Jewish Women Celebrate Family At Annual Conference

Jewish Women Celebrate Family At Annual Conference

Photo Credit: Boruch Ezagui

by Dvora Lakein - Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters

January 31, 2011

( They left family and fort behind, but for five days of workshops and sessions, these Chabad representatives were exhorted to remember their primary focus: family.

The theme of the 21st International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchos, which concluded Sunday, was the declaration the Lubavitcher Rebbe made when he arrived in the United States in 1940. He arrived not alone, he said, but rather with his home, his wife. This, exhorted the banquet’s keynote speaker Mrs. Goldie Plotkin of Markham, Ontario, “was his strategy for the future of Chabad. Chabad will impact the world through the family unit.”

 For most of the attendees, representatives of Jewish communities in 70 countries, the banquet served as a multi-generational family reunion. Far-flung relatives reunited, and many met for the first time, under the hallowed eaves of the Brooklyn Armory.

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel, recalled  the great importance the Rebbe placed on his “family of shluchim,” specially commissioning a series of photo albums (called Sefer Hashluchim) which remain on his uncluttered desk to this day. The Rebbe was “satisfied, content, and fulfilled,” when looking through those books, remembers Rabbi Krinsky.

One of the matriarchs of those families is Mrs. Shula Kazen, who served the Jewish community of Cleveland for 54 years. Her work, she explains, was a family affair.

“I schlepped my children to meetings, I made them a part of everything we did. And I always did everything with joy.” Today, her children and grandchildren serve communities around the world; she joined them Sunday at the banquet. “I never missed a convention,” stresses Mrs. Kazen. “That first year, I didn’t have a penny to my name, but I worked for it. I came. When you see how others sacrifice of themselves, it is very encouraging.

“And besides,” Mrs. Kazen adds, “it’s good to get out of the house. We are always so busy, busy, busy. We need time for ourselves.”

Sunday’s guests are usually the ones dishing up: they host Shabbat meals for 150, every week; cook meals for hungry college students; and are often the sole kosher address in town. But tonight, they’re on the receiving end. And though they are no stranger to big meals, even they are impressed with the logistics involved. 

All 62,000 square feet of this historic Armory underwent a transformation, think military fatigue to enchanted castle, in order to host 2,700 women. The stage was decked out as a welcoming living room, with plush sofas, Judaica books and items on shelves, roses in overstuffed vases. Pink smoky lighting accented the cavernous hall. To serve so many guests efficiently, mobile kitchens and bathrooms, a wait-staff of 160, and 245 tables were hauled into service.  

It is a far cry from the original convention that Mrs. Mindy Feller of Saint Paul, Minnesota remembers attending.  The highlight for the 330 women present then was a personal meeting with the Rebbe in the basement of 770 Eastern Parkway. He spoke to the women for half an hour before giving each guest two dollars. Following that convention, he called Rabbi Krinsky to inquire if all the attendees had returned home safely.

Mrs. Feller attended every subsequent gathering until her health prohibited it in 2003. She was back at Sunday’s banquet, her first in eight years. “The years that I was not able to attend, I watched it online,” she says. “Seeing how it has grown reflects the impressive breadth of this movement in which is represented in all parts of the world, except Antarctica. The Rebbe’s vision and ability to achieve this are tremendous.”

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters, the driving force of the Conference, inspired the crowd with his opening remarks, and announced a $2 million gift from philanthropist Mr. Gennady Bogolubov to be disbursed among the Shluchim in honor the birth of his grandson.

The theme of unity permeated the guest address, given by four women, who spoke about the distinct ways they connected to Chabad. All revolved around the dozens of families of shluchim that they came in contact with over the years.

It is their children, claimed the Shluchot, who are really accomplishing. Eight-year-old Mushky Uminer, from Palm City, Florida, is a “real drillmaster,” laughs her student Karen Cotler. “She is trying to teach me Hebrew and she won’t give up.” 

Mrs. Cotler was a guest at Sunday’s banquet, her first. “I have never been with so many Jewish women in my life,” she said. “It is amazing and emotional.

“And I know,” she concluded as she packed up to return to her nursing job in Florida, “that I have to continue. I need to continue this journey of learning and of growth.”

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