By Eli Backman
Dinner is served; With 5,000 of your closest friends.
In what is one of the largest sit down dinners in New York City, the banquet has become the gala of the weekend.
The last weekend of November was the annual International Conference for Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries or the Shluchim Kinus. Shluchim means emissaries and it is the name proudly carried by the Rabbis who staff and create Chabad centers around the world. They are the emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose inspiration still drives the Chabad movement today. The Rebbe taught that while living in Jewish NYC or Israel might be good for your own growth, Judaism demands of us to have a wider view. The Rebbe expressed many times how we need to move out and make a difference in the lives of others. That is truly a central theme in Judaism.
But in this one weekend, they return to the seat of inspiration. Looking to inspire themselves and reconnect with the directives and inspiration which fuel their lives in cities many of us have never heard of before. Cities with an active Jewish community often only know of them because of them and their families dedicated work.
Additionally, there is time spent with other teachers and mentors in workshops discussing how to deal with various different life or pulpit situations. There is time spent reconnecting friends and family who live far away. There is time spent in prayer where you have less distractions than the active pulpit rabbi might normally have.
Over Shabbat at the Rabbis’ Farbrengen (gathering), they spend time together singing and discussing life informally, and its many twists and turns.
Then Sunday morning comes and approximately 4,000 rabbis join for a group photo like none other! It makes a Where’s Waldo book look easy! Everyone in a black hat and dark coat looking almost identical. At my height it is hard to keep my head above in a way that you can find me. But I had success this year! Try to find me when you look at the photo.
One year, when the photographer looked at the black hats, coats and white shirts, he turned to his friend and asked, “Why did I bother to bring color film to this photo?”
On Sunday evening at the banquet there is lots of dancing and a roll call of all the countries represented at the event! Joined by lay leaders and dignitaries, it is both a night of ‘wow’ together with a night of inspiration. Combine that with terrific food and eloquent speeches and you have the right ingredients for a wonderful banquet.
While this weekend is for the rabbis, a parallel weekend exists in February for the Chabad wives to have their time for all of the above. Connection, inspiration, friends and the rest of it all. Splitting the weekend allows for someone to be home with the children and community while the other can be fully engaged in the weekend without distraction
The kinus is a tremendous showcase of the raw power of Jewish dedication and community worldwide! Chabad announced the opening of a center in its 100th country, Uganda, during the weekend. A young rabbi and his family set out on the journey many others have taken.To many it might be the road less traveled but not to this weekend’s crowd!
As a closing thought, the Rebbe would often highlight that you can make a difference in your life by also focusing on others around you. You don’t have to travel around the world to impact and inspire others. So start today and make a difference in the life of our UMD community and you just might find yourself in that picture!
Eli Backman is the rabbi at UMD Chabad and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.