By Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
I have been to many Shabbatons over the years, where I have lectured to audiences across the world. But the moment I walked into the Crown Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, on Erev Shabbos Vayakhel Pekudei, 21 Adar, I knew that the ninth annual Russian Shabbaton would be special. As I entered, a Jew approached me and asked if this was my first time at the Russian Shabbaton. It was. He assured me that he had attended all previous eight Shabbatons, and that I was in for the best Shabbaton of my life.
I can attest that he was right. Spending Shabbos with a thousand Jews from all stripes and backgrounds and from many different levels of observance, is an uplifting experience that leaves a deep and inspiring impression.
The vast lobby was buzzing with Jewish families. Adults and children, families and friends, were meeting, greeting, chatting, and eating. The image of a thousand candles lit for Shabbos was resplendent with holiness and radiant with peace. The atmosphere of more than a thousand Jews joining in one vast room for the Shabbos meals was both exciting and uplifting. The experience of sharing Havdalah with more than a thousand Jews, singing together, parting with Shabbos together, and preparing for a new week together, is a memory I shall not soon forget. For over 70 years Jews in Russia lived with the nefarious threat against connecting to anything Jewish. Watching those same Jews now, and their children and grandchildren connecting to Shabbos and mitzvot made the joy in my heart that much deeper.
From Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon multiple tracks of lectures filled every available time slot. From Chassidus to Hashkafa, from Gemera to Halacha, from hands on workshops to bible codes, from inspiration to information, the guests had opportunity to enjoy every aspect of Shabbos.
Chamah, in conjunction with Lubavitch Youth Organization, who organized the Shabbaton, worked with the devoted members of the program committee, under the able guidance of director of the shabbaton Rabbi Benzion Laskin, to ensure the success of every detail. Rabbis Hillel Zaltzman, Moshiach Chudaitov, and Binyomin Malachovski, president, vice president and executive director of Chamah, along with Rabbis Kasriel Kastel, Chaim Meir Lieberman, and Moshe Goldman from Lubavitch Youth Organization, spared no effort or expense in providing the ultimate in comfort, luxury, and entertainment.
The food was plentiful and tasteful, the program was delightful and entertaining, the classes were informative and uplifting, and the atmosphere was inspiring and joyful. There was luxury for the body and inspiration for the soul. The guests could not ask for a better experience. The Motzaei Shabbos entertainment included a keynote address by Hollywood screenwriter, David Weiss, a mind-bending show by renown mentalist Amir Lustig, and a rousing concert by Gad Elbaz and rising star Moshe Wilshanski. The evening included a separate musical event for women, a screening of the film Exodus, and many more events.
The classes throughout the weekend were led by renowned rabbis, professionals and academics. The lectures were offered in English as well as Russian on a vast array of topics of Jewish and human interest. There were lectures on complex matters of Halacha that impact the fate of the Jewish people. There were lectures on mystical matters of Kabbalah that affect the Jewish soul. There were text-based study sessions on a variety of Jewish topics. There were therapeutic sessions on interpersonal relationships. There were shiurim on Chassidus. There were several inspiring farbrengens along with Sidrei Nigunim.
More than one couple has met on this incredible annual Shabbaton and many return with their children for years to come. Last year’s shababton brought four new couples together, one of which already has a newborn baby. A different couple announced that they were celebrating their shabbat chatan/kallah at the hotel that weekend and were looking forward to getting married this week.
Perhaps the most exciting mazal tov came from a couple who met on last year’s shabbaton, and who’s chatan gave a spontaneous speech . He jumped up on the stage and grabbed the microphone. “I met a girl on last year’s shabbaton,” he said, “and I haven’t let her out of my sight since. This year we returned to the shabbaton, and inspired to build a Jewish home I proposed to her last night and we are getting married!”
No one has walked away unaffected. Each person, in their own way, took something home that will transform them. Their perceptions deepened, their spirits uplifted, they will bring their enhanced enthusiasm to their respective communities and share it with others. They will become more involved, more active, more open to inspire and to be inspired.
The Shluchim who brought their balei batim to the Shabbaton, worked tirelessly throughout Shabbos to farbreng, learn, and daven with the members of their community. The success of the Shabbaton is a combined result of the overall atmosphere of the event coupled with the Shluchim’s devoted and personal interest in the spiritual and material wellbeing of their mushpaim. The results of the Shabbaton are already evident. Reports have been streaming in to the offices of Chamah and Lubavitch Youth Organization of Jews who have begun to keep Shabbos, Tzitzis, and Teffilin as a result of the Shabbaton.
When Jews come together for forty-eight hours of learning, inspiration and entertainment, there is no question that it inspires the Neshama. The inevitable result is a stronger connection to Torah, a greater commitment to Mitzvos, and a stronger attachment to Hashem. There is no doubt in my mind that the Rebbe was proud of his Shluchim this Shabbos and that this Shabbaton brought the Rebbe much nachas ruach.
Chamah International and Lubavitch Youth Organziation would like to thank the program committee Rabbi Baruch Lepkivker, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Levin, Rabbi Eli Kogan, Rabbi Velvel Bilinsky, and Mrs. Esther Tauber, as well as the children’s program directors Mrs. Hannah Zaltzman and Mrs. Chaya Mushka Druckman.