For the more than 3,000 women who filled every table—every inch of the ballroom at the New York Hilton Hotel in Midtown—it came as no surprise that such significant news would be reported the same night they honored one of the most significant people in their lives: Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of righteous memory. At the gala banquet marking the 30th anniversary of her passing and the closing event of the annual conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchos), it was announced that a young couple will soon be moving to Reykjavik to open Chabad of Iceland.

Meaning every major capital city in Europe now has a Chabad center.

It’s another milestone in the far-reaching vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to see emissaries span the length and breadth of the globe, now in more than 100 countries and territories, seeking to bring Jews closer to Judaism.

The center in Iceland headed by Rabbi Avi and Mushky Feldman will be the country’s first institutional Jewish presence; Feldman will be the country’s first permanent rabbi; and aside from congregations formed by British and American troops during World War II, theirs will be the first synagogue in the country’s 1,000-plus years of history.

Like Chabad Houses worldwide, the Feldmans will focus on the Jewish needs of those who live, work and travel there.

Keynote speaker Mariashi Groner, co-director of Chabad of Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Chavi Konikov)
Keynote speaker Mariashi Groner, co-director of Chabad of Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Chavi Konikov)

But with the good news came some difficult news as well: namely, the acknowledgment by Chana Rosenblum, of Hogar Jabad Lubavitch in Caracas, of the deteriorating political, economic and social conditions in Venezuela, and how many in the Jewish community have been leaving for other nations.

“It is difficult to watch a community you love disintegrate,” she said, at the same time thanking those emissaries who have welcomed them elsewhere and affirming Chabad of Venezuela’s commitment to the many who remain.

In another solemn moment, those shluchos who had passed away this year were remembered, including Rivka Begun, 81 (Brazil); Rochel Kelman, 44 (Israel); Rochel Goldberg, 32 (Minnesota); Rivka Korf, 75 (Florida); Chana Segal, 40 (Israel); Mindelle Feller, 75 (Minnesota); and, most recently, 7-year-old Chana Kesselman (South Carolina).

The Rebbetzin: An Ongoing Role Model

Still, the overall theme was one of inspiration, especially of the ongoing role model the women emissaries have in the Rebbetzin, they say.

“I wish I could have known her,” acknowledged Esther Kosofsky, 56, of Chabad of Longmeadow, Mass., and the daughter of the founder of Lubavitch Chabad Academy there, Rabbi Dovid Edelman. “Yet since her passing, she has become more and more alive for me.”

“The Rebbe and the Rebbetzin worked part and parcel for their vision of the world. He was the public person out front; she was the strength behind him,” explained Kosofsky. “She gave us the Rebbe, but in the years since her passing, we’ve got her, too.”

In the 34 years that Kosofsky and her husband, Rabbi Noach Kosofsky, have been emissaries, she has attended the Kinus about 20 times. She said something new inspires her every year. “I used to think that the Rebbe wanted us here just for the learning, and that everything else was a byproduct. But I’ve learned that inspiration comes in different ways. It comes on a bus ride or in conversation; there’s just this kinship that’s so strong.”

“It’s a very empowering time,” agreed Mushkie Gurary, 23, co-director of Chabad of Lake Balboa in Van Nuys, Calif., who attended her very first conference as an official emissary. She and her husband, Rabbi Eliezer Gurary, went out on shlichus last May.

Of the gala in particular, Gurary—one of the Rebbetzin’s many namesakes—stated: “It’s a day of strength for all the Mushkas.”

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky (File Photo: Chavi Konikov)
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky (File Photo: Chavi Konikov)

‘Nobody Has a Walk in the Park’

Strength and resilience were emphasized by the keynote speaker, Mariashi Groner, co-director of Chabad of Charlotte, N.C., with her husband, Rabbi Yossi Groner. She said when they arrived in the Southern U.S. city more than 30 years ago, they set out to start a preschool. They found 16 families ready to sign up, but then their plans started going awry.

Their existing space was inadequate, and arrangements for a more ideal place fell through two weeks before school was to begin. “I had 16 children and nowhere to go,” she said. “We had exhausted every possibility, and nothing came through. We were at a loss.”

In the end (and with the Rebbe’s written encouragement), the school did work out. But it was a test of faith—one that Groner stressed is a necessary ingredient for moving forward.

“Nobody has a walk in the park” in life, she said. But the goal is to make it a meaningful walk. And that requires the ability to have objectives—and to keep redefining them.

“The Rebbe wanted us to be partners in his global vision and made it clear that we must not stop, not give up and certainly not be satisfied with our past accomplishments. When did the Rebbe tell us that success was a magic number or a specific job title?” she posed.

“I’m not suggesting that we stop striving for success; on the contrary, the Rebbe demanded that we maximize our potential to the fullest degree. The Rebbe told us that when we have one, we need to strive for two, and when we have 100, we should strive for 200. But what I am proposing is that we revisit what we tell ourselves success looks like.”

Success, she went on to say, can mean reaching one person, touching one Jewish soul at a time.

These words, this kind of support is what brought Shachar Banin, co-director of Chabad of Venice, Italy, with her husband, Rabbi Ramy Banin, to the conference this year (that and the fact that her 12-year-old daughter wanted to go). By attending, she is reminded—even after 28 years as an emissary—of the camaraderie and connection among Jewish women.

“Even when you’re literally on an island,” which Venice is, she pointed out, “you’re not by yourself. It’s encouraging to know that you’re never alone.”

Chana Nisilevitch of Beth Habad Kehilat Chné-Or in Aubervilliers, France, just north of Paris, came to the Kinus for the first time this year. In fact, she admitted that with two children under 18 months and work piled up, she initially felt she couldn’t go. So she asked advice from her mashpia, her spiritual mentor, for validation to stay back—and got the opposite response.

“You just come,” the mentor advised the 27-year-old, who with her husband, Rabbi Yekusiel Nisilevitch, has been an emissary for four years. “And I’m really happy to do that, to be part of the group. It’s very special, this 30th year.”

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky (File Photo: Chavi Konikov)
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky (File Photo: Chavi Konikov)

‘Forging Ahead on All Fronts’

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, and Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, addressed the group as they do every year.

Kotlarsky, who announced the development of the new Chabad center in Iceland, spoke about the demands and responsibilities of women emissaries, and their constant emphasis on chinuch, Jewish education—on helping educate every person who walks in their homes. But while they work year-round to inspire others, the conference represents a time when they are invigorated as well.

Introduced by Rabbi Kotlarsky, Julie Gniwisch of Montreal, Canada, also addressed the sea of women. A partner shlucha, she has traveled the world visiting hundreds of Chabad Houses, “working to serve Am Yisrael [the Jewish people].”

Back in 1987, she and her husband organized a Chanukah party in Kobe, Japan, that brought more than 100 Jews from the surrounding area out to celebrate, she said, even finding some help to fry up latkes made from 50 pounds of potatoes. They also worked to commission a menorah out of plumbing pipes to put up in town, all because of a request by the Rebbe to mark the holiday while they were there.

Krinsky said he heard from many women during the course of the four-day conference that they had gained much from it, and will return home recharged, refreshed and ready to go.

He went on to note that Chabad emissaries are “forging ahead on all fronts around the globe. With every passing week and month, new young couples are off to new destinations, and the Jewish world watches in awe with admiration and respect and gratitude.”

To that end, the annual roll call was read aloud by four young new emissaries: Chani Silver (Curaçao), Sheera Bluming (Bahamas), Chani Edelkopf (Montenegro) and Mushky Feldman (Iceland). It began with Chabad of Angola and ended with Chabad of Zanzibar.

The annual roll call was read by four young new emissaries, including Mushky Feldman, left, co-director of Chabad of Iceland, and Chani Edelkopf, co-director of Chabad of Montenegro. (Photo: Chavi Konikov)
The annual roll call was read by four young new emissaries, including Mushky Feldman, left, co-director of Chabad of Iceland, and Chani Edelkopf, co-director of Chabad of Montenegro. (Photo: Chavi Konikov)
Attendees of the four-day conference will return home recharged and inspired. (Photo: Chavi Konikov)
Attendees of the four-day conference will return home recharged and inspired. (Photo: Chavi Konikov)