Thousands of rabbinical scholars, Jewish community leaders, educators and counselors from around the world filled the landmark Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Sunday night for the gala banquet of the 28th annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. Joining tens of thousands more who watched the proceedings online, the crowd of emissaries and their lay leaders, representing thousands of locations in communities large and small, gave British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks a standing ovation as he ascended a rotating stage to address the gathering.

Sacks took the podium and announced that, having been personally touched by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, speaking in front of his emissaries was a deep honor.

“I can tell you from the depths of my heart, I’ve received many honors, but none as moving and as humbling as this,” he said to thunderous applause, “because you, the shluchim, are among the most important people in the Jewish world today.”

Highlighting the partnerships between Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and lay leaders in such disparate locations as the Caribbean and North Africa, the banquet capped several days of workshops, study sessions and lectures. The event included its signature roll call of global locations served by Chabad Houses, and when Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, and the banquet’s emcee, invited all those in the hall to stand, the room erupted in dance.

“Tonight is the night where we commit ourselves and recommit ourselves,” Kotlarsky said earlier, referring to the role emissaries fill in providing Jews around the world access to traditional Jewish life, customs and teachings, and opportunities for Jewish growth.

Sacks told those gathered in the hall and watching online that they were doing nothing less than transforming the Jewish world.

“And why are you doing so?” he asked. “Because directly or indirectly, you have been touched as I was touched by one of the greatest Jewish leaders, not just of our time but of all time.”

The chief rabbi related how his travels some years ago took him from Los Angeles to New York on a non-stop 72 hour bus ride to meet the Rebbe in his study at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

A son of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries announces a country during the signature roll call of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.
A son of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries announces a country during the signature roll call of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

“I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions. He gave me intellectual, philosophical answers and then he did what no one else had done. … He started asking me questions.”

What followed was a conversation about possibilities, change and choices.

“Here I was, a nobody from nowhere,” recalled Sacks, “and here was one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world challenging me not to accept the situation, but to change it.”

The Rebbe’s inspiring words led Sacks down a path of immense Jewish growth: After finishing university, he took leadership positions as both a rabbi training other rabbis and in academia. As chief rabbi, he said, he has made it a priority to do what the Rebbe would have wanted him to do: “to build schools, to improve Anglo Jewish education, to reach out to make not followers, but leaders.”

As the presentations progressed, comments rolled in from viewers at Jewish.TV, the multimedia portal of, who praised the work of Chabad-Lubavitch and the impact its emissaries have on Jews in places large and small.

Dancing erupts at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.
Dancing erupts at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

Echoing those sentiments, Rabbi Mendy Cohen, director of Chabad of Sacramento, Calif., said in an address representing all of the emissaries that whether serving a community of tens of thousands of people or a remote collection of a couple hundred Jews, each and every Chabad House provides a lasting impression. If there is someone who wants to become closer to Judaism, “he has a home where he can sustain himself physically and spiritually.”

Joshua Close, a software developer who came from Broomfield, Colo., and spent his first Sabbath in an observant Jewish community this weekend, said he’s coming away inspired after having seen a whole community walking to synagogue together.

“I’ve never seen that before,” he said.

Sacks’ speech left an especially strong impression.

“Seeing somebody outside of Chabad have such a big influence by Chabad is very powerful,” commented Blose. “It shows that Chabad is focused on all Jews, like myself.”

Alan Bram, a businessman from Riverdale, N.Y., with connections in Flint, Mich., joined Rabbi Yisroel Weingarten, director of Chabad House Lubavitch of Eastern Michigan, at the dinner. He brought his brother to share the experience and said that he looks forward to working on new projects and ideas to help his Chabad House grow in the year ahead.

“As always, it does not cease to amaze me how beautiful and how organized it was,” he said of the dinner.

For Ben Federman, CEO of 1 Sale a Day, the sea of men linked in dance around the room, first from their tables and then in a mass that swept through the hall, highlighted a deep connection that permeated all who attended.

Said Federman: “I just danced with the whole world.”