Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, director of Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, with Solomon Beck of Monroe, at last year's conference.
The Jewish State 11/10/06
Seth Mandel -

While curious youngsters often try to sneak into places for which they are not quite old enough, the global Chabad community's annual conference is usually not one of them.

But for Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, the conference's culminating banquet was where he wanted to be.

“Growing up as the son of a Chabad rabbi in Detroit, I always tried to squeeze my way into the banquets, because it was such an unbelievable experience,” Zaklikovsky, who is now the rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe Township, said.

And to make this year's event even more meaningful for Zaklikovsky, the International Conference of Shluchim will take place, for the first time, in New Jersey, from Nov. 16-20, at the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset.

“For me, as someone who runs a Chabad center in New Jersey, it's particularly heartwarming to have this banquet in my state, because in general the banquet is something that is very emotionally charged, and very special,” Zaklikovsky said. “It's the highlight, sort of, of the whole year, of the typical Chabad rabbi who's living in Boise, Idaho, or Siberia, or New Zealand, and it's the only time of the year that we get to see each other.”

The conference, also known as a kinus, is expected to gather about 2,500 Chabad rabbis from around the world. Zaklikovsky said the banquet hall holds 4,000, and he expects it to be full, since the banquet is for the rabbis and lay leaders from their respective communities.

The conference is even closer to home for Rabbi Mendy Herson, of the Chabad of Greater Somerset County.

“It's wonderful,” Herson said of the conference's location.

Herson said the conference is usually held in Crown Heights, NY, which is where the Chabad community has been centered in the United States. The Lubavitcher Rebbe - Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn - lived there and led his synagogue there.

Herson said that because of that, Crown Heights has been the hub of Chabad activity.

“Every year the gathering takes place there, in the Rebbe's synagogue in Crown Heights, (and) gets back to (the community's) roots, so to speak,” Herson said.

But the banquet, Herson said, has outgrown the various Brooklyn banquet halls, and the Garden State Exhibit Center is a good fit.

Herson, who is on the conference's organizing committee, said the conference is a chance for the many Chabad rabbis to touch base with each other, and address issues of interest to them and their work.

“We live in different types of communities, and have different types of struggles, and speak different languages,” Herson said. “So there are different sessions addressing the challenges of being the rabbi in a small community, and different one for being a rabbi in L.A. or Miami.”

The rabbis also discuss pastoral responsibilities and raising their families.

“There are so many things that we have to deal with, that the couple days that we have together really doesn't touch all the bases,” Herson said.

Herson began his work in Somerset in 1992. Since then, he said, the global Chabad community has grown tremendously, and has reached out to places many people, including himself, have never heard of.

“At one point, I think I knew - either personally, or by face and name - probably every person out there,” Herson said. “And it's amazing to stand there and look around and say 'who are these people?' I look at some of them and guess who their father is or brother is, but it has become so massive. It's nice to see.”

Zaklikovsky said that probably about 100 Chabad centers have opened around the world in the last year, and about 15 or 20 have opened in New Jersey in the last five years, bringing the number of New Jersey centers to 42.

“There's no question that there has been significant growth for Chabad in the state of New Jersey the last couple years,” Zaklikovsky said.

He said the rabbis all have friends at the different centers around the world, and they don't leave their post all year, since they are running services on Shabbat and holidays.

And the final night's banquet, Zaklikovsky said, is the one time each year “when you kind of showcase the developments of the work, and the passion, and the inspiration to go further. So it's a very special evening.”