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Thanking The Rebbe: Machon Chana Alumnae Reunion

Close to 400 alumnae from around the world attended a reunion in Crown Heights during the week preceding Gimmel Tammuz.

An impressive assemblage of alumnae from around the world attended a Machon Chana reunion in Crown Heights during the week preceding Gimmel Tammuz. The number of participating alumna was especially gratifying considering that the reunion sessions took place mainly on weekdays, during the week between school and camp.

Representatives from Argentina, Russia, and Eretz Yisroel joined women from all around the US during this exciting learning-packed week.

Many participants related that this was the first convention that answered their needs directly as it  discussed how to handle various situations occurring in their lives. The theme of the reunion, “Being the Best…& Beyond,” focused on three main areas: avoda atzmis, relationships, and chinuch.

The reunion began on Friday night with a bang. It was exciting to meet old acquaintances and catch up on their lives, to share experiences with new ones, and to take pride in each other’s growth and accomplishments. Malka Werde, who took on the position of Hillel “Rabbi”-director in Rockland County, began with recounting the story of the Rebbe’s first Pesach seider in the dorm. She had received matzos that Erev Pesach from the Rebbe for the

Buffalo Chabad House, but missed the plane, leaving Rabbi Noson Gurary without the Rebbe’s matza for the sedarim. She was upset at first, but felt better when the Rebbe visited the Machon Chana seider and blessed the girls that they be married by next year. She became engaged shortly thereafter. She told how living as a Lubavitcher and a mother is a transcending experience, lifting her and all women out of the ordinary gashmiyusdike life to a life whose purpose is to bring G-d and G-dliness into the world, through the ko’ach and encouragement of the Rebbe. Keren Leeds from Pittsburgh spoke and pointed out parallels in the parsha to our personal avoda.

Many women described the warmth they feel coming back home to the dorm and of their appreciation for Gita Ganzburg, the dorm mother, who continues to act as mother to them. To many, the first stop when they arrive in Crown Heights is Machon Chana. The evening ended with niggunim and Maariv.

Shabbos afternoon brought a grand Shalosh Seudos in Lubavitcher Yeshiva. Shulamis Nadler catered all of the food for the reunion, and Shoshana Reiber coordinated the food as well the fundraising. Laya Klien, Edis Fuss, Chaya Aidel Freeman and Chanie Rothman helped coordinate the sessions.

Rabbi Majeski, dean of the school, was introduced by alumna Naomi Aarons. She told how Rabbi Majeski was so devoted to the girls that when she missed a second appointment in his office to straighten out a certain problem, he actually came to her house! Rabbi Majeski spoke about the meaning of a reunion and the importance of constantly strengthening our hiskashrus.

Sara Labkowski, director of Machon Chana, told how the Rebbe picked the date and theme of the reunion through the Igros. She explained that the kavana of this reunion is to better integrate the gashmiyusdike and the ruchniyusdike aspects in everyone’s life. Yocheved Adelman, shlucha in Amherst, Massachusetts, spoke about hiskashrus, and Menucha Lavner created a mood of harmony and melody with her rousing Chassidic tunes.

The workshops that afternoon were: “Bitachon and Simcha,” led by Chanie Rothman, Chana Baila Schwartz and Eliza Kaplan; “Moshiach: Answers to Common Questions,” led by Rabbi S. Majeski; “Staying Focused and Inspired,” led by Keren Leeds; and “What Hiskashrus Really Means,” with Sara Labkowski and  Yocheved Adelman. Hearing the Igros stories and stories of mesiras nefesh of many of the women strengthened the convictions of the participants and created a mood of inner strength and optimism.

Sunday’s topic focused on relationships. Workshops for married women were on shalom bayis, led by Chana Epstein, and taharas ha’mishpacha, led by Sterna Krinsky. For single women there was a full day focused on shidduchim. Women with children of marriageable age attended workshops on preparing the children for shidduchim, the parents’ role, and psychological aspects and prejudices, given by Esther Blau, Yocheved Baitelman, and Edis Fuss. There was a session with shadchanim led by Gitty Stolik.

A Chassidus shiur with Rabbi Majeski, was followed by a “Building Self-Confidence”workshop with Molly Resnick. She spoke powerfully, describing the importance of deriving strength and confidence from the fact that we are living the life Hashem taught us through the Torah. She, as a woman who has met powerful people the world over through her previous work, emphasized how fortunate we are to have the Rebbe as our leader. She explained the importance of attaching oneself to a mashpia, a living example of how to handle situations that arise and how to raise children as the Torah teaches. She stated resolutely that women can and must feel proud raising Chassidishe children without getting caught up in secular society’s push towards careerism.

There were also workshops addressing topics such as caring for aging parents, given by Dorit Rogers, dealing with disappointment in our children, and disciplining with love, led by Bassie Pinson. There were workshops specific for parents with special needs children and at risk children given by Henna White, Chana Leah Duato, and Rabbi Homnick.

The three-day chinuch conference began on Monday with focus on the Chassidic home and raising a Bas Chabad. Gitty Stolik  and Sara Labkowski spoke on the Chassidic home, and Chavi Altien, principal of Bais Rivka, Bracha Chein, Miriam Gurary and Rishi Majeski spoke on the Bas Chabad.

Tuesday’s workshops focused on specific problems in chinuch such as “The Tzniyus Dilemma - How to turn cool kids into warm Chassidim,” with Leah Gurary and “Chinuch for the younger set” with Devora Leah Shalinsky and Chaya Sheina Labkowski. Medical issues were discussed, one for expectant and nursing mothers and the other for women over age forty, organized by Sara Chana Silverstein.

A farbrengen with the Rebbitzens,  was led by Sara Katzman and Riva Teleshevsky. There ere workshops on topics in balabatishkeit, given by Shulamis Nadler, Riva Minkowicz, Chana Kurinky, Esther Dukesz, Devorah Benjamin, Ruth Devora Wollen, and Sara Marasov.

Wednesday focused on “Raising a Tamim.” Rabbi Kesselman, the maspia of the Yeshiva in Johansburg, was a powerful speaker.  He defined what is the essence of a Tamim - a person who has mesiras nefesh for the public good in terms of initiating and developing Jewish activities and institutions in areas of need, disregarding their own comforts and needs for the public’s needs. He explained that this was the difference between the mesiras nefesh of the Tamim in Russia and the mesiras nefesh of Jews throughout history.

Throughout Jewish history, Jews have had mesiras nefesh for their own mitzva observance whenever the situation called for it. But in Russia, the Tamim actually risked their lives to provide Jewish education and leadership to others, which is a situation that is above what the Torah calls for in terms of mesiras nefesh. He also explained how to raise a Tamim in our times. Rabbi Levin, Rebbe in Oholei Menachem, and Rabbi Akiva Wagner, rosh yeshiva in Toronto, discussed the challenges in raising a Tamim today and answered specific questions on how parents could help the yeshivos to reach this goal.

The culmination of the program was an elegant banquet on Gimmel Tammuz, in conjunction with Nshei Chabad and held in Oholei Menachem. The speakers emphasized the Rebbe’s ko’ach that has transformed the world in the past 50 years by creating a cadre of empowered and dedicated women who are in the lead as examples of Chassidishe women and in developing Yiddishkeit in their neighborhoods. Doreen Kolt, an alumna and mother of three, told how the Rebbe changed her whole family. Gitty Barnett, a daughter, represented children of baalos teshuva around the world thanking the Rebbe. There was not a dry eye in the room when she finished.

Yocheved Adelman was the keynote speaker. She told of the strengths inherent in women that the Rebbe brought out, and that are transferred to their children and mushpaos. Rabbi Shloma Majeski’s topic was “Defining our Mission,” which he connected to Gimmel Tammuz. Sara Labkowski thanked the Rebbe for enriching the lives of Lubavitcher women with limud ha’Chassidus, which was once mainly in the domain of men. She explained how the growth of Machon Chana has contributed to the spiritual growth of Crown Heights and areas throughout the world, as the graduates of the school married and went to live in other regions. She told of the special love the Rebbe had for the mosad and for the students he called his daughters.

The program ended with a video showing Machon Chana women, throughout the 28 years.

The women who attended the program felt inspired, enriched and empowered. They returned home with a handle on skills and with advice on how to better their lives as mothers, wives, and shluchos. The women acknowledged the truthfulness of the sessions and how helpful they were in terms of focus, attitude and skill.

Yashar Ko’ach to Sara Labkowski, director of Machon Chana, for her dedication, leadership, and forthrightness throughout the years.

Whoever wishes to hear tapes of these spectacular sessions can call Machon Chana for information as to how to obtain them. The telephone number is (718) 735-0030.



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