Merkos Suite 302 sent a special box of chocolate truffles…
Morristown, NJ. A sprawling property boasting a panoramic view of hills painted by radiant autumn leaves. The yard is set with tables and chairs, and 45 Shluchos sit, deep in discussion. Rabbi YY Jacobson is giving a workshop, and everyone is involved, their voices rising and falling with the passion of the moment.
This is the 5th annual Ufaratzta Circle Kinus, and the Ufaratzta Shluchos are enjoying the warm day with their friends and sister Shluchos, a rare occurrence for these women from various corners of the globe.
Ufaratzta Circle Shluchos are Shluchos who live in especially remote areas, far from family and friends, with no schools for their children, a lack of kosher food, and without any semblance of a frum community. To provide the Jews of their city with a taste of authentic Judaism, these women give up what many would consider essentials. One Shlucha has to fly four hours in order to use the mikvah; another only has access to Kosher food if it’s driven in on a truck for ten hours, the distance to the nearest kosher store.
The Ufaratzta Circle Kinus isn’t like the Kinus HaShluchos. It isn’t focused on grand ideas, growing your programs, or even relating how many people attended your latest Challah bake event (probably somewhere between three and seven.) This Kinus is about fostering deep friendships amongst the Shluchos, creating a network of support and understanding.
From the beginning of the Kinus, with the Wednesday evening Ohel visit, until the busses pulled up at the airport Sunday morning, the Shluchos shared. They joined in discussions and participated in interactive programs, debated issues as they walked the grounds, and shared stories by the Shabbos table. They talked about their life, their personal struggles, and the uniqueness of their individual locales. They shared whatever came to mind, because to speak with the Ufaratzta Shluchos is to speak with family.
“I was a bit nervous about coming for the Kinus because I didn’t really know anyone, besides from the WhatsApp group,” said Mrs. Hana Polwida, Shlucha to Boquete, Panama. “But as soon as I stepped into the house I felt right at home. We’re all coming from the same place; we understand each other like other people can’t. We speak the same language. I might have never met these Shluchos before, but I felt like I knew them, and that they knew me.”
Since its start in 2015, Ufaratzta Circle has catered to the unique needs and challenges of these Shluchos. Serving as a support system, Ufaratzta Circle, a division of Merkos 302 and directed by Mrs. Chani Goldberg, makes sure these outlying Shluchos feel cared for throughout the year. Ufaratzta Circle unites the Shluchos via an active WhatsApp group and keeps them connected and inspired through a multitude of virtual programs, farbrengens, packages, food deliveries, Bochurim by Shavuos, birthday gifts, and an exciting annual Kinus.
The Kinus is a luxurious extended weekend retreat where these Shluchos have the rare opportunity to sit back, relax, and connect with fellow Ufaratzta Shluchos. They are in the company of other Shluchos who understand and relate to their unique daily struggles of living in isolation.
Now back in person after a virtual event last year, many of the Shluchos flew in from around the world for the Kinus, some their first visit to New York since Covid began.
“If you manage to find a flight, Tasmania will let you out, but they won’t let you back in,” said Mrs. Rochel Gorden, Shlucha to South Launceston, TAS. “For most of the past year and a half nobody has been able to come or go. But here I am; what’s a 28 hour trip when it comes to spending time with my sisters!?”
For four days the Shluchos were treated to gourmet meals they didn’t cook, exciting workshops they didn’t prepare, and engaging lectures they didn’t give, all in the luxurious environment of the Vallevue Estate. There was a candlelit dinner under the stars, an elegant spa experience, hourly raffles drawn for a variety of deluxe items, and a free Motzei Shabbos shopping spree for beautiful children’s clothing. Over 50 small businesses donated generously to create a luxurious atmosphere.
The Shluchos also enjoyed an exciting KosherChopped activity with celebrity chef Naomi Nachman and riveting talks and farbrengens by well-known speakers such as Rabbi YY Jacobson, Rabbi Yakov Chaiton, Mrs. Chaya Teldon, Mrs. Sarah Wagner, Mrs. Perel Krasnjansky, and Mrs. Sonia Wolff.
“I really related to what Rabbi Chaiton said about chinuch,” said Mrs. Bracha Filler from Prescott, AZ. “We’re raising a family in unusual circumstances, and it’s hard for me to relate to most of the classes I listen to. But Rabbi Chaiton spoke about people like me who have their kids home 24/7, and how I can realize the long-term values that I am instilling in my children right at home. That’s something I can always relate to and work on, no matter how old my kids are or where I live.”
“The Ufaratzta Circle Shluchos live out in the wilderness, in places many have never heard of, in order to find that one Jew who needs direction and is looking for his spark,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, director of Merkos Suite 302. “The Shlucha is there for every Jew; we want to be there for every Shlucha.”
“This Kinus made my year,” said an anonymous Shlucha from South America. “Over the past months, when things were really difficult with Covid and people from my community didn’t feel comfortable coming to any programs, I just kept thinking that in six months I’ll be at the Ufaratzta Kinus. In five months. In four months. It really pulled me through some tough times!”
When Sunday morning brought with it loaded suitcases and airport trips, the Shluchos exchanged heartfelt goodbyes. “I feel like I’m leaving my family,” said Mrs. Chana Wolf. “But I also feel like I’m going back to my shlichus in Kalispell, Montana a little less alone.”
Because they aren’t alone; these Shluchos are all part of a large and diverse Ufaratzta Circle family, which unites, inspires, and empowers them in their unique Shlichus.
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