standard At Conference of Hasidic Emissaries, Social Media Leads the Way

Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis use a device to take a "#KinusSelfie" during their annual meeting of worldwide emissaries (Photo courtesy of Chabad.org)

Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis use a device to take a “#KinusSelfie” during their annual meeting of worldwide emissaries (Photo courtesy of Chabad.org)

“Selfies.” Hashtags. Live tweeting. Video streaming.

A recent gathering of worldwide Hasidic emissaries demonstrated how the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, often at the vanguard of using the internet for religious outreach, has continued to lead the way with its embrace of social media.

“Six years ago I sat hunched in a corner live tweeting this event alone, from a TREO 650,” said Morderchai Lightstone, who manages Chabad-Lubavitch’s social media feeds. “Now there is a veritable symphony of tweets. Amazing.”

The annual series of events, known as “Kinus,” began in 1984 with roughly 65 “Shluchim,” or emissaries, of the Chabad movement uniting in Crown Heights. The purpose of their gathering was to discuss and coordinate their efforts while rejoicing over their accomplishment and reveling in spiritual common ground. This year’s events included over 5,200 Shluchim from some 80 countries across the globe.

Mixed in with more strictly religious themes were activities with a decidedly technological focus. Professional presentations included hi-tech solutions for maximizing Chabad House productivity, fundraising and development. And in a now-ubiquitous photo, a giant “selfie stick” with a wide-angle lens captured over 2,000 emissaries in a single photograph on Eastern Parkway, while a civilian drone took additional shots while hovering from above.

“The Rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson] taught that technology bridges international divides, communicating and actualizing good in real time,” said Eli Rubin, a Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi.

The events culminated in a banquet dinner Sunday evening, with both participants and remote observers praising the increased connectivity of a “live stream” of the proceedings, combined with tweets from attendees.

“It feels like my community can experience the Kinus together with me,” said Rabbi Uriel Vigler, Director of the Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side, who attended the banquet. “They are watching online and enjoying the experience!”

“I couldn’t make it to the Kinus but I am experiencing it through Twitter,” said Rabbi Yisroel Bernath in Montreal.

Not all Orthodox Jews so readily embrace the internet. While Modern Orthodox Judaism is perhaps the most accommodating, blending strict religious observance with an openness to the modern world, many Hasidic leaders all but discourage the use of the technology except when necessary for conducting business. An “Asifa,” or gathering, of some 40,000 ultra-orthodox Jews took place at CitiField two years ago to warn against the dangers of the internet, including its invitations into gambling and pornography, and in creating opportunities for sexual predators.

But others have a more nuanced view.

“I see the internet like the telephone or electricity; it has the potential for great harm or for great good,” wrote Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, a senior Rabbi of an Orthodox Synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida.

Rabbi Mordechai Burg, Menahel (Principal) at a post-high school Yeshiva in Jerusalem, agreed.

“Our students are constantly on their phones, and while they are more connected than ever before, they’re also more disconnected from themselves and their peers,” Rabbi Burg said. “Chabad has used technology in this same time period to their advantage. They understand that the people are on Twitter and Facebook, and in classic fashion they’ve gone out to meet the people in their territory. There is no question in my mind that we can all take a page out of the Chabad playbook and do our utmost to use technology as a way of reaching our constituents.”