The editor-in-chief of the Ami Magazine, Rechy Frankfurter, published the following editorial in this week’s edition of the publication describing her experience attending the Kinus Hashluchos in New York last month:
When Batya Lisker, the secretary of Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, longtime aide to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, invited me to attend the 41st International Shluchos Convention, my initial reaction was to thank her but regretfully decline. Given my workload as editor, wife and mother, grandmother and member of the “sandwich generation,” discretionary time is in short supply. However, when I remembered how inspired I was the last time I went, I decided to go for it—and was glad I did. When I later told Rea Bochner that I’d been there and she told me she was jealous, it almost made me feel guilty for having had the privilege.
It’s at times like these that I envy writers with the ability and skills to convey the intangible. For although the affair at the Hilton was both beautiful and elegant, that’s not what made it special. Rather, it was the electric atmosphere in the ballroom as 3,500 women, many of whom have dedicated their lives to bringing Torah and mitzvos to G-d-forsaken places all over the globe, came together in a spirit of sisterhood, a shared mission and truly inspirational courage.
Sitting at my table was the shluchah from Nepal, Chani Lifshitz. I had actually met Chani at the last convention I attended, held only a few weeks after the tragedy in Mumbai. Chani had been a close friend of Rivky Holtzberg, hy”d. The wound was still so fresh that as Chani described their relationship there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.
To give you an idea of the day-to-day lives of some of these brave women, Chani had spoken of Rivky as her “closest neighbor” because they were only a two-hour flight away from each other and lived in the same time zone! Each morning when they woke up they would email each other and were able to stay in touch throughout the day. Chani has been living in Nepal for 20 years.
Also at the table was Nechama Dina Kantor. She and her husband are the head shluchim in Thailand. With the help of four other Chabad couples, they served over 66,000 Shabbos meals to guests over the past year, mostly young Israelis on tour of this land of avodah zarah after completing their stint in the army. For many, it is their first introduction to genuine Yiddishkeit.
She related how one time her husband and another shliach were traveling by plane when the stewardess kept coming over and asking if they needed anything, offering expensive snacks and other freebies as a courtesy. When they asked herwhy they were receiving special treatment in economy class, she explained that it was because of them that her family was now keeping Shabbos. Her sister had once been backpacking in Thailand and spent a Shabbos in the Chabad House.
That Shabbos had inspired her, and she in turn had inspired the rest of the family.
Rivkah Kotlarsky, the wife of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the annual Shluchim Conference, was also seated at our table. A terrific hostess, her warmth and enthusiasm enhanced the evening and made it even more enjoyable.
Unbeknownst to her ahead of time, she herself was rewarded with hearing a wonderful story about the grandmother she never knew.
In the course of a conversation with another guest she learned that her bubbe had taken the grandmother of this woman under her wing when she was only a young kallah, and at great risk to her own life had convinced and helped her to get married al pi halachah. In fact, it was this act of mesiras nefesh in Communist Russia that enabled their observant descendants to meet at this gathering celebrating the perpetuation of Torah and Yiddishkeit—despite their grandmothers having been persecuted for that very reason!
Her grandmother, Mrs. Kotlarksy shared with us, had actually been arrested and tortured to death by the Communists. Trying to elicit an admission that she had an accomplice to her “crimes,” they tortured her son in her presence. Not only did she refuse to acknowledge their relationship, she later bequeathed to him a package of sugar cubes she had painstakingly saved up so he could have them on Pesach and not eat chametz. This holy woman knew that by then she would not be in this world. She died al kiddush Hashem.
In truth, all of the shluchos are the spiritual if not physical descendants of such holy women. One of the women described her satisfaction in being a shluchah in Russia, in the very same place where her grandparents had been killed for disseminating Torah. She and her husband and children now have the zechus to spread its light.
While, thank G-d, today’s shluchos aren’t being persecutedby hostile, totalitarian governments, they do face a variety of hardships and challenges. Esty Greenberg of Anchorage, Alaska, and Chanie Mondshine from Smolensk, Russia, described what it’s like being far away from loved ones and a society of like-minded people. Even more poignant was their description of having to send their children away from home at an early age for the sake of chinuch.
In the few days since the convention I’ve been thinking a lot about how these women manage to stay so motivated and enthusiastic. I came to the realization that making a transformational difference in other people’s lives is a very great part of their sippuk. One story told by the evening’s keynote speaker, Mrs. Chanie Lipskar of Bal Harbour, Florida, afforded us a glimpse. In her own words:
“Sitting at our Shabbos table, together with a group of guests, was a dear friend of my husband’s, a Holocaust survivor, scholar and businessman. We have a custom that each person either shares a dvar Torah, a Jewish experience or accepts upon himself to do a mitzvah. My husband suggested to this gentleman that he take on the mitzvah of putting on tefillin every day, to which he responded, ‘Rabbi, I love you. But I cannot, and I’ll tell you why: The year was 1939 in Poland. The winds of war were already blowing and the situation for the Jewish community was dire. In this state of chaos and uncertainty, just before my bar mitzvah, my father called me over and said in the most serious tone, “Meir’l, please commit to me that you will put on tefillin every day no matter what.” Then he stretched out his hand for me to shake it. As I was a cheder boy at the time this seemed to be an easy request, and I lifted my hand to commit myself. My uncle, who was watching this saga unfold, took hold of my hand and said to my father, “Don’t make him swear to something he may be unable to fulfill.”
So there I was, looking at my father with his outstretched hand and mine halfway up to his but held back by my uncle. My father was murdered and I became a resourceful survivor against all odds. I never finished that handshake, Rabbi, and that is why I cannot accede to your request.’
“There was utter silence around our table. People were wiping away tears. Then my husband extended his hand and said, ‘Meir’l, let’s imagine that your father’s soul dressed itself in me for just a moment and let’s complete that handshake.’
“The room was electric as you felt all the history, pain and anguish of that period. After what seemed like an eternity, Reb Meir grasped my husband’s hand and sealed the handshake that had waited 70 years to be completed. His father’s request had finally been realized. There were tears, elation, singing and dancing. Reb Meir began to put on tefillin every day.”
In the course of the evening one woman quipped that there’s a joke about why Lubavitchers are so into Moshiach: It’s because, she explained, the shluchim and shluchos know that they can’t leave their posts until Moshiach comes, so they’re praying very hard.
May Hashem hear their prayers, and those of all the nashim tzidkaniyos around the world.
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