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Chabad Shluchim Conference Report

Chabad Shluchim Conference Report

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Dr. Harold Ginzburg and Rabbi Mendel Rivkin spent the weekend of November 11-15 in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York attending Chabad's annual International Conference of Shluchim (emissaries). The following is an article that Dr. Ginzburg penned about the experience. Thank you to Shmais.com for the photo.

This winter, I found myself being called something I had never been called before, a Shliach, an emissary.  I was a representative from and for the Chabad-Lubavitch community of New Orleans.  More than 3,000 Shluchim from six continents came together for a five day meeting, November 10 – 15, 2004, in Brooklyn.  More than 2,500 were rabbis from local congregations, from communities, from university centers, and, as some of my patients might say of their clergy, most are “working preachers,” that is, they minister to their flock and also work as educators.  The lay leaders and rabbis did what everyone does at conferences: talk, eat, eat, talk, and share ideas.  In Brooklyn, the Chabad-Lubavitch community is a tightly knit community. People dress alike; the men dress in dark suits and have long beards, and the women wear long-sleeved dresses and keep their own hair covered. 

 

The essence of Chabad-Lubavitch, whether it is in New Orleans, New York, The West Bank [not the one across the GNO bridge], London, or Moscow, is maintaining traditional values and establishing and encouraging Jewish education. Yiddishkeit is more than davening (praying), it is more than dressing in one manner or another, it is developing and expressing a sense of Jewish pride and a sense of belonging to our extended Jewish community. 

 

Now that I have visited the synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway with its thousands of congregants, praying, socializing, arguing and discussing politics, with its announcements of engagements, marriages, births, and deaths, I can sit back and begin to appreciate why orthodox Jewry, whether of the Litvak, Sefardic, or Lubavitch variety was feared and envied over the centuries.  A congregation is an extended family, and families reach out to help family members and, occasionally, strangers.  There is nothing sinister about that.  For Chabad-Lubavitch, reaching out means helping those who have been born into a Jewish home become more aware of their heritage and their religion. 

 

An international meeting lends itself to finding commonalties and differences while trying to find common solutions to common problems.  The common problems explored include explaining what the purpose or role of Chabad is in their community, of dealing with prejudice against Jews, against Israel, and against Chabad.  Chabad evokes a negative image both within the Jewish community and external to it.  For those who follow the more orthodox teachings, for those who wear garments and dress in a manner different from their fellow Jews, they are perceived to be a threat to externalized or apparent assimilation.  Many Jews, in Louisiana, in the United States, and throughout the world, prefer to remain outwardly invisible about their Jewish faith.  Many Jews feel pressured not to be too outwardly labeled with their religion, especially since the Holocaust is not even one generation away for many of us.

 

Establishing and maintaining Chabad Centers in this country can, ironically, be just as difficult as establishing and maintaining such facilities in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.  Indifference, resentment, and concern about an orthodox Jewish hand reaching out to other Jews, seems to be a universal issue. 

 

Was the conference a success?  For me, it was.  I was raised in what I categorize as a pragmatically orthodox Litvak tradition.  We kept kosher at home and the family retail business remained open on Saturday.  Living in New Orleans provides me the opportunity to learn more about the Chabad-Lubavitch community.  That community has brought me back closer to the traditions with which I grew up and yet had drifted away from for a number of decades.  The international meeting illustrated that the Chabad-Lubavitch world-wide community, in general, and certainly the Chabad-Lubavitch community of Louisiana, see as its mission helping people become more aware and more knowledgeable about their faith. 

 

The Rebbe wrote:

“May G‑d grant that your words coming from the heart will penetrate the many hearts which are ready and eager to respond, and may G‑d grant you success in this as in all your other endeavors for yourself and your family.”

 

That is the daily challenge for members of the Chabad-Lubavitch community.   

 

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