Rabbi Moshe Wilansky arrived in New York for the 28th annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries noting that while the yearly event has grown in its offerings and attendance, its spirit of camaraderie and spiritual focus have remained the same.

“I’m just as excited going today as I was 20 years ago,” says the veteran emissary, who is entering his 25th year as director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maine.

Ask the Portland-based rabbi what’s changed, and he explains with a smile how he used to be the young man on the block. Now, among the thousands of attendees, he’s part of the group that freshmen emissaries go to for advice. But to a one, he says, they’re all part of the same army – a collection of scholars, educators, counselors, pulpit rabbis and kosher supervisors who move to communities around the world to fulfill the charge of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to strengthen and inspire Jews wherever they may be found.

Because of the importance of that mission, there’s always room for improvement, says Wilansky, and the conference’s combination of workshops, study sessions and lectures offer emissaries – as well as the lay leaders they bring with them – new programs and techniques to bring back to their home communities. The conference will come to a crescendo Sunday night during an inspiring gala banquet highlighting the work of emissaries around the world and the partnerships they form with lay leaders. (The program will be streamed live by the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaires, and can be viewed online at Jewish.TV, the multimedia portal of Chabad.org.)

Rabbi Benny Zippel, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Utah, says this year’s conference is his 19th. He’s looking forward to seeing old friends – for many, the conference is their one opportunity each year to reunite face to face – and the chance to recharge by studying together and inspiring one another.

“We’re not just one outpost in Utah,” he says. “You really get the feeling that you are a part of a much bigger network.”

Each year, the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries offers a jam-packed schedule of workshops, study sessions, and inspiring lectures. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)
Each year, the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries offers a jam-packed schedule of workshops, study sessions, and inspiring lectures. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)

Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Clark County in Vancouver, Wash., is thrilled to be bringing his eight-year-old son to the gathering. As he’s participating in group sessions, Greenberg’s son will be taking part in a separate program with kids his age. For many children of emissaries, the conference might be the only time each year to interact with peers of similar backgrounds.

“It’s great for him to see many other kids like him, and to experience the Jewish community here in Crown Heights,” explains Greenberg. “Everywhere he goes, there are so many Jews. This is an atmosphere that he doesn’t have.”

He’ll also be taking his son along when all of the attendees go to the Rebbe’s resting place in Cambria Heights, a tradition rooted in the days before the Rebbe’s 1994 passing, when he would offer encouragement, instruction and blessings to all of the emissaries.

“Basically, the whole idea of coming to the conference is to come and be with the Rebbe,” says Greenberg. “All year, we’re in our home communities, and then there’s this chance to get together and reconnect spiritually with the Rebbe and his teachings.”

Rabbi Benjy Brackman, director of the Chabad of Northwest Metro Denver in Colorado, says this is the first year that he’s bringing a lay leader from his community to spend the Sabbath in Crown Heights and attend programs on Sunday. He hopes his guest will inspire others back home.

“People will see it from a peer describing the event,” he explains. “And I think that will add a whole different meaning to their understanding of what being an emissary is about.”

Some emissaries, such as Melbourne-based Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum, won’t be able to make it to New York, but they’ll be watching the concluding banquet and the highly-anticipated address from British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks online.

The Sunday evening event will take place at around 10:00 in the morning Australia time, so it’s not exactly the same feel, “but we’ll sit together, all of us in the Chabad House, enjoy our own refreshments, and relish the opportunity to virtually join those in New York.”