By Marina Lagunova
Photos by Bentzi Sasson
For the 6th consecutive year, Chamah International and Lubavitch Youth Organization organized the National Russian Shabbaton for over 1,000 participants from the Russian American Jewish community in Stamford, Connecticut at the newly renovated luxurious Crowne Plaza Stamford on February 20th-22nd.
Even though many of the guests didn’t know what the term “Shabbaton” means, after this weekend, they will cherish their memories of the magnificent Shabbos festivities and the educational, cultural and religious programs, which gave a unique opportunity for people to immerse in the wide sea of interesting and useful information about Jewish traditions, education and upbringing.
The Shabbaton guests were presented with over 70 lectures and workshops covering a broad variety of topics. They had a chance to enjoy excellent concerts, entertaining programs, meet community leaders and Shluchim, talk to them and exchange opinions. Moreover, there was a special program for young singles, allowing them the opportunity to meet their significant other.
Many weddings came about as a result of the singles program at the Shabbaton, and it was beautiful to see how a young couple – who had met as singles at the first Shabbaton six years ago – came with their child to the 6th Shabbaton this year.
More than 1,000 Russian-speaking Jews from over 15 states, Canada and Russia came to participate in the Shabbaton. A large Jewish Bukharian community from the Bukharian Jewish Community center in Queens – headed by Rabbi Baruch Babayev, the Rabbi of the Central Bukharian Synagogue; and Rabbi Izhak Wolowik and Rabbi Zalman Zvulunov, directors of the center – took part in the Shabbaton.
This is especially meaningful because Chamah brought Judaism and education to thousands of Bukharian Jews, teaching them Torah and Tefillah in the underground, not only in Samarkand but also in many cities in the surrounding area during the difficult times in the Soviet Union.
This work began 100 years ago by the Shliach of the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Shlomo Leib Eliazarov; later on by Rabbi Chaim Nae; and then Rabbi Simcha Gorodetsky, Shliach of the Rebbe Rayatz in Samarkand. Chamah has continued this work on behalf of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said of Chamah “they are my Shluchim.” This is why there is a strong bond between Lubavitcher Chassidim and the Bukharian Jewish community worldwide!
It was beautiful to see how our people were proud of being Jewish and of their connection to Yidishkeit. What immense joy the ladies experienced during the performance of Zlata Razdolina, the renowned composer from Israel. The entire gathering sang and danced with her, asking the beloved singer to sing more songs. Chedva Federman and Shternie Kanelsky performed beautifully for the ladies as well.
The audience also showed the greatest appreciation for the brilliant performance by the Israeli pop-star, Gad Elbaz, the outstanding Israeli illusionist Guy Bavli, Chazan Berel Zaltzman, and Levi Freundlich, their cantor with beautiful voice.
We are most grateful to all the people who made this Shabbaton happen; the Program Director of LYO Rabbi Kasriel Kastel; LYO Board member Rabbi Chaim Meir Liberman, the long serving Executive Officers of Chamah – Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, Rabbi Moshiach Chudaitov, Rabbi Binyamin Malachovski; Shabbaton Director, Rabbi Benzion Laskin; head of registration, Elana Litkowski; and Chamah staff members, Levi Levin, Chanie Spitezki and Berri Spitezki. We thank them all for this remarkable and diverse program, for the wonderful atmosphere, which created a unique opportunity for all of us to experience the special feeling of unity in one big Jewish Mishpocha!
Mrs. Chana Zaltzman should be rightfully credited for organizing the most interesting program for 300 children of all ages. Young girls learned how to bake challah; children played all kind of games, enjoyed lotteries, movies and entertainment. Mrs. Sima Vernick ran a wonderful babysitting program, allowing parents to attend lectures, knowing that their young children were being well cared for. No wonder the kids didn’t want to leave this wonderful place! Additionally, the program for teenagers, run by Mrs. Chedva Federman, was a huge success. Undoubtedly, the focal point of the Shabbaton was the series of discussion panels where all participants had the opportunity to ask questions and get answers; among them, the Rabbinical panel “Stump the Rabbi:” Rabbi Baruch Lepkivker, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Levin, Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, Rabbi Yishaya Gisser (Kiev) Rabbi Dovid Karpov (Moscow) moderated by Rabbi Eli Kogan and panels hosted by popular journalists Ari Kagan, Boris Tenzer, Michael Braslavsky and Boruch Gorin (Moscow), moderated by Rabbi Moshiach Chudaitov.
The Shabbaton was extremely well organized, with every minute being taken into account. During each hour between meals, six lectures, panels and workshops simultaneously took place, in either Russian or English. Among the guest speakers were National Vice-President of the OU Dr. David Luchins, Rabbi Levi Y. Garelik, Rabbi of the European Synagogue Ohel Eliezer in Brussels and lecturer of Sichosonline.org, Rabbi Yishaya Gisser – scholar-in-residence of the Steinzaltz Center, Chana Weisberg – popular author and inspirational speaker, Rabbi Boruch Gorin – Chief Editor of Knizhniki Publishing House and L’chaim Magazine, Rabbi Dovid Karpov, Dr. Alexander Poltorak – Theoretical Physicist and Professor, Dr. Leah Poltorak, Mrs. Basya Chudaitov, Mrs. Sarah Lieberman and many, many more.
Chamah and the Lubavitch Youth organization express special thanks to Rabbis Baruch Lebkivker, Velvel Belinsky and Eli Kogan for their tremendous help with the program preparation.
And to the following Shluchim for their tireless efforts and participation, and for giving powerful lectures that contributed to the success of the Shabbaton:
Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, ARIEL Jewish Russian Center, Baltimore, Rabbi Eli Blokh, Chabad of Rego Park, Queens, Camp F.R.E.E, Rabbi Yaakov Elman and Mrs. Chedva Federman, Chabad of Milwaukee, Rabbi Eli Kogan, Jewish Russian Learning Center, Staten Island, Rabbi Zeev and and Mrs. Esther Kushnirsky, Jewish Russian Learning Center, Rabbi Baruch Lepkivker, Bris Avrohom, NJ, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Levin, Mrs. Doba Levin, and Rabbi Yehuda Levin, Chabad of Kensington, Rabbis Hirsh and Dovid Okonov, Rabbi Mordechai and Shternie Kanelsky, Bris Avrohom NJ, FREE of Brighton Beach, Rabbi Dan and Mrs. Sara Rodkin, Shaloh House, Boston, Rabbi Levi Tzfasman Chabad of Canarsie, Rabbi Berel Zaltzman, Bris Avrohom, NJ, Rabbi Ephraim Zaltzman and Mrs. Chana Zaltzman, Chabad of Kingsborough College and Young Israel of Brighton Beach, Rabbis Zushe and Moshe Dovid Winner, Chabad Neshamah of West Brighton Beach and many more.
The annual Shabbaton for the Russian-speaking Jews gives us a unique opportunity to feel that we are all united as one big family. There was a remarkable atmosphere of Jewish unity and spirituality that made this Shabbaton unforgettable!
For many of us, these three most memorable days signified the beginning of the “path to rediscovering yourself”, your roots and traditions, while others just enjoyed these days of pure fun and happiness, based on their Jewish self-esteem, solidarity and faith. What an opportunity for acquiring new impressions, and meeting new people! Those were the three days we will never forget – neither us nor our children!
No surprise that many have already asked: “When is the next Shabbaton?”