Students from four Israeli universities gathered in the mountain-top city of Safed for a weekend of song and inspiration sponsored by a network of campus-based Chabad Houses in the Holy Land.

The annual Chabad on Campus in Israel Shabbaton drew 100 people from Technion University in Haifa, Tel Aviv University, Ariel College and Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. Participants said that what impressed them most was the mystical spirit that suffused the two days they spent in Safed, a hub of traditional Jewish mysticism.

“I had already experienced special Shabbat programs at the campus Chabad House,” said Sharon Cheri, a Tel Aviv business student. “But I had never before felt such an uplifting Shabbat as this. We just cut ourselves off from the world for 48 hours, and felt what it is like to live in holiness.

“Much to our surprise,” he added, “it was actually fun!”

Held at Ascent, a Jewish educational center and hostel run by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, the Shabbaton began last Thursday night with an exploration of the Chasidic nigun, or melody, that lasted into the early morning hours. Friday morning was spent in prayer, after which the students hiked through the surrounding mountains.

Some of the participants visited the graves of Jewish luminaries scattered around Safed, while a handful of the men immersed in the spring-fed mivkah used by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 16th-century Kabbalist known as the Arizal.

The group ushered in Shabbat Friday night by praying the Kabbalat Shabbat service from Ascent’s roof as the sun set over Israel’s Galilee region.

“Suddenly you realize how the beautiful prayer of Lecha Dodi was born,” said Ben Gurion medical student Tomer Mizrachi, referring to the Friday evening prayer comparing Shabbat to a bride. It was composed in Safed by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, a contemporary of the Arizal.

“Here, you are connected to this whole world of the Arizal and his students,” added Mizrachi, “who went out to welcome the Shabbat in white clothes.”

The Chabad on Campus in Israel Shabbaton brought 100 college students to the Ascent center in Safed.
The Chabad on Campus in Israel Shabbaton brought 100 college students to the Ascent center in Safed.

On Saturday afternoon, the students took a walk through the winding passages of Safed’s Old City while they learned about the development of Jewish mysticism.

The meals were peppered by discussions led by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis Gil Blizavski of Ben Gurion, Yossi Rosenberg of the Technion, Sasson Carmel of Ariel and Rabbi Shaye Gerlitzky of Tel Aviv.

“Those who came didn’t want to do the bare minimum,” Rosenberg said of the students. “They wanted to experience Shabbat and everything that surrounds it, from dipping in the mikvah to learning in the morning to immersing in intense prayer.”

Chabad on Campus in Israel is supported by grants from the philanthropic Tabacinic family of Bal Harbour, Fla. The Shabbaton was made possible through a generous contribution from the Rohr Family Foundation, arranged by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.