Among the Chabad rabbis attending the Global Yarchei Kallah was one Rosh Yeshiva whose journey was particularly challenging…
Photos by Shimi Kutner
He was given a mere two-hours’ notice to prepare for an upcoming flight, but Rabbi Leibel Shuchat—Rosh Yeshiva Guedola de Venezuela in Caracas—managed to pack up and take off.
His destination: the Catskill Mountains in New York, site of the annual scholarly international summit known as Yarchei Kallah.
What was previously a five-hour nonstop flight from the Simón Bolívar International Airport to any one of New York City’s major airports has now become a lengthy ordeal. A growing number of air carriers, including Delta, United and Colombia’s flagship Avianca, have recently suspended service to Venezuela.
Nevertheless, the rabbi insisted on joining his colleagues from around the world at Camp Gan Israel in Parksville, N.Y., for the high-level annual conference, which includes intense study and scholarly discussion.
After days of uncertainty, it seemed that his only option would be to fly across the Atlantic to Madrid, Spain, from where he would again traverse the ocean by plane to New York, a staggering 17-hour journey.
But just before midnight on Monday, a flight was found on Copa Airlines that would take him to New York via Panama.
The catch was that it was leaving the following morning at 6 a.m. Since Venezuela has more than five separate security checkpoints at the airport, the rabbi would need to be there four hours beforehand. He was left with little time to pack his tallis, tefillin and other essentials before zipping off to the airport.
Speaking from New York, the rabbi says he plans to utilize the time for study and preparation for his presentation at the conference on the specific legalities of “writing a ketubah [marriage contract] for a Friday wedding.”
“This is a time of year when I get to speak to people about subjects that are close to me,” explains the Brooklyn-born rabbi, who has lived in Venezuela since 1985 and has made it a point to attend the Yarchei Kallah event at Camp Gan Yisroel Parksville NY.
“Every conversation is centered around Torah texts, Talmud, Jewish law and Chassidic teachings. It’s something I really enjoy and look forward to—and I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Rabbi Shuchat’s dedication seems fitting for an annual conference held in observance of the yahrtzeit, or anniversary of passing, of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, who served as chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, during some of the harshest periods of Soviet-era conditions.
Rabbi Schneerson, father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe was known for being a fearless leader of the Jewish people and a champion of Judaism during that trying time, as well as an extraordinary scholar of Kabbalah and Talmud.
“The Rebbe seemed to consider Yarchei Kallah to be an actual part of his fulfillment of the mitzvah to honor his father on the day of his passing,” says Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, chairman of Agudas Chassidei Chabad and spiritual director of Camp Gan Israel, where this gathering was initiated 43 years ago.
Rabbi Shemtov pointed to the Rebbe’s words of appreciation to participant Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Hershberg, the chief rabbi of Mexico, stating that this is related to the commandment to “honor your father,” also in the afterlife, as stated in the book of Zohar.
He added that he was moved by the resolve of Rabbi Shuchat to attend.
“The esteemed guests of the Yarchei Kallah also embody the everlasting example set forth by the Rebbe’s father,” said Rabbi Shemtov. “While most may not face the same life-threatening dangers as he did, their commitment to education and Torah remains steadfast.”
This year nearly 60 participants are expected for the extended weekend conference, hailing from the United States, Canada, Israel, France, England, Argentina, South Africa and Russia.
Open to the wider public is the festive melaveh malka meal that follows Shabbat and concludes the conference. The program will include remarks by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Segal, renowned mashpia in Jerusalem, and Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, author and Shliach in Uruguay.
It will take place Motzoei Shabbos, Aug. 12, at 10:30 p.m., at the main shul in Camp Gan Israel, 487 Parksville Road, Parksville, NY 12768.