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Reflections from a weekend at the International Chabad Conference of Shluchim

Friday, 29 November, 2019 - 2:25 pm

Saturday 2pm

Canva - Person Washing Hands on the Street.jpgI met Gadi from Foshan, a city in China, and he tells me with a smile that he has just opened a Jewish Day School K-12 in his city. I am blown away as it seems like he has only been there for under two years. I then asked him, "how many students do you have?” to which he respond just eight. He then tells me that in his city there are only thirteen Jewish families and about 100 singles from around the world who do business there.

We chatted for a while and I learned about a city that I never knew existed and hear about challenges of another kind. And here I was thinking that Sudbury is a small community.

Friday 10am

I met my friend from Paraguay who I hadn’t seen in a few years. I heard all about Jewish life in Paraguay, the challenges of Kosher Food, and what are the unique challenges as he raised his family in such a small and remote community, and yet how despite all that, there is growth in the community and Jewish learning and education, and his own children are all flourishing.

Friday 1pm

The streets are mobbed by thousands of people preparing for Shabbos, the lines in the Bakery move with incredible speed, as Challah's pour off the shelves. Next door in the Liquor store, wine is being sold be the case, and in the Fish store next door, last minute orders are quickly being prepared. Every few people, another person walks by with a bouquet of flowers for their host or spouse. The air of Shabbos is in the air.

4:15pm an alarm pierces the air of the neighborhood, it is candle lighting time, and this is the alarm that lets the whole neighborhood know. A hush fall on the neighborhood, the stores are all shuttered and in minutes replaced by well-dressed people rushing to Synagogue or going to visit friends.

Friday 5pm

Evening prayers have started in the Chabad HQ at 770 Eastern Parkway, I stand and pray, as the waves of people in the crowd move you a few feet, here and there, every few minutes. Yet within a short while, the vibrant song of Lecha Dodi breaks out as thousands of voices from around the world, sing in unison and welcome in the beautiful powerful day of Shabbat.

Soon dancing breaks out, as thousands of heads bob up and down to the lively singing that accompanies the prayer. In front of me, about a dozen people from the Ukraine who have come along with a Rabbi, are now standing on top of the bench as the signing reverberates throughout the high ceiling Synagogue. I look to my right, and a group from Israel are doing the same, and then I hear and see a group from France doing the same, and then a bang on the Podium, and the Synagogue goes quiet and back to the regular scope of volume for the rest of the evening prayer.

Friday 6pm

I walk home with my daughter Chana and enter 888 Montgomery Street, a huge apartment building in which reside many young Jewish families. As soon as I enter, I see people carrying food, folding chairs and more, as young families with a kid or two in tow, hustle and bustle across the hallways to share a delightful Shabbat Dinner with another family or friends who live down the hallway or on a different floor or wing of the building.

I went upstairs with Chana and joined a beautiful Shabbat Dinner with my sister in law Sara Aidel and her husband Mendy, along with mutual friends and several little children. Later as I left the building, the singing and melodies came out of various windows as we walked by them, both from that building and the houses and buildings we passed. Shabbat Melodies, Chasssidic Tunes, being sung by a few or sometimes dozens of voices, as they celebrated Shabbat around their family tables.

Saturday 7:20am

I arrived in 770 bright and early hoping to get a seat and pray normally, but alas, the place was packed and not a seat was to be found. Yet I did manage to find a great place to stand and study and pray for the next 6 hours. Soon I was well positioned and began to learn a Chassidic text and then joined in with everyone else at 8:30am for the reading of the book of Psalms. Then at 10:30am the morning service began, like last night the place was jammed packed with thousands of people.

I watched community leaders, Rabbi’s of cities, scholars and more, all squashed together, and focused on their prayer books, as they swayed and mediated in prayer, while looking out here and there to make sure the person, squashed next to them was still able to breathe and smile. Then the highlight of the prayer for me, the Kedusha, during the repetition of the Amidah, finally arrived. The melody of Lechatchila Ariber was chosen by the Cantor, and thousands of voices sing together this beautiful and powerful song. Hearts rise, eyes close, the energy of this slow and moving song along with the powerful feelings and spirit that are being expressed by thousands of diverse people, representing every corner of the earth, fill the room.

At that moment, each one of us contemplate the meaning of the words, as we ask G-d to shine his countenance on earth, and talk of our yearning for G-d and for making the world be the place that G-d intends. Then the song almost ends, and the Cantor, sings the last line of the prayer, with words of hope in the future through the coming of the Messiah, and you can hear a pin drop as the silence of thousands, along with the piercing last note of the melody which while uttered only by the Chazzan, are being felt in every heart in that room, reach their highest pitch and message.

Saturday 7pm

I give a ride to a Rabbi who I don’t know, who is from Michigan. He was born in Russia and works with the Russian Community in Detroit. Great conversations and stuff.

Sunday 2pm

I meet my friend who runs a Chabad Center in a small town in Israel’s south with just 400 families in it. He describes to me some of the great stuff that is happening in his town and showed me where a rocket recently fell just 50 meters from his Center.

I asked him more about the rocket fire and what it is his like for his children. So he then described to me, how two of his children sleep in the secure room in his house which acts as the shelter, and then he told me, that their village has 40 seconds from when the Rocket Alert goes off until it will hit or be shot down, so he and his wife always get their other kids, but walk calmly to the shelter, so as not to arouse any panic. They also sing tunes as they collect the kids from their bedrooms and reassure them that it will all be okay, and then wait for the all clear. Yes, each place has different challenges.

Sunday 7pm

The great Banquet with 6000 in attendance in NJ. I don’t really have the words to describe it, but I will simply say, that the speeches by Ambassador David Friedman, Rabbi Yitzchok Shochet and then finally the amazing presentation about finding Jews in far off places were all epic and very powerful.

The evening ended with 6,000 rising to their feet after the roll call and breaking out in electrifying dancing for 30 minutes, to which no words, can truly describe with that energy and joy was like in the room at that moment. As I danced shoulder to shoulder with community leaders and Rabbi’s from Ukraine, Brazil, Utah, Israel, Argentina, France and everywhere else, I like everyone else danced to the tune of the brighter Jewish future that is happening in each community around the world, and we danced as we celebrated the vision of Rabbi Schnerhson who believed in this and began a spiritual change that would seek out Jews with love and joy, after the horrors of the Holocaust.

Together in those final moments of the convention, after days of workshops and sessions on Education, Community Building, Mental Health, Stress Management, Adult Ed and so much more, we all knew we were going to carry back the lessons learned, the joys of the weekend, and more importantly, a determination to make a brighter Jewish tomorrow and an even better world.

Monday 11am

I meet my friend Yossi, a Rabbi in a small town outside Netanya, who is beloved by his community and is an old friend of mine. He is pushing along a wheelchair with his 13 year old firstborn son, who joined him for the very first time at the International Convention of Chabad Shluchim. I beeped the horn and he came over and said hello. His son had a spinal issue as a baby and although cognitively he is fine, he has remained paralyzed from his waist down. I chatted with the boy for a few minutes and smiled to my friend and admired him even more, as I watched the love and attention that he gave to his child, and what an amazing gift he had given him, to fly him to America and experience his own special time as a junior Chabad Chasid and representative.

Monday 12:30pm

The car is jammed packed, and we are off to Sudbury, but not before we stop and say hello to Levi who is studying in Westchester…..

Well Diggers

In this week’s portion we read all about the Patriarch Isaac, who we are told was a well digger. In Chassidic teachings it is brought down that in addition to the literal meaning, the deeper meaning of Isaac being a well digger, was his determination to dig below the surface and discover the water, the source of life, that lay beneath the surface, concealed by dirt and mud, which he believed was innately there in everyone he encountered.

This past Shabbos, was a Shabbos with Well Diggers from around the world, who toil each day, to discover the living waters and life, that is within every person, and in every place around the world. Together let’s continue digging wells!

Good Shabbos


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