Mendel Plotkin, 11, is getting ready for an adventure. He’s headed to New York City to participate in the kids’ division programming of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), a once-a-year gathering that brings rabbis and guests in from around the world for a weekend of idea-sharing, study, inspiration and camaraderie.

The Greensboro, N.C., native will be making his way Thursday afternoon from Michigan, where he studies, to New York to meet his father, Greensboro emissary Rabbi Yosef Plotkin, for the weekend. And then the fun begins. He’ll join more than 1,000 other boys ages 8 to 14 for a camp-like experience.

They will enjoy meals, activities, trips, and have the chance to see old friends and meet new ones during a variety of activities and Shabbat programming designed especially for them, says Rabbi Berel Bendet, director of the Kinus kids’ division, an annual project of the Shluchim Office, under the directorship of Rabbi Gedalya Shemtov. Bendet, who is in his fourth year directing the program, says preparations begin months in advance to make sure that the children, who are divided up into six divisions in three languages (English, Hebrew and French), have a memorable time.

Some 300 people are involved in making it happen down to the last detail, he says. Among their destinations are the Ohel, the resting place of the RebbeRabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory; and 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters. The weekend concludes with a festive banquet for the boys, complete with their own “roll call” that recognizes their home communities.

The younger Plotkin has attended the boys’ program three or four times, he says, and looks forward to the trips they take and the chance they get to meet emissaries from other places.

“It’s hard to imagine that there are [emissaries] in Siberia and everywhere,” he says. “It’s cool.”

At right: Levi Kaplan, 9, the son of Chabad emissaries in Thornhill, Ontario, is attending the Kinus for the first time and can’t wait to get to know other boys from around the world who do what he does.
At right: Levi Kaplan, 9, the son of Chabad emissaries in Thornhill, Ontario, is attending the Kinus for the first time and can’t wait to get to know other boys from around the world who do what he does.

The kids spend the weekend being recognized for the work they do throughout the year, says Bendet. “This is a very special group of kids, living their entire lives dedicated to spreading Judaism and love, and giving people in their communities so much of themselves,” he says. “This is their opportunity to come and get inspired about they’re doing—and also to have some fun.”

Seeing other children and other families who are dedicated to the same mission makes them feel proud, excited and re-energized, explains Bendet. “It’s like a melting pot. You can have a kid from a big city and a kid from somewhere really remote, and they’re playing and laughing together as if they’ve known each other their whole lives. We’re really one family, doing the same work with the same goal and the same purpose, and the differences are only trivial.”

The weekend offers a chance for the kids to connect with Jewish peers and to see how important their work is, he says. They stay in Crown Heights; peruse shops on Kingston Avenue; pray and sing; and receive visits from older emissaries, who tell them inspirational stories and sing with them.

“There are moments that are very solemn and reflective and spiritual, but it’s also about having a good time—really celebrating who they are and what they’re about and having fun with their friends,” says Bendet.

‘It’s a Great Feeling!’

Mendel Osdoba of Belle Harbor, N.Y., says he considers it a privilege to be the onsite director for the fourth- and fifth-grade division. Although he never attended the program himself, he knows what the kids are coming for and what they’re getting in return, he says.

“There are many kids who don’t see their classmates. They go to the online school, and for the first time they’re coming to spend time with classmates they never met in person,” he says. “They get to spend time together in an entertaining and educational atmosphere, and while they’re at it, take in inspiration for the future.”

It’s his first time leading the program, and he made a point of noting all of the logistics and details that go into putting the consecutive days of activities together. But, of course, that’s his job, and it’s why the boys attend from all over, he notes. “The kids come for two reasons—to see their friends and to get empowered,” he says. “We have to make sure that happens.”

Berel Sasonkin, originally from Ohio, will make his way in from California to be head counselor for the eighth-grade division for the weekend. He attended as a kid and recalled lasting rewards from time away with his young peers.

“It gave me this amazing connection to be with so many other kids who were the same as me,” he says, adding that now he hopes to pass those experiences on to others. “It was empowering; it’s a great feeling!”

Levi Kaplan, 9, the son of Chabad emissaries in Thornhill, Ontario, is attending for the first time and can’t wait to get to know other boys from around the world who do what he does. “My brothers went, so they told me lots of stuff—that they had fun,” he says. “I’m looking forward to the whole thing, but the highlights will probably be the trips and the banquet.”

Mendel Plotkin, 11, of Greensboro, N.C., traveled from Michigan, where he currently goes to school, to meet his father, Greensboro emissary Rabbi Yosef Plotkin, and join the kids' conference program.
Mendel Plotkin, 11, of Greensboro, N.C., traveled from Michigan, where he currently goes to school, to meet his father, Greensboro emissary Rabbi Yosef Plotkin, and join the kids' conference program.