The Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson used to say: "When two Jews get together something good has to come out of it."
Sunday, November 24, New Jersey Convention Center accommodated each close to 6,000 people in all. They came together for the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), which brings together Chabad rabbis and lay leaders from all 50 states and 100 countries, from California to Rwanda to Myanmar.
In a year of growing challenges for the Jewish people, with anti-Semitism increasing both domestically and worldwide, including the horrific shooting in April at Chabad of Poway that left one woman dead and three injured, the conference struck a defiant and positive tone, focusing on all the good that has been accomplished and all the work on behalf of the Jewish people yet to come.
The evening was emceed as always by the inimitable Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad movement—who spoke of the challenges and accomplishments the Chabad emissaries encountered their work.
The first speech was that of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, co-director with his wife, Dina, of Chabad of Temecula, Calif. Hurwitz was struck with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and, living in Los Angeles and unable to speak or move of his own strength, his speech—which he wrote with his eyes—was delivered by his son, Shalom, who just recently enjoyed his bar mitzvah.
The keynote address was given by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who recalled his first interaction with Chabad back in 1994, as well as how Rabbi Wolowik of Chabad of the Five Towns in Woodmere, N.Y. during the weeks prior to the U.S. decision to move the American embassy to Israel’s eternal capital of Jerusalem took him to the Ohel, the Rebbe’s resting place in Queens, N.Y.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, a Chabad emissary who has served as senior rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in London since 1991, shared his personal recollection of a private audience with the Rebbe he had together with his parents and family as a 3-year-old child. It was then when they felt the charge the Rebbe had given to his emissaries around the world, to travel out to all four corners of the world and soothe the crying Jewish child, whether literal or figurative, wherever he or she may be.
In a video presentation that followed, the camera followed the journeys of Rabbi Yehuda Weg, co-director of Chabad of Oklahoma in Tulsa; Rabbi Zeev Stiefel, co-director of Chabad of Piestany, Slovakia; and Rabbi Mendy Chitrik of Chabad of Istanbul in Turkey. As the three-part video unfolded, the audience learned of the Jewish woman of Moroccan descent Weg discovered living on the dusty backroads of Oklahoma, the Slovakian Jew from Kosice who learned he was Jewish from his Holocaust-survivor grandmother on her deathbed and began growing closer to his Jewish roots via Stiefel, and the Turkish family that found out they were Jewish when their grandmother revealed that she, too, was a European Jew who had escaped to Turkey after the Holocaust to start a new life.
The evening wrapped up with the yearly Roll Call, during which Kotlarsky read out the names of the 100 countries and all 50 states with permanent Chabad emissaries. Announcing a new Chabad center in Myanmar (once called Burma), as well as one in Turks and Caicos, a Carribean island known for its white beaches and blue water but not its Jewish infrastructure, Kotlarsky ended off with his now-trademark “A round of applause for the whole world!” before the room broke out into scheduled, but nonetheless very much spontaneous, dance.
Two Jews in a distant Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the hometown of the Rebbe, were among thousands of Jews from all over the world who did not make it to be present at the Kinus physically this year. They were watching online broadcast, feeling the drive and the spirit of the dinner, dancing together with the delegates of their community, sharing the joy and inspiration to make a world a dwelling place for the Almighty.
If you want to enjoy the event and feel its atmosphere fully, you can watch a four-hour video of the entire gathering: