The CYP Encounter Crown Heights Shabbaton, that saw more than 600 young Jewish professionals come from around the world, concluded with an inspirational event at the Ohel where participants had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and take on positive resolutions for the future.
By Uziel Scheiner and Moshe New – Chabad.org
By the time Matt Ford arrived in Austin, Texas, his life had taken enough turns to be likened to a roller coaster. Ford, who was unaware of any other Jewish families living in his hometown of Waukesha, Wis., describes his upbringing as “extremely secular”; the extent of his Jewish involvement was his family commemorating some Jewish holidays at home.
Ford entered college with an interest in exploring spirituality in whatever form attracted him the most. After exploring different spiritual paths, he met a rabbi on campus at the University of Wisconsin who persuaded him to take a trip to Israel.
A Birthright trip to Israel turned into a three-month stay, where Ford enrolled in a yeshivah and plunged into an intensive discovery of his Jewish roots and religious practice.
Upon leaving yeshivah at the age of 22, the inspiration cooled, and he moved to Austin to start a tech company. But this time, there was one important difference: The spark of Judaism had been lit inside of Ford, and all that was needed was the right igniter to turn it back into a perceptible flame.
Three years later, Ford met Rabbi Mendy Levertov, the director of Chabad Young Jewish Professionals of Austin, and a few years later, he joined Levertov on the CYP Shabbaton.
“I run a tech company,” Ford told Chabad.org. “At the time, I didn’t believe I could spend a full Shabbat disconnected from technology.”
But for Ford, that Shabbat something changed. Enveloped in the ascendant environment of hundreds of like-minded young adults coming to spend Shabbat together and experience the richness of community, Torah and connection, he developed a new sense of what Shabbat could be.
“The CYP Shabbaton was the first time I spent a full Shabbat without my phone,” Ford said. “I haven’t used my phone or any electronic devices on Shabbat since.”
A Place for Everyone
Chabad has been at the forefront of this effort to create points of entry for Jews at every stage of life, establishing specified organizations that cater to Jews throughout life’s continuum. This drive comes from the directives of the Rebbe, who instilled in the thousands of leaders he empowered, the mission to offer a connection to Judaism to every Jew, no matter where they live or their station in life.
This includes, of course, young people who have finished college and are embarking on their careers and looking towards starting families.
“It’s one of the most pivotal points in their life,” said Rabbi Sholom Brook of Chabad Young Jewish Professionals of Minneapolis. “Now is when they make many important decisions about their futures. It’s important that during this time they have an opportunity to engage with their Judaism so that they can carry it throughout their lives.”
Rabbis like Brook understand that for young adults, the classical Jewish community may not appeal to their tastes and that a new model is needed.
Enter CYP: Chabad Young Professionals, the world’s largest network of young Jewish communities.
While its roots go back decades, CYP has seen burgeoning growth in the past number of years, making it the most successful communal organization for young Jewish adults. Part of the success comes from the changes that modern life has brought to people’s social lives, with an increase in remote work and the desire for personal connection in an ever-increasingly digitized world. CYP, which had 90 chapters before the pandemic, now boasts 263 centers scattered across the globe.
For one weekend every year, CYP communities from all parts of the world join in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., the center of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, to spend a meaningful and inspirational Shabbat together.
Six years ago, at the first CYP Shabbaton, there were 38 participants. This year, there were more than 600.
On Thursday and Friday, young professionals started to trickle into Crown Heights, filling the streets with laughter as they explored the city in the bitter New York winter. Groups from across the United States, Europe and South America, enjoyed the bakeries, eateries and shops dedicated to Jewish life on Kingston Avenue.
Individuals joined guided tours through the vibrant Jewish community of Crown Heights, seeing the traditions firsthand in trips to see the iconic gables of “770”—Chabad-Lubavtich World Headquarters, as well as visits to local sofrim (“scribes”) to see how mezuzahs and tefillin are made, mikvahs and local study halls.
For Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—and chairman of CYP International, this year’s Shabbaton comes at a uniquely impactful time for participants. “Young Jews today are asking themselves, ‘What can I do to make a difference,’ ” he said in advance of the Shabbaton. “We’re eager to greet record numbers of attendees, and we’re looking forward to a deeply impactful program that promises to uplift, inspire and leave an enduring impact.”
The Shabbaton’s official program kicked off with a Mega Challah Bake on Friday, led by author and world-renowned baker, Rochie Pinson, where participants joined in the age-old tradition of separating, braiding and baking challah.
By the time the siren announcing the arrival of Shabbat rang through the air, the visitors—many of whom were welcomed into the homes of the local community—joined together with their groups to visit various synagogues around the neighborhood, coalescing in 770 for an uplifting Shabbat service before going to eat the Shabbat meal in the homes of members of the community.
Drawing the close on another successful year for the CYP Shabbaton, which has only grown each year on end, a Havdalah ceremony and lavish Melaveh Malkah was held at the Oholei Menachem ballroom, complete with a musical performance from singer Bentzi Marcus, drinks and a gourmet feast.
Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302, chaired the evening and spoke of the role that each of them plays in inspiring positive change in their respective environments. Many CYP “ambassadors” were then called on stage to share their journeys to CYP and the influences that keep them going as leaders in their communities, sharing Torah and mitzvahs with their circle of influence.
For Josh Hoffman, a computer scientist from Austin, the evening was a reinforcement of the power that Judaism has had to impact positive change on his life. “The concert last night was a reminder that when we put our Judaism first, life is more uplifting, inspiring and meaningful,” he said.
On Sunday, CYP rabbis and participants made the most important stop of their trip: to the Ohel in Queens, the resting place of the Rebbe. There, they reflected on all they had experienced at the Shabbaton and had a personal moment to write a note and pray for things affecting their lives and the Jewish people at large.
After a weekend charged with purpose, positivity and networking, participants returned home, no doubt eagerly awaiting the next installment of this yearly tradition, and bringing home with them the inspiration and drive to further their involvement in their communities.
Robert Voronov, a software engineer from Toronto, said: “Weekends like these show me that I am part of an international Jewish community. It’s about interacting with rabbis and fellow young professionals from around the world, further developing our Jewish identity.”