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By Chabad House Compass Express
This past weekend, 250 teens and 30 Shluchim joined CTeen’s third annual National Teen Shabbaton in New York City. The Shabbaton featured a weekend of fun and inspiration, and strengthened a growing network of Jewish teens.
Attendance more than tripled from last year, when approximately 80 teens attended. “Thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of our participating Shluchim, including groups from JLI Teens and Friendship Circle, we have seen tremendous growth,” says Rabbi Mendel Perlstein, CTeen Director.
“The Shabbaton shows the teens that they are part of a larger network,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, under whose auspices CTeen is run. “They come to realize that they are a vital link in a chain stretching back generations. CTeen teaches them their responsibility, while showing that finding meaning can also be fun and exciting.”
The Shabbaton opened Friday at Chabad of Wall Street, followed by visits to the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero and the opportunity to mingle with new friends.
Adam Edery, a teen from Montreal, was impressed by the way so many Jewish teens from diverse backgrounds just instantly clicked. “Not only did we get along, but we became like family and grew and learned together. It was mind blowing.”
Indeed, Adam’s own group was indicative of the prevailing spirit of the Shabbat. Adam met Zack Pleeter of Huntington Beach, NJ, for the first time on Friday morning. Since he was the sole representative of Huntington’s chapter, Zach joined the Montreal group. Within hours, they appeared to be lifelong friends.
Having never kept a Shabbos before, Zack was unsure of the dos and don’ts involved. He needn’t have worried. His new buddies helped guide him through it and he had a great time. “We felt honored to be part of his first Shabbat,” said Adam.
Friday night began with Maariv, led by the ever energetic, Rabbi Avremi Schapiro of Milwaukee, WI. A memorable Shabbos meal followed. Along with delicious food and lively singing, 15 different teens spontaneously got up to share personal stories of life changing events.
“Just as we thought the fun was over for the night,” says Adam, “in walks Dimitry Salita!” Salita, a welterweight boxing champion and devout Jew, regaled the awestruck teens with his story of Jewish pride and commitment. The soft spoken boxer answered many questions as the teens drank in his every word.
While an advanced group formed a Minyan for Davening on Shabbos morning, a beginners group held roundtable discussions about the meaning and power of prayer with Shluchim. Following Davening, the teens experienced Crown Height’s legendary hospitality at meals hosted by numerous local families.
After Shabbos the teens boarded buses as they headed for the highlight of the Shabbaton, a VIP yacht event on the Hudson. Whether it was experiencing a massive havdallah ceremony on the top deck, having fun with the new (and very cool) Xbox Kinect, banging away on bongos with the drum circle, dancing to live music, or enjoying the delicious fare of sushi, shakes and paninis, there was something for everyone.
During the cruise, an emotional video presentation was made by Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl. Moved by the plight of their fellow Jews, the CTeeners wrote photo cards with messages of hope and encouragement.
“I am very warmed and happy for the survivors of this catastrophe,” wrote one teen. “I love you and am especially deeply touched since I am a Jewish boy who is from Ukraine. Stay strong!”
The incredible spirit continued from the cruise into Times Square, as they showed off their youthful exuberance in one of the busiest spots in the world and enjoyed their 15 seconds of fame on the big screen.
“The event was designed to make each participant feel like a VIP,” says Rabbi Benzion Treitel, CTeen’s national events coordinator. “Every person has loads of untapped potential. We aimed to give the teens a feeling of self worth and a sense of empowerment.”
Sunday morning featured behind-the-scenes walking tours of Crown Heights, including the Jewish Children’s Museum, matza bakery, Hasofer and 770.
The lively group then made their way to the Ohel. In addition to writing their own personal letters to the
Rebbe, the group signed a general pa”n to report the great event to the Rebbe.
The Shabbaton ended on a high note, with the teens sharing their memories of the weekend over a lavish banquet.
“My only regret,” said Rabbi Levi Hodakov of Palm Harbor, FL, “is that I did not bring more teens.”
Emails and text messages immediately following the Shabbaton showed some of the early fruits. Teen shared with their Shluchim new resolutions to put on Tefillin every day or wear Tzitzis even while attending public school. For everyone, the weekend resulted in a fresh perspective on Judaism and an increase in Jewish pride.
Jonathan Lafountain of Southern Florida, exclaimed that “this was the most incredible Shabbat of my life. I will definitely be here year after year!”
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