After the Friday night meal at the Machon Chana Family Shabbaton, attended by nearly 60 students and parents, everyone introduced themselves and stated their place of origin. One could have imagined herself at the “United Nations,” except that Machon Chana is a house of truth and light, not lies and darkness.
During this special Hakhel year, family of students had travelled all the way from Venezuela, England, California and Florida to participate in this annual event. The students themselves hail from throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Uruguay, Brazil, France, Spain, Germany, Belarus, Russia, Israel, Venezuela and England.
Rabbi Shloma Majeski, principal of Machon Chana, explains, “The Shabbaton provides new understanding and significant insights. Some family members are concerned about how this new lifestyle will affect their relative’s future and her responsibility towards her family and society. Participation in the weekend provides a relaxed, friendly atmosphere in which we can together nurture an understanding. We welcome questions in the general sessions as well as in your conversations with the host families and the school staff.”
The Shabbaton began when family and guests were welcomed to the Machon Chana dorm on Friday at candle lighting by student Miriam Goodman of Holland, Pennsylvania. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Miriam shared that she had “always imagined a modest, spiritual meaningful life and then when I found it, I instantly knew it was what my neshama wanted. I’m so grateful to be a part of Machon Chana!”
After services in 770, everyone returned to the dorm for a delicious Shabbos meal prepared by the students and Machon Chana’s devoted cook Smadar Benhayoun who, as per the Rebbe’s instructions to the original cook of the dorm, “cooks for the girls as she cooks at home.”
The meal was led by Rabbi Shloma and Mrs. Rivka Majeski, and Rabbi Mordechai and Mrs. Chana Nemni, the dorm parents.
Current student Graciela Rochel Mancusi, a graduate of the Central University of Venezuela spoke at the meal. Her parents had travelled all the way from Caracas to be with her and experience a taste of Machon Chana. Graciela shared, “Chabad and Chassidus taught me that being a Jew is about truly connecting to Hashem with every fiber of my body and soul, understanding that G-d gave me a mission that nobody else can accomplish but me, and also to know that He gave me all the tools that I need to succeed.”
Mrs. Aliza Horowitz, a Machon Chana alumna, MSW and founder of – together with her husband Yaakov – the “Small Wonder Puppet Theatre” followed Graciela. She shared the story of her journey to Torah and the Rebbe, as well as the impact it had on her parents and siblings.
Shabbos morning, students and their families were welcomed into the home of Machon Chana alumna Adina Adry for coffee and cake. Mrs. Adry graciously and patiently answered any questions that the families wanted to ask in this more informal setting.
For Shabbos lunch, students took their families to Crown Heights families who so generously and warmly open their homes to the Machon Chana students on a regular basis. Everyone reconvened at the dorm for Havadala, followed by a lavish Melave Malka, also prepared by the students and madrichos.
Tal Portal from Yokneam, Israel, who was a Language Fellow at Vassar College before starting her studies at Machon Chana, opened the Melave Malka. “I am here because of my parents. Even though they weren’t able to be here, they are here with me. My parents taught me to seek truth. Although their truth is different than my truth, my world would be incomplete without them.”
Following Tal’s touching speech, Dr. Levi Reiter spoke to the participants. Dr. Reiter is a professor emeritus at Hofstra University, a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, inventor of a new Shabbos friendly hearing aid called “Emet,” researcher on a disorder called the “Kiss of Deaf” and an intelligent, inspiring and entertaining speaker.
Dr. Reiter regaled the crowd with his tales of being a proud, observant Jew and Chasid in varied environments.
The evening and the Shabbaton closed with a question and answer session. Rabbi Majeski concluded by explaining that “The emphasis in Judaism is to merge heaven and earth; to be in this world with more depth, meaning and purpose.”
Other recent special events at Machon Chana included a farbrengen with Rabbi Anschelle Perl, director of Chabad of Mineola, on Chof Zayin Adar. Rabbi Perl spoke about our responsibility to be the “Rebbe’s voice.” He shared a number of his incredibly creative ideas that he has come up with to get the Rebbe’s messages out to the masses. A thought-provoking idea Rabbi Perl shared: “I ask myself: Am I a thermometer or am I thermostat? Am I testing the environment or am I creating it?” Rabbi Perl, who personifies creativity in Shlichus, also pointed out: “Vayakhel and Pekudei teach us about the importance of the community and the individual. The Rebbe expected absolute balance between the two: We must be part of the community and we must retain our individual creativity and potential.”
Machon Chana students also attended a Shalom Task Force workshop at school. Shalom Task Force presents annually at Machon Chana on the topic of healthy relationships.
“Our Stories, Our Selves,” a life-story writing workshop for women is being offered at Machon Chana this week at times that will be accessible for women with varying schedules. Workshop presenter Mrs. Tzivia Emmer is passionate about writing and especially excited about helping other women find their voices through her guided memoir workshops. Tuesday, March 15 from 10:30 – noon, and Wednesday, March 16 from 8:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., the introductory workshops will be held at Machon Chana, 825 Eastern Parkway. “Our Stories, Our Selves” is open to all women in the community.
One of Machon Chana’s hopes in hosting Mrs. Emmer’s writing workshop is that alumni who participate will acquire the tools and get the push that they need to write about their experience at or journey to Machon Chana. Mrs. Nechama Chanin, daughter of Machon Chana’s beloved dorm mother Mrs. Gitta Gansburg, o.b.m. revealed after Mrs. Gansburg’s passing that it had always been her mother’s dream to have a book published with the Machon Chana students’ stories.
For more information about any Machon Chana programs, including our full-time yeshiva, workshops, upcoming summer programs, visit our website at MachonChanaYeshiva.com, call our school at 718-552-2422 or email Mrs. Yehudis Cohen, assistant principal, at [email protected]