NEW YORK, February 11, 1999 — Nearly half a century has passed since Mrs. Shula Kazen arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, as a "Shluchah" — an emissary of Lubavitch — to live and work toward bringing members of the city's sizeable Jewish population closer to religious observance.

Forty-six years later, her granddaughter, Mrs. Dina Greenberg, is pursuing the same work, but this time among the 200 Jews living in Shanghai, in the People’s Republic of China (see separate story soon).

Grandmother and granddaughter, along with Greenberg's mother, Mrs. Devorah Alevsky, shared their experiences as Shluchot during the 11th annual International Lubavitch Women Emissaries Conference held February 4-9, 1999, at Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York. Kazen, Alevsky and Greenberg were among a handful of women representing three generations of Shluchot who came together at the conference, and their experiences also represented how the Lubavitch movement has recognized and addressed the challenges each generation faced.

"We came to Cleveland when many of the Holocaust survivors were settling in and trying to start their lives over," Mrs. Kazen said as she described the task she and husband Rabbi Zalman Kazen undertook at the behest of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, while raising their family of eight children.

"We worked to help those survivors get scholarships to enroll their children at the Hebrew Academy (a local Jewish Day school), so the children could grow up with the Jewish education their parents had been given before the War. We set up the N'shei Chabad women's groups, as well as children's and youth groups, to reach Jews in Cleveland. There were a lot of Jews in Cleveland, but they stayed in their own communities. The religious didn't reach out to the non-religious, and the non-religious had nothing to do with the religious."

Mrs. Kazen said her goal was to connect with as many Jews as possible and offer them a sense of spirituality that they had not encountered in their previous Jewish experiences. All the while Mrs. Kazen was working on the city infrastructure to ensure that strict Jewish observance could become possible for more people in Cleveland."

I went to the dairies to make sure they had 'Cholov Yisroel’ (ritually kosher milk), I went to stores to get them to offer more kosher food. There was a lot less in those days," recalled Kazen.

"Today the notion of outreach is common, it is practiced everywhere, but in those days my parents were the ones doing that work," says Alevsky, Kazen's daughter, recalling the Shabbat and Passover Seder tables of her childhood home that were always bustling with guests. 

Alevsky and her sisters ran the "Mesibos Shabbos" clubs for children when they were growing up, until, one by one, they left Cleveland for school and positions in New York to prepare for their eventual roles as Shluchot. (Alevsky has sisters who serve as emissaries to S. Paulo, Brazil; Johannesburg, South Africa, and Kansas City, Missouri).

Alevsky returned to Cleveland with her husband in 1972 to open a Chabad House in a new neighborhood. "Americans were going through difficult times then, and so were American Jews," Alevsky said. The couple focused their efforts on the many college campuses in the Cleveland area, helping young people and adults find an anchor in Judaism in the cultural turbulence of the ‘60s.

"People were seeking answers during a time of social upheaval, and many found those answers in their own religion," said Alevsky. "We just helped guide them there."

As her mother became increasingly involved with the settlement and religious welfare of Cleveland's growing population of Soviet Jewish immigrants, Alevsky was raising her own family as she had been raised. Guests were a constant presence at the family's Shabbat table, and the Alevsky children led the Shabbat groups and were camp counselors. Several of her children spent time living away from home with emissary families in other countries. All these activities constituted a lifelong training for the roles they have taken as Shluchot and Shluchim in Ohio, Israel, Argentina, and finally, in Shanghai.

"There are about 200 Jews living in Shanghai now," said Devorah Alevsky's daughter, Dina Greenberg, in an address to the Conference. "Thousands are expected to be living in Shanghai in the coming years, as the People's Republic of China continues to open its doors to foreigners." 

Greenberg described the Jewish population in Shanghai as mostly entrepreneurial, or living there on company assignments. Some are professors and others teachers of English. "We found that when people are living far from home, they want to connect," Greenberg said. "In fact, they might connect with their Judaism more there than they would back home."

Greenberg said many Jews became familiar with Chabad while living in China and searching the Internet for Jewish connections. They discovered the work of the late Rabbi Yosef Kazen, who founded Chabad in Cyberspace.

"Many people told me about it, and none of them even knew he was my uncle," she said. Rabbi Kazen's work was acknowledged during the roll call of countries at the Shluchot Conference.

If her grandmother was busy trying to ensure that ritually kosher milk was available in Cleveland, granddaughter Dina is dealing with the challenge of getting any kosher food at all. "We had packed up entire freezer-loads of food, and in our American naivete, we were expecting to just unload it and put it into a refrigerator when we got to China," Greenberg told the gathering.

Relating the story of how the food finally arrived, not in a refrigerated van but on bamboo trucks, completely spoiled, she described how she and her husband, Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, could do nothing but look and laugh. "We had 25 boxes of rotten food and two empty freezers that were supposed to be full. We just laughed and laughed. Then and there we found a new meaning to the Rebbe's guidance to Shluchot to do our work with a glad heart."

Greenberg said she reached out to all her fellow Shluchot for advice on how to deal with her situation. "I got recipes. From my sister in Argentina I learned how to make peanut butter from scratch." 

The Internet has been a great source of information for the Greenbergs, as many Shluchot at the Conference confirmed it has been for them too, providing new opportunities to share ideas about programming and activities, as well as educational material, and simply supportive conversation.

And while nearly every Chabad organization around the world has been able to fulfill the Rebbe's directives to provide public access to Jewish observance, including, for example, public Chanukah menorahs, Shanghai presents yet another challenge.

"Religious practice is not sanctioned in China, so we cannot have anything public," said Greenberg. "But foreigners are allowed to practice their religion. We were able to have about 150 people at our Rosh HaShanah services. During Chanukah we placed a menorah in the window of a store owned by Jews. You can't imagine how many people stopped by to see it, both those living in Shanghai and visitors. It also prompted them to ask about our presence there."

Meeting these challenges fuels the enthusiasm of all the Shluchot, agreed grandmother, granddaughter and daughter as they met together, along with their sisters of each generation and about 50 cousins and nieces — all of whom are Shluchot as well. "It's been a great reunion," said Alevsky, noting that few in the family got to bed before 4 a.m. each night of the convention, as they talked and caught up on family news.

"If someone in your family needs something, you make time no matter what. We are all part of one family," said Alevsky, referring not to her own family but her extended family of Shluchot, "so we make time for the spiritual life of all who need it. G‑d makes time flexible. That is one of His miracles. It's a privilege to do this work and see miracles happen every day."