By Leibel Baumgarten for COLlive
Photos: Shimi Kutner
“Excuse me,” asks a young man in 770, holding a cell phone with a credit card reader attached. “I’m heading out on Shlichus next month, would you like to be mishtatef (participate)?” A card swipe, a warm smile, and wishes for hatzlacha follow in quick succession. So begins a lifelong journey, along which the Crown Heights community will continue to offer support, encouragement, and a home base for the Shliach.
Crown Heights has been dubbed the “hosting capital of the world.” Indeed, from the Kinus Hashluchim, Kinus Hashluchos, annual Campus, JLI and CTeen Shabbatons, to Tishrei, Yomim Tovim and innumerable family events, each year the Crown Heights community hosts tens of thousands of visitors in just a few square blocks.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, who oversees the Kinus and many of the organizations which arrange numerous events in Crown Heights throughout the year, says the Crown Heights community’s generosity is invaluable. “The way people open their hearts and their homes is unbelievable,” he said. “A large part of the success of these programs is thanks to the hospitality offered by the families of Crown Heights.”
But beyond the Friday night meals, Shabbos afternoon farbrengens, and midweek sleepovers, Crown Heights offers Shluchim much assistance in numerous areas of their Shlichus. Aside from the financial help new Shluchim receive, many Shluchim rely heavily on the support they receive from friends and family in Crown Heights year-round. Between matching campaigns and collecting in person while in Crown Heights, it’s impossible to truly know how much financial support is offered to the global network of Shluchim from Crown Heights residents alone.
“There’s a lot more that is sacrificed than finances,” says Rabbi Danny Cohen, of Chabad of Chevron. “When parents send their children to help Shluchim, that’s a big sacrifice and it’s done with enthusiasm and pride.
“My wife and I didn’t grow up in Chabad families, and when we went on Shlichus 18 years ago we worried we wouldn’t have the support or network other Shluchim with families in Crown Heights have. But over the years the effect the Crown Heights community has had in Chevron is incredible. Besides for donations from communities like Bais Shmuel Chabad Congregation, when a Crown Heights family comes to Chevron, they don’t just leave a check, they get involved with doing Mivtzoim, buy pizza for the soldiers and help out in many ways.”
Of course, Crown Heights is many a Shliach’s source for food and resources, with central organizations serving the Shluchim located in the neighborhood. Residents are well accustomed to filling suitcases to the limit with all kinds of necessities for Shluchim and have become experts in airline baggage rules and regulations. “If you fly Southwest you get two free bags,” one Crown Heights resident explained. “But if you are taking frozen fish or meat, pack it in a suitcase; if you pack it in a box, Southwest will make you repack it in their waxed corrugated boxes and charge you an extra $10.00.” Numerous stores and vendors in Crown Heights will go out of their way to accommodate the needs of Shluchim.
But perhaps the greatest asset to Shluchim is not the money, goods and volunteers they get from Crown Heights, it is the people of Crown Heights that greet their community members. As much as the Shluchim teach and inspire their communities, it is often a trip to Crown Heights, where they see so many families living day-to-day with the ideals and passion seen in the Chabad House, which crystalizes the lessons.
“When our teens come for the CTeen Shabbaton and they eat a Shabbos meal in a private home packed wall to wall with almost 50 teens, none of whom the hosts have met before, they are astounded,” says Rabbi Sholom Rodal of Chabad of Mt. Olympus. “They’ve never seen anyone open their home to strangers, let alone such a large amount.
“While they have seen hachnasas orchim at the Chabad House, there is a sort of expectance they have from the Rabbi and Rebbetzin whose job it is to lead the community and who receive financial support from their guests. But the Crown Heights families receive no such compensation; they’re doing it solely out of kindness.”
As one Shliach put it, “the model Chabad House is the Crown Heights community. It is there that we learned how to open our homes, accept people lovingly without judgment, and create a nurturing environment in which to inspire, teach and facilitate spiritual and personal growth.”
“18 years ago, we worried about an adequate support system,” says Rabbi Cohen. “Today it is touching to think about the massive network of friends and supporters we have in a community without any friends or classmates that already supports thousands of other causes.”
This article was first published in the COLlive Magazine – Kislev Magazine for 5780, distributed free to Crown Heights residents, visiting Shluchim and guests. Look out for your free copy in local restaurants and stores.