Indicative of Chabad-Lubavitch’s expanded focus on Jewish unity this year, some 130 teenagers and young adults from all over North America came to New York for the inaugural Shabbaton sponsored by the new Chabad Teen Network, CTEEN. From as far away as Miami and Toronto, the boys and girls enjoyed three fun-filled days sightseeing and discussing Jewish values.

Operated under the aegis of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, CTEEN is developing an infrastructure for youth directors by providing them with attractive programming and resources. Coming off of the success of the Shabbaton, its directors will unveil the program at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries this Sunday.

Rabbi Beryl Frankel, who directs the program, explained that the advantage of CTEEN is that it will unify teenagers across Chabad Houses. This year, he pointed out, is a year of hakhel, a once in seven years occurrence that was marked during the time of the Holy Temple by a gathering of men, women and children in Jerusalem to strengthen their commitment to G‑d and His Torah. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, stressed in his teachings on the subject that in modern times, that same unified commitment can and should be accomplished by Jews everywhere in the world.

“Instead of a teenager being part of a group of 20 or 30 peers in his or her community club,” said Frankel, “he or she is actually part of a club of thousands of teens around the world.”

At the Shabbaton, teenagers from nine different communities in the United States and Canada joined their rabbis and counselors for a multi-day program that included a special concert by the up-and-coming Jewish rock band Yood. The participants stayed with families in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

“The beauty of the Shabbaton is the opportunity for teenagers to truly experience Jewish life, both by staying with local families and by participating in inspiring services,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. “Each young man or woman is like a spark that will ignite a fire of spirituality among their friends back home.”

“I thought that there was no way of topping last year’s trip to New York,” said Jeffrey Fleischer, who attended a similar Shabbaton last year sponsored by the “Torah 4 Teens” group from Toronto’s Chabad Youth Network. “I was definitely wrong. Staying in Crown Heights was an amazing experience.”

Larry Fishman said that he gained a lot from the special Shabbat atmosphere.

“On this trip, I learned to be a better Jew, by actually taking the time to appreciate Shabbat and being Jewish,” Fishman wrote in the Toronto group’s online blog.

Teenagers who came to Crown Heights for the CTEEN Shabbaton praised the weekend’s inspiring services, fun activities and good food.
Teenagers who came to Crown Heights for the CTEEN Shabbaton praised the weekend’s inspiring services, fun activities and good food.

Experiencing Judaism

On Friday morning, the teenagers toured Manhattan, making stops at Rockefeller Center, a mega NBA store and places in between. After lighting Shabbat candles back in Crown Heights, the teens had a special prayer service, followed by a group meal and games.

After Shabbat, they traveled to Times Square for a special service marking the beginning of the week. A steady downpour of rain didn’t dampen the occasion, said participants.

“I thought that it was really cool to do havdalah in Times Square, no matter what the weather was,” said Edan Bachar.

The night concluded with a lavish dinner cruise around Manhattan aboard the Queen of Hearts. Between courses of sushi, the teens took to the dance floor in separate groups of boys and girls, as the Yook Power Rock Trio – which entertained at the annual Chabad on Campus International Shabbaton and Conference the weekend before – provided the music. One participant from Toronto, Jake Fortinsky, even had the opportunity to go on stage and play drums with the band.

On Sunday morning, as the teens walked around Canal Street, Rabbi Shmuli Nachlas, director of the Toronto youth group, bumped into a fellow Jew and helped him put on tefillin.

“We balanced the excitement with Judaism,” said Nachlas.

“We want to instill a greater appreciation for Jewish values in today’s world,” echoed Frankel.

For his part, Jeffrey Fleischer is already thinking of the next installment.

“I had such an awesome time,” he said, “I can hardly wait till next year.”