Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Logistics For Supporting 4,500 Chabad Rabbis Challenge Caterers and Photographers (Where's Waldo?)

When 4,500 Chabad rabbis gather in New York for an annual conference, the print and digital media pounce on the story.  But is the story about the content of the conference, the inspiring messages to fortify the emissaries as they return to their Chabad Houses all over the world?

No, it's all about logistics.  How does a photographer go about creating still and video images of such a large number of identically dressed subjects?  How does a caterer serve 4,500 meals in a cavernous warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn?  How many cooks and waiters are needed?  How many main course choices should be offered?  And how to set up an efficiently run coat check service for 4,500 black coats?

Writing in The New York Times on Friday, Corey Kilgannon reported on the role of David Scharf, who was responsible for staging the banquet in the dank, drafty cargo area for cruise ships, part of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.
The event is the 27th annual International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries, in which Lubavitcher rabbis stationed around the globe convene each fall in New York to kibitz, share stories and attend workshops and seminars. (The conference was carried live via a Chabad webcast).
The event is now in its 27th year, and attendance grows each time. In fact, this terminal is the only place Mr. Scharf could imagine staging it. Well, there was the Javits Convention Center, but it was booked, and was a bit pricier, he said. And, this location is close to the Lubavitcher community and headquarters in Crown Heights.

There will be literally tons of food. Mr. Scharf has hired 90 chefs and 340 waiters. He has rented vast quantities of equipment, including 15,000 glasses and 30,000 pieces of cutlery. There is a bank of Kosher ovens wrapped in plastic and certified by a rabbi. A team of rabbis will be on hand to supervise the meals. The tractor-trailers will arrive on Sunday afternoon with some 5,000 — staffers have to eat, too — oven-ready meals of chicken and steak. The event is too huge to suffer picky eaters.
“Everyone gets their meat cooked medium — no choice,” said Mr. Scharf, of Cedarhurst, N.Y., who specializes in mega-events held by ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City. They can be tricky functions to pull off. Think of the details, for example: finding a check-in system for 4,500 black coats to be shed at the door. (The black hats are worn inside.) So many pickles will be served that a staff member was already slicing them on Thursday, taking them from big buckets.
The banquet is intended to reinvigorate the rabbis before they return to their missions around the world. There will be speeches and dancing, and the roll call of the various countries in which the rabbis work. Behind the dais, workers had hung a very large portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994 and is known simply as “The Rebbe” to his followers. Mr. Scharf met the Rebbe several times and still has the dollar bills that the Rebbe, who would hand them out to people seeking his blessing, handed him.
Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Gil Shefler reports:
Chabad leader Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson initiated the outreach program during the first half of the 20th century with the aim of providing Jewish services to communities and travelers. Over the years the network has vastly expanded and is currently located in 73 countries around the world, from China to Chile, South Africa to Finland, and every US state except Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Its dedicated corps of husband- and-wife teams, who usually have large families in tow, is the key to the network’s operations.
According to a news release from Chabad.com, the conference is:
a five-day smorgasbord of workshops, inspirational gatherings, field trips, and one-on-one counseling sessions designed to strengthen those who strengthen Jewish communities around the globe.
According to Rabbi Mendel Kotlarsky, a conference coordinator, a total of 97 workshops delivered by 300 presenters and moderators will address a variety of topics, including utilizing technology to further Jewish knowledge, running campus activities, and administrating a day school.
New to this year’s conference  is a special mobile site that allows for emissaries to peruse the program guide from their Android, iPhone and other smartphones, create their own schedules and receive updates and alerts before panels they wish to attend.
Most of us have taken or have been part of group photographs and know how hard it is to get everyone to look at the camera at the same time and smile.  But 4,500 black-hatted, black-suited rabbis?  Their group photograph was such an achievement that SG Videos created a six-minute video on the making of the photo.  It starts with a blank canvas -- the thousands of empty chairs arrayed in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, and documents the arrival of the participants until all seats have been taken and the photographer is ready to snap away.  But with all of the planning and precision of the photo session, someone forgot to say "Say cheese!"  Enjoy!

But wait!  There's more!

In addition to all of the good that they've been doing for Jewish life all around the world, Chabad is know for its dancing rabbis, who have become a regular feature on the annual telethons.  But if you've seen a few dancing rabbis on TV, you haven't seen anything until you see 4,500 dancing rabbis -- and here they are!

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