For the first time since 1990, the annual Southern Regional Conference of Shluchim - Hebrew for "emissaries" - of Chabad Lubavitch, an international Hasidic movement, will be hosted in Houston.
The conference, which will be held on July 15 and 16 and includes a public event on Sunday, will draw together Chabad rabbis from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and Texas.
Although Florida, which has more than 100 Chabad rabbis compared to about 30 in Texas, hosts more than its share of conferences, a "major extension" to the central Chabad building in Houston helped it secure a successful bid, said Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, director of the Chabad of Uptown.
"Not everybody is scrambling to host, or wishing it would come to their city, but it's an honor to host all these people from around the region and to showcase our Chabad house (and) our city," he said, "and also to have an influence on the city itself. Houston should recognize and appreciate the scope of Chabad's work, not just in Houston but also in the region."
Chabad, an international Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish movement whose operating budget is often estimated to be $1 billion, follows the teachings of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994.
The 3,300 Chabad houses across the globe, which function as synagogues and one-stop Jewish shops for everything from ritual baths to libraries and study halls, are almost self-sufficient, Lazaroff said.
The even is open to all Jewish men and women. Like most Orthodox synagogues, Chabad houses have a barrier, called a "mehitzah," separating men and women during prayer. Speakers at the event will address Chabad's mission and global efforts. "We don't proselytize, and we aren't seeking conversions of non-Jews. That's not our mission. Our mission is to reach every Jew," Lazaroff said. "Everybody asks, 'How many members does Chabad have?' I always tell them, 'How many Jews are living in Houston?' We consider every Jew a part of our work."
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the central office of Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch in Brooklyn, also is expected to address conference attendees, as are Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, of the Shul (synagogue) of Bal Harbor in Florida, and David Cotlar, a Houston pediatrician.