Over 1200 Attend 15th Russian Jewish Shabbaton

Over 1200 Russian Jews joined the 15th Internation Russian Jewish Shabbaton for a weekend of inspiration, community, entertainment, and learning.                       

By Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq. and Esther Tauber

As incongruous as these two emotions are, they flowed seamlessly at the 15th International Russian Jewish Shabbaton. Twelve hundred people of all ages, including two hundred children, gathered in a grand show of Jewish unity and pride. Shluchim from over forty communities from across the US and Canada brought their mekuravim.

Aptly, the theme of this year’s Shabbaton was Am Yisrael Chai. The matzav in Eretz Yisrael was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, yet there was palpable joy, with the crowd breaking into spontaneous singing and dancing many times, uplifting all the participants.

Above all, an intense feeling of achdus permeated the entire Shabbaton, uniting the diverse crowd from all walks of life and all levels of observance, proudly proclaiming not only Am Yisrael Chai, but Am Yisrael Echad! It was deeply moving to see families, who for generations were forbidden to live as Jews in the Soviet Union, celebrating their Judaism proudly with their children and grandchildren. Many of them fully observed an authentic Shabbos for the very first time.   

The three day Shabbaton was held at the luxurious Hilton in Parsippany, NJ, with the overflow in the nearby Hampton Inn. Even so, the Shabbaton could not accommodate all who wished to come. This huge event was co-sponsored once again by Lubavitch Youth Organization, led by Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, Chamah, led by Rabbis Hillel Zaltzman, Moshiach Chudaitov and Binyomin Malachovski, and meticulously planned and executed by radio and internet personality Rabbi Benzion Laskin, Chamah Shabbaton Director. The event was also supported by the World Zionist Organization.

The highlight of the Shabbaton was the Grand Melave Malka, with one concert especially for women featuring the renowned composer and entertainer Zlata Razdolina and her Jazz Band and violin by Rivka Miraim Fisher, and the second one for all the guests, with Israeli singing sensation by Israeli sensations Vladi Blayberg and Avi Peretz, and some levity by noted comedian Ilya Akselrod. Itay Milner, Consul for Media Affairs at the NY Consulate of Israel, addressed the crowd, and thanked them for their unwavering support of Israel. Chazzan Moshe Shur led the services with power and inspiration, and participated in this concert with a microphone he didn’t seem to need. There were video presentations about the current War, and the family of a hostage victim.

And then Dr. Yair Ansbacher, an Israeli reservist, combat soldier and counter-terrorism expert, mesmerized the crowd with his powerful, heart rending report of what he and his colleagues found as the first to arrive at Kibutz Nir Oz, and how he and his colleagues fought for eighteen hours straight to liberate the kibbutzim from the hands of the terrorists. He spoke about his agonizing questions to Hashem, and ultimately finding peace after receiving his answer from the Rebbe during his troubled sleep. The crowd broke out in thunderous applause and gave Yair a standing ovation.

At the conclusion of the program, there was an emotional roll-call, with each Shaliach and his community rising to their feet, and exuberantly dancing in place to Am Yisrael Chai. The diversity of the 70 lectures, about half in Russian and half in English, was nothing short of mind-boggling. Here are some examples: How to Raise Successful Children, How to Win the War in Israel, Kabbalah and Money and The Mechanism and Structure of Jewish Law.  

A regular feature of the Shabbaton is “Crossfire: Challenge the Rabbis: Your Questions, Any Questions Answered.” The panelists were brilliant, as always, coming up with instant answers to the most creative of questions that would surely stump lesser rabbis.

The legendary Rabbi Manis Friedman, who launched his book, To Win a War, was as quick with a quip as well as an answer as ever, and the Australian Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, the Head of the Beis Din of Sidney, Australia, was the straight man who simply exuded wisdom.

One of the main goals of the Shabbaton is to bring together singles in a Jewish setting with the objective of creating new Jewish homes. Famed Netflix’s star Aleeza Ben Shalom, from Israel and Rabbi Yisrael Bernath, “the Love Rabbi” flown in especially from Canada, led several sessions for the two hundred singles with that goal in mind. Shadchanniot Chana Raksin and Leah Yeichilov met one-on-one with the singles. One week post Shabbaton, thirty new couples are currently dating!

At the farewell session Aleeza Ben Shalom spoke about her journey to yiddishkeit, her rise to
prominence and much to the delight of her overflow crowd led a “live matchmaking experience” entitled “How to Get Married and Stay Married.” Several marriages result from the Shabbaton every year. One of the couples that met at a Shabbaon years ago, come back each year with their children, and addressed the crowd.

The lavish variety of food was far from limited to the eight gourmet meals, with an abundance of delicious food to accommodate the diverse communities in attendance, plus a 24-hour tea room, and plenty of nash throughout the weekend, much to the delight of the two hundred children—and adult children.

The full-day children’s program, for many different ages, was professionally run by Bracha Zaltzman and Rochel Heller. Babysitting was efficiently run by Sima Vernick. The comprehensive children’s programs allowed the parents to participate in the lectures and enjoy the amenities of the hotel, with  separate swimming for men and women and the use of the fully equipped gym.

The whole experience felt like the culmination of the transition of the Russian community from repression to exhilaration in an inspired Jewish atmosphere leading to the ultimate redemption under the Moshiach. The best indication of the overwhelming success of this year’s Shabbaton, was the oft heard question of the guests, “When is next year’s Shabbaton?”

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