This week, thousands of women who work as Chabad emissaries met in Brooklyn for a conference designed to offer a combination of networking and professional development opportunities.
However, many attendees gathered on Thursday afternoon, the first day of the conference, not to socialize but to grieve.
The group of women made up the majority of the funeral procession for their colleague Henya Federman, a 40-year-old representative of the Hasidic outreach movement who passed away on Wednesday, as they stood in front of 770 Eastern Parkway, the movement’s headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood, under a cloudy sky.
Federman, who had a U.S. base of operations after attempting unsuccessfully to save her 4-month-old daughter from drowning in the Virgin Islands with her family, had been on life support for nearly three months.
Most participants were women, many standing with strollers and little children.
The women took out their small prayer books and embraced one another while muttering psalms to themselves and encouraging words to one another.
Most of the crowd was silent. Eulogies are typically absent from Chabad funerals out of fear of exaggerating the deceased’s life.
While others cried out in agony as their bodies trembled, some women let their tears silently down their faces.
Others were more concerned with practical religious matters: In the absence of other solace-seeking statements, one woman asked another which psalms to say.
Even though conference participants came from around the world to New York City, some knew Federman personally.
Nechama Laber, a Chabad emissary based close to Albany, claimed that Federman, originally from Milwaukee, was a childhood friend of her husband’s.
In 1968, Rabbi Yisroel and Bracha Devorah Shmotkin, Federman’s parents, established the first Chabad-Lubavitch center in Wisconsin. The family “had a significant impact,” according to Laber.
Federman and her husband, Rabbi Asher Federman, were the first Chabad emissaries in their adopted city, just like her parents were. In 2005, the pair established the Chabad-Lubavitch of St. Thomas. Her spouse and 12 children remain behind.
For the past two months, Laya Slavin, a Chabad emissary in Sydney, has prayed for Federman’s recovery.
Slavin stated, “We were davening from Australia. “This is not how it was intended to end.”