The gala banquet of the 40th International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries brought together rabbis and their guests from all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries for an afternoon of prayer and inspiration.
By Menachem Posner and Dovid Margolin – Chabad.org
Photos: Nehoray Edri/Anash.org
In a world filled with a seemingly impenetrable darkness, with young Jewish children and the elderly held hostage by a genocidal terror organization and Israel and the Jews under attack, 6,500 rabbis and Jewish lay leaders gathered today to send a message of Jewish unity, strength, and hope to their brethren in Israel and around the world.
The gala banquet of the 40th International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries brought together rabbis and their guests from all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries for an afternoon of prayer and inspiration, connected by live feed with 1,400 Chabad emissaries stationed in the Land of Israel, who could not—or would not—leave their posts during this time of war.
The program, which took place at the 150,000 sq. ft. New Jersey Convention Center, began with a heartrending memorial prayer for the 1,200 innocent men, women, and children brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists in the Simchat Torah attack in Israel. The Keil Moley prayer was led by world-renowned Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, who concluded with a plea for the immediate arrival of Moshiach.
The proceedings were then opened by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries and Vice-Chairman of Merkos L’lnyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He began by welcoming not only the 6,500 strong present in the room but also those joining remotely from Israel. Many of the Chabad rabbis in the Holy Land were joining from a concurrent banquet taking place in Jerusalem, attended by 1,400 emissaries who had remained at their posts, assisting their communities and those on the front lines in every way.
The theme of the afternoon was the vital importance of action over all else, a calling issued by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, from the earliest days of his leadership of the Chabad movement. When a house is on fire, the Rebbe would frequently say, there is no time for sermonizing—the firefighter must rush into the blaze and save those inside. This is the role of an emissary, wherever he or she is stationed, to place all else aside and fulfill the lifesaving mission they have been tasked with.
Psalms were led live by a Chabad rabbi standing on the Kotel Plaza, with the prayer-stained stones of the Western Wall forming a striking and inspiring backdrop. He was followed by Rabbi Joseph Aronov, chairman of the Chabad Youth Organization in Israel, and Rabbi Levi Pels of the embattled city of Ashkelon, both of whom were streaming live from the Jerusalem banquet.
In his remarks, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, highlighted the unprecedented swell of interest in mitzvahs fielded by Chabad emissaries since Oct. 7th—from IDF soldiers, college students on US campuses, and Jews worldwide.
Diners rose to their feet in thundering applause following a Hebrew-language duet by a father-and-son duo, Neria and Meir Amitai from Ashkelon, who were singing from the dais in Jerusalem.
A video presentation masterfully sewed together the work of Chabad emissaries on various “front lines.” It drew powerful lines between the Chabad rabbis in in Hebron, who in addition to their uniforms as Chabad emissaries have donned that of the IDF, to those in New York’s Columbia University, where Jewish students are reeling in the face of chillingly violent anti-Jewish protests on campus. All of it was anchored by footage from uplifting talks by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
A Columbia University student, Eitan Feifel, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, spoke about the “rivers of hate” that have flooded the streets and how fellow Jewish students were considering taking down mezuzahs. “In Israel, our people have the IDF,” he said, “and around the world we have the Rebbe’s shluchim, who bring positivity and pride to the front lines.”
“Instead of taking down mezuzahs,” he continued, “our rabbi is going around campus putting up mezuzahs wherever a Jew can be found.”
His talk led into a presentation on the work of three generations of the Pizem family, who serve as Chabad emissaries in the front line city of Sderot, which is located so close to Gaza that there is just 12 seconds to find shelter from when a rocket is fired; more than 10,000 rockets have hit Sderot since 2001. They spoke about their experience on Oct. 7, when they came face to face with the Hamas butchers, who had killed more than 45 of their friends, congregants and neighbors.
It was immediately followed by a live address from 9-year-old Avraham Pizem, who addressed the crowds on both continents wearing his bulletproof vest and helmet. In a powerful address that showed poise and wisdom beyond his years, young Pizem shared what it felt like to run for shelter, sometimes not making it in time. The lights dimmed and he led the crowd in counting to 12 seconds. He implored the crowd to recognize the significance of 12 seconds and how much they could accomplish in even such a short time.
He concluded by shouting “chazak, chazak venitchazek”—“Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen ourselves”—before falling into his younger brother’s spontaneous embrace.
Table after table, participants rose to their feet, linked arms in a dance that was both exuberant and determined.
The kenyote address was delivered by Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Stern, spiritual leader and director of the Sydenham Shul, the largest synagogue in Johannesburg, South Africa.
He quoted medieval Jewish poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, “My heart is in the east and I am in the far reaches of the west.”
Speaking in English and Hebrew, he spoke of his personal ache and prayers, with his parents and siblings in Israel. He spoke about his brother, Duddie, who is now in Gaza, putting his life on the line to protect Jewish lives.
Then, drawing parallels from Abraham and Sarah, to whom G‑d gifted the Land of Israel, he spoke of the Jewish people’s supernatural strength and G‑d-given eternality and their innate ability to turn to G‑d and respond to adversity with strength, courage, faith, and even joy.
At one point, the hall was full of people singing the stirring words of Ani Maamin (“I Believe”), which expresses the Jewish People’s unwavering faith in the arrival of Moshiach. The tune was the one brought from the depth of the Holocaust, composed in the cattle car en route to the Treblinka Extermination Camp, where as many as 900,000 Jews were killed.
Not content with strong feelings alone, Kotlarsky urged the audience to continue to encourage Jews to increase in even more mitzvah observances, preparing the world for Moshiach’s arrival.
This year, he was joined by his son, Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, in the “roll call” in which they recognized the 5813 shluchim families from all 50 states and 110 countries and territories.
They then broke out into (at least) the third dance of the afternoon, capping a gala that spanned the spectrum of emotions and left its participants determined to return home and do even more on behalf of Israel, Jewry, and the world.