Wednesday, February 22, 2017

3,000 Hasidic Women Leaders From Around the Globe Convene in New York 

It felt like a family reunion. Thousands of women were hugging, waving to friends and snapping pictures in every part of the newly renovated Pier 12 Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at the Sunday-night gala banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchos).
The annual dinner event, which featured speakers, live music and inspirational stories from women serving Jewish communities around the world, wrapped up a long weekend of learning, socializing, praying and recharging in Brooklyn, N.Y., for emissaries, lay leaders and guests.

Chani Shemtov, co-director of Chabad at the University of Illinois at for the past nine years with her husband, Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov, served as the evening's MC. "Standing here, taking in this awe-inspiring crowd, the thought that comes to mind is that the entire world is represented right here," said the child of emissaries from Johannesburg, South Africa. "And you, you are the women who hold up our world. There's a spot in the world to which you dedicate your heart and soul. Your waking moments—and many of your should-be sleeping ones—are filled with thoughts of how to infuse your corner of the world and your community with the light and warmth of Yiddishkeit."

Each time a speaker came to the podium to talk about their victories and struggles, heads around the room nodded in agreement. Woman after woman took the stage to address the challenges of being far from people with shared experiences, and also speak about the tools they use to stay connected and bring new ideas to the communities they are building and supporting in 91 countries around the globe.

Growth and outreach were the words emphasized by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. While he praised the shluchosfor their tremendous work, he noted that "there are so many more people to reach. You can't leave out even one person."

He urged the women to "go back with the strength and purpose," encouraging them to take their newfound energy to "reach each and every Jew."

Kotlarsky recognized not only the spiritual work of the emissaries in an evening dedicated to "Permeating the World With Sanctity," but the nitty-gritty as well. On one hand, he said, "shlichus is about spreading holiness and making the world a dwelling place for G d. But at the same time, it comes down to the mundane—the day-to-day life, the cooking and the cleaning and the preparing and making programs, worrying about the bank, worrying about challah-baking, raising children . . . everything that goes into your lives."

The conference brings it all together. "This Kinus," he stated, "is about living up to what the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] wants from us."

Later in the program, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, noted that the entire event honors the 29th yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. He told story after story of the Rebbetzin's kindness, generosity and regal bearing.

As longtime secretary to the Rebbe, he often served as driver to the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin. "There are many, many times I went riding with the Rebbetzin in different places for different lengths of time for different purposes," he related, "and each time, it was very special. I recall her wit, her wisdom; conversations were very, very enlightening, very brilliant. It was just a pleasure to spend time with her."

And while "she is what sustained her husband," he affirmed—looking directly into the room and getting emotional as he said the words—"she adored you. She loved you."

A Different Kind of Connection

Dalia Coleman got involved with Chabad of the coastal city of Milford, Conn., five years ago on a friend's recommendation. On Sunday night, she sat at a table with Chanie Wilhelm, who co-directs Chabad of Milford with her husband, Rabbi Schneur Wilhelm, as they dined alongside members of Wilhelm's family. (Wilhelm and three of her sisters, who serve as emissaries in Scotland, Vietnam and the Netherlands Antilles, read the International Roll Call this year.)

Coleman said she was impressed to see multiple generations of families involved in the same pursuit, noting that "this is so important to them."

In today's turbulent times, she continued, it's meaningful to see such positivity, with a focus on Yiddishkeit. She sees it play out locally at the Wilhelms, where everybody is welcome. And on Shabbat, they put daily matters aside to share in the beauty the tradition offers. "It's a sanctuary on Friday night and Saturday from all the mundane things," said Coleman, "it's a different kind of connection to the world."

Wilhelm noted that the Kinus is an event people look forward to the rest of the year. "It serves to boost Jewish unity," she said, "and feelings of unity among all the shluchos."

For Sara Rosenfeld, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Rabbi Yisrael Rosenfeld, and who heads the curriculum at Beth Rivkah Primary School, the conference is a place to become inspired and rejuvenated. Growing up in Houston in an emissary family, she has now lived and worked in Australia some 28 years. "The world is smaller," she said, citing technology that makes it easier for emissaries to stay connected, "but it's not the same as sitting down with sisters from around the world." 

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