In a leafy neighborhood in Montreal, Canada, 10 Jewish young adults just completed a two-week shot in the arm of Judaism that included guest lectures, daily prayers, one-on-one Talmud study and a weekend trip to New York.

“I have been visiting CEGEP campuses all around Montreal, learning Torah with students at pizza lunches and other events for the duration of the school year,” explains Rabbi Choni Kazen, director of Chabad @ CEGEP, which caters to students in the two-year collegiate institutions that bridge high school (which finishes after 11th grade) and university in the province of Quebec. “This program, which we named ‘Sinai 101,’ is our way of allowing some of the students to take their Jewish involvement to a new level.”

CEGEP is an acronym for Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel, known officially in English as a “General and Vocational College.”

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Hosted in the Chabad Chai Centre, “Sinai 101” is based loosely on a yeshivah schedule, with a full syllabus of Chassidic philosophy, free-style Talmud discussions, an in-depth exploration of Jewish law and lectures on a wide range of topics. It just completed its third summer in operation.

“When I entered this program, I expected to be sitting down at the same table all day,” says 20-year-old Jonathan Mamane, who recently graduated from Vanier College just outside of Montreal. “But the classes were different at every hour, and we never knew what to expect … I never knew learning Mishnah would be so fun and interactive.”

Communal meals allowed time for getting to know one another.
Communal meals allowed time for getting to know one another.

According to Kazen, the program benefited from sharing the Chai Centre campus with Kollel Beth Yossef and being just down the block from the Rabbinical College of Quebec, allowing the CEGEP students to partner up with Kollelfellows andyeshivah students for Talmud study.

Mamane reports that his study partner “would read in Hebrew and I would read in English, and we would explain the questions presented to us, elaborate, give our own opinions, question ourselves and, most important of all, we would relate it to current situations and events.”

Kazen says he devotes significant energy into recruiting a roster of guest lecturers that includes Dr. Yaakov Brawer, who recently retired from serving as a professor of anatomy and cell biology at McGill University in Montreal; Dr. Elie G. Cohen, associate professor of mathematics at Concordia University in Montreal; Rabbi Berel Bell, a leading member of the rabbinical court of Montreal; and others.

Spiritually and Down Time, Too

Beyond the books, many of the students enjoyed the interactive demonstrations that included crash courses in the ancient Jewish scribal arts, as well as a live demonstration of shechitah, kosher slaughtering. They also had some down time in the student lounge, where they played table tennis and foosball.

The schedule included one-on-one Talmud study, sometimes partnering up with Kollel fellows and yeshivah students from nearby Jewish institutions.
The schedule included one-on-one Talmud study, sometimes partnering up with Kollel fellows and yeshivah students from nearby Jewish institutions.

Even the meals were an experience, according to Manane. Enjoying a fully catered breakfast and homemade cookies (everyone raves about the cookies) “really got us to get closer to each other, and I really enjoyed that time of day,” he says.

Spiritually on their extended weekend in New York, the students prayed at Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and visited the resting place of the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory) and Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, of righteous memory) in Queens. But there was plenty of fun as well, with meals at restaurants and street shows in Lower Manhattan to round out the experience.

The program culminated with a barbecue in the backyard of Rabbi Naftoli Perlstein, director of the Chabad Chai Center and the person Kazen credits with “getting the entire program off the ground.”

“It brought our Jewish spirit back to life,” observes 20-year-old Jeremy Kadoch, stating that “Sinai 101” was a “really great experience, which made me closer to my religion and to myself.”

Students learn in a class taught by Rabbi Naftoli Perlstein, director of the Chabad Chai Center in Montreal.
Students learn in a class taught by Rabbi Naftoli Perlstein, director of the Chabad Chai Center in Montreal.
The program culminated with a barbecue in Perlstein's backyard. Kazen credits the rabbi with “getting the entire program off the ground.”
The program culminated with a barbecue in Perlstein's backyard. Kazen credits the rabbi with “getting the entire program off the ground.”