More than 3,000 Hasidic Jewish women leaders from 81 countries are gathering in New York City this weekend for a conference to reconnect, build fellowship and discuss their approach to Judaism.
The conference is organized for women emissary-representatives of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement known around the world for its outreach efforts. Chabad sends emissaries — typically husband-and-wife teams — to all corners of the globe to serve as resources and representatives for all Jews, regardless of their affiliation. Women at the conference are coming from places as near as Long Island and as far away as Thailand. The five-day event started Thursday night and runs through Monday morning.
Dini Freundlich, 41, is a conference attendee who traveled all the way from China with two of her young daughters. Freundlich, who is originally from South Africa, runs a Jewish day school with her husband in Beijing, where the couple and their six children serve as pillars for a small, revolving Jewish community. Freundlich says her husband is the first rabbi in the Chinese capital's history.
“Coming to this conference gives you a sense that you’re not alone,” Freundlich told International Business Times. “You recharge your personal energy and refocus on why you’re doing what you do. Our lives as emissaries are so communal, it’s nice to be at this conference and have a bit of time where your not working as the giver.”
While their mothers attend workshops on how to better serve their communities and regain a spiritual commitment to their faith, Chabad girls age 8 to 14 will attend a concurrent conference for their age group. This year, girls will focus on the themes of being kind to one another and developing a love for the Jewish people.
Held at Lubavitch world headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the conference is supported by many local residents who contribute in whatever ways they can. Some host dozens of guests in their homes, while others volunteer for other services, like helping to record and broadcast the sessions all over the world.
Detty Leverton, a Crown Heights resident who is helping with the event, says that it’s a privilege to serve the attendees.
“What they do is amazing; they sacrifice so much to make the world a better place, and they give so much of their personal lives to the community,” Leverton told Chabad.org.
“People in Crown Heights have an opportunity to host them, treat them, help them, make things go more smoothly for them, give them a little hospitality, a place they can put their feet up — where they don’t have to worry about anything,” she added. “They can just come in the door and know that their needs will be taken care of. It’s a small gesture that we can offer them, saying, ‘We’re rooting for you, we support you, we respect you, we really care about you.’”
The Chabad movement was founded by a rabbi in Lithuania in 1775, later moving its headquarters to Warsaw. In 1940, after the Germans overran Poland, the movement's headquarters shifted to Brooklyn. The name "Chabad" is a Hebrew acronym for the words "wisdom, understanding and knowledge." The organization's philosophy, which emphasizes learning, is based on both classical Judaic texts and also Jewish mysticism. There are more than 3,600 Chabad institutions around the world. While current estimates are hard to come by, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reported in 2005 that about 1 million Jews attend Chabad services each year, though fewer are members of the movement.
A full weekend of activities and workshops ends on with a gala banquet on Sunday night, followed by a visit to sites important to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement on Monday morning.