Mrs. Dina Stambler left her home in Israel 13 years ago and moved to Dneprodzhinsk, Ukraine to open a Chabad house with her husband. In her efforts to revive Jewish activity in the small Ukrainian city, she runs a day school, teaches adult education classes, plans holiday programs, arranges Kosher food deliveries, counsels community members, directs a day camp, and manages a mikvah – all while raising a young family of 6.
Mrs. Chaya Raskin left her home in Brooklyn, New York 7 months ago with husband and her young daughter in tow and moved to Brattleboro, Vermont to open a Chabad house. As a Chabad emissary, her purpose—to raise Jewish awareness, is identical to Stambler’s. Her day to day activities involve planning and hosting Shabbat dinners and studying choice topics in Judaism one-on-one with locals in an effort to create a Jewish community in the quaint Northeastern town.
The Shluchot and nearly 2,000 of their peers, convened at Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York last weekend for the quarter-century International Conference of Chabad Women Emissaries. The annual event draws women from five continents and nearly every country in the world for several days of workshops, inspirational programs, networking opportunities and celebrations.
“The conference is a wonderful opportunity to connect with other Shluchot,” says Stambler, who observes that although her colleagues may have different routines and different foci than she,“we all identify with a single cause and a unifying mission.”
The diversity of the participants presents a challenge to conference organizers who attempt to develop a program in which the broad scope of the Shluchot’s needs are addressed. Mrs. Gila Litvin of Atlanta, Georgia is on the planning committee of the conference. “In the planning stages we try to anticipate the different needs of the attending Shluchot and provide accordingly,” she explains. “We create a broad range of content and activities to make sure each will woman will find something that is relevant and beneficial to her specific needs.”
A cornucopia of workshops are offered back-to-back learning opportunities for Shluchot throughout the five days of the conference, with topics ranging from how to prepare a Shabbat meal for 200 guests to tips on how to motivate a child enrolled in an online Jewish school.
For some, Litvin observes, “it’s the practical takeaways that speak to them, the methodology of presenting esoteric Judaic topics to teenagers or how to maintain a happy marriage in a lifestyle where you are both on call every minute of every day. For others it’s the camaraderie and support of being among friends and peers who can lend inspiration and motivation.”
This is Mrs. Chayale Ehrenreich’s 14th year at the conference. A co-director of Chabad of Chestnut Ridge, New York, she says that “when the going gets tough this conference is the shot of adrenaline that pushes me through.”
She explains that Shluchot “live in a very different environment than a typical religious Jewish woman. We don’t have that real immediate support of a community with the same values that we hold dear. We might be struggling with the same issues as other religious women – parenting, finances, or educating our children, but we don’t have the luxury of a community of peers to get us through it or to guide us.”
The conference—if only for a few days a year—provides that cushion of support. “Here I meet others who completely understand and relate to my day to day struggles – as they too are facing the same challenges in a similar setting.” The conference is intentionally closed to the public, allowing women to open-up and discuss their issues “sister-to-sister” as one of the sessions was named.
For Ehrenreich, this year’s conference was a different experience. “I am without a baby or expecting this year!” She laughs. “It is such a different experience – I have the freedom to go to so many more sessions and stay all the way until the end!”
This is, of course, a child-friendly conference, and child care service for babies and tots of Shluchot is provided throughout. Still, attendance is roughly half as large as the men’s conference which takes place in November. “Many young Shluchot are growing their families and it is simply difficult for a mother to get away.”
Mrs. Faigie Hecht has been on Shlichus in Israel for 10 years, yet this is the first time she had the opportunity to attend a conference. She noted that the Shluchot could clearly feel the care and concern of the organizers to meet their needs down to the tiniest detail. “They put diapers and wipes in the bathrooms for mothers who might have forgotten some at home, and had buses running until 2:00am so that we could sit and converse with our friends at leisure long after the sessions were technically over.”
She also appreciated the concerted effort to provide workshops exclusively for Hebrew-speakers and to translate the general sessions into Hebrew in real-time. Technology definitely helps to make this a possibility as cutting-edge video and audio arrangements allow a greater number of participants, spread out over multiple venues, to enjoy the same speaker at once.
In one capacity or another, the Shluchot are all teachers of Judaism’s timeless wisdom, and to manage their juggling act they maximize all the technology they can get their hands on. For comic relief, one speaker share “The 10 Funniest Text Messages to a Shlucha.” In the hallways, women were video-conferencing their children halfway across the world on the smartphones.
Mrs. Roni Sneiderman is director of University of Delaware’s Chabad on Campus for the last 20 years. She notes that the conference evolved over the years, following a world-wide trend of personalization and niche-targeting. “The issues we talk about today are very similar in nature to the ones we were dealing with when we first went out. But back then the sessions were more generalized and sweeping. Now I am noticing a much more personal perspective, the women who are presenting speak about their hardships or successes in a way I can relate to on an individual level.”
In an effort to bring home the experience in an even deeper way, many Shluchot choose to bring lay leaders from their home communities along to experience the conference for themselves. The 160 guests who attended this year enjoyed a concurrent conference with programming geared to lay leadership.
All 3500 guests—Shluchot and lay leaders—attended last night’s banquet dinner at the New York Hilton Hotel, where speakers addressed this year’s conference theme: women at the forefront. In an interesting point of contrast, one of the speakers noted that women are poorly represented in government and business. In the Chabad model, where appointments to posts are given only to couples, men and women are co-directors of their Chabad centers. “Only in Chabad, are women equally represented,” in leadership positions, she said.
The conference is scheduled to coincide with the yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. At the conference, she is frequently referred to for the dignified role model she represented in her lifelong support of her husband, arguably the greatest Jewish leader in recent history.
(Photos by Mushka Lightstone Photography – Official Kinus Photographer)