The first of Detty Leverton’s 11 guests arrived on Tuesday by plane, train, bus, subway, taxi and car. By Thursday, they should all be settled in. Or so she hopes.

They’re coming from New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida and Canada, and from as far away as Argentina, to participate in the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchos), which brings together most of the 3,000 women emissaries from around the world—accompanied by about 450 children, and another 1,000 or so guests and supporters—to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., for multiple days of activities.

This year’s Kinus takes place from Thursday, Jan. 28, to Sunday, Jan. 31. A special Monday-morning program for the female emissaries will honor the 28th yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which this year begins on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, the night of the gala banquet.

The conference offers a chance for female emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to connect, learn from one another and spiritually rejuvenate themselves for their work in the year ahead. It’s also a chance for their guests to get a sense of Chabad’s impact outside of their home communities, as well as a taste of the home hospitality that distinguishes Crown Heights.

“Any available bed in this community is being used,” attests Leverton, who says she never goes a week without a guest in the home she shares with her husband, Yossi Leverton, managing editor of Hachai Publishing.

Hosting is one way, she says, that area residents can show their support for the emissaries’ work: “What they do is amazing; they sacrifice so much to make the world a better place, and they give so much of their personal lives to the community.”

“People in Crown Heights have an opportunity to host them, treat them, help them, make things go more smoothly for them, give them a little hospitality, a place they can put their feet up—where they don’t have to worry about anything,” continues Leverton. “They can just come in the door and know that their needs will be taken care of. It’s a small gesture that we can offer them, saying, ‘We’re rooting for you, we support you, we respect you, we really care about you.’ ”

Thousands of guests are being welcomed into the Crown Heights neighborhood, like in the Leverton home.
Thousands of guests are being welcomed into the Crown Heights neighborhood, like in the Leverton home.

Accommodating the Visitors

Everybody knows they’re coming. Shopkeepers on the main shopping stretch hang signs to welcome the women, who get discounts in certain stores, as well as free gifts. And as the streets become full with family, friends, neighbors and new acquaintances, they also become the scene of poignant reunions.

“You can’t go anywhere without bumping into people, or observing people seeing family members or close friends they grew up with,” says Leverton. “There’s so much mingling, interaction and excitement. You feel it—you feel it, and you sense that something exciting is going on.”

Grocery stores simply overflow these next few days, with people coming in and out to purchase supplies to cook for their guests. “The food is being pulled off the shelves,” reports Leverton. “I’m sure they can’t stock it fast enough.”

“The hospitality of the Crown Heights community is really legendary,” says Hindel Levitin, who co-directs Chabad of N. Palm Beach Island in South Florida with her husband, Rabbi Zalman Levitin. “These families—many of whom are far from wealthy—open their doors week after week. Women can have hosted dozens of guests staying at their home from before Rosh Hashanah until after Sukkot. Then come the Chabad on Campus Shabbaton, the CTeen Shabbaton, the men’s conference, the women’s conference ... the guests just keep on coming.

Preparations are almost complete (Photo: Michal Weiss)
Preparations are almost complete (Photo: Michal Weiss)

“It’s gracious hospitality, complete with meals and company, better than any hotel.”

Continues Levitin: “I grew up watching my parents host people from all over the world—from Australia, Chicago, Montreal, wherever. We got used to sleeping on the floor to accommodate the many out-of-towners who came to bask in the Rebbe’s presence, and the crowds have just kept on growing since then.”

“It’s women like my mother, who originated the notion of Chabad hospitality, that’s now become famous all over the world,” says Levitin, who grew up in Crown Heights. “But there’s a big difference. When people spend Shabbat with us, they thank us, leave a donation and go home to tell their friends what an amazing experience with Chabad. What these women do is no less amazing, but so much of it goes under the radar.”

Sara Lev, an emissary from Montreal, devotes her time to college students at the Chabad Chai Center there. Coming to Crown Heights for the Kinus gives her a chance to recharge. And she says it’s wonderful to be a guest for a change, and that “the hosts treat you like family.”

“Hosting is a big job. It feels good to be on the other side once in awhile,” she says. “It’s nice to see it from another perspective.”

Dedicated volunteers are keys to a successful conference. (Photo: Michal Weiss)
Dedicated volunteers are keys to a successful conference. (Photo: Michal Weiss)

From Literally Everywhere in the World

Zlata Wigs on Kingston Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Crown Heights, is hiring extra staff for the week and preparing to keep its lights on longer than usual—9 a.m. to 9 p.m., instead of 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Saturday night, the store will be open until midnight. “The ladies who are here have to get so much done, we really just want to accommodate them,” says owner Zlata Gitlin.

While most customers during the conference are walk-ins, some have been phoning ahead to make sure that she’ll have what they want in stock. Calls started in full force last month, she says, from women who were expecting to come to town.

The full-service salon sells, cuts, washes, dyes and repairs wigs. Women can spend thousands of dollars on a wig (covering their own hair out of modesty), depending on what they’re looking for, says Gitlin, who tripled her stock ahead of the conference.

“The women make their way from literally everywhere in the world, and they’re all looking for durable wigs, human-hair wigs,” she notes. “A lot of them want wigs that are easy to maintain—that they can wash and care for themselves.”

As for regular customers, they know to get their hair done well ahead of time. While many come in monthly to get their wigs set, they’ll probably hold off a bit as hundreds of others make their way into the store while in town, according to Gitlin.

Many Kinus sessions are recorded and some are broadcast around the world. (Photo: Michal Weiss)
Many Kinus sessions are recorded and some are broadcast around the world. (Photo: Michal Weiss)

A Full Plate of Choices

As far as activities go, there is something for just about everyone.

A full program runs for Young Shluchos, daughters of Chabad emissaries, with a complete schedule and separate bunking quarters at a local school. Their mothers will be enmeshed in workshops, general learning and a resource fair on Thursday, while Friday continues with similar programming until candle-lighting and Shabbat dinner with host families.

Shabbat will be a day of contemplation, prayer and discussion, complete with a farbrengen (informal Chabad gathering), followed by the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new week, and a Melaveh Malkah dinner (the meal held after the conclusion of the Sabbath).