Whether by plane, train or car, thousands of Jewish activists from all over the world made their way to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., for the much-anticipated 25th annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. The rabbis began trickling in on Tuesday as their flights landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

More so than in years past, this year’s conference will shine a spotlight on Jewish unity. It takes place in a year of hakhel, a once in seven years occurrence that was marked during the time of the Holy Temple by a gathering of men, women and children for a special Torah reading in Jerusalem. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, stressed in his teachings on the subject that in modern times, that spirit of unity can and should be accomplished by Jews everywhere in the world.

“There could hardly be a better way to honor this hakhel year than with the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, conference director and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. “As is well known, the Rebbe was emphatic about marking the year of hakhel by seizing every chance for Jews to congregate in an atmosphere of holiness.”

For six days, attendees to the largest-ever conference will discuss everything from how to better manage a classroom to how to be better police or military chaplains. Part extended family reunion, part morale booster and part business meeting, the conference will spread across five different venues in Crown Heights because of the sheer number of participants. A separate International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries will take place in February.

This year, the emissaries will be introduced to the new Chabad Teen Network, a program launched at several Chabad Houses across the United States that caters to teenagers and young adults. Coming off of a successful weekend gathering in Crown Heights last week – the project’s first – the teen network boasts a full-color magazine and is aiming to expand its enrollment.

Several sessions will touch on the personal issues that affect all emissaries, from balancing their responsibilities to their families and communities to maintaining programming budgets in the midst of an economic downturn. One panel will tackle a common phenomenon amongst emissaries in isolated Jewish communities: Faced with a lack of Jewish educational options, many emissaries are forced to send their children to schools hours away for weeks or months at a time.

Other workshops will bring in outside experts to explain the ins and outs of zoning laws, recognizing when to seek professional help for community members, and how to utilize social-networking Web sites such as Facebook.

For the emissaries, though, one of the chief draws of the conference – known colloquially as the kinus, from a Hebrew word meaning “gathering” – is its power to inspire.

“The kinus is much more than learning,” said Rabbi Mendel Edelman, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Luxembourg, where he and his wife Rochel lead more than 20 classes a week. “It recharges your batteries.”

Israeli ambassador Yehuda Avner will address the gala banquet at this year’s International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. (Photo: Menachem Serraf)
Israeli ambassador Yehuda Avner will address the gala banquet at this year’s International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. (Photo: Menachem Serraf)

Throughout the conference, the Rebbe’s office and library will be open to visiting emissaries. In addition, shuttle buses will transport people to the Rebbe’s resting place at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights.

A high point will come on Sunday night, when emissaries will join with supporters and lay leaders for a gala banquet at Manhattan’s Pier 94. The banquet’s proceedings, which will include a special address by former Israeli ambassador Yehuda Avner, will be broadcast live on the Internet by Chabad.org. In addition, Jewish Educational Media will unveil an original video production that highlights the interconnectedness of Jewish communities around the globe.

“There is so much fragmentation in the world today,” said Rabbi Moshe Bryski, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Conejo in Agoura Hills, Calif., who will deliver the keynote address at the banquet. “From the economic situation to international tensions, there is fear and disillusionment looming in people’s hearts. Now, more than ever, people are looking to connect, to unify around principles of absolute goodness and truth.”