Tasting Judaism at the D.C. Shabbaton

6 years ago Leighest 0

Jake Snedeker, Woodcliff Lake, NJ


My name is Jake Snedeker from CTeen of Woodcliff Lake. As many of you know, this past weekend was a regional shabbaton in Washington, D.C. I was supposed to be going on the shabbaton with a friend and I was extremely excited; but the week before, I got the bad news: he was sick. This made me very upset. At that point, I was debating whether or not I even wanted to go on the shabbaton; it was going to be my first one ever, and I didn’t want to go alone. Throughout that week, I flip-flopped between my choices constantly: I was excited for the opportunity to meet new friends, but I tend to be shy until I get comfortable and I was worried if I would get comfortable in this situation. Eventually, I decided to go.


Friday rolled around, and I was excited and nervous at the same time. I got out of bed, grabbed my stuff, and went to the car. Once we got to our Rabbi Yosef’s house, I got out and remained silent as the others from my chapter began to filter in. Once we got in the car and drove down to the Chabad in Teaneck, I started getting even more nervous. Finally, we got there and I stepped onto the bus. I walked down the aisle looking at everybody nervously and found a seat alone in the back. I plugged in my headphones and figured that I would spend the bus-ride like that. I talked a little bit to the people from my chapter, but no more than a couple sentences.


Our first stop was The Holocaust Museum. This was something I was really looking forward to because I have very strong ties to this event, as my great-grandfather was a survivor. He was interviewed for The Shoah Foundation, so I got to hear his story, even though he died before I was born. We walked in, took a group picture, and then were sent upstairs to start. This was a sickening experience; we all know how bad the Holocaust was, but seeing the depictions of it both firsthand and second was insane. As I walked through, I got chills down my spine. We reconnected as a group in the lobby about an hour later and listened to a survivor for a few minutes before needing to leave.


Once we went back to the rainy weather outside, I spoke a little bit more to my chapter, learning names and finding out a little bit more about everybody. After that, we traveled to D.C.’s only kosher food truck to get food. We took the food to the George Washington University District House only to run into BDS (the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement). BDS is an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic movement on many college campuses. Rabbi Dovid from CTeen West Suffolk went with us to question them and we quickly realized how uneducated they were about Israel. In times like this, we as the Jewish people need to speak up and let our voices be heard. After a long lunch, we headed to the hotel for Shabbat.


As we were pulling up to our hotel, Rabbi Dovid announced who we would be rooming with. He went through just about all of the names before he finally called me and one other boy. I found my roommate and we went up to our room. We talked a little and then wrapped tefillin along with another boy. I had never done this before and my roommate was more than willing to help me out. He helped me wrap and then told me each word to the Shema, which repeated after him. I then learned we had to keep Shabbos and this greatly worried me. I was sure that there was no way I would be able to keep an entire Shabbat. The people from my chapter talked to me and convinced me I could. It was one of the best choices of my life.


We went to a Shabbos service and dinner at the local Chabad and spoke about what we experienced at the Holocaust Museum as a group. I put another crack in my shell there, and I started to talk more. I went through most of that night laughing and smiling. As we were cleaning up, I went to get my coat and started talking to a group of girls which would eventually become some of my best friends. When we walked home, I ran back and forth talking to the aforementioned group of girls and the guys from my table. We finally got back to the hotel and I was happy to be able to get out of my Shabbat clothes and into pajamas.


I went to my room changed and then heard about plans to go to the lobby and said to myself, “Why not?” and decided to join. I went down the stairs to a group of girls and boys and a chaperone sitting in a circle. We all went around saying our name, chapter, age, and favorite band. We finished that and the chaperone interrupted so that one of the kids who was a senior could tell a story. This story was inspiring to me not only as a person, but as a Jew. He then opened the floor for others and I shared. After me, one more boy who I had wrapped tefillin with told a story. Once he finished, we realized how late it was, and we went upstairs.


I woke up on Saturday morning early along with the rest of my roommates and we all said we were going back to sleep; however, that didn’t happen, and we ended up talking for close to an hour before getting changed. After I was dressed, I went down to breakfast and I sat with some new people, spoke, made some jokes, and I was a little more comfortable; but still, I was pretty quiet. Once the people I talked to more came down, I went to their table and talked to them. At eleven, we went to the shul, and this changed my life.


I walked into the shul, grabbed a prayer book called a Siddur, and found a seat in the front alone. Rabbi Dovid came and sat down next to me to help me out. A couple minutes later, I got called to the Torah. My eyes grew wide with nervousness. My mind started racing. I had never been up to the Torah, I don’t have a Hebrew name, and I don’t even know Hebrew; but Rabbi Yosef made sure everything was okay. He showed me the transliteration and I had my bar mitzvah right there in the shul in Alexandria, Virginia.


Once the service ended, we cleaned up and set up for a kiddush. Lunch was great! I sat with new people, met new friends, and had a great time. Following the meal, we played a couple of games. We then left the Chabad and went to the hotel and changed for a walk in the park. Following the walk-which was really just walking to the park, turning around, and coming back-we sat down in the two rooms we had in the hotel and played Minute To Win It as a group. Eventually, 8:12 pm came; Shabbat was over. Once it ended, a group of people along with Rabbi Dovid and Rabbi Yosef got together and told funny stories, after which we went on a sightseeing tour to some monuments. At this point, I was having fun and the shabbaton was amazing, and after this, I knew that I had changed. I went into that trip not knowing many people and came out knowing everybody. I had a burst of energy and was vibrant and loud and completely broke out of my shell. I was on everybody’s Snapchat story that night and was truly myself. This is when the trip became one of the best of my life. I went back to the hotel that night and fell right asleep.


Sunday morning, I woke up early and packed my bags and most of the boys wrapped tefillin together. It was amazing. My roommate once again helped me out. After that, we went downstairs to have our last breakfast together. I grabbed my bag and my roommate, and ran to Seven Eleven to get fidget cubes. I got back on the bus and we were supposed to go on the paddleboats by the cherry blossoms but went to Georgetown and did some shopping instead. I went around with my chapter making jokes and smiling. We then got on the bus and grabbed lunch. Once lunch ended, I solemnly walked back to the bus realizing that this would be the last time boarding the bus. I went got my seat in the back and started talking to everybody.


Eventually, Rabbi Dovid came to the back and sat with me for a while and I was laughing the entire time. Quickly after that, Rabbi Yosef came back and started joking around with us. When we got to Bucks County, the chapter sadly got off and some of my best friends left and I was depressed. It made everything seem so real. I knew the trip was coming to an end but I didn’t want it to-I never wanted to leave. I didn’t want to go back to reality. Another hour and a half passed and we came to our stop. Rabbi Dovid and I had three different goodbyes. One where me and him ran slowly into a hug, one where we looked at each other and he said “son” while I said “father” and finally, a real one. When I got off the bus, it was over. I was sad and I didn’t want it to end. I went into our WhatsApp group and texted how I already missed everybody.


On the way home, I realized I didn’t have a Hebrew name. I now get to choose my name and know exactly what it will be: Dovid Yosef. I chose that name because of the two rabbis that changed my life.


This trip was one of the best weekends of my life. My experience was fun, educational, and so much more. It gave me confidence. This trip changed my life-that’s the only way to put it. I made friends that are better friends than the kids at my school, and these friends live two hours away… and I met them for the first time three days ago. I just want to thank everybody for welcoming me with open arms. I miss every single one of you more than words can describe, and just wanted to show how much this trip meant to me.