NEW YORK, February, 1997 — Under a unified canopy of devotion, some 700 shluchos – female emissaries of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson – gathered in Crown Heights last week for four days of spiritual and social communing.

Covering a broad range of topics from “contemporary women’s issues” to “how to run a bridal fair,” the seventh annual women’s gathering marked the ninth anniversary of the death of Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the wife of the Rebbe.

Beginning with a visit to the Schneersons’ gravesites Jan. 30 and concluding with a fancy banquet Feb. 2, the event afforded women of all ages from around the world an opportunity to network and advise each other in the work of outreach to Jews. Their husbands had their own annual gathering in November.

It also afforded participants a mini-vacation, as many brought only infants along, leaving older children at home. A room of babies in various stages of wakefulness was a powerful reminder of a mother’s duty; beepers went off in pockets throughout the event, sending women running to the nursery.

Between feedings, the women focused on general topics such as organizing a summer camp, relating to the media, explaining religious concepts and counseling the bereaved. Matters of particular interest to women – including the role of the rebbetzin, or rabbi’s wife, and Orthodox Jewish laws regarding sexual relationships – received special attention.

The husband-wife outreach program got its start some 50 years ago, when Rabbi Schneerson sent out the first shliach team to Morocco. Today, some 4,000 Lubavitch couples are living in urban centers and rural communities worldwide.

At times, these couples and their children are the only observant Jews for hundreds of miles around. As a result many couples teach their children at home, sending older children to study in Crown Heights. The social lives of teenagers, and separation of families, were major topics at the gathering.

For mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins, the annual gathering often is the annual family reunion. A typical shluchos experience is that of Chaya Perman, who went with her husband to Caracas, Venezuela some 20 years ago. One of her sisters lives in South Africa, another is in New Jersey, and a brother is in Europe, all working as Lubavitcher emissaries.

Family concerns were evident at the banquet. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky received loud applause when he announced that the Lubavitch organization is going to “try to make a dent in the burden” of sending children away to school by “taking care of at least one month of the year’s cost.”

Rabbi Krinsky said guidelines would be set by Passover, which begins April 21 this year.

He also revealed plans for an endowment fund “exclusively for the Chabad [Houses], the shluchim and their families, to assist tuition, for summer camping, ...pensions and medical insurance.”

The announcement showed, said Chaya Posner of Rancho Mirage, Calif., that the Lubavitch organization “feels and understands the hardship we have.”

Posner and her husband, Shimon, teach their five children at home. Shimon works as a prison chaplain, and Chaya runs a small Jewish school in their desert hometown.

“What unites us all in this room,” she said, “is that everyone here is a party planner, a mother, a housewife” in addition to being educators and outreach experts. “Jewish women today are in the forefront of society,” she said.