By: Aharon Loschak
For three inspiring days, young Jews from all over the United States and Canada enjoyed the warmth and vibrancy of the authentic Chassidic neighborhood. With a curated program full of interconnected experiences developed by Chabad Young Professionals International, participants couldn’t help but grow closer to one another and feel that they are part of a large yet tight-knit community.
“The CYP Shabbaton was a truly inspirational, five star weekend!” said Rabbi Levi Farkash, who together with his wife, Mina co-directs Chabad Young Professionals of Bellevue, Washington. “Seeing so many young Jews together who are passionate about Judaism really brings out the feeling of ‘Am Yisrael Chai!’ These are the future leaders of our people, and it’s incredible to see the impact made here. Kol Hakavod to all those who made it happen!”
“It’s been almost two years since our last Shabbaton, and we were facing tremendous hurdles and challenges,” said Rabbi Mendy Plotkin, Shabbaton Coordinator for Chabad Young Professionals International. “It’s only due to the dedicated efforts of the CYP Shluchim and the Rebbe’s continued Berachos that made this Shabbaton a reality; certainly the level of success was well beyond anything we could have imagined.”
“We are excited to see the formation of a large, international community of young Jewish adults,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. “As the community grows, everyone grows together, socially, professionally, and of course, beautiful Jewish families. We have already seen many happy couples meet and marry over the years, and G-d willing, many more will be able to find their Jewish soulmate in this broad and welcoming milieu.”
Participants arrived early Friday morning and were immersed in a Jewish life that goes far beyond the typical experiences to be had in a Chabad House or really any other location. Kosher eateries, a state-of-the-art mikvah tour, and a touch-and-feel demonstration at the sofer’s shop brought areas of Judaism to life in ways a lecture, video, or conversation never could.
As the sun dipped below the horizon on Friday afternoon and Shabbat settled in, participants went to their hosts’ homes to ready themselves for the holy day. “Being immersed for an entire 25 hours in their hosts’ home is the highlight of the weekend for many participants. Much thanks goes to the Crown Heights community for always stepping up with a signature, legendary hachnasas orchim,” said Rabbi Berel Frankel, director of Chabad Young Professionals International.
“Staying with a family for an immersive Shabbat made the whole experience so much better,” said Wendy Levinson of Charlotte, N.C. “In general, the feeling of walking around on Shabbat and everyone around you is participating in the same rituals reminded me of Jerusalem. Very quickly, the neighborhood felt so homey and comfortable.”
The Shabbos saw a program that melded prayer, communal meals, lectures and farbrengen gatherings for participants to choose from. For example, the late-night Farbrengen with Rabbi Yaakov and Dassi Zar of Chabad House Bowery went until long after midnight, and the early Shabbat morning Chassidic study session with Rabbi Simon Jacobson, of the Meaningful Life Center, lasted for more than four hours.
“I’ve been to a couple of Shabbatons before, but none like this,” said Levy Mann of Bellevue, Washington. “Everyone was mingling and getting to know each other, and it was a phenomenal experience. I particularly enjoyed listening to Rabbi Jacobson. Everything he said made me think.”
Levinson concurred. “It can be challenging for millennials to assimilate Jewish values into everyday life. Rabbi Jacobson was really skilled at demonstrating that synthesis, and bringing Jewish values and ideas to light in a relevant and insightful way.”
After the conclusion of Shabbat, buses brought participants to the swanky DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn for an uplifting and energizing evening with Jewish rapper Nissim Black and DJ Shatz. While the live Jewish music, rousing lechaims, and entertaining games are a part of the program, it is the Jewish pride and many connections that are made that sits at the heart of the burgeoning CYP community.
With G-d’s help, many of those connections should continue to blossom, as CYP International shepherds members along with their newly introduced “Met @Chabad” program. “We’ve poured in a lot of effort to create a different paradigm for young adults vis a vis their dating and married life. These gatherings are all part of our larger effort to bring as many young adults as possible into this new vision of dating and marriage as the Rebbe intended it,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, director of Merkos Suite 302, under whose umbrella CYP International operates.
The highlight of the Shabbaton came the following day, when everyone visited the Ohel.
“Going to the Ohel was uplifting,” said Levinson. “You know, I’m not such a letter writer, but that experience of sitting down and composing a personal prayer was so meaningful to me. Much of the prayers we do are communal services recited together, so to have this opportunity to write something completely personal that’s just between me and the Rebbe was really special. Ripping it up at the gravesite was a wholesome ending to the weekend.”
Mann had wanted to grow in his Jewish observance, and while at the Ohel decided that he’s starting with saying the Shema every morning and evening. “I want to build up to putting on tefillin every day,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
“The Ohel was probably the best part of my entire weekend,” agreed David Dobkin, from Minneapolis, Minn.
“This CYP Re-encounter Shabbaton provided us with an opportunity to connect with members of our community in a very meaningful way. The significance of being in Crown Heights and the warmth the community served as the backdrop for life-changing experiences,” said Rabbi Henoch Rosenfeld, who, together with his wife Sarah, co-directs CYP of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Adam Danenberg is one of the young Pittsburgh Jewish community members who came to Brooklyn with Rosenfeld. Danenberg is also a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue, which was the site of a deadly antisemitic in 2018. When Shabbat was over and Danenberg returned to his hosts’ home, he was greeted with the news of the hostage situation in Texas.
“We talked a lot about what was going on, and my host family was really phenomenal,” said Danenberg. “We made havdalah together and after an entire Shabbat together, it was comforting to be in each other’s company that night.”
All in all, it was a weekend to remember, and as the cameraman ran around and asked people to share their thoughts, the consensus was, “We’re coming back next year!”