By COLlive reporter
The gala banquet of the 5776 International Kinus Hashluchim convention that took place on Sunday evening provided a glimpse into what a Hakhel unity event must feel like.
About 5,700 men were in the crowd at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal for the annual event that featured both pomp and inspiration, yet the feeling was mostly of a family reunion.
Smiles, hugs or handshakes were exchanged at every encounter of classmates and colleagues who now live in different corners of the world doing the Rebbe‘s Shlichus, or between supporters of Chabad who have adopted the chassidic joie-de-vivre (joy of life).
“This is my 12th year at the banquet,” said a Jewish man from Great Neck, NY, who was born in Iraq and grew up in Iran. “I am so inspired by the entire event. It feels like one big family.”
Moishy Holtzberg, the boy who survived the 2008 terror attack on Chabad Mumbai, was given a hearty welcome as he recited Tehillim for the wellbeing of Shluchim families. “Goosebumps, lump in (my) throat as Moshe’le walks up to the stage,” South African Shliach Rabbi Ari Shishler commented.
As the 9-year-old Holtzberg concluded, the Kinus Chairman Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky planted a kiss on his head. Chabad has continued operation in Mumbai and considers Moishy Holtzberg “a child of klal yisroel,” as Rabbi Kotlarsky noted.
Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, honored with recited another chapter of Tehillim for the safety of Jews in Israel, noted the impact of the late Rabbi Shlomo Matusof, Chabad’s Shliach in Casablanca, on him. Many of Matusof’s descendants were present.
The keynote speaker, Rabbi Shlomie Chein, recalled how he approached a Jewish man at a gas station who had a Christian father and a Jewish mother, and treated him as one of our own.
“A Chabad rabbi will transform even the most random encounter to an opportunity to transform it into a Jewish learning experience,” he said, in recalling the effort to convince the man to do a Mitzvah.
“The color of your eyes are blue. The color of your soul is Jewish,” Chein, Director of Chabad at the University of California S. Cruz, told the man. “Just like you can’t change the color of your eyes. You can’t change the color of your soul.”
Rabbi Chein went on to call on supporters in the crowd to embark on Shlichus activities of their own in this year of Hakhel. “Our lay leaders aren’t donors. They are partners and are fully invested in our mission. They influence frontiers beyond our reach.”
The gradual multigenerational effect of Chabad was visibly illustrated as 5 individuals of different age groups, from young to old, stood up and told their story of reconnecting to their Judaism through Chabad.
There was a young boy Eli Feldman from Gladwynne, PA, representing 192,000 children in Chabad schools and youth groups; Phillip Yurchenko of Redwood City, CA, speaking on behalf of 72,000 teens; Matthew Burke from University of Southern California, among the 100,000 students who call Chabad Shluchim their “mishpuche.”
Moving up in age, Dr. Yaakov Guterson from the growing Chabad community in Pittsburgh, PA, told his story of being sent to Crown Heights to bring his sister back from the Lubavitchers, and staying there instead. He now leads a frum family and his wife runs the Tzohar girls seminary for Chassidus and the Arts.
Lastly, there was Milton Kleinberg, who noted he was the only other person named Mendel in Omaha, NE, besides for the Shliach Rabbi Mendel Katzman. The Holocaust survivor spoke about struggling to remain Jewish even in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
“We have 5 generations of Americans now,” he proudly said. “Our family has now grown larger than the family we lost in the war. As I see this assembly of Jews, from it will grow from 5,000 to 500,000 to 5 million and more.”
As the Shluchim and guests break out in joyous dancing, shoulder to shoulder in brotherly love, there is no doubt that Milton Kleinberg’s prophecy will come true. Or as the young Feldman boy commented, “let’s see the next Pew study…”