Thousands of rabbis from around the world convened Sunday morning in Crown Heights for a massive group photo — an annual event capturing the spirit of the world’s largest rabbinical gathering, the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries, which kicked off Oct. 31 and ends Monday.
But this year, the usually-jovial “class picture” was tempered by solemnity in light of last Saturday’s horrific anti-Semitic attack, in which a gunman killed 11 members of the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pittsburgh suburb of Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania — a tragedy that has rocked Jewish communities across the nation.
Rabbis from the Pittsburgh area said the event held a special significance this year, and that the international support has been an inspiration as the community grieves.
“Especially for us in Pittsburgh, it was [inspiring] knowing that everyone is here with us,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein of the Chabad of Squirrel Hill. “So many messages from the rabbis and their communities reaching out to us — it was very inspiring.”
Rabbi Altein said he had just flown in from Pittsburgh that morning, having stayed behind through Friday in order to celebrate Shabbat with his community, where synagogues overflowed with attendees.
Roughly 5,600 rabbis and communal leaders from 100 countries have gathered for the annual conference, and taking the photo required several incremental shots to get the full panorama of smiling faces.
After the photo, a delegation of rabbis from Pittsburgh, including Altein, led the gathered thousands in prayer and song to memorialize the lives lost.
Themes of this year’s conference also reflect the tragedy, including combating anti-Semitism, bolstering synagogue security, and counseling congregations in mourning.
“The world is unified in support,” said Rabbi Mendy Schapiro of the Chabad of Monroeville — another suburb of Pittsburgh. “Where there is hatred, we have to overpower that with unconditional love and unity. And at an event like this, I don’t know where you could find more unity.”