In many ways, it was a typical ladies’ getaway: a trip out of town with close friends, great food prepared by someone else, and time to relax a bit from the work back home.
But the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Shluchos — a conference for the women emissaries of the outreach movement, held from Jan. 22 through 27 in Brooklyn — went beyond renewing friendships and eating well, according to several area women who attended all or part of the convention.
“It was amazing,” said Amy Schwartz, who is not a Lubavitch emissary, but who attended the banquet at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan on Sunday night as a guest. “It was totally inspirational to see thousands of women in that room with a common purpose, and a common goal to bring Jews into the fold. It gave me a deep appreciation for their mission for the sake of God and for Judasim. The energy in the room was palpable. There were a lot of very powerful women in that room.”
Almost 3,000 women from 81 countries — who co-direct Chabad houses with their husbands — came together to motivate and empathize with one another on the anniversary of the death of Chaya Mushka, the late wife of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Many of the women run their Chabad houses in locations that have relatively few Jews, and fewer Jewish resources, and look forward to connecting with their colleagues from all over the world to share ideas for everything from programming, to childrearing in places that can be isolating.
“I look forward to this every year,” said Chana’le Stein, who runs the Chabad house in Altoona, alongside her husband, Rabbi Yossi Stein. “We are two hours from Pittsburgh, and it can be isolating, with the kids not having a school, and not having friends that necessarily have the same values. The conference feels like a family reunion, even though there are thousands of women there, and I don’t know everyone.”
Like scores of other attendees, Stein came to this year’s conference with an infant.
“They have this whole operation of babysitting,” she said. “They have hundreds of babysitters. They try to have one babysitter per child.”
The babysitting allows the mothers to attend learning sessions, or to just have time to connect informally with each other.
“I enjoy the informal part,” Stein said. “We stayed up late at night talking, inspiring each other, and singing Chasidic songs.”
While Chabad headquarters does not fund the individual Chabad centers, it does put money into its women’s conference, according to Stein.
“We’re well taken care of,” she said.
The attendees are housed with family or friends in Crown Heights, but join together at various Brooklyn venues for classes, to socialize and to eat.
“Each day for lunch and supper, you get a wonderful meal that you don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning up after yourself,” Stein said.
Entertainment is also provided at the conference, and this year featured a sort of talent show where many of the women sang, danced, and presented dramatic and comedic performances for each other.
“It was a very exceptional evening,” said Batya Rosenblum, co-director of Chabad of the South Hills along with her husband, Rabbi Mendy Rosenblum.
A second conference for “junior shluhos ” — daughters up to 13 years old — was held simultaneously.
“Many of these girls are in remote countries,” said Rosenblum. “They’re on a mission, too.”
The girls, including Rosenblum’s daughter, Rikel, also performed one evening for their mothers.
One high point of the event for many of the women is reconnecting with family members who serve as emissaries all over the world. Rosenblum was reunited with sisters-in-law from Connecticut and Florence, Italy, and Stein got to spend time with sisters from Oregon and Rome.
Being together with their “sister shluchos” is re-energizing, Rosenblum said.
“I feel like it’s a tremendous shot in the arm of inspiration as we continue our job here,” she said. “It’s a real break, and a real recharging or our batteries.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)