Inside a Weeklong Zoom Session With Thousands of Rabbis
Each year, Chabad rabbis from all over the world gather in Brooklyn. This year, they gathered over Zoom instead.
In month eight of Zoom hell, after two-quarters of grad school consisting of near-daily three-hour-long video lectures that killed me inside, I found myself enjoying a marathon Zoom meeting: A five-day-long gathering with thousands of Chabad rabbis.
I’d heard about the Zoom meeting, a virtual version of an annual event called Kinus Hashluchim, from a WhatsApp group of Chasidic friends that I belonged to before moving away from New York for school. Having ignored countless Zoom events thus far during the pandemic — Jewish singles board game nights, beer tastings, and galas from nonprofits that I’ve donated money to — I logged on to one of the Kinus Hashluchim’s events on a whim, as I missed my old group of friends. I knew at least the friend who posted it would be on the call. There was also a nostalgia factor, as I am now living in a very non-Jewish neighborhood in Chicago.
What I didn’t expect when I logged in on Tuesday, the third day of the event, was to be logged on until its end on Thursday, and to feel part of a community to which I sometimes feel a tenuous connection.
During non-Covid times, Kinus Hashluchim is held as a weeklong event involving study, drink, and hanging out with old friends.
It is important to the rabbis who attend partly because Chabad, a modern Chasidic movement with European roots starting in the 18th century, has a focus on Jewish outreach. Its thousands of rabbis are emissaries who build communities out of their homes for all types of Jews, everywhere — from American college campuses to small residential communities in Africa. And this focus on missions means that Chabad rabbis are often living away from their own communities, in places where they may be the only Orthodox families. Because running a Chabad House is a 24/7 job, with events taking place within the rabbi’s own home, they need to be religious and professional at all times.
So in addition to offering classes on skills like fundraising, the Kinus Hashluchim does something else: It provides connection with others in the community…