As many as 250 women convened from 45 cities in the United States, Canada and Israel for the 56th annual convention of Nshei U’bnos Chabad, which took place last weekend in Minneapolis at the Radisson Blu Mall of America.
Despite a heavy snowfall on the East Coast the day before that created delays and challenges for those traveling by air, the warmth was felt inside, both physically and spiritually. Luxurious accommodations, catered meals, camaraderie, inspiring lectures, prayer, discussions, music, art and workshops served to empower the Jewish women in attendance.
This year’s event held extra meaning as it took place in the hometown and in memory of Mindelle Feller, of blessed memory, the beloved co-founder of Upper Midwest Merkos-Chabad Lubavitch in Minnesota, Bais Chana Women’s International and Lubavitch Cheder Day School.
Mindelle’s husband, Rabbi Moshe Feller, and her son, Rabbi Mendel Feller, along with his wife, Nechama Dina Feller, directors of Upper Midwest Merkos-Lubavitch House, organized and attended the convention, sharing memories of her work and inspiration from her legacy.
“It is an honor and privilege to host this worthy convocation in the Upper Midwest,” said Rabbi Mendel Feller. “It is particularly significant to our family, and indeed, to Minnesota Jewry, as the event is held in loving memory of and in proximity to the first yahrzeit of my mother. Quite the befitting tribute to her life’s work and legacy.”
Mindelle Feller, who was president of her local Nshei U’bnos Chabad, hosted the convention twice in Minnesota—first in 1980 and again in 1991, as Scud missiles fell in Israel during the Gulf War.
“Mrs. Feller always shared pride and guidance [from the Rebbe] she got from hosting,” said her daughter-in-law, Nechama Dina Feller. “She was ultimately responsible for activities here in the Twin Cities, so it’s befitting her memory.”
The Rebbe established Agudas Nshei U’bnos Chabad, the women’s and girl’s division of worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement, shortly after accepting leadership in 1950, and supported the group’s yearly conventions for women. For example, the Rebbe called for increased attendance at the convention in 1991 despite—or because of—the Gulf War. A collection of letters that the Rebbe sent to the conventions over a period of 30 years was printed in a book and distributed at the 50th convention which took place in Miami Beach, Fla.
One of the women who heeded that call was Rivie Feldman, who has been organizing the convention from Nshei Chabad in New York for many years.
“After not finding a host city last year, I’m glad I was able to continue this year after 55 years,” shared Feldman.
“Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka passed away the day after our convention in Miami in 5748 . I sent her an invitation to that convention,” Feldman recalled. When the Rebbetzin received it, she called a friend, Leah Kahn, noting that it would be worthwhile for her to go, as the program looked very interesting. “I went to the Rebbe’s house the year following the Rebbetzin’s passing and received 200 dollar bills from the Rebbe for women attending the convention in Phoenix.”
“The convention is so many things to so many different women, of all ages and of all walks of life,” said Feldman. “The Rebbe wanted everyone to be included. Every woman needs inspiration, strength to deal with her life challenges, tools to help her in her relationships, Torah learning as it is illuminated by the teachings of Chassidus, joyful singing and dancing, rest and relaxation.”
Miriam Popack was the first coordinator of the conventions, which began with the Rebbe’s blessings in 1962. After 25 years on the job, she wrote a letter to the Rebbe stating that she would like to retire from her position. The Rebbe would not accept her resignation, but he did tell her that she could get someone to help her. That year the Rebbe gave a blessing to her daughter, Rivie Feldman, and to her daughter’s friend, Faige Rosenblum, to help coordinate the conventions that take place each year in a different city in the United States and Canada.
‘Independent, Confident, Popular and Caring’
This year’s theme was “Integrity. Refinement. Beauty. A Celebration of Jewish Life and Living.” Among the speakers were Goldie Plotkin, noted lecturer and orator, and co-director of Chabad of Markham in Thornhill, Ontario; Rabbi Manis Friedman, dean of Bais Chana and well-known author and lecturer;, and Rabbi Shmuel Lew, senior Chabad emissary to London, England, and older brother of Mindelle Feller.
After the conclusion of Shabbat, at the melaveh malkah program that was also open for women from the nearby communities and their husbands, Lew, the keynote speaker, discussed blending the physical and spiritual domains harmoniously. His younger sister embodied this as both a Phi Beta Kappa mathematician and a shluchah.
Because of Mindelle Feller’s status as a mathematician, the Rebbe asked her to get involved in the math department of the University of Minnesota and spread Yiddishkeit there. This direct instruction led her to become a research assistant to Professor Paul Rosenbloom, one of the leading math professors in the country. The Fellers, in turn, became involved with the Rosenbloom family, bringing them to observe Torah and become close with the Rebbe.
(Years later, when Professor Rosenbloom moved to New York to teach at Columbia University, he began attending the Rebbe’s farbrengens. At one of these gatherings, the Rebbe asked the professor to update and publish an unfinished mathematical manuscript of his brother, Reb Yisroel Aryeh Leib, who was also a mathematician.)
“She was independent, confident, had a sharp, incisive mind, was popular and caring,” Lew told the audience. “All that fit in with her fear of heaven. She was cultured and educated, yet all her talents were put into service of the Rebbe.”
Rabbi Moshe Feller, who announced a Sefer Torah dedication for his wife during the Melaveh Malkah, spoke at the convention about his history coming to Chabad as a Torah-observant young man, and the many directives he and his wife received from the Rebbe, including encouraging Mindelle to teach family purity to Jewish women.
Rabbi Feller shared that he is “deeply honored” that this year’s gathering is in tribute to his wife. “Mindy was very well-known locally and nationally among the women and girls of Chabad,” said Rabbi Feller. “She was a founder and the mother figure of our world-renowned Bais Chana Women’s Institute that very positively impacted thousands of Jewish women.”
Some of those women traveled to attend the convention last weekend and toured the old Bais Chana building, holding memories from their earlier days when their journey of discovering Judaism began.
Aarah Aizman, a local artist who has lived in Minnesota since the 1980s and considered Mindelle Feller “like a mother,” gave a workshop in her honor called “Art and Learn: The Power of Blessings.” Women crafted original “Bracha ArtBooks,” which they used to recite blessings over each food group, generating blessings and positivity into their lives.
‘Bring People Together’
Local politicians including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar praised both the convention and Mindelle Feller in letters that were printed in the journal given to attendees. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proclaimed this Nov. 26th as “Rebbetzin Mindelle Feller Day in the City of Minneapolis,” corresponding to the 18th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the first anniversary of her passing.
“It is inspiring to see so many women come together from around the country to support each other,” wrote Klobuchar. “Each year this convention brings together hundreds of women who are here to grow, learn and celebrate each other and their faith. Gatherings like this contribute to a broader understanding and appreciation for our state’s diversity. In the face of heightened risks, confronted by those who wish to separate and divide us, you continue to do what you do best: bring people together.”
U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz shared in a letter to participants of the convention that he arrived in Minnesota 55 years ago—not long after the Rebbe dispatched Rabbi Moshe and Mindelle Feller, among the earliest shluchim. He met Rabbi Feller within a month of his arrival when the rabbi came to his new construction material business to purchase lumber and plywood. “That first fall, I became King of Sukkos in the Upper Midwest, and I retained that title for almost half a century,” said Boschwitz. “They, and indeed the Rebbe himself, have played such a long, wonderful and constructive role in the life of my family.”
The convention concluded with a farewell luncheon on Sunday afternoon at the Parkview Event Center in the Mall of America. Bnos Chabad Girls representatives performed a song on stage in memory of Rochel Goldberg, a member of the Minnesota community who started Bnos Chabad programs for young girls and ran Nshei Chabad for 10 years. Goldie Plotkin delivered a powerful and personal speech about living with gratitude, and how belief, faith and optimism impact Jewish lives.
Chana Wilhelm ended the luncheon and convention itself with a call to action. As the women prepared to head back home, they were encouraged to add in acts of goodness and kindness—a fitting tribute to a woman who spent her life doing good for others.