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Chassidic Leaders Gather in Israel, Defying Storm

While Israel was contending with its worst winter storm in decades, Nir Etzion Hotel was abuzz last week with Chassidic energy and warmth. With many roads closed and houses in darkness, 500 Chabad-Lubavitch leaders from 293 branches of Chabad in Israel, from Metula in the north to Eilat in the south, congregated for their annual convention.

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, this year’s convention emphasized his teachings and legacy, which provided emissaries with additional inspiration and encouragement meant to last throughout the year.

The convention was opened by Rabbi Naftali Lipsker of the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization of Israel, who focused on the difficulties in opening a new Chabad House or starting a new program; elevating the low points in one’s year to become “a descent for the sake of an ascent”; and dealing with stress.

Rabbi Chaim Heber, director of the Chabad Center of Be’er Sheva, found the convention to be “an awesome experience.” Like many other emissaries, he noted that “the highlight this year was interacting with other emissaries, and in particular the opportunity to learn from older emissaries.”

Rabbi Yaakov Slonim, director of Chabad-Lubavitch in the Givat Mordechai section of Jerusalem, agreed that “the most special factor of this convention was the sharing and assistance that the emissaries gave to one another.” He noted that in the past there was an emphasis on sessions given by professionals who at times did not have the necessary insights into an emissary’s goals. “In many cases, only a fellow emissary can have the same insight and focus,” noted Slonim.

Dialog between older and younger emissaries was a feature of the three-day event. Rabbi Yosef Aharonov, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel noted that “we have a wonderful young generation that is dedicated with all its heart and all its soul to spreading the light of Judaism and Chassidism, even to the most far-flung places. These young people are doing amazing things.”

Among the younger emissaries on hand was Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, director of Chabad–Lubavitch of Rechavia, in Jerusalem. It was the third convention that he’s attended and he found it to be “a very special experience.”

“It might sound funny,” said Goldberg, “but in Israel we get so busy with our day-to-day routine that one doesn’t get to meet regularly even with someone in a neighboring Chabad House. The convention gave us the opportunity to meet up with friends and fellow emissaries,” said Goldberg, was also was asked to help lead a workshop on home visits. Emphasizing this year’s focus on younger emissaries, Goldberg noted that “they could have chosen more experienced emissaries.”

In an era of social networking and virtual online communication, the workshop reminded participants to use the old-fashioned method of taking the time to visit people at their homes. “Social networking via the Internet might have its place,” said Goldberg, “but there is nothing like the good old fashioned way of going door-to-door. It shows that the emissary cares, and through that personal caring a bond is developed.”

There were workshops specifically for younger emissaries, including the challenges faced by young married couples, the education of their children, and finding and setting up a home that will be a gathering place for others.

Other workshops focused on how to use digital technology and one’s home computer to assist in spreading Judaism. For Heber, “gaining tools such as how to use newer social networking tools such as Google plus, or online tips on how to improve a lesson in Tanya were very valuable.” Rabbi Sagee Har-Shefer director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nes Ziona said he got the most from a workshop on many otherwise overlooked areas of halacha, Jewish law, that an emissary must face in his Chabad House every day. Har-Sheer said he was also appreciative of a new directory of emissaries that was distributed at the convention, which will help keep them connected throughout the year.

A highlight of the final day was a workshop on the strength and power of music and melody, how it affects each individual in a unique way, and how to use music to enhance the experience of Judaism.

Every year the convention of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Israel begins with a group photograph, fitting everyone into one frame. Due to this year’s winter storm, each emissary had to be photographed individually, and the photos were combined to form a group image. But in every other respect, this year’s convention was one that personally brought everyone together. In summary, said Slonim, “the interaction between the emissaries was like a chain, with each link connecting to the other and uniting to reach a common goal.”

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