Jewish Young Professionals Unite for “Shabbat Without Borders”

Three hundred young professionals celebrated Shabbos together at “CYP Encounters” in Los Angeles, Montauk, and Mexico City for networking, belonging, and a deeper embrace of their Jewish heritage.

Raised in a conservative Jewish family in Staten Island, New York, Teresa Konopka often found herself the only person under sixty in the synagogue. So she was elated when she entered Chabad of SOLA just before sunset in Los Angeles on Friday, July 14, and met two hundred fellow young Jewish professionals at Kabbalat Shabbat.

Some wore long skirts, some wore pants, some wore tzitzit, and some tattoos, but all were eager to bond around an immersive experience of what Judaism can be.

She had responded to an advertisement for CYP Encounter: Los Angeles hoping to escape her San Deigo apartment, catch a break from her day job as an aerospace engineer inspecting airplane crashes, have fun, and make friends. Now, she was surprised to find herself moved by the Shabbat prayers and enjoying a warm conversation with rebbetzin Fayge Zajac of CYP SOLA.

Teresa’s new friends in Los Angeles weren’t the only young Jewish professionals getting a deeper taste of Jewish connection that week. 

On America’s east coast, sixty young Jewish professionals from five communities came together for CYP Encounter: Montauk at Chabad of Montauk, New York, just minutes from Long Island’s easternmost lighthouse. Meanwhile, a close-knit group of thirty young professionals from three communities greeted Shabbat in Mexico City after an afternoon touring ancient Mayan pyramids with Rabbi Sholom Meir Holzkenner on CYP Encounter: Mexico City.

Local CYP communities and their rabbis organized all three events with logistical assistance from Chabad Young Professionals International. This year alone, CYP’s parent organization has already facilitated eight such networking Shabbatons, with more planned for the fall. “Connecting is contagious,” Rabbi Hershey Weinstein says, “there’s increasing demand for regional events that unite multiple communities of young professionals; they get a chance to deepen their connection to Judaism and expand their network simultaneously.”

In Montauk, Rabbis Levi Shmotkin, and Aizik Baumgarten spoke to participants about meaningful life questions late into the night, saw young professionals keep their first Shabbat while Rebbetzin Perel Shmotkin led a session of guided beach meditation on the Atlantic sands. Meanwhile, Mexico City’s four-day adventure experience saw participants boat through the canals and floating gardens of the city’s historic Xochimilco district before exploring the vibrant local Jewish life with visits to synagogues and mikvahs. 

For participants like Drew Jacobson, an account strategist working at Google, CYP Encounter offers a chance to make fast new friends. “It usually takes time before I feel like I know someone well,” he says, “but at the Shabbat in Los Angeles, I felt like we’d been friends for months even when we had met only hours before; we felt so bonded around our Jewish belonging.

Being with two hundred Jewish peers and in the supportive presence of Rabbis Mendel Zajac, Yigal Rosenberg, and Shmulik Friedman, and Rebbetzins Feye Zejac and Elana Rosenberg, gave Drew more than a fast track to fast friendship—it gave him a chance to reconnect with his love for Shabbat.

“I love Shabbat. I kept Shabbat for several years during college,” Drew says, “now that I’ve moved to San Francisco, I don’t have a conducive environment, and logistically, Shabbat is hard. The Shabbaton gave me a chance to reconnect and keep Shabbat again.”

After a brisk walking tour of Pico-Robertson’s local synagogues, the Los Angeles participants had a chance to schmooze with David Sacks, a Hollywood screenwriter and observant Jew who fought to keep Shabbat even when it cost him his job. 

By the time Shabbat wrapped up with a musical havdalah led by Yehuda Solomon of Moshav Band and a fire-juggling rabbi highlighted a deluxe Melava Malka, Teresa Konopka had said goodbye to some old assumptions. “I always thought observant Jews were stereotypical,” she says, “But this experience showed me that Judaism is incredibly diverse.”

She laughs as she reflects on her takeaway from the whirlwind Shabbaton weekend, “If a Hollywood writer can become observant and a fire-juggling acrobat can become a rabbi, then a piano-playing engineer from San Diego can embrace her Jewishness more, too.”

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