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Chaim Perl is no stranger to the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), which draws rabbis from around the globe in for several days of learning, camaraderie and rejuvenation. His parents co-direct Chabad of Mineola on Long Island, N.Y.

But the 36-year-old father of four does have a unique role when it comes to the event. He shoots the annual picture that represents a significant number of the nearly 5,000 emissaries worldwide serving Jewish communities large and small, often in remote areas. This is the fifth year that he’s been charged with the challenge.

Arranging for the photo, which is taken in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., includes everything from organizing the seating to ensuring that the prints are available at the Sunday-night gala banquet, he says.

In a video made on the taking of the Kinus group photo, Rabbi Ari Shishler, co-director of Chabad of Strathavon in Johannesburg, South Africa, says “it’s incredible how much it has grown in a relatively short time. … When you stand in that group, it just feels firstly this incredible connection. The person to my left I may never have met before. The person to my right may be my dearest friend for decades, and we’re all together.”

The street is actually closed off by city authorities. On Saturday night after Shabbat, a group starts setting up the bleachers. The photo, called for 8 a.m. on Sunday, is shot about an hour later, giving time to situate the rabbis. “Very quickly, it goes from, ‘Did we create too much space this year to where are we putting these people?’ ” says Perl.

Every person in it counts, he says, adding that he tries to make sure that each face is visible, and that the lighting and other outdoor elements are as conducive as possible to the best result.

(Photo: Chaim Perl)
(Photo: Chaim Perl)

Another challenge? The weather. It can be brutally cold or downright balmy. “We plan for rain every year,” acknowledges Perl. “It never rained in the history of taking the photo. It has rained immediately before and immediately afterwards, I’ve been told, but not during the shoot itself.”

Over the years, Perl studied how to take photos to capture large groups of people—in the thousands—and in 2013 offered his services to Chabad. The Kinus photo entails snapping a number of successive images to form one that can be made up to 5 feet tall by 10 feet long, created by stitching 33 photos together. It stands on display at the banquet. The emissaries can also get a smaller copy of the photo to take home with them.

“It’s about them,” says Perl, and the work they do throughout the year. “It’s all about capturing the moment.”

Shishler says as much in the video: “In the same way as everybody physically looks at one camera and focuses at one point, we’re all focused on one mission that we want to achieve. It feels as if we all beat with one heart. It’s this incredible moment of everybody standing there with pride, with a sense of mission, and with a sense of confidence that the mission will succeed.”