Emerging Together to be Stronger Than Ever

In November, my wife Mushka and I became Chabad emissaries (“Shluchim”) to the City of La Cañada and the surrounding areas. We wish to serve the Jewish community of the Crescenta Valley in any way we can. Our intention is to create a sense of community for the Jewish people of the area through innovative programs in all areas of Jewish life – something we think is long overdue.

While picking up and moving away from our home in Brooklyn, New York, saying goodbye to our family and friends, departing a sizable religious community, only to move to a much smaller one may seem novel for religious Hasidic Jews, but for me and Mushka it was only natural. We were taught that it is not enough to commit to our own Jewish practice, but rather we must go out of our way and do our best to inspire others, one Jew at a time, one mitzvah at a time.

As a child I was always envious of my parents in that they were able to fly to New York for the annual Shluchim convention. This is when thousands of Chabad Shluchim from around the world come together at Chabad headquarters, in Brooklyn. Workshops and networking are definitely a big part of the convention, but for most, the highlight of the convention is seeing and connecting with their “brothers” – the fellow Shluchim. The convention is when the Shluchim “recharge their batteries” and receive the strength to return to their work with renewed energy and vigor.

This was going to be the year. My wife and I were finally card-carrying Shluchim ­– something we had been looking forward to our whole lives.

When the pandemic hit in February 2020, nobody knew that it would last this long. But as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, it was becoming one of the darkest periods in recent history.

A convention in person was out of the question. But at the same time – perhaps the convention was needed more than ever! An idea was formed that there would be a “Zoom convention” that would take place Saturday night after the conclusion of Shabbat. The Zoom meeting would begin in Australia. As soon as Shabbat ended in Thailand the baton passed to Bangkok. Chabad emissaries from around Asia logged on and were soon joined by Eastern Europe, Israel, Africa, Western Europe, United Kingdom, then Central and South, and finally North America.

What was scheduled to be a 22-hour Chassidic gathering kept going, with between 200 and 1,000 logged on at a time, the crowd fluctuating over the course of the following five days. Shluchim took turns sharing Torah thoughts and stories, as the dialogue switched seamlessly between English, Hebrew and Yiddish, peppered with Portuguese, Russian and French. Volunteers providing impromptu simultaneous translations in the chat section. When the Zoom maxed out at 1,000 participants, it was streamed to other platforms to allow more to join. And when the Zoom meeting reached its 24-hour limit everyone signed back in for, to paraphrase the convention’s message, “No is not an option, Shluchim will find a way.”

It turned out to be the longest Zoom meeting in history. Thousands of rabbis from over a hundred countries across six continents kept the meeting going for a full week!

Perhaps this convention, in the throes of the pandemic, when the feelings of loneliness and isolation are experienced by billions around the world, was the most unifying convention of all time! It reminded us how we are never alone. We are all together in this and will make it through. Let us lean on each other for support.

If you know someone in need, be that pillar in their life, and together we will emerge from this stronger than ever!

Rabbi Mendy Grossbaum
Chabad of the Crescenta Valley