A contingent from Richmond Chabad CTeen joined the 11th annual CTeen International Shabbaton that took place in New York last month. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
Teens from around the world celebrated Jewish unity, heritage and pride at the 11th annual CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) International Shabbaton. The convention, which took place Feb. 22-24, drew more than 2,600 participants. From world-class speakers to a closing ceremony with a surprise appearance by WeWork founder Adam Neumann, the Shabbaton left the teens exhilarated and ready to share their Jewish pride with others.
The weekend included a traditional Shabbat experience in the heart of Crown Heights, the Chassidic neighbourhood of Brooklyn, hands-on workshops and lectures about Judaism, and the Times Square takeover, featuring Jewish pop star Yaakov Shwekey.
The theme of the Shabbaton was I-Matter. The theme was meant to empower teens to recognize and use their inherent, true value, which is not dependent on achievements or status. It’s a message that has resonated with many teens, who have found their voices and personal missions through their involvement in CTeen.
“The highlight of the CTeen International Shabbaton was getting to know fellow Jewish teens from around the world, and learning about their Jewish communities and what it’s like to be a Jew in their area. It was an experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait until next year,” shared Richmond teen Sarah Aginsky, Grade 10.
“The most meaningful part of my experience at the Shabbaton would be when we spent Saturday night in Times Square,” said fellow Richmond teen Aidan Wessels, also in Grade 10. “It really makes you feel at home, being surrounded by Jewish people, and you don’t have to be ashamed or anything to be who you really are. It really touched my heart when we were introduced, via video, to Rabbi Yitzy Horowitz, who has been diagnosed with ALS and chose to live with such a disease and still try to look on the bright side of everything.”
“The CTeen International Shabbaton was so meaningful to me,” added Jordan Wessels, Grade 12. “This is because we all have such a great Jewish experience, and meeting Jewish teens from all over the world. The amount of energy of so many people like you is truly amazing.”
Over the weekend, 15 teen speakers shared personal stories of struggle, triumph and strength in the face of adversity. The stories ranged from students who fought for Jewish rights at school, to those who dealt with alopecia (spot baldness) and subsequent bullying, to teens who lost family members to drug addiction.
Priest-turned-rabbi Yaakov Parisi shared his inspiration for living a Jewish life with teens in an animated story during Shabbat dinner. Prof. Binyamin Abrams, who lectures on chemistry at Boston University, answered questions about Torah and science, and ecouraged teens to seek knowledge while living Jewishly.
“The secret of my life and success is keeping Shabbat,” declared Neumann during the closing. “Disconnecting from the world for 25 hours and connecting to something greater than myself makes me who I am. There has never been a more relevant time in history to celebrate being Jewish. If you come away with one thing today, I hope it’s that you disconnect to connect.”
“You may find yourself alone, the only Jew in your public school, or you may feel like a minority, but remember: there is no such thing as a small Jew,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chair of CTeen. “I hope you take the energy you gained this weekend and carry it into every aspect of your lives back at home.”
“Our intrinsic worth is not based on achievements,” said Chabad Richmond’s Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman. “Every individual can connect to G-d, no matter the circumstances. It is because of this connection that every individual, in any situation, can make a significant difference. That is what CTeen is all about.”
With more than 500 chapters in 23 countries, CTeen Network’s mission is to empower tomorrow’s generation of leaders through Jewish education and by providing a strong Jewish network across the globe. Teens develop awareness and confidence, while connecting with individuals who share similar experiences and beliefs. They become an integral part of a group that focuses on building core values and stresses positive character development. CTeen is open to Jewish teens regardless of affiliation.