BY BRIANA DUGGAN
Cars and buses lined bumper-to-bumper along 39th street Sunday evening, November 3, as 5,400 rabbis and their guests made their way to the annual International Chabad-Lubavitch Conference of Emissaries, held at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal.
The event – billed as the city’s largest sit-down dinner in the city – celebrated the men of the Brooklyn-based Chabad movement who run Jewish outreach centers, known as Chabad Houses. There are Chabad Houses in 81 countries, making Chabad one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world.
This marked the first year the event was held in Sunset Park, hosted in a 100,000-square-foot former car distribution warehouse along the waterfront. Veteran event organizer David Scharf said finding a space large enough for the dinner proved a challenge.
“There is no spot – like a ready-made spot – that has the infrastructure for this event,” said Scharf. “I have to take to take a complete stripped-down warehouse and build from that point.”
Working with a fleet of laborers, Scharf spent a week transforming a warehouse with no water or electricity into a fully equipped ballroom, fit with two kosher kitchens, bathrooms, and a complex lighting and video system.
As guests arrived, the former warehouse betrayed little hint of its automotive past. The steel interior was draped in a thick, gray fabric, and chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Carpet – along with 470 tables – covered the cold, concrete floor.
Screens displayed live video of the event, cast from one of the several large cameras gliding over the ballroom. A wait staff of 400 served a three-course meal as guests listened to speeches by notable Jewish leaders, including 2000 vice presidential nominee, Joseph Lieberman.
“This is probably the largest crowd I’ve addressed since I accepted the vice presidential nomination,” noted Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut.
But the highlight of the night came when the crowd rose from their seats, and danced in a joyous, heaving mass, 5,000 men strong.
Rabbi Yosef Landa, who directs the Chabad Houses in St. Louis, Missouri, said the energy of the event stays with him through the year.
“For me it’s an opportunity to get together with friends and recharge the batteries,” said Landa. “It’s not down time; it’s loading up spiritual energy to be able to be able to give back.”