A weekend of inspiration, motivation and connection for women emissaries and lay leaders from around the world culminated last night in the grand gala banquet at the New York Hilton in New York City—the apex of four days of events as part of the annual Kinus Hashluchos, the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries.

Mushky Laine took a 23-hour flight in from Hanoi, Vietnam, for the events; it’s her first year at the conference as an official Chabad emissary, co-directing Chabad of Hanoi with her husband, Rabbi Levi Laine. “Every detail they put into the Kinus does not go unnoticed. I’m very grateful and thankful we have this opportunity to get together and recharge, and see sisters from around the world,” she said.

Back home, the nearest Chabad is 1,100 miles away—in Ho Chi Minh City. At the dinner, her phone kept buzzing with family and friends who were at the banquet looking for her in the elegant Hilton ballroom. All night long, women stopped by to chat, popping by from around the room during breaks in the program.

When she returns to her community, which is comprised of about 150 Jews, she plans on telling them about the experience. “I’ll bring back that motivation, excitement and passion to do what the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] wants,” she said.

The women enjoyed a full-course meal, the music of Chava Shapiro, songs from their daughters, and the company of friends old and new. They also had the opportunity to hear from a range of speakers, including Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement; Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, its vice chairman; and emissaries based in locales such as Seoul, South Korea; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and, closer to home, Ithaca and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mrs. Chanie Liberow of Casa-Lubavitch Barranquilla in Colombia, working there since 1989 with her husband, Rabbi Yossi Liberow, served as the M.C. for the banquet.

‘A Tremendous Debt of Gratitude’

Guest speaker Rhoda Dermer, wife of Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, described Chabad’s incredible work and reach around the world, saying of its emissaries: “You strengthen Jewish life where you find it, you revive Jewish life where it is dying, and you spark Jewish life where there is none. No matter how small or how remote your community may be, your hard work has added up to something breathtaking in its scope. Our people—the Jewish people—owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude.”

Dermer holds a law degree from Yale University, a master’s degree from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University's Stern College of Women, where she was valedictorian of her class. She and her husband, the parents of five children, made aliyah in 2002.

Attending the banquet with her mother, Dermer spoke of the role of an ambassador’s wife, having “guests in my home nearly every week, describ[ing] a meal for 40 as an intimate gathering” and entertaining dignitaries regularly “with a baby on my hip.”

“In fact, when people ask me what it’s like being the wife of Israel’s ambassador, my usual response is: It’s sort of like being the wife of your local Chabad rabbi.”

She went on to talk about Israel, its contemporary highlights and some of its challenges. On the positive side, she noted a great fact: that “there are more Jews learning Torah in Israel today than at any other time in our people’s history, thanks, in part, to the 300 Chabad Houses across our country.”

Rhoda Dermer, wife of Israeli’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, told the crowd: “In fact, when people ask me what it’s like being the wife of Israel’s ambassador, my usual response is: It’s sort of like being the wife of your local Chabad rabbi.”
Rhoda Dermer, wife of Israeli’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, told the crowd: “In fact, when people ask me what it’s like being the wife of Israel’s ambassador, my usual response is: It’s sort of like being the wife of your local Chabad rabbi.”

‘Indeed, I am Going With You’

Goldie Avtzon, co-director of Chabad of Hong Kong with her husband, Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, gave the keynote address on this year’s theme, “Indeed, I am going with you,” which highlights the Rebbe’s connection with the emissaries.

A mother of seven, she directs the general programming for children, teens, women and adults, as well as handles general Chabad administration.

“I hope and pray, that the ideas we explore tonight will serve to inspire and strengthen each of us in the coming days, weeks and months,” she said by way of introduction.

She spoke of the Rebbe, and his actions and words as she remembers them. “Those of us who were there to see it from up close were indeed so very fortunate. In everything we watched and heard, we saw pure ahavas Yisrael—‘love for a fellow Jew.’

Remember the bags and bags of letters the Rebbe took with him to the bimah as he prepared to blow the shofar? Those letters contained the joys and sorrows of thousands of people from around the world. Remember the Rebbe’s perfectly yellow esrog that turned brown as he shared it with thousands of people who came to shake it? Remember the endless lines of people lining up for a bracha [blessing]? Remember how the Rebbe stood there for hours, showing no sign of fatigue, as he paid personal attention to every single person?”

The message in that entirety, she emphasized, “still rings so loud and clear: What am I doing for the other? How am I making this world a better place? Can I ignore a need in our community?”

Goldie Avtzon, co-director of Chabad of Hong Kong with her husband, Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, gave the keynote address on this year’s theme, “Indeed, I am going with you,” which highlights the Rebbe’s connection with the emissaries. (Photo: Michal Weiss/Kinus.com)
Goldie Avtzon, co-director of Chabad of Hong Kong with her husband, Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, gave the keynote address on this year’s theme, “Indeed, I am going with you,” which highlights the Rebbe’s connection with the emissaries. (Photo: Michal Weiss/Kinus.com)

Baila Dubrawsky, co-director of Chabad of Dallas in Texas with her husband, Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky, said she was moved to see young women going out and continuing the Rebbe’s mission today. “To me, it’s most impressive that they have that zest,” even without the Rebbe’s physical presence, she said.

She herself has been an emissary in Dallas for 30 years and remembers when the Rebbe himself spoke to them back in the event’s beginnings. “It was like you are coming home; your father is standing there waiting, giving you encouragement.”

The Kinus has grown considerably since then, offering lectures, workshops and programs to a diverse group of participants large enough to fill an entire banquet hall. In fact, this year some 3,000 women attended from 65 different countries.

Through the Generations

Renata Magurdumov of Old Bridge, N.J., was one of them. She attended the program and gala for the first time last year as a guest, and returned this year for more. “I loved everything about it, and I came back very inspired and uplifted. I felt like I was glowing,” she said of what drew her back again. “I’ve never felt like that after any vacation, and this whole year I was looking forward to coming back again.”

From staying in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.—where much of the programming took place—with another guest from her community to the cozy atmosphere the program provided in the other venues as well, she said it again exceeded her expectations. This year, she moved to the in-depth guest program, with its focus on text and designed specifically for advanced or returning attendees.

“I felt a bit nervous coming back because your expectations are so high already; I feel like that’s my attitude also to Judaism,” she explained. “It’s great—you get this high, then you get scared, then you move forward and you’re not disappointed. You’re even more amazed.”

Among the people she connected with this weekend is Malka Blicblum, from Brandon, Fla., another participant in the in-depth guest program. The two spoke excitedly at the gala dinner amid tables draped in white tablecloths with pink flower centerpieces. The room buzzed with women making new connections, and reuniting with friends and family.

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement (Photo: Michal Weiss/Kinus.com)
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement (Photo: Michal Weiss/Kinus.com)

“You can’t help but notice the generations of mothers and daughters and sisters,” said Blicblum. “The daughters become [emissaries]. The consistency and the handing down of the legacy is amazing.”

Rochel Loschak—co-director of Chabad @ USBC with her husband, Rabbi Mendel Loschak, in Goleta, Calif.—is the daughter of emissaries in Farmington Hills, Mich. She came back for her 12th Kinus. “All of my family lives here on the East Coast, so it’s very special for me to come visit with them and see all my sister emissaries,” she said. “We live in a small town, so it’s a real treat to come and be with so many of them, and with friends and family.”

Meanwhile, Blicblum came back for a second year not only to learn, but to educate. A counselor who teaches about addiction and recovery, she ran one session for kallah teachers, and another for a broader group of women on how to “reach out to those brothers and sisters who are in our community, so they don’t have to go outside of it” for help with addiction issues.

She first got involved with the Jewish Discovery Center in Valrico, run by Chabad Rabbi Mendel and Tzippa Sara Rubashkin, two years ago when her husband, Shimshon Blicblum, needed his tefillin adjusted. “The rest is history—they are our very dear teachers, friends and loved ones,” she said.

Rivky Goldman, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Centre for Jewish Life in Waterloo, Ontario, with her husband, Rabbi Moshe Goldman, said she’s coming away from her seventh year at the conference strengthened by the sentiment that she’s not alone and renewed in her mission “that you have to expose every single Jew to Yiddishkeit.” She also leaves with a strong reminder that wherever she goes, she is a messenger of the Rebbe.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement (Photo: Michal Weiss/Kinus.com)
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement (Photo: Michal Weiss/Kinus.com)

As for what she told her community—largely made up of students from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo—“I always tell them I’m getting together with the most powerful women in the world.”

Miriam Ruth Flores from Glen Cove, N.Y., came to the event as a guest. Looking out into the room full of women, she smiled at the Jewish energy she is now a part of as both a participant in the conference and as a convert to Judaism.

Asked what she was enjoying most about the evening, she replied: “Everything.”

“I enjoyed the people, to know there is Chabad in so many countries, sharing my story and being united with my extended family. I feel so good knowing that we as women are so powerful, so connected with Hashem.”

The daughters of shluchos, who attended the conference as part of a program of their own, entertained the gathering. (Photo: Michal Weiss/kinus.com)
The daughters of shluchos, who attended the conference as part of a program of their own, entertained the gathering. (Photo: Michal Weiss/kinus.com)