The Spark In All Of Us

8 years ago Leighest 0

By Sabina Pashkin

Highland Mills, NY

I came to the city thinking that I’ll have a great time, given the fact that I get to just be in the city. Who doesn’t have fun in the city? Fancy street names, new people, great food, music on the streets, subways, and just having a great time. I came to the shabbaton with a state of mind, thinking that I get to go to this huge concert in Times Square and get to have a new sweatshirt and get to just be in the city. Well, when I came back home, I realized that it was much, much more than that.

The director of the Hebrew school I assist at introduced me to CTeen, and just by looking at videos from last year and the year before, I thought that it would be a fun “thing” to attend. Since no one else was going from my hometown, I got to join her niece’s group from Richmond Hill, Ontario. Out of about 1,500 people at the shabbaton, I only knew one person. One person, but I had the time of my life. It was arranged that a chapter from Kingston, NY was going to pick me up and that I would catch a ride to Crown Heights with them. I got into their van and everyone knew each other, except for me. I felt like the odd one out. After an hour and a half together you would think that a conversation would spark out of me, but I just wasn’t able to speak. I’ve been told that every Jew has a spark inside of them, but not all are lit up. Mine was dead.

The one person I knew, Leia, was hard to find in the huge crowd at registration, but it happened, and I was so happy to finally see her. I was going to be staying at her uncle and aunt’s apartment. I was happy since I knew them, so I felt completely comfortable in every way possible. Our chapter’s Friday track was just outstanding. We went to the 9/11 memorials and museum. Inside and out we were all looking for names that could have been Jewish, and we were able to find a lot. After the compelling museum that made me feel so fortunate for my life, we went shopping and then to the Sony Center. The fun little things to do in the city were great. Meanwhile, I finally opened up my mouth and said, “My name is Sabina, what’s yours?” Within the next five minutes I found out that about 90 percent of my group spoke a language other than English, which was Russian. I also speak Russian and it was great to find out that I was part of a group filled with Russian Jews. In my hometown, these two usually don’t mix. Being able to find similarities with other people made me feel very open all of a sudden. I mean, not just with my group. All of us are Jews! In the subways I could hear other groups singing songs and see people dancing, and without realizing, I joined them, too. My spark was starting to light up.

Shabbos was coming and it was time to get ready. I light candles every Friday with my mother, but I never saw the point; I never “felt” anything. Because of this, I knew that something was wrong. I knew that I felt dead inside. I lit with Leia in the apartment, and after I said the blessing, I felt something inside of me. I didn’t know what it was, and it felt weird. I couldn’t explain it, so I just kept it to myself. For dinner, Leia and I found the girls that were part of our group, and we all sat down. Once I started to eat, this feeling inside of me grew larger and filled me with such emotion that I still was just not able to describe. When I saw the girls from France start singing and dancing it made me want to join them, and I did.

Once I sat down, I started thinking about my parents. They moved to America in 1994 from Moldova (former Soviet Union) with nothing, hoping that their children could get the chance to learn, practice, and spread Judaism, because they were never allowed to practice it. They had to hide that they were Jewish. Once I started to think of them, this feeling came over me, and I began to cry. I just didn’t know how to describe this feeling. I felt very fortunate and great. There is still not a word that I can describe it with. Those two words are just not enough for how I felt and still feel. My spark had turned into a match that was just lit up.

Shabbos morning, I was very excited to be able to sit at different tables to have these “round-table discussions.” For about two hours, maybe, I got to listen, ask, answer, and learn. I came with so many questions as to why and how things are done this way or that way–why this and that? So many questions were answered and they sparked up many more, as well. If I could have, I would have sat at that table just talking and listening all day. But we knew that time was limited, and it was time for a meal at our host’s home. I caught myself starting to call it my home, as well. This family meal was like none other that I had had before. Everyone was just so welcoming, and I felt like we were family from the beginning; I felt like it was home. Time flies when you’re around people you really enjoy being around.

Shabbos ended and I felt relief—not because I could turn my phone on and see who had texted me—relief knowing that I had just kept my first full Shabbos. As I was celebrating on my way to Times Square for the mega havdalah ceremony and concert, the subway was filled with just joy and crazy happiness. Every Jew was singing Jewish songs, and with the inches between people in the car, we found ways to dance together. I had to stop myself for a minute, and in that minute I reached a state of serenity and realized that these people are like a part of my family. I had no shame anymore, no shame at all walking and dancing in the city that never sleeps, singing and shouting, “I’m a Jew!” Once we got to the center of the city and got onto the red steps, I started to dance and sing right away. Throughout the whole entire time in Times Square, surrounded by 1,300 other Jewish teenagers, I felt empowered. I started to grab people I still didn’t know and started to dance with them. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know them. What mattered to me was that I had found myself. I felt like I could call them all my family. By the end of the night I was lying in bed and realized that I now have a growing flame inside of me.

I didn’t know what to expect at the Ohel. Well, I didn’t even know what it was. What I did know was that people say that once you step inside, you feel him. Well, maybe not him, but most people feel something, because it’s that powerful. I really had my doubts, but I still did what I was supposed to. I wrote everything on my mind on a piece of paper, and I stood in line and lit a candle with Leia. As I stepped inside, I felt something. I thought it was just the heaters, so I stepped away from them and stood in a corner away from everyone and began to read my paper. As I read, I still felt it; the more I read, the more I felt it. For some reason, it was like Friday night again. I felt a tear-drop running down my cheek. I ripped my paper, kissed it, then let go. As I let go, I felt the world in my hands and the universe in my body. I felt at ease. I felt that way until the end of the day. My flame was turning into a fire.

It was hard saying goodbye to everyone, but I knew that I would keep in touch with my new friends. I was coming home the same way I got there, in this big van with the Kingston chapter that I didn’t know. Well, my fire was burning, and I had connected right away through the power of Judaism. We all sang most of the way back. We had to stop to get gas for the car and we all danced outside in the snow, proudly singing that we were Jewish. There were others at the gas station that actually joined us as well.

When we got back to my hometown, we met up with my father at an empty parking lot of a school, right next to a busy road, across the street from a mall. We were dancing and singing and having a great time at 9 at night, and I was proud when I looked behind me to see that my father had joined us in dancing. I watched as his spark lit up a little bit. Mine wouldn’t go down.

The whole entire weekend was just beautiful and amazing for me. My grandfather died a little more than 3 years ago and after that, I became dead inside. For three whole years I felt nothing. People around me were getting nervous that I would be like this forever. I lost myself completely, and I thought that I would never have that little Jewish spark inside of me. Thanks to CTeen, for the first time in three years, I finally feel alive again and am proud to say that this fire burning inside of me is still burning and I don’t want it to go away.

This experience gave me so much pride and it was very eye-opening. I looked at the bigger picture. Every single Jew is connected in some way. We are all connected like a big family. We all care for one another in some way. Just like when we were at the 9/11 memorials: I realize now that when we were looking for Jewish names, we were looking for people that were part of this big family. And sometimes you don’t even notice how connected we can be. I felt completely normal and comfortable joining other people in singing and dancing with others on the subway. The whole weekend just made me feel like I was home, since I was surrounded by people that I love and others that love me back. I have come to notice that the power through the Jewish people is, in fact, very powerful, and I felt it all weekend. My goal is to find others in my school and spread that power and find my family throughout my hometown. CTeen dragged me in, and I’m not coming out—not when it was the event that helped me feel alive and find myself.