By Sara Esther Crispe – Chabad.edu
It’s hard to say what the best part was of the Midwest Shabbaton, held April 19-21, 2013 at the Chabad Center of Jewish Life at the University of Illinois.
Just spending Shabbat with over 300 fellow college students representing 10 universities at the largest Jewish gathering in the Midwest was pretty exceptional. Then there was listening throughout the weekend to the Maccabeats, an a cappella phenomena who have had more than 10 million views on YouTube. Add to that world-renowned speaker and best-selling author, Rabbi Shais Taub, who spoke about hurt in relationships and understanding spirituality in our day-to-day lives. And needless to say, delectable and non-stop flowing food to make sure that not only soul but body was well cared for.
From the time the students arrived on Friday afternoon until they left after breakfast on Sunday, they participated in a full-packed program of learning, bonding and growing. Under the directorship of Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel, who run the Chabad Center for Jewish Life serving the University of Illinois, the event was co-hosted by Illini AEPi, AEPhi, SAM, SDT and ZBT. This intercollegiate Shabbaton, the largest of its kind in the Midwest, is a partnership of the Midwest Chabad student centers and the Chabad on Campus International Foundation. “These events are a tremendous opportunity to inspire students as well as to create a dynamic sense of community amongst Jewish college students on different campuses,” explained Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice President of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.
The feedback, both from participants and presenters, says it all. Rabbi Shais Taub, who spoke into the morning hours with students, commented: “It is always a pleasure to speak to an engaged crowd, but to have the chance to interact with such an intelligent and passionate group of college students was an incredible experience. In addition, it was clear that Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel have succeeded in creating a home away from home for these young people. It had the feeling of a big family gathering more than a social event.”
For the students it was an opportunity to spend time with friends on campus, reconnect with friends from other universities and form new connections. According to Carley Gordan, the President of Alpha Epsilon Phi at the University of Illinois, “The Shabbaton was an excellent way to bring the Jewish Greek community together. All 5 houses were equally represented and all shared in the Shabbat celebration together.” Ryan Brown (’15), a ZBT member who is involved in the Chabad Student Leadership at the University of Illinois further noted, “Rabbi Dovid (Tiechtel) did an excellent job of putting together a weekend that brought the Jewish community on campus together. It was great to see all the students there and how we all come together for a powerful Shabbat experience.”
There is no question that a fully immersed Shabbaton had a profound effect on each and every student in attendance. All aspects of the program offered students a way to connect to a different part of their Judaism from the social and emotional, to the psychological and spiritual. And in doing so, it was a way of connecting to deeper parts of themselves. As summed up by Jerry Pine, a senior from Bradley University in Peoria, IL, “Over the past few days I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve felt on a higher physical and mental state of mind from being here.”