching that one year after a righteous person’s passing, the soul’s light shines with increased strength in this world, the father added: “Just as the light is becoming stronger, our efforts must become stronger.”

Thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries pose for their traditional picture in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo: I. Bardugo)
Thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries pose for their traditional picture in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo: I. Bardugo)

Reflecting and Recharging

The conference will also mark seven decades of Chabad activities since the arrival of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, of righteous memory, on America’s shores. When he settled in Crown Heights in 1940, having escaped war-torn Europe, he embarked on a massive reenergizing of his Chasidim’s worldwide efforts to strengthen Jewish life. His son-and-law and successor, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, revolutionized the concept of Jewish outreach, sending emissaries to the farthest corners of the world and calling for public displays of Jewish pride.

Emissaries continue to “go out” today, moving as young families and establishing permanent homes in communities as diverse as Russia, Cambodia, and Redwood City, Calif., where Rabbi Levi and Ella Potash became one of the scores of young couples to open new Chabad Houses this year.

“For me, as someone who is really just starting out, the most important part of the convention will be meeting other, more experienced Chabad House directors,” said Levi Potash, who moved to California just five weeks ago. “I’m looking forward to five days of rigorous training and, G‑d willing, coming back with more to give.

“We made the decision to move to Redwood City based on the strength of community interest,” he added. “When we came to scout out the location and see if it was for us, people gave us their numbers and asked that we call. Everyone was very welcoming, including leaders of other local Jewish organizations and synagogues. For me, this is a chance to better equip myself to meet that interest with quality programs for the community.”

Breakout sessions during the conference include workshops on effective public speaking, counseling training, running a Hebrew school, and one-on-one learning in Jewish law and Chasidic thought.

On everyone’s mind will be the ongoing effects of the economic crisis, and how best to meet the fiscal challenges facing Jewish communities worldwide.

“This has been a difficult year for people in general, all over the world,” relayed Shemtov, “and everyone is looking to the conference for a boost, a chance to recharge, so we can better help the people in our communities to meet the challenges they face.”

With an eye to the future, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, referred to the emissaries as agents of light.

“Jewish unity, especially of the whole family of emissaries, will lead to the ultimate victory of light over darkness,” said Kotlarsky. “When we stand together, when Jews have real concern and love for one another, we will bring about permanent change and beauty to the world.”