Eleven-year-old Levi Leibowitz can’t wait to tell his friends and family back home in Tokyo about his experience over the weekend of Nov 1-3. He was a guest at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries’ banquet at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in New York, thousands of miles from Japan, where he lives.
“I’m going to tell everyone about it—that it was really fun, and the food was very good,” he said. Seated in Chiavari chairs under grand chandeliers, he and thousands of others involved in the organization—5,200 emissaries and lay leaders from around the world—gathered for an evening of camaraderie and inspiration.
It culminated four days of learning, togetherness and inspiration that the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—first encouraged his shluchim to convene back in 1983.
“I like talking to all the different Jewish people in my family all over the world,” said Leibowitz. He was there with his father, David Leibowitz, also of Tokyo, and his grandfather, Alan Liebowitz, of Miami, Fla.
‘Through Darkness a Shining Light’
The theme, “Through Darkness a Shining Light,” prompted speakers to focus on the impact Chabad continues to build through its global outreach and varied programs.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational arm, charged those gathered with connecting with more Jews and inspiring even more mitzvahs.
They heard from former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who thanked the emissaries for their work and spoke of his personal connection to the organization, which often made sure he had Shabbat provisions and kosher food during his political travels. He has also long visited his mother’s house to lead Havdalah at the closing of the Sabbath; sometimes, Rabbi Yisrael Deren and his wife, Vivi, co-directors of Chabad Lubavitch of Western and Southern New England, would go in his stead when he was away.
“You go forward with competency, fearless because you know you have a mission to perform,” he stated from a rotating podium in the center of the room. “As a result, there is no movement in Judaism today like Chabad.”
Rabbi Dov Greenberg, co-director of Chabad on Campus at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., took to the podium as a representative for the emissaries. He talked about the 86,000 Jewish students who visited 200 Chabad centers around the world, and the microcosm that college-focused Chabad on Campus centers represent for Chabad’s larger mission. “That’s the definition of a Chabad House,” he said. “Where every Jew feels at home.”
Businessman David Leibowitz agreed. He connected with Chabad a quarter-century ago when he was walking down the street in Bondi Beach, Australia. Wearing a tank top and no kipah, he just so happened to run into a man with a black hat and a beard.
The rest, he said, is history.
He added that he was glad to return to the Kinus for a second time—a 14-hour flight well worth it for the chance to support Chabad, see his father and bring his son so they could get inspired together.
“Chabad embodies everything about my heritage and what I want to pass on,” he said.
And it’s all in the family: His father, Alan Leibowitz, has been involved with Chabad of Kendall & Pinecrest in Miami since it started in 1995.
From Generation to Generation
The elder Leibowitz said he’s glad to see his son so connected to Yiddishkeit and guiding his own child, Levi, towards it as well. “My son is being the absolute best example in terms of raising kids and bringing them to Torah. I can’t wait for the day when I give Levi his first set of tefillin for his bar mitzvah.”
David Leibowitz, who moved to Japan 20 years ago and wound up staying, said Chabad continues to be key to his Jewish life there. “To have an organization like Chabad and a rabbi like Rabbi Mendi Sudakevich, who gives us all this Yiddishkeit in such a vacuum, is such a blessing.”
As for the Kinus, he said, “we already booked our tickets for next year.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Laufer, co-director of Merkos-Chabad of Rhode Island, recalled the very first shluchim conference, when they convened in just an office adjacent to Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“The Rebbe wanted us to plan how we could increase our work, reaching out and bringing Jews back to their heritage,” said Laufer.
The Rebbe brought people together to strengthen each other, he added, and as their ranks have grown, so has the determination to accomplish more and more. “The inspiration is 4,000 times greater. It’s a change of the power of being present.”
Josh Wonder, head of finance at the Yeshivah Centre of Melbourne, Australia, attended the Kinus for the first time this year. Coming to New York and taking part in the weekend, which included a whole host of programs and an overwhelmingly warm Shabbat, represented a chance for him to envision how he fits in to the bigger puzzle.
In the past, like many living overseas who haven’t been able to fly in for the events, he has watched the main proceedings online.
“It’s always like you want to be there,” he said. “That’s what brought me here this year.”
He enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends and said he leaves wanting to do even more to bring people closer to Judaism: “I come away with my batteries recharged. I’m pumped up and ready to take it all on again.”
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