BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Thousands of rabbis from around the world have met for the 2010 conclave of the Chabad-Lubavitch International Lay Leadership Conference here, where they wound up their meetings with a reception on a waterfront pier that normally is the U.S. home for the cruise ships Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Mary II.
“It was the only location we could find that could host so many people,” explained conference spokesman Motti Seligson.
More than 5,000 people participated in a dinner that capped the annual convention.
Traditional festive dancing accompanied the discussion of more serious issues such as the future of the nuclear family and the role of Judaism in international affairs.
The Chabad convention is the only forum for the international Jewish community to meet on a regular basis, said Seligson.
Nearly 100 workshops delivered by 300 presenters and moderators addressed a variety of topics, including utilizing technology to further Jewish education, running collegiate/university activities and running a day school.
Considered an ultra-orthodox sect, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jews are best known for their traditional black wide-rimmed hats, beards and long black coats.
They are also among the most politically active Jews and mainly conservative in their political leanings.
In Israel, they have on occasion played kingmaker in forming parliamentary governments.
It is not unusual for Israeli leaders running for public office to seek voter support from the orthodox sect. Some have traveled to the Chabad Brooklyn headquarters seeking political endorsement.
So, having such a large gathering of followers is not that unusual, say Chabad leaders.
Two years ago, the Chabad made headlines when their offices in Mumbai, India, were attacked by terrorists.
The attack on Nariman House in November 2008 left six dead, including the rabbi who headed the operation, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his young wife, Rivka.
Rabbi Yosef Kantor, who heads a Chabad outpost in Bangkok, Thailand, and supervised the group in India, still has concerns two years later:
“It (terrorism) happens everywhere in the world and it means that we have to be prudent and take steps to heighten security, which we have done and begin anew. We hope and pray that we have peace.”
Aside from their activist politics, this year’s forum looked inwards toward the future of the nuclear family.
One conference participant who headed the family workshop himself had an interesting history.
Rabbi Yitzhok Chaumenpour originally hailed from Iran but now leads a Chabad group in the New York area. He told WND that he has heard nothing from the small Jewish community that still remains inside the Islamic nation.
“I have no relatives left in Iran and cannot tell you about the current situation … if the remaining Jews need help we would certainly like to go back,” he said.
Chaumenpour revealed that most of the remaining Iranian Jews, estimated at fewer than 300, have in essence been cutoff from any outside contact.
The rabbi also stressed that the Chabad sees improving the life of the nuclear family as the most important challenge facing the Jewish community as 2011 approaches.
“Our project (in 2011) is the improvement of relations between the parents and children. The home is the main part of any community. So, to improve community life, we must start in the home.”
The 5,000 conventioneers were a record for such a gathering.
“It’s amazing to come to such an event where every single detail has been planned for months and months in advance,” professed Rabbi Nochum Kastenelenbogen of Owings Mills, Md., to the Chabbad News Service.
Could it be topped in 2011?
“You bet,” boasted one rabbi.