After helping Jewish communities around the globe face a year of relentless challenges and now looking forward to opportunities in the year ahead as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch women will join together once again this year for their annual conference. But for the first time in its storied history, the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchos) will be held online due to health concerns.
Organizers say they are hardly let down or set back by this development. Drawing from the tremendous success of the online men’s Kinus a few months back, they are looking forward to new offerings a virtual event presents. After all, with an in-person event that brings women together from literally all over the globe, there will always be some unable to attend. For those in particularly remote places, it’s always a bit complicated (though well worth it) to travel to the program in Brooklyn, N.Y. Being able to Zoom in makes it much more accessible, especially this year, with new memories waiting to be created.
A suite of workshops, addresses, vignettes and video highlights from around the world will take place virtually, culminating in a “Grand Event” to be broadcast live on Chabad.org that will stand in for the annual Grand Banquet. Workshops will include “Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) During COVID and Beyond” and “The Rollercoaster Ride of Operating Friendship Circle During the Pandemic.” The keynote speaker will be Chaya Chitrik, co-director of Chabad of Turkey, who will talk about the unexpected opportunities she and her husband, Rabbi Mendy Chtrik, have had running a Chabad House in a Muslim-majority nation.
The global community of women emissaries known as shluchos, say they are especially looking forward to a days-long online farbrengen. Throughout most of the conference, there will be a dedicated “room” on Zoom for emissaries to join whenever they wish. As members hail from every conceivable time zone, a rolling farbrengen is inevitable. The room will be paused for Shabbat, but as soon as Havdalah is completed in Australia and New Zealand, it will resume. As time goes by, emissaries are sure to participate from Asia, Europe, Africa, and finally, the Americas.
It’s all in line with the theme of this year’s conference—namely, the famed Chassidic aphorism, lechatchilah ariber, which roughly translates to “Leap over obstacles, don’t skirt them.” Much of the program will feature this very idea: that while it has been a tremendously challenging year, these tireless, inspiring women have stood guard—not dodging a pandemic bullet, but exercising innovation and courage to operate at an all-time maximum capacity.
The annual conference is an inexpressibly important annual event for women emissaries. Since its launching in 1991 by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—the conference has brought together Chabad-Lubavitch women emissaries for a weekend of inspiration, learning and fellowship. Like its counterpart, the annual men’s Kinus that takes place each fall, the conference provides emissaries with workshops running the gamut of their concerns, offering a much-needed chance to recharge and connect with other emissaries, friends and family members. It also enables them to share knowledge of how to better serve Jewish communities back at home. This gives the participants, especially those going back to isolated outposts, some new tools and advice, in addition to the sense that in their work, they are not alone.
Each year, some aren’t able to make it to the conference—timed to coincide with the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of righteous memory—because of distance, financial or personal reasons. For those unable to make the trip, the organizers, headed by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—have for the past number of years enabled an online broadcast on Chabad.org, which opened the convention to hundreds of thousands of people who watch at home, as well as those emissaries who can’t make it to the convention so that the inimitable sense of Jewish unity can be experienced, regardless of physical location.
G‑d willing, organizers say, when the world finally emerges from the pandemic, when gathering in person is once again safe, organizers will plan a weekend when the shluchos meet in New York, visit the resting place of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin, and farbreng with their fellow emissaries and lay leaders.
Until then, they’ll do what they’ve always been doing. They’ll draw upon extraordinary strength to guide their communities through these difficult times. They’ll care for every Jew with true Ahavat Yisrael. And they’ll encourage each other—virtually—to continue in their mission.