Several years ago Bogolyubov also set up a $10 million Simcha Fund for shluchim around the world. Every shaliach who has a child or makes a bar mitzvah or wedding gets a generous stipend to help defray some of the celebration costs.
I could have listened to Chanie Kaminetzki for hours, so fascinated was I by her stories.
The second speaker was Rabbi Yehoshua Metzger, who together with his dynamic wife, Bracha Chana, runs Chabad of Midtown – or as he called it, “the crossroads of the world.” He recounted how 20 years ago they were greeted with protests of “Who needs Chabad in Manhattan?” Today, they run daily minyanim and shiurim for local business people and visitors; Shabbat dinners; a kollel; and the famous sukkah in Bryant Park. They also construct a giant ice menorah on 5th Avenue every year. Rabbi Metzger also told poignant stories about things that have taken place at their Shabbat dinners.
The woman I sat next to at the dinner is a story herself. Rebbetzin Shula Kazen, a woman in her nineties, has been a shlucha in Cleveland, Ohio, for close to 50 years. Her father was shot by the KGB for clandestinely teaching Torah and being a mohel and shochet. It took more than three decades to verify that while her mother remained an agunah.
Her mother raised her and her siblings alone and in hiding in an unused shul in Gomel. Since she refused to send her children to atheistic schools in the USSR, she was unable to get food rations and so fed the family potatoes she and others had planted in back of the shul.
One day the Soviets suddenly approached and everyone began fleeing. Some people tried to rescue the shul’s Torah scrolls, running through the potato garden.
Several women shouted, “Don’t run on my potatoes,” but Mrs. Kazen’s mother declared, “Anyone carrying a Sefer Torah can trample on my potatoes.”
Today Rebbetzin Kazen is the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of more than 100 shluchos around the world, in locales as diverse as Israel, Shanghai, China, Brazil, Argentina, Johannesburg, Paris, Italy, Panama, among many others. One of her daughters, Rivka Kotlarsky, co-runs the Guest of Shluchos program together with Molly Resnick.
(Rebbetzin Kotlarsky’s husband, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the educational arm of Lubavitch, is in charge of the entire Kinus weekend and helps set up new shluchim around the world.)
There was a musical segment to the program featuring Laura Kegeles, a gifted cellist who has played at Carnegie Hall and is a ba’alas teshuvah through Chabad, as well as an ensemble of a flutist, violinist, pianist and singer who entertained us.
I always knew about the work Chabad Lubavitch does for Jews who are unaware of their Jewish heritage. But when you listen to some of the stories and see so many of these women together and realize how many lives have been touched, the effect is overwhelming. And I only experienced one evening, a mere taste of this magnificent weekend.
One can imagine what it must be like with 2,500 “Mrs. Kaminetzkis” in one room. I hope to be able to attend next year’s banquet.