It’s been a summer of learning, spirituality, and friendship for Emet Outreach students who attended the eight-week cross-campus Emet Leader’s Fellowship. Over 60 participants, from schools like Queens College, Baruch College, St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and Touro College, enhanced their summer break with weekly classes at Congregation Beth Gavriel in Forest Hills. These sessions provided an introduction to Judaism and were directed by Rabbi Reuven Kigel, Emet Campus Director, and a lineup of other dynamic Emet educators. The culmination of this program, like all fellowships, was a spectacular Shabbaton, with the added excitement of a full weekend retreat. The weekend was a joint effort between Emet and the Emet Student Association at Queens College.
A feeling of anticipation was in the air when 35 students gathered for brunch at the Emet Center on Friday morning. The group then headed to High Exposure in Northvale, New Jersey, for some adrenaline-packed rock climbing and team building. After the adventure, it was off to Passaic to enjoy a signature Emet experience – “Shabbat with the Kigels.”
“My wife Devorah and I have been hosting Emet students and introducing them to the beauty of Shabbat for 14 years,” said Rabbi Kigel. “This Shabbaton, like all our Shabbat experiences, was designed to make our students feel like part of our family and allow them to focus for 25 hours without technology and truly feel what it is like to be an observant Jew.”
In order to accommodate the amazing turnout for this Shabbos, Passaic families opened their homes to host students. On Friday night, students gathered at the Kigels for a delicious dinner, melodic z’miros and warm connections. After dinner, the group heard an uplifting d’var Torah from Passaic resident Rabbi Aaron Eisenmann, Executive Director at Meor NYU.
On Shabbos morning, davening was held at Congregation Ahavas Israel. The group then separated to enjoy lunch with their host families. In the afternoon, everyone returned to the Kigels for meaningful lectures – given by Mrs. Kigel for the girls and Rabbi Kigel for the guys.
At Shalosh Seudos, in recognition of Chodesh Elul, Rabbi Kigel asked everyone to set a goal for taking on more observance for the month. Students committed to a variety of mitzvos like keeping Shabbos, dressing modestly, putting on t’filin, and davening more.
A musical Havdalah was led by Azi Steiner of Passaic. The ruach continued with dancing, which went on well past Shabbos. “This Shabbaton felt different from any experience I’ve had before,” said Yoni Kigel, a son of Rabbi and Mrs. Kigel, who has been a veteran host since the age of three. “The amazing energy and positive vibes were incredible. There was no need for ice-breakers and everyone was like a family.”
Sunday brought an exciting array of learning and activities. In the morning, the girls went to the Monsey home of Dr. Mark and Mrs. Segula Rutenberg, parents of Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet Co-Founder and Director. They enjoyed breakfast and a drashah by Rabbi Rutenberg. “I spoke about Judaism being more than a religion, but also a relationship with Hashem, each other, and ourselves,” Rabbi Rutenberg said. Meanwhile, the guys spent the morning learning at Toras Dovid. Later, there was separate swimming at private homes.
The weekend culminated with a backyard barbecue at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Rutenberg, where the group heard another message from Rabbi Rutenberg and closing remarks from Dr. Rutenberg.
“Emet’s Shabbatons are truly a lifechanging experience. I personally have always struggled with talking to others because I’m so shy; but this Shabbaton gave me the opportunity to break out of my bubble and create amazing connections with the most wonderful people,” said Adelina Kandinov, a student at Adelphi University. “The community itself was so inspiring, especially seeing families who grew up secular and became more religious. Also, one of the most beautiful things was realizing that we could really connect with each other by putting our phones aside on Shabbat.”
“Thank you to our wonderful hosts, our incredible students, and the Queens ESA for a Shabbat we will all remember,” said Rabbi Kigel. “Baruch Hashem, we are so moved that all of the students kept Shabbat together, and we look forward to being back on campus this fall.”
For further information about Emet programs, visit EmetOutreach.org. To experience Emet’s comprehensive video library of Torah lectures, visit www.EmetTorah.com.