By Avrohom Chaim Gorokhov, Shoshana & Mrs. Esther Tauber
Photos by Ross Denn Photography & Alex Goroknov – glattphotography.com
This past President’s Day Weekend, Chamah International partnered with Lubavitch Youth Organization for the seventh consecutive year to host the Annual National Russian Shabbaton.
Over 1,000 mostly Russian-speaking Jews came together to celebrate one of the largest Hakhel gatherings in the Tri-State area. They came from forty communities across the United States and Canada, and some even from abroad—young and old, families with small children, professionals, community leaders, students, singles, and teens.
The joy was palpable, and a feeling of achdus permeated the crowd of 1,000 guests at the newly-renovated Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stamford, CT. This year’s Shabbaton was declared by popular acclaim to be “The best Shabbaton ever!”
This herculean project is run by Chamah International in conjunction with Lubavitch Youth Organization led by Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, Program Director, and Rabbi Chaim Meir Lieberman, Executive Board Member.
Chamah’s Executive Committee is Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, President, Rabbi Moshiach Chudaitov, Executive Vice President, Rabbi Binyomin Malachovski, Executive Director, and Rabbi Benzion Laskin, Program Director, Rabbi Berri Spitezki, Director of Development.
The Children’s Program was directed by Rebbitzen Hannah Zaltzman and Rivka Zaltzman, Head Counselor. The babysitting services were directed by Mrs. Sima Vernik.
Additionally, the Shabbaton was enhanced by a generous donation from Yossi Popack.
Chamah was established as a clandestine organization under the watchful eye of the KGB in Communist Russia, and has grown into an international organization, extending humanitarian aid to needy Jews in Israel, Russia, and the United States.
The choice of seventy inspiring and informative lectures in Russian or English, the sensational entertainment, the abundant gourmet cuisine, the beauty of an authentic Shabbos celebration, the luxurious accommodations—surpassed all expectations.
What a warm, inspiring weekend it truly was, from the moment the candles were lit Erev Shabbos by hundreds of mothers and daughters, thru the awe inspiring, uplifting Havdalah ceremony, when all the guests gathered in the cavernous lobby of the hotel—right up to the farewell lunch and closing ceremony Sunday afternoon.
The lectures and workshops at the Shabbaton were phenomenal. Rabbi Laskin with the committee, Rabbis Velvel Belinsky, Kasriel Kastel, Eli Kogan, Baruch Lepkivker, Moshe Chaim Levin arranged a lineup of inspiring lectures on a broad range of topics in both Russian and in English.
Friday afternoon Ukraine’s top celebrity chef, Uriel Shtern, demonstrated how to prepare gourmet Shabbos fish, and Mrs. Sara Rodkin taught the guests how to bake perfect challah. The men and women also had the opportunity to avail themselves of the gym, swimming pool and fitness room at designated times throughout the weekend.
The moving Kabalas Shabbos Tefila led by Chazan Eli Raskin was followed by a celebratory Seudas Shabbos.
The Friday evening Singles Program followed, run by well-known Shadchanit Chana Raksin, with singles mingling in a Jewish setting, followed by the opportunity to introduce themselves and be interviewed by the shadchannit. As a result of last year’s Shababton, a number of couples were married and many more became engaged.
After the meal there were two simultaneous Chassishe farberengen, one lead by Rabbi Yishaya Gisser, and the other by Rabbis Shlomo Zalman Cohen and Yehuda Levin.
An arousing Tefilas Shacharis was led by world-renowned Chazan Rabbi Berel Zaltzman. Rabbi Baruch Babayov of The Bucharien Jewish Community Center of Queens led separate tefilos in the Sepharadic nussach. His community is well represented each year and are a vital part of the Shabbaton.
Throughout Shabbos there were stimulating lectures on a broad range of topics given by some of the greatest scholars, doctors, and rabbis of the Jewish world. At times there were seven lectures running simultaneously, making the decision of which one to choose a difficult one.
It seemed as if weekend could not have gotten any better. But it did!
Motzoei Shabbos the entertainment was top notch: a concert for women by renowned Israeli singer and author, Zlata Razdolina with her band, who has composed over 600 musical pieces in various genres, got all the ladies dancing joyfully in the true spirit of “Mishenichnas Adar…”
At the lavish Melave Malka the keynote address was delivered by Assemblyman Dov Hikind. He movingly described the valiant fight to free Russian Jewry. Standup Comedian Marc Weiner had the audience holding their sides with laughter.
And the night was just beginning. Next in the lineup was Israeli singing sensation, Yishai Lapidot and his band, who had the great crowd on their feet in celebration, jumping, singing, and dancing along with him. The lighting and the blue theatrical smoke lent a surreal aura to the great ballroom.
As the conclusion to the Melava Malka there was a video screening of The Return: Nektalovs Don’t Give Up. The Shabbaton guests had the opportunity to meet Film Director Ariel Rubinov, and the hero of this moving story, Rafael Nektalov.
The audience witnessed his captivating journey—traumatized by his past, lost in the present—and how a selfless gift of a kidney changed the lives of two men.
The Sunday program included a panel of journalists, radio personalities and politicians such as Michail Bratslavsky, Ari Kagan, Raphael Nektalov, Michael Nemerovsky, and Boris Tenzer with moderator Rabbi Moshiach Chudaitov.
Sunday afternoon there was a popular lecture and book-signing event by Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, author of the best-selling book, Samarkand, depicting the perils of learning Torah and spreading the light of Judaism under the oppressive Communist regime. The book has received high acclaim and has been published in English, Hebrew and Russian.
And thanks to the amazing lineup of lecturers and entertainers:
Michael Bratslavsky, Radio host Davidzon Radio, Rabbi Baruch Babayov, Bucharian Jewish Community Center of Queens, Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, Ariel Jewish Center, Baltimore, MD, Dr. Marika D. Cherfas, Doctor of Internal and Holistic Medicine, Mrs. Basya Chudaitov, Lecturer on Judaism to the Russian-Jewish Community, Rabbi Levi Y. Garelik, Rabbi, Ohel Eliezer Synagogue, Brussels, and lecturer at sichosonline.org, Rabbi Ishaya Gisser, Spiritual Leader of the Kiev Community and scholar-in-residence at the Steinsaltz Center, Israel, Rabbi Eli Goodman, Chabad of the Beaches, Long Beach, New York, Dov Hikind, Longtime New York State Assemblyman, Rabbi Yochanan Ivry, Congregation Toras Emes of Staten Island, Ari Kagan, Brooklyn District Leader and journalist, Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky, Mrs. Shterney Kanelsky, Rabbi Dovid Karpov, Darkei Shalom Synagogue, Moscow, Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, Program Director, Lubavitch Youth Organization, Rabbi Eli Kogan, Jewish Russian Learning Center of S.I. and editor of Ru.Chabad.org, Mrs. Tanya Kogan, Jewish Russian Learning Center of Staten Island, Rabbi Benzion Laskin, Shabbaton Director and Chamah Program Director, Rabbi Baruch Lepkivker, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Levin, Chabad of Kensington Mrs. Doba Levin, Chabad of Kensington, Rafael Nektalov, Editor-in-chief, the Bukharian Times, Dr. Mikhail Nemirovsky, Director of Russian Outreach at JCRC in NY, Dr. Alex Poltorak, Theoretical physicist, professor and CEO of General Patent Corp., Dr. Leah Poltorak, Executive Vice President of Ryogen, Suffern, N.Y., Ariel Roubinov, Film director and linear editor, Rabbi Dan Rodkin, Shaloh House, Russian J.C. of Greater Boston, Mrs. Sarah Rodkin, Shaloh House, Russian J.C. of Greater Boston, Uriel Shtern, Renowned Chef, Author and star of Dinner in the Big City, Mr. Boris Tenzer, Famous Russian-American TV Host, Mrs. Chana Weisberg, Famed speaker, best-selling author and columnist, editor of theJewishWoman.org, Rabbi Isser Z. Weisberg, Prolific author and Talmudic scholar, master of Jewish Eschatology and Mysticism, Cantor Rabbi Berele Zaltzman, Community Development, Mrs. Hannah Zaltzman, Young Israel of Brighton Beach, Chabad of Kingsborough, and Camp Gan Israel Chamah,,Rabbi Efraim Zaltzman, Young Israel of Brighton Beach, Chabad of Kingsborough and Camp Gan Israel Chamah.
Special thanks to the amazing Chamah staff: Mrs. Nechama Bennish, Rabbi Menachem Chuzhin, Ariel Goldstein, Levi Levin, Mrs. Elana Litkowski and Mrs. Esther Tauber.
The Shabbaton is something people look forward to all year long. The best testimonial to the success of the weekend was the question asked over and over by the satisfied guests, “When is the next Shabbaton?”