When Nathan Hourcade, a recent graduate from the University of Paris Cite, France, discovered that he had secured the final spot in the group from CYP Paris traveling to the United States for a global Shabbaton, he wasn’t sure what to expect. His first time visiting the States, he was curious to see the Jewish life in New York and the feeling he would encounter among so many other young Jews.
Salomé Rivka Bouskila, another recent graduate from the University of Montreal with a Masters in Quantitative and Computational Biology and an active member of Chabad UdeM and CYP Montreal, joined as well. They were all converging on the fourth annual Chabad Young Professionals Shabbaton that took place MLK weekend in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, Chabad’s world headquarters. Billed as CYP Encounter: Crown Heights, over five hundred young Jewish adults from one hundred different Chabad Young Professional communities, the world’s largest network of young Jewish professionals with 218 chapters serving more than 220,000 young Jews worldwide, came together. For many, it was a welcome opportunity to take a giant leap forward in their search for a soul mate.
What they both discovered was something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Bouskila summed it up: “The weekend got me thinking about so many of my personal interactions and how to make them more meaningful. I’m inspired to make an impact in my community back home, to get people together and internalize the ideas learned here.”
Indeed, with a weekend packed with so many highlights, the overall message came through: you’re at the crossroads of life, and it’s time to become ambassadors of light, Judaism, and life in your home. To create a strong Jewish identity and start a robust Jewish family wherever G-d’s master plan plants you.
From a star-studded lineup of inspiring figures who headlined multiple events, to intimate Friday night dinners with local hosts, to a full-on concert with 800 people in attendance late into the night in the city that never sleeps, the weekend was a blur of activity.
“Judaism is meant to be a community experience,” said Sheefra Blume, a life coach who joined as a part of a group from CYP Austin, Texas. “After such an immersive Jewish communal experience, I wonder to myself: maybe that’s something I can create myself back at home. I definitely want to continue implementing important Jewish ideas in my life and with those around me, and over this weekend, I got to thinking about what those are.”
Friday day before Shabbat saw the signature CYP Crown Heights neighborhood crawl, where attendees were able to see the ins and outs of a vibrant Jewish community–from kosher eateries to watching a scribe write an authentic Torah scoll. Of course, visitors were able to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s library and other landmarks that tell the story of the Rebbe’s expansive and visionary leadership that galvanized the entire CYP project from the beginning.
One of the major innovations of this year’s Encounter occurred later in the evening, when everyone convened once again to participate in CYP’s proprietary “[email protected]” speed dating event. Through the pre-event values-based questionnaire and a special AI algorithm, young adults are linked to those sharing similar life values, beliefs, and ambitions and are seen as compatible partners.
To further ensure success, certified [email protected] shadchanim were on hand, helping people identify their core values, answering questions, breaking the ice, and introducing young adults to one another. Scholars in residence, Rabbi Simon and Rebbetzin Shaindy Jacobson, were especially helpful in equipping participants with Chassidic wisdom on dating and marriage.
Shabbat was naturally inspiring, with services, lectures, social mixers, and a beautiful grand lunch. Fashion entrepreneur Joyce Azria inspired young adults with a rousing three-pronged message. One, about how each one is an ambassador of Judaism in their own locations; two, about the importance of dating Jewish and leading a strong Jewish family life; and three, encouraging participants to take on one mitzvah, particularly the mitzvah of Shabbat.
Saturday night was an off-the-charts concert in Manhattan hosted by CYP of the Upper East Side under the leadership of Rabbi Yosef and Devorah Wilhelm with the Zushe band and Billboard 100 singer and songwriter Alex Clare, who traveled from Jerusalem to uplift participants. The room pulsated with energy as the thousand-strong crowd sang and danced through the night in an unprecedented show of unity, apropos to this Hakhel year.
“Religion, and certainly Judaism, is a very private thing in France,” said Nathan Hourcad. “It’s not something you flaunt in public. Seeing the American Jewish community so openly Jewish, simply living a Jewish life in every element of daily life, has made a deep impression on me. I think that when I get back home, I want to embrace my Jewish identity more. I believe that the more I put it forward, the more people will accept it and respect it.”
The spiritual energy came to a climax on Sunday as participants visited the Ohel of the Rebbe. A unique program hosted by Rabbi Getzy Markowitz of CYP Montreal featured an on-stage interview with Rabbi Yisroel Deren and provided much food for thought on entering the Rebbe’s chamber. An inspiring program honing in on the message of the “ambassadors” program followed, with fascinating stories and anecdotes from tech entrepreneur Joe Teplow, once again underscoring the need to be proactive leaders of Jewish life in their locale.
Sure enough, participants like Bouskila are already on it: “The entire seven-hour ride back to Montreal, my friends and I discussed what programs we’re going to immediately implement when we arrive home.”
“Seeing today’s younger generation not only participate in Jewish experiences but be inspired to take a leadership role back home is truly what these Shabbatons are all about,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, and chairman of CYP International. “We are already seeing the positive impact reverberate across the globe.”
What a phenomenal job by Mendel Schwartz for putting this all together!