Carolyn looked genuinely pleased when I told her my boarding pass directed me to cozy up in the seat next to her. I saw this as a miracle. The plane from Pittsburgh to New York was half empty, yet G-d clearly wanted me to sit together with a Jewish woman I barely knew. Would she be interested in why I was going to the Chabad Shluchos Convention? I would have an hour to find out.
“Are you sure you want me to sit here? If I talk too much, you can move to an empty seat,” I told her half jokingly. I detected more sincerity than politeness when she assured me she likes talking to people on planes.
We began chatting immediately, starting with my explaining that a shlucha is a female emissary of Chabad/Lubavitch. As we took off, I told her I needed to say Tefillas HaDerech, the prayer recited before traveling. (“This mitzva should be good for you, too,” I smiled. Nothing like a little dark humor to lighten things up.)
By the time we landed, we had discussed shidduchim (how our children’s marriages are made), why we would ask a rabbi before deciding to go to college, how she’d seen some of my blog posts, and how Moshiach is an authentic Jewish concept that’s better for the world than any scenario that she or anyone could make up. I didn’t do all the talking though. Carolyn told me about her boyfriend, why she enjoys her work, and how her father still plays tennis.
This divinely ordained meeting set the stage for me at this year’s convention: my story is my shlichus.
I wouldn’t have my story if not for Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, and Mrs. Keny Deren, Of Blessed Memory. Last Friday night, to commemorate her second yahrtzeit, many of Mrs. Deren’s female descendants gathered in her daughter Chavi Altein’s home. Mrs. Deren was Yeshiva’s principal in 1987, when I took our four-year-old son, Mordy (known then as “Max”), to visit the school for the first time. I told everyone how I didn’t hear a word Mrs. Deren said that day. I just knew I wanted my children in her school. I had never seen anyone whose face combined beauty and truth like hers did. Today, many of our grandchildren go to Yeshiva Schools. Who could have imagined that in 1987?
Then, on Shabbos afternoon, I shared an abridged version of my story with the women attending the convention’s Guest Program. My friend Molly Resnick coordinates this program designed for newcomers to Chabad. Molly, a former television producer, insisted on making me sound more interesting by referring to my privileged background.
I cringed but deferred to the expert. I proceeded to tell the women that I didn’t ask to be born “privileged” any more than I asked to be born questioning the meaning of life. I just knew that “privilege” was not the true answer.
Do you know what else I told them? I said, “G-d is true, the Torah is true, and the Rebbe is true.” I figured somebody’s got to start saying it.
This clarity is a far cry from the uncertainty that plagued my early years of Jewish observance. I’m not sure why I went to the conventions as often as I did. I didn’t belong there. I hardly knew anybody. I remember one year clinging to a kindly, older shlucha whose daughter lived in Pittsburgh. Every fiber of my being was asking: Why did I do this to myself?
These days, making conversation with shluchos is easy. My opening line is usually, “did you know I write a blog?” and we take it from there.
The convention’s banquet is always a breathtaking celebration of strength and unity among the women of Chabad, but this year’s was unforgettable. When Stephanie, a young girl from Plano, Texas, thanked our daughter Leah Dubrawsky as a shlucha who had impacted her Jewish journey, I let out a cheer intended straight for heaven. Every shlucha impacts countless lives, but most don’t get mentioned in front of an audience of thousands.
I don’t take for granted that the convention is also a time for laughing, philosophizing, and eating too much good food with people I love. This year’s convention experience was especially sweet, because one of those people was Sashie Levertov, a shlucha who has overcome a serious health challenge. Thank G-d.
And if all that isn’t enough, this year, we are one convention closer to the ultimate convention, the one we’ll celebrate with Moshiach.
It’s a feeling. It’s a promise. It’s even simple math. And it’s really, really time.