Areyah Kaltmann

Lessons in Leadership from the World’s Largest Gathering of Jewish Women

Rochel Kaltmann (left) stands with Chabad women emissaries at the International Shluchos Conference

On Feb. 11, I stood in a sprawling auditorium with 4,000 fellow Jewish female directors of Chabad Jewish centers from throughout the world. We all gathered for the International Conference of Chabad Women Emissaries – the annual convention where leaders of Jewish communities from 126 countries and all 50 states meet in Brooklyn, NY to exchange ideas to improve our work, learn how to deal with new challenges facing the Jewish community and unite in our shared mission.

The conference contains workshops, prayer sessions and a visit to the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson and his wife, the Rebbetzin, Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed memory. The climax of the weekend is a banquet on the final night where all 4,000 women join for an evening of celebration and inspiration before returning to our respective communities.

I was making my way through the bustling hall when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see my colleague Yehudis Cohen, the Chabad emissary to Loudoun County, Va. She had brought a special guest from Israel to the banquet and wanted to know if I’d like to meet her. We made our way to her table and sitting there was Ditza Or, the mother of Avinatan Or, who was taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, and has been held in captivity for over 120 days since.

I stood next to Ditza and listened to her story. We hugged, we talked and we cried. I told her about how much our community, and the entire Jewish people, are praying for her son and all the hostages who were torn from their families. I told her we haven’t forgotten them, that they have never left our minds and hearts, and that she will never be alone because the entire Jewish people are standing with her.

It was a bracelet she had made a few years ago etched with the Hebrew words “Ke’eref Ayin,” which means “like the blink of an eye.” In Judaism, this phrase refers to the swiftness of G-d’s blessings, where redemption from a dreadful situation to a beautiful one can happen in an instant – like the blink of an eye.

Ditza told my daughter she will return the bracelet when her son is freed.

This moving encounter left me thinking about the nature of the Jewish people and of my role as a leader in the Jewish community – the reason I had come to the convention in the first place.

Each woman at the conference has a different personality, education level, method and, in many cases, the only thing they have in common is a shared goal.
Over 4,000 Chabad Lubavitch Jewish women leaders pose for the annual “Class Picture” Photo Credit: Shmulie Grossbaum

This function of Chabad Jewish leadership is by design. The Rebbe constructed the Chabad network of emissaries specifically in a way that highlights people’s diverse strengths and personalities and empowers them to take on leadership positions in their own way. You don’t need a fancy degree, great oratory skills or a charismatic persona in order to be a leader. You just need to use the individual qualities G-d gave you. That’s more than enough to make a difference.

The former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, once famously said that while most leaders create followers, the Rebbe created leaders. The brilliance of the Rebbe was he showed every person how they could be a leader in their own right, and how they could use their standing, no matter its size, to influence those in their circle for good.

Ditza Or holds no formal position of leadership in the Jewish community, but she taught me a valuable lesson in Jewish solidarity and has inspired me to come home to Columbus with more vigor and resolve in my mission.

The Jewish people are reeling from the worst attack on our people since the Holocaust, and every Jew is searching for direction in a time when the future seems bleak and unclear. In order to make it through this moment, we must view ourselves as leaders of our own domain and take it upon ourselves to influence those around us for good. We mustn’t leave the duty for change to the people who look and sound like leaders, but rather internalize the fact that we are all leaders who are capable of changing the world.

This doesn’t require grand plans or dreams. All we need to do is look at what is around us – whether our work, our family or our friends – and find a place to infuse it with more goodness. There is no blueprint or manual, and that’s the point. Just look closely at the world around you, and recognize the power you have to make it a more beautiful and G-dly place.


Guest Post from Esther Kaltmann, Co-director of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center of Columbus and co-director of LifeTown Columbus.

Esther Kaltmann is the co-director of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center of Columbus and co-director of LifeTown Columbus.

About the Author
Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann is the Director of Chabad Columbus at the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center. For over three decades, Rabbi Kaltmann and his wife Esther have put their heart and soul into serving the Columbus Jewish community. In addition to directing Chabad Columbus, the Rabbi and his family also operate LifeTown Columbus — which teaches essential life skills to more than 2,100 Ohio students with special needs in a 5,000-square-foot miniature city, Kitchen of Life — which fosters social-emotional skills for young people through culinary arts, Friendship Circle Columbus, the Jewish Business Network, and dozens of other programs. Areyah and Esther have adult children who serve Chabad of Downtown Columbus, oversee Chabad’s many programs and enthusiastically serve people throughout the state.
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