Hundreds of campus Chabad House directors and their families returned to their home schools after spending four days networking and learning about innovations in Jewish programming as part of the 10th annual conference of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

Held at the Hudson Valley Resort in Kerhonkson, N.Y., the conference provided directors of more than 165 centers around the world the chance to perfect their efforts at empowering Jewish students to embrace their shared heritage, explained Chabad on Campus executive vice president Rabbi Yossy Gordon.

“We strive to provide an additional measure of excellence and this conference is all about that, about helping Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries on campus find ways to become even better at what they’re doing,” he said. “We try to make sure that there’s a valuable growth experience for every Chabad Hosue director and every one of their children.”

This year’s conference had a dual focus of helping veteran emissaries – those who have been on campus for more than a decade – expand and improve on prior growth, and strengthening an ever-expanding crop of freshman emissaries. Participants left motivated by the shared experiences of more senior emissaries, many of whom told of directions they received firsthand from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

“It’s a tremendous inspiration, especially for those of today’s emissaries who never had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe,” said Gordon.

For Rabbi Yitzi Steiner, director of Chabad at the University of Minnesota, the conference was a chance to learn from others. A first-year attendee, he said he was inspired by the workshops and also the camaraderie. He enjoyed getting to hear about other emissaries’ experiences on campus, and being reminded that while no two places are alike, all the emissaries are doing the same thing.

“The best part of networking is trying to find the campus that is most similar to yours and doing what you are able to exchange ideas,” he explained.

Rabbi Shmuel Lew, director of the Lubavitch House School in London, inspires children of campus emissaries during the 10th annual conference of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation. (Photo: Bentzi Sasson/Chabad.edu)
Rabbi Shmuel Lew, director of the Lubavitch House School in London, inspires children of campus emissaries during the 10th annual conference of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation. (Photo: Bentzi Sasson/Chabad.edu)

Among the many pieces of advice he’ll hold on to when he returns to his 1,500-strong Jewish student base is to stay true to himself and to know his students.

“Don’t just try and mold yourself to be someone else,” he advised. “Take advantage of your gifts and your capabilities and execute them.”

Rabbi Mendy Lent, a returning emissary from the University of Nottingham in England, spoke of the brotherhood the event promotes. He said he appreciates knowing that “everybody’s in it together through thick and thin.” That goes for everything from reaching out to students and donors, as well as to making sure families living on campuses can maintain their values while living far from a Jewish infrastructure.

A third-year attendee, Lent said one of his favorite aspects of the conference was the opportunity it gives his children, ages four, three, and one and a half, to be with kids their own age. While their parents attend a variety of sessions, the children get to enjoy a little bit of a summer camp atmosphere.

“It’s going to be very hard to take them away from it and get back to real life,” he said.

While his children played and sang songs with a team of volunteer counselors and babysitters, Lent concentrated on learning about ways to get more college students involved in leadership positions, a key aspect of this year’s conference.

“It’s a lot easier now when there’s a big focus on it,” he said.

Alaska resident Mushky Greenberg came to the conference to direct the girls’ camp with California native Devori Hecht. She noted that directing a Chabad House demands the total commitment of emissaries’ entire families.

“I want the children to go home feeling like the luckiest people in the world,” said Greenberg, “and so happy and proud about their lives and what they do.”