More than 85 Chabad rabbis from five states gathered on Aug. 4 for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of Shluchim, held at the Chabad of Western Monmouth County.
Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, or shluchim, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia joined together in the daylong conference to exchange ideas.
The event marked the first time the regional conference has been held at the Western Monmouth Chabad, whose codirector, Rabbi Boruch Chazanow, was asked to deliver the keynote address.
The gathering, he told NJJN, was a way for the rabbis to hone their skills at advancing Chabad’s signature goal of outreach to unaffiliated or under served Jews. Headquartered in Brooklyn, the hasidic movement is probably best known for a corps of rabbis who have established outreach centers in hundreds of communities.
“We all share the desire to touch the lives of as many Jewish people as we can in a meaningful way,” he said, “and to educate their children in a way that enables them to be proud Jews with links to the past and a vision for the future.”
A highlight of the symposium was a documentary depicting the role of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson in the exodus of Jews out of the former Soviet Union.
The event was a source of great pride for all who attended, said conference panelist Rabbi Moshe Herson of West Orange, who became Chabad’s first official shaliah in New Jersey in 1960. Herson now serves as dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, which trains Chabad emissaries and oversees 60 emissaries at 48 Chabad affiliates in New Jersey.
“Getting together is like an infusion of strength,” Herson told NJJN. “We give each other ideas on how to reach out to more Jews.
“But we are realistic about our efforts,” Herson said as the rabbis gathered for a group photo outside the Manalapan center. “Despite all we have accomplished, we haven’t scratched the surface of what we still need to do.”
‘Tending the garden’
A primary goal of each emissary, Herson said, is to ensure the youth in their communities get a Jewish education. The Internet plays an increasingly critical role in Chabad outreach, he said.
“It is interesting to see the interaction between young and old rabbis and how well versed the younger rabbis are with the Internet and social networking,” he said.
Panelist Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, program director of Chabad of Atlantic and Cape May counties, spoke about the power of video blogging.
“You may have only had 50 people at your program, but with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, you can disseminate that event to hundreds or thousands more people with just a few clicks on your keyboard,” Rapoport said.
Rabbi Beryl Frankel, a representative for international Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn, spoke about CTeen, which he described as the fastest-growing Jewish teen club in the world. Founded two years ago — the first model was launched at Chabad of Western Monmouth — CTeen now boasts some 10,000 Jewish teens internationally, Frankel said.
The conference culminated with a video presentation by Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov of Bucks County, Pa., whose father, Abraham, was a confidante of Schneerson’s. The 1983 documentary depicts the high-level diplomatic relationship Schneerson had with President Ronald Reagan, which helped lead to the release of some 1,200 Soviet Jews toward the end of the Cold War.
A host of NJ rabbis and leaders were involved in leading the sessions, among them Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of Monroe; Rabbi Aron Gancz and Rabbi Elimelech Zwiebel of Morristown; and Rabbi Eli Kornfeld of Clinton.
Banquet speakers included Rabbi Dovid Dubov of Princeton and lay leader Michael Weitz of Marlboro.
The conference served as an example of the powerful influence of the late Rebbe, said Rabbi Eitan Webb, director of Chabad on Campus at Princeton University and a chaplain with the university’s Office of Religious Life.
“In postwar America, where other Jewish leaders saw destruction and devastation of the Jewish people, the Rebbe saw a garden waiting to flourish,” Webb told NJJN. “He spent 50 years tending to that garden. When we come together we are reminded that a garden is made up of very beautiful individual flowers, each serving its own unique purpose.”