Teen Unity Shines Amid Challenges at Punta del Este Shabbaton

Jewish Teens gathered from across South America for the first-ever CTeen South America Regional Shabbaton. The weekend focused on building connections, discussing important topics such as marrying Jewish and Eretz Yisroel. They even enjoyed a surprise visit by the Mayor.

Known as the “Hamptons of South America,” Punta del Este, Uruguay, a popular seaside tourist destination, recently played host to a remarkable gathering of Jewish teens from three South American countries. The action-packed Shabbaton united CTeens from Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay for a weekend of solidarity and inspiration, offering a much-needed boost in Jewish pride amongst the rising tide of antisemitism and isolation experienced worldwide since October 7th.

The three-day summit brought together teenagers from diverse backgrounds such as the large Jewish community of Buenos Aires and the much smaller one of Asunción, Paraguay. “Connecting with people from so many places was incredibly enriching. Thanks to this Shabbat I realized I was part of the broader Jewish community,” said 16-year-old Meir Tolces, from Asunción.

“Gatherings such as these are crucial for young Jews growing up in remote communities,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302, CTeen’s umbrella organization. “Reaching out to teens in these areas, and enabling them to feel part of the wider international community, has a long-lasting impact on their future and Jewish continuity.”

As the largest Jewish teen network regional meetups is nothing new for CTeen but this was the first Shabbaton of its kind in the region, with plans for another for Spanish speakers within the next few months, the gathering emphasized bonding through shared experiences. Friday’s activities included soccer for the boys and bowling and arcade games for the girls, in addition to a relaxing walk on the boardwalk. Participants stayed at two beautiful hotels in Punta del Este, converging to usher in an early winter Shabbos with a collective candle-lighting ceremony. Attendees were encouraged to disconnect from their phones for the duration of Shabbos, fostering a sense of true connection and reflection.

Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, head shliach to Uruguay, addressed the teens regarding the current situation in Israel and how best to respond to antisemitism. His words provided comfort and a sense of empowerment, reminding the teens of their strength in unity in the face of adversity. Following evening services, the teens enjoyed a catered Shabbos meal, and enjoyed inspirational farbrengens late into the night, giving expression to their Jewishness in a joyous, energetic way and fostering deeper bonds with their new friends.

Shacharis took place at nearby synagogue Beit Yaacov, generously made available by the community. Led by Rabbi Chai Kohan, of the Spanish Desk at Merkos 302, the CTeen staff created a beautiful service that resonated with all attendees, including a handful of locals who came to be inspired.

On Shabbat afternoon, Rabbi Shemtov, an expert on interfaith marriage prevention and author of “Dear Rabbi, Why Can’t I Marry Her?”, led a scenic beach discussion with the older teens. “The highlight of the Shabbaton was Rabbi Shemtov’s class about marrying Jewish,” shared one participant. “He addressed everyone’s questions sensitively, explaining the deeper meaning of our traditions and why and how to defend them.”

In an unexpected twist, the group bumped into the Mayor of Punta del Este, Enrique Antía taking an afternoon stroll, on their way back from the beach discussion. Excited to see a group of young proud Jews he expressed his love and support for Israel, and informed them of the miraculous rescue of 4 Israeli hostages that Shabbos day by the IDF. Standing proud in the South American tourist hub, the teenagers were moved by the prominent politician openly displaying his solidarity. With heads held high, they rushed to inform the others of this surprise rendezvous.

Shabbos was brought to a close with a musical havdalah ceremony and pizza party at the spacious villa of a Chabad family. Teens enjoyed the downtime to relax after a dynamic Shabbos program. The evening wrapped up with an “Ask Me Anything” session featuring Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, Rabbi Leo Manobla of CTeen Wolfsohn, and Rabbi Ionatan Sirota of Ayeka Center, of Buenos Aires, who fielded questions on a wide range of topics. The questions were submitted anonymously and all received insightful replies.

Wrapping up the event with a Sunday lunch banquet, Shabbaton attendees undertook mitzvah resolutions. Amongst the various good deed commitments, teens decided to begin keeping Shabbos, to speak positively, and organize Jewish teen meetups as practical takeaways from the uplifting weekend of inspiration.

The CTeen South America Shabbaton was made possible by:
Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, Executive Director of Merkos 302
Rabbi Chai Kohan, Merkos’ 302 Spanish Desk
The CTeen Team at Merkos 302
Rabbi Shimon & Leah Rivkin, Directors of CTeen International
Raizy Leitner and Tzivi Rabin
Rabbi Eliezer and Rochi Shemtov, Head Shluchim to Uruguay
Rabbi Mendy and Musya Shemtov, of CTeen Uruguay
Rabbi Ionatan and Avigail Sirota, of Ayeka Center
Rabbi Leo and Vanina Manobla, of CTeen Wolfsohn
Rabbi Mendy and Faigui Grunblatt, of Beit Jabad Buschiazzo
Alan Charnovich and his incredible team of counselors

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