Last December, Rabbi Chaim and Chaya Mushka Slavaticki moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to open a new Chabad-Lubavitch center.

Despite the fact that they moved to a region already served by dozens of Chabad Houses, and concentrated their early efforts on meeting as many people in the local Jewish community they could, the beginning was tough. For starters, says the rabbi – one of thousands of Jewish scholars, educators, Chabad-House directors, principals and community leaders from all over the world heading to New York this week for the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries – people lived in access-controlled buildings, which made first approaches by knocking on doors difficult.

In the end, it was nearly 100 mangoes a day falling from the trees in front of their home that played a large role in connecting them with community members. For a week, recalls Slavaticki, the city bus would stop in front of the building and passengers would come by to ask for mangoes.

“Today, we have 18 Jews we met just because they asked for mangoes, and they’ve connected us with many more,” laughs the rabbi. “They came to us.”

These days, the Slavatickis lead classes, counsel locals, and drop off homemade challahs each week to people around the community. They’ve had close to 200 guests over to their home for Friday night dinner in the past year and have hosted kosher food events at the local supermarket. Now, they’re getting ready to open the doors to a rented storefront they’re calling the Chabad Jewish Center of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The rabbi is looking forward to this year’s conference in New York for opportunity to converse with both senior emissaries and those who are, just like him, starting out. Though he enjoyed last year’s conference, he knows this year will be different: After a year of dealing with other people’s family issues, religious inquiries and general questions, he’s coming with a list of answers he’ll be seeking.

“It’s going to be a different experience,” says Slavaticki.

Joyous Approach

When it opens Nov. 23, the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries will bring more than 4,000 emissaries from more than 70 countries to a five-day smorgasbord of workshops, inspirational gatherings, and one-on-one counseling sessions designed to strengthen those who strengthen Jewish communities around the globe. A similar conference for women emissaries will take place in February.

In the London borough of Isligton, Rabbi Mendy Korer is just as excited as Slavaticki. He and his wife, Hadasa Korer, moved to the city just a few months ago. They have already begun a monthly Sabbath prayer group, and have big plans for Chanukah for a local crown that includes young professionals and young families. He’ll be in New York this week picking up tips on how to improve his organizational, fundraising and teaching skills.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from Ukraine and Norway confer in New York. (File photo: Tine Fineberg)
Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from Ukraine and Norway confer in New York. (File photo: Tine Fineberg)

“It’s all about finding people and getting our name out there,” Korer says of their work in London.

He adds that they find ways to make ends meet and eagerly await further local support. They hope to soon open a location that will function as a synagogue and social hall.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya Kotlarsky, who opened Chabad of Lafayette Hill in suburban Philadelphia last year, are working on adding programs that diversify what’s already being offered in the local Jewish community.

“We try to infuse everything with joy,” Yisroel Kotlarsky says of their approach. “We’re always listening to what community members want and strive to provide programs and classes for people on a more personal, joyful and meaningful level.”

He ticks off two areas where he’ll be looking for ideas at the conference this week: increasing adult education for Jewish women and engaging area children. He’s also looking forward to the chance to recharge.

“Hopefully, the conference will strengthen and sharpen my skills,” he says, “and provide that added boost of inspiration that I, my family and community can tap into all year round.”