Rockland County, NY – More than 5,600 rabbis and guests from 100 countries gathered last night for the gala dinner highlighting the 35th International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries.
The celebration was infused with inspiration and joy, but tempered this year in the shadow of the of anti-Semitic shooting in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead only eight days before, as well as the tenth anniversary of the murder of Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Noting that at times like these the teachings and vision of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, are more timely and urgent than ever—Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos Linyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel (the educational and social services arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement) pointed at the work of Chabad emissaries both in Pittsburgh and beyond, in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Emceeing in his inimitable style, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of the Kinus, sounded the conference theme when he spoke of a mission he had once received from the Rebbe in 1984, to travel to the little Caribbean island of Curacao. Not knowing what he was to do there once he landed, he went straight to a synagogue and met a Jew, who, taken aback at seeing a Chassidic Jew on the island, revealed that his son had been expelled from his Christian public school and they didn’t know what to do. Kotlarsky invited the boy to attend Camp Gan Israel in New York, and later the father, Chaim Groisman, sent a letter to the Rebbe thanking him for showing care to a “small Jew in Curacao.”
“I must, however, take exception to your referring to yourself as ‘a small Jew from Curacao,’” the Rebbe responded. “… there is no such thing as ‘a small Jew.’”
As is done every year, Kotlarsky paused to remember those who passed this year. He noted that this week will make 10 years since the murder of Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, co-directors of Chabad of India. “Gabi and Rivky will never be forgotten,” he said. May we find true solace … in the continuity of Chabad of India in the work of Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya Kozlovsky.”
Kotlarsky led the vaunted roll call, assisted by children of emissaries around the world, including Aryeh Leib Lifshitz from Boise, Idaho, and Mendel Banon from Casablanca, Morocco, announcing the emissaries from each and every of the more than 100 countries.
Then they danced. Thousands of rabbis and their supporters, weaving among the tables in a mess of concentric circles spreading as far as the eye can see, jumping with arms over arms, boom cameras and lights overhead.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” shouted Kozlovsky over the music. He returns to Mumbai on Monday.