WILLIAMSBURG — There are roughly 60 Chabad-Lubavitch synagogues in Brooklyn. A thriving retail corridor along Kingston Avenue hums with shoppers daily, just down the block from the movement’s international headquarters. But where do you get those services when you’re part of the religious organization and you live in China?
That and other service-related questions are what thousands of women leaders joined forces on last weekend during the annual Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. Now in its 28th year, the 5-day, annual event brings women from 50 states and 100 countries to Brooklyn from as far out as Beijing.
In mainland China, Dini Freundlich heads up a few Jewish-focused services in the Chaoyang District of Beijing. Only a few dozen Jews call the city their home, according to the 44-year-old. But for 30,000 Jewish tourists and nearly 2,000 transient residents studying, teaching or working abroad from 6 months to a year, the search for kosher food, a place of worship or religious instruction can be daunting. Freundlich and her family-run businesses that offer some of those services.
“We’re basically the one-stop Jewish address in China, she said of the 18-year-old business.
This weekend Freundlich and other women leaders attended workshops throughout Brooklyn during the conference. There they exchanged ideas on how to serve Jews from Chicago to the Congo. Some seminars focused on mental health, from understanding troubled relationships to responding to tragedy or life changes.
The latter of which is the motivation of Chani Friedman’s food-related businesses in Israel. Friedman, 39, and her crew of 50 women make and deliver breakfast for mothers with newborns in her hometown Ashdod.
“You know after birth sometimes you wake up in the morning and all you want is a cup of coffee,” she said. Friedman also provides food delivery services to seniors in a program she equates to the states’ “Meals on Wheels” program.
But sisterhood seemed to drive most of the excitement for Friedman who has traveled to New York annually—except when she was pregnant—for the past 13 years. Like her, many attending the annual dinner at the New York State Armory in Williamsburg describe the 5-day event as “empowering.”
“When I come here it gives me a boost of energy for the whole year,” she said. “I get so inspired when I’m here.”
The international conference is a tribute to the late Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the revered leader of the Chabbad—Lubavitch Jewish movement based in Crown Heights— the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Referred to as a reserved woman, Schneerson, is known for her service especially for the careful watch over the first women’s Yeshiva, Machon Chana in Crown Heights. Since 1991, the conference of women leaders from all over has been paying homage to the late Rebbitzen (wife of a Jewish Rabbi), who spent her final years in Crown Heights, the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Esther Winners’ journey to the Williamsburg gathering was just a taxi-ride away. Co-founder of Chabad Neshama Center in Brighton Beach hasn’t missed a conference since its 1991 start. Winners, 62, started her outreach mission 35 years ago when Southern Brooklyn had very few resources for Lubavitchers. Now with 50,000 Jewish families in the area, the shlucha (woman emissary) provides education services from pre-school to adult learning among other community programs.
“It’s very inspirational to see the global amount of women that give up their life — they give up all their personal fun stuff — to reach out and do what the Lubavitch Rebbe wants all of us to accomplish to make the world a better place.”
Of the 4,700 women Lubavitch leaders throughout the world, 3,000 attended the 28th conference.