Chabad emissaries ‘overcome time, space,’ Zoom to a record

Rabbi Yossi Abenson


When the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries ended last week, it broke a record. At 136 hours, the conference stands as the longest Zoom online videoconference call. The previous record was just under 24 hours, set earlier this year by Jono and Ben, a pair of radio DJs in Auckland, New Zealand.

The marathon Chabad Zoom call brought together Chabad emissaries from all over the world. COVID-19 forced the conference to be a virtual gathering, but didn’t dampen the spirit of participants, especially when the formal presentations concluded and the final farbrengen got going. 

Farbrengen is Yiddish for “spending time together.” That can take the form of sharing song, Torah teaching or just inspiring words from personal experiences. It’s a festive gathering, but the farbrengen is also an opportunity to take away important life lessons. That was certainly the experience of Rabbi Yossi Abenson from Chabad of the Central West End. 

“One of the recurring themes over the five days was lots of stories and messages about the importance of each individual person, Jew and non-Jew,” Abenson said. “Every person has a role to play, and the difference each person can make is important for the whole world. Those kind of messages were very powerful.”

The Zoom session was originally envisioned as a rolling virtual farbrengen that would begin Saturday night in Australia and make its way around the world as the Sabbath concluded in each time zone. But participants got more engaged as it went on, and there was no sign that it would end. Because rabbis from around the globe participated, it was a round-the-clock farbrengen. Some participants, such as St. Charles Chabad Rabbi Chaim Landa, logged in early in the morning in the U.S., when it was nearing 10 p.m. for a rabbi calling it a day in Vietnam.

During the farbrengen, many different languages were spoken. Fortunately, the Zoom platform made it a breeze to understand the discussion, said Rabbi Hershey Novack of Chabad on Campus at Washington University.

“There was simultaneous translation into Hebrew in the chat feature,” Rabbi Novack said. “So when people were coming on and speaking languages other than Hebrew, there were various people crowdsourcing, in real time, so folks could read along in the chat what was going on.”

The event also offered an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, a relative luxury during the pandemic. Rabbi Avi Rubenfeld from Chabad of Chesterfield said he was able to communicate with Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz, an old comrade from his yeshiva days.

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“We grew up together,” Rubenfeld said. “He is suffering from ALS and, unless I went to Los Angeles, I wouldn’t be able to participate with him, but here we were being able to be farbrengen-ing and I could communicate with him through his speech machine, and it was pretty amazing.” 

Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis, is a veteran of more than 35 years of Chabad conferences. Landa said the record-setting farbrengen Zoom call was a remarkable feat, in part because it was unexpected and serendipitous. 

“It was going to be the off-year where the conference wouldn’t have the usual electricity, and you would think there would be something lacking, and it turned out to be something that was powerful in its own way and in some respects in a greater way,” Landa said. “There was an energy and a togetherness and a spirit that you’re together with people to share a mission. It overcame the barriers of time and space that was phenomenal and inspiring and uplifting.” 

Chabad Women Emissaries will have a shot at breaking the Zoom record again when it meets in February.