The Chabad Teen Network is coming to Crown Heights. In a big way.
Over an intimate Shabbat dinner at CTeen’s inaugural Shabbaton a few dozen teens discussed the relevance of Judaism and the coolness of a weekend in New York City.
That was six years ago at the Kotlarsky family home in Crown Heights.
This time around, 1,000 teens and their chaperones will hit the neighborhood for a weekend of camaraderie, inspiration, and good old-fashioned fun. It will be the biggest shabbaton (aside from the annual Shluchim conventions) that the community has ever seen.
“We have been doubling our numbers every year,” Leah Rivkin says, “and through it all, we strive to maintain the intimacy of that first event.” Rivkin, who co-directs CTeen with her husband Shimon, uses feedback from the teens to inform their planning. The number one thing visiting teenagers want to gain from the weekend? “Jewish friends.”
There will be lots of opportunity for that. High schoolers from across the United States and Canada will hook up with their counterparts from Finland, Israel, France, Nigeria, England, and Luxembourg. Attendees represent 135 chapters in 110 cities around the globe. Since last year’s Shabbaton, 50 new chapters opened their doors.
“There are 1,000 kids coming,” says Zach Zimmerman. “New York is gonna know we’re here.” Zimmerman, a senior at Homestead High School in Mequon, WI attended his first Shabbaton three years ago.
“Being with Jewish teens from around the world, keeping the whole Shabbat and kosher was really cool,” he recalls.
ALEX CLARE TO SHARE WITH TEENS
This year, he is looking forward to hearing how British star, and Shabbaton guest, Alex Clare “balances being in constant media attention with living a religious life.” Zimmerman anticipates connecting with “about 40 friends” he met at previous CTeen events for a “juicy, good weekend.”
The four-day event is carefully constructed to provide something for everyone. Friday in Manhattan will offer many their first foray into the shopping and tourism mecca. Shabbat itself includes prayer and study options for beginners and the more-experienced, as well as socializing opportunities at every turn. And the fun doesn’t stop when the Shabbat candles go out.
Clare is set to recite Havdala and stage a performance on the Red Steps of Times Square, followed by a night of kosher partying in the City. Sunday’s farewell banquet features the much-anticipated Choice Awards, in which teens will vote via text for the most favored Rabbinic and teen leaders and the most popular CTeen outpost.
Rabbi Moshe Rapoport, who is escorting 31 Wisconsin teens, will conduct a Friday night farbrengen for hundreds more.
“I like to stress the beauty of the small things in yiddishkeit that make a big difference. For a teen to check kosher symbols or choose to don Tefillin one day, that’s a huge impact in G-d’s eyes.”
TEENS CHOOSE FULL SHABBAT EXPERIENCE
Before Shabbat, Rapoport presents a choice to his group: respect the day by not using phones, cameras or Ipods publicly or keep Shabbat in its entirety. Most choose the latter. And it turns into a “real highlight, a tremendous boost. The kids are really proud of themselves.”
When the teenagers board their return flights, they will take home a lot more than positive memories. Last year, one attendee broke up with her non-Jewish boyfriend on the trip back. She is now a student at Machon Alte, a seminary in Tzfat. Others leave with resolutions to keep Shabbat or kosher. Most importantly, according to Rivkin, the teens are armed with a closer connection to their local rabbi, and an international support system of peers.
For Zimmerman, who translated his Shabbaton enthusiasm into a leadership role at his local CTeen, reaching out to his public school friends is part science, part love.
“We’ve started advertising, making it cool. Obviously, the Jewish aspect is a stopping point for some kids, so we focus on the quote-on-quote teenage aspect,” he shares. A trip to a trampoline place and a great kosher restaurant in Chicago can be a “positive breakthrough. Then they’re more comfortable to check out Shabbat and Judaism.”
CTeen promotes its popular TGIS, Thank G-d It’s Shabbat Program, at the end of the weekend. “We demonstrate that Shabbat is not only possible in Crown Heights, together with 1,000 teens, but it’s doable and beautiful back home in their own communities as well,” explains Rivkin.
“The weekend’s focus is on the intimate power of one mitzvah, whether that’s Shabbat or another commandment,” concludes Rivkin. And the “tremendous Jewish pride” that’s impossible to shed.