I was invited by Rabbi Baitelman to join him and almost 5000 other Chabad Rabbi’s for the International conference of Shluchim. I accepted the invitation and just returned last Monday evening. The Rabbi had asked me if I could share some of my experiences with you, so I made a few notes.
I’ve been wanting to go for many years but the timing was never right. However having a green light from my wife to go for a weekend to New York with the boys, how could I say no. Valeriy and Ira also joined in representation of our community as well as Yushuron’s father Leon.Together we spent 4 days strengthening our goals, motivations and commitment. We met Rabbi’s from around the globe both young and old, some with thriving communities, some just starting out. Some from war zones, and some from the most remote places on the globe. What I learned very quickly is that a Chabad Rabbi is no different than a soldier. When I walked thru the streets of Crown Heights, there was a definite buzz in the air. The welcoming of all the soldiers of whom so many were coming home to see their families, their friends and to recharge their batteries. To witness this first hand is something special. I myself had never been to Crown heights before but to have an opportunity to experience it during the Kinus, was electrifying. I couldn’t stop smiling for 4 days.
From the moment I stepped off the plane, Rabbi Baitelman was there waiting for me in the cold to take me directly to the Ohel to visit the Rebbe’s resting place. This is something that everyone should experience. It was very early in the morning but judging the size of the crowds, I was starting to get an idea what the rest of the weekend would be like. I had an opportunity to pray by the Rebbe’s gravesite, and then we walked around the cemetery which is unlike any other I had ever seen. From there we went to drop off my bags at my host family and I proceeded to walk Kingston Avenue for my first time on my way to daven at 770 (Chabad world headquarters). This is when I truly started to feel the buzz. Knowing that Shabbat was only hours away, the life on the street was surreal. People were just arriving, everyone was racing to get somewhere. Whether it be to daven shacharit or prepare for shabbat, if you like people watching, this is the place to do it.
I had spare time to explore NYC both Friday and Monday and was lucky to do so with Valeriy and Ira. I’ll spare you all the details of our adventures on those days, but just know, driving around NYC with the both of them and their trusty GPS is an experience all on its own.
Friday night after shul, I got to go to the Rebbe’s office where we said some tehillim. I got to picture what it must have been like for all the people who were so lucky to have yechidus with the Rebbe. From world leaders to our very own Rabbi at his Bar Mitzvah. It was nothing like I had imagined, it was better. By dinner, I was beginning to get quite sleepy as I had been awake for almost 24 hrs by this point and the rush was beginning to wear off. My host family, Chanie’s sister prepared a beautiful shabbat table, I could tell she payed close attention to her older sister. I crashed by 10.
Shabbat morning, completely recharged, I walked to shul by myself an entire 100 meters. It was long and cold, nothing like the short walks we have here:) Everyone was so welcoming, davening was very familiar to the power of 1000 but for me I found the voice of this particular Rabbi that was the Chazzan on that day, to be something special. Just another piece of my trip that continued to inspire me. The kiddush was warm and just like home, everyone helped in the transformation of the shul into a dining hall. After the kiddush, we began to walk to Rabbi Baitelman’s mothers home for Kiddush lunch in honour of his Father’s yartzeit. I had no idea what I was about to experience. In difference to any other kiddush lunch by a Rabbi’s house, upon our arrival, there were already what felt like 200 hundred Rabbis in their small and modest Brooklyn house. I thought I would have been intimidated by the scores of people that I didn’t know but instead I was made to feel welcome and just jumped right in as if we were all apart of the same family. At one point, I found myself sitting at a table (there were many) with the sheliach from St.Petersburgh, Russia, The Hague, Charkov, Ukraine and so many other places too many to name. Every 10 minutes another 10 or 20 Rabbi’s continued to walk thru the door. Some stayed for a short time, some stayed longer than others. Everyone had a smile and the conversations were amazing, learning about different communities around the globe. In shul we were told of a story that happened a couple of weeks prior to the Kinus, where 13 University Students showed up at the door step of what they thought was their home stay family for the weekend. A family by the name of Rubashkin. When Mrs. Rubashkin opened the door to find these 13 young people waiting to come in, without hesitation she invited them in and offered them some food. Little did the boys know that behind the scenes, her family was reorganizing themselves in order to accommodate these boys even though they were not expecting them. A little later on, once they were all settled, they over heard another Mrs Rubashkin leaving a message on the answering machine telling Mrs. Rubashkin how they were expecting 13 University students and none had showed up. Realizing they were in the wrong Rubashkin house, they were overly impressed with the warmth of the family to not say anything. This is the warmth I had experienced first hand on Shabbat.
On Sunday was the convention for the Lay Leaders. All the guests and some Rabbi’s convened at the Marriott hotel in Brooklyn. In traditional Jewish fashion we davened and then ate. When the program began, we had to choose between 2 rooms. One was a discussion with Rabbi’s from Israel about the work they had done throughout the war this past summer and the other with Rabbi’s from the Ukraine who are stationed in small towns on the border of Russia in the heart of the current war zone. Since I knew so little about Ukraine, I chose to go there. 3 Rabbi’s from Lugansk, Sumi and Charkov spoke of their current experiences in the midst of the war. Rabbi Gopin of Lugansk has already had to evacuate his home with his wife and 7 children and continues to help his community from neighbouring towns. In order to lighten up the conversation, they spoke of a Russian man in the former Soviet Union who was studying a Hebrew dictionary in a public park. A KGB soldier approaches the man and tells him that it’s against the law to do this and if he catches him again, he’ll throw him in jail. The man of course ignored him. The next day the man was in the same park studying away in his dictionary when the soldier returned. With a gun pointed at him, he said I told you that this is illegal and you did not listen, now I Have to take you away. The man responded, you do what you got to do and I’ll do what I got to do. The soldier asked him, why do you want to learn hebrew anyway?, The man told him that when I die, in heaven they speak hebrew. The soldier asked him, how do you know you’re going to heaven and not the other place? The man responded, I’m already fluent in Russian.
Rabbi Levitansky of Sumi told us about his community and this young Jewish man who had just become a surgeon in the local hospital. At the same time, with all the turmoil around him, he was getting closer to his roots and began to go to shul when he could, to put on tefillin. The Rabbi had invited him for Shabbat many times but he was never able to accept the invitation. When the Rabbi asked him why he was unable, he told him that as the new doctor in the hospital, he had no say in regards to his schedule and the senior doctors always took the weekends off. Nothing he could do and he would not be able to experience shabbat. As their friendship grew, the young doctor asked his Rabbi that should he ever go home to the states where he’s from, if he could return with medical supplies for the hospital as they are very limited in what they had. Specifically a colonoscopy machine. A Chabad Rabbi never turns down a request to help. Rabbi Levitansky did take a trip home to Santa Monica, California and while visiting, he spoke with various people he knew in the local Chabad house. One of which was a doctor. He asked him if he would be willing to donate any supplies for him to return with, specifically a colonoscopy machine. It just so happened that the Dr had an old expired, out dated machine collecting dust in his office. He said I don’t even know if it works but it’s yours if you want it. The Rabbi was grateful and managed to take it home with him. One can only imagine the look on the young Dr’s face when the Rabbi made good with his request. As months had gone by, one shabbat day in shul, the Rabbi couldn’t believe his eyes when the young Dr. walked in. He asked him, how is it that you are here? The young Dr told him that thanks to you Rabbi, now I make my own schedule, Shabbat Shalom Rabbi.
This is a great example of how Chabad encourages everyone around the globe to do mitzvot, no matter what it is, no matter how big or small, you never know the impact you may have on someone around the world. We spent the rest of the afternoon hearing various speakers, Rabbis, authors and even some of the guests about their relationship with Chabad and Jewish communities around the world.
Finally, the buses came and took us to the main event. Not too many places can accommodate 5200 people for a sit down dinner. So Chabad rented an entire building at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Picture an empty warehouse of 4 walls and a ceiling the lengths of 2 soccer fields fully decorated, draped in white linen, chandeliers, round tables, big screens all around, a revolving center stage and 5199 men with beards and me. It was the most humbling experience ever. We had the opportunity to hear from Chabad leaders, dignitaries and the keynote speaker Rabbi Dubov from Wimbledon.
I am so grateful for this opportunity and thank all of you for helping me feel community which has inspired me to do more, to learn more and to smile more.
Any single good deed can be the one that tips the balance of the entire world towards redemption.