Shabbatons have always been essential experiences that the educators at Emet Outreach provide for college students, young adults, and young couples. The Shabbos programming is hands-on, personal, and impactful. It is designed to enable participants to delve into the beauty of Shabbos, disconnect from technology for 25 hours, and truly feel what it is like to be an observant Jew. Over the past few months, these meaningful weekends of spirituality and solidarity were put on hold. With safety a top priority, Emet’s team monitored the protocols and waited for the right moment to resume. That moment recently arrived for a small group from Emet’s women’s division. Gone were the days when the biggest concern before a weekend was what clothes to pack. Now, the weekend kicked off with COVID-testing for all interested participants a few days before departure.
“Celebrating Shabbos apart made everyone appreciate and anticipate the time when we could connect in person again. We really missed each other, but we knew that we had to approach Shabbatons differently and with added safety,” said Ms. Shira Fendel, Emet Women’s Director. “We consulted with medical professionals and understood that the only way to proceed was to test all participants. It gave everyone peace of mind to relax a little in the midst of necessary caution.”
Once COVID-testing was out of the way, the weekend was planned with typical attention to detail. A large house was rented in Jackson, New Jersey. The group of ten girls was comprised of both beginners and more advanced students. In addition to Ms. Fendel, the ladies were joined by Ms. Esther Tepfer, Emet Campus Mekareves.
The fun began on Thursday night, when the girls enjoyed a pool-side shiur with Mrs. Jill Kaisman, a well-known m’chaneches and women’s speaker. On Friday, Mrs. Kaisman gave another engaging lecture. This was followed by an afternoon of kayaking and swimming.
A special treat was that the girls cooked their own Bukharian dishes to enhance Shabbos. They welcomed Shabbos with joy and excitement, and shared touching moments from their time apart these past few months. Another change from Emet’s usual weekends was that the group spent all meals and lectures together at home, rather than being hosted by community members.
“This was an incredibly uplifting Shabbos, even though we had to stay within our limited ‘bubble’ in keeping with the appropriate guidelines,” said Ms. Fendel. “It’s always so special when our girls get to meet new families, but it is not realistic at this time for people to open their homes. It was enough for us to be in our space together.”
On Motza’ei Shabbos, the girls walked on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore. Sunday morning brought a visit by Rabbi Avi Cassel, the Regional Director of Olami North America, who shared words of inspiration. Later, the activities continued when the girls went bike-riding and swimming.
When it was time to leave, one student expressed the group’s sentiments: “This was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am so grateful to have been a part of this weekend. I can’t wait until we meet again.”
“This Shabbaton represents hope for our Emet family within times of uncertainty,” said Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet Co-Founder and Director. “Our staff still offered critical spiritual guidance during months of separation, and many students observed Shabbos in their own homes. But, nothing compares to the joy of sharing Shabbos together. May this be the first of many ‘safe’ Shabbatons.”
Following the success of this Shabbaton, Emet is planning more weekends, including a retreat this Wednesday through Sunday for 15 girls.
For further information about Emet programs and weekly class schedules, visit www.emetoutreach.org.