Jewish Pride Is Alive!

8 years ago Leighest 0

By Sam Slaw

Grand Rapids, Michigan

On February 27th, 1670, the Jewish people were expelled from Austria. This news brought fear and sorrow to all Jewish families living there. As they were leaving what they considered a second home away from Israel, they feared that this was the end for the Jewish people. Now, on this date, February 27th, 2015, 345 years later, 1,500 proud Jewish teens came together to celebrate the Shabbaton. We marched all over Times Square, stood tall, and showed the world what we believe in. I am proud to say that I was present for this magical and indicative moment.

Now, I want to take a step back and talk about who I was as a Jew before the Shabbaton. To tell you the truth, I did not always keep kosher, I did not attend Shabbat dinner every Friday night, and most importantly, I did not place Judaism as a priority. Honestly, I was not even sure what a Shabbaton was. I remember being at the Passover seder and asking my CTeen chaperones about their 2014 Shabbaton trip. From the way their faces instantly lit up and how they all of a sudden had so much energy to talk about their experience, I knew they had had an amazing time. They clearly enjoyed themselves, but I was still asking myself a question that would not leave me alone: Would I gain anything from this? The trip sounded like it was meant for very religious Jewish people.

Finally, February came around and I was offered a ticket to go… I reluctantly agreed, thinking, worst case scenario, I get to say I went to New York. As you will come to find out later in my story, the decision to come to the CTeen Shabbaton was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made.

After a quiet two hour flight from Grand Rapids to New York, we arrived at the place I would call home for the next four days. Just when I finished settling in, my chaperones informed my group that we would be attending a dinner with the purpose of meeting new Jewish teens. It sounded interesting, so I did not really have any concerns or discontent. We arrived at the children’s museum (the location of the dinner) to find about 30 people dancing on tables and chanting some words in gibberish… I would later find out that those gibberish-speaking teens were actually the French group. I remember thinking about how cool it was that teens from France were there. Then more groups began to walk in. I started reading their name tags as they walked by me. Hi Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, Orlando, Potomac, Singapore—wait—Singapore is here?! I could not believe that so many Jewish teens from so many different cities and countries had shown up for this. Once the event got started, I began to meet new people that I could truly call friends. I thought, wow, this is just a preview of what’s to come. I can honestly say, from that moment on, I knew I would enjoy this trip. Maybe not love it, but at least enjoy it.

Friday morning finally arrived. I’m not gonna lie, I did not appreciate the 7 am wake-up calls from my chaperones. Fast-forward to sunset, more particularly, the beginning of Shabbat. Walking into 770 was a bit of a culture shock, I’ve never seen so many bearded men before—and I had thought my Chabad house was bad. All the male teens gathered into 770 where we were greeted and began a tour of the building. We crammed into a small, yet humble room, where you would be lucky to get an inch of breathing space. Our speaker went on to explain that this is where the Chabad-Lubavitch movement started. I was lost for words; I felt a sense of pride, pride that I had not felt before. It was invigorating and inspiring. I was literally standing in history, the history that I cared about. After the speech, I proceeded to enter the Rebbe’s room. Again, I was lost for words. I think I stared at his chair, picturing him in it, for about ten minutes, before I had to leave for others to take in the glory and beauty of this sacred room.

Finally, Shabbat dinner arrived. While enjoying some challah and other assorted Jewish foods, my fellow CTeeners and I were to communicate with each other about what the Rebbe’s room meant to us. I heard a few really great answers, and when the torch came to me, I did not have to think, my answer came naturally. The Rebbe’s room meant that we, as a Jewish community, would always be united and never fall apart. We will always remember the Rebbe as the most important and influential person in our lives. After dinner and after an incredible speech by the rabbi-professor from Boston, everyone had the opportunity to stay and have a round-table farbrengen. I’ve never participated in a farbrengen before, so I did not know what to expect. The man leading the farbrengen slowly approached his chair and eventually sat down and said aloud the topic we would be discussing. “What is a miracle?” he said. The room was in silence until a teen broke the stand still. “A miracle is shenanigans,” the teen unconfidently said.

The man leading the group responded to the teen by sharing a story with us. In the story, he talked about faith, courage, kindness, and how all those traits lead him to his definition of a miracle. He said that a miracle is when G-d touches you on the shoulder. Everyone in the room, including the chaperones and members of yeshiva, stopped what they were doing and gazed at the leader in awe. He went on to explain how G-d’s touch on our shoulder reminds us of His presence. I thought to myself, this is what the Shabbaton is about, becoming closer to G-d and Judaism.

Saturday night rolled around, and before I could tie my shoes, I was in the middle of Times Square. All 1,500 teens and chaperones entered the designated area for CTeen, and it was time for the celebration to begin. The billboards flashing a different image every ten seconds, the stunning lights of the city, and the overall scenery was mesmerizing and hard to fully grasp. The atmosphere was absolutely incredible as 1,500 Jewish teens celebrated the end of an amazing Shabbaton.The crowd went into hysteria as Gad Elbaz took the stage. All of sudden, everyone there, including the people that just happened to be in NYC, were all singing in unison. “Hashem Melech, Hashem malach” was roaring through all of Times Square. Nothing could get us to be quiet, until a video of the Rebbe started playing. He talked about how our occupation is to care for the Torah, as the Torah brings us together and teaches us new things every day. I felt a part of something, something important, something that will stay with me the rest of my life; this something was the Jewish community.

Sunday morning was hard to wake up to, but I am glad I did, because what I was about to experience would become a life-changing moment. A short 40 minute bus ride took me to a special place: the Rebbe’s grave. I got off the bus to quickly achieve my tefillin mitzvah for the day. Then I sat down to write my special esoteric wish. I have written many letters before but nothing had me this emotional. Every letter I wrote felt like a piece of my soul was being shared with my new hero, the Rebbe. Next, I had the amazing opportunity to divulge my letter to him. I walked into the Ohel and read my letter aloud. I felt honored, enlightened, and cherished. When I released my letter to him I was overcome with emotions so much that I sensed a tear slowly running down from my left eye. I timidly left the Ohel to board an emotion-stricken bus. The 40 minute ride back to Crown Heights gave me quality time to reflect on the experiences I gained this weekend.

Saying goodbye to New York was a sad day. It marked the end of what I consider the best weekend of my life. In retrospect, I can’t believe I did not attend this event last year. The memories I have acquired will be with me for a very long time. The amount of effort to put together a massive gathering like this year’s Shabbaton must have taken months of preparation. But everyone I met this weekend had an awe-inspiring time, and that is something to be proud of. Through my experiences at this year’s Shabbaton, I am a better friend, student, and proud member of the Jewish community.