Sunday, August 21, 2011

Over 700 National Jewish Retreaters Celebrate Shabbat

Imagine spending Shabbat with over 700 other Jews! There’s nothing like it. It was indeed a revitalizing, inspirational, and uplifting occasion for all in attendance.

In the morning, Rabbis Mendel Kaplan and Dovid Eliezrie presented mind-expanding classes about this week’s Torah portion through the lens of Chassidic thought, which opened our minds and hearts to be able to soak in the transformative Shabbat experience which lay ahead.

Retreaters congregated in the Sun Court for Shabbat morning services, led by cantor extraordinaire, Rabbi Levke Kaplan. Praying with so many other Jews truly touched people in a deep way, and the room practically vibrated with energy when we all rose in song together. Rabbi Yitzchak Shochet’s sermon challenged everyone to go out of their comfort zones to help Jews around them who are thirsting for meaning to see the joy and beauty of Judaism in an age where many are not informed about their Jewish roots.

After a beautiful “light” Kiddush (featuring a sushi bar, meat carving stations, and a variety of elegant nosh to boot), there were workshops held, to give everyone a chance to digest - both physically and spiritually.

Rabbi Yosef Susterman, a prominent Rav well-known in the Chabad community, taught about the laws of Shabbat (Can I play Scrabble? Rollerblade? Take a shower? Wind a watch? Open a box of cereal? He covered these questions and more.)

Renowned Chassidic scholar and lecturer Rabbi Manis Friedman spoke about “How to Stay Inspired” and Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman enlightened us to how unprecedented developments in science and medicine present unique moral and halachic dilemmas: issues of maternity, animal-human combinations, population genetics, and new frontiers in the understanding the coma and the persistence vegetative state.

During a delicious lunch, Gani Goodman, director of JLI teens, spoke about her personal journey from a tree-hugging, peace-rallying hippie to an observant Jew, and what inspired her from a young age to be a “revolutionary.” She cited two dictionary definitions of a revolution. 1: a sudden change, and 2: a course, as in an orbit, back to a starting point. Indeed, both of these definitions epitomized her journey; she changed her life, but in doing so came back to her true self.

Another smorgasbord of stimulating and heartwarming lectures followed, leading into yet another meal - seudah shlishit, with a lecture by Rabbi Manis Friedman on the Art of Storytelling.

A breathtaking havdala service - 700 Jews gathered together to escort the Shabbat Queen - was a climactic moment of the entire retreat. Guitar and singing and smiles abounded.

The evening featured a hilarious, knee-slapping comedy show by Nickelodean’s Marc Weiner, who entertained with a hilarious spoof on the often bizarre world of Jewish marriage and dating.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Retreat! It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye!

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