It was the final moment of the spring semester and the culmination of a remarkable year for the St. John’s University Jewish Student Association. As the flames of the Havdalah candle danced, students joyously celebrated an incredible Shabbos spent together in Jamaica Estates. Sharing in the feeling of simchah was a devoted team from Emet Outreach, who were there to lend support and inspirational Shabbos programming. “There was a great feeling of unity and connection at the JSA Shabbaton,” said Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet Co-Founder and Director. “The JSA leadership planned the Shabbaton so meticulously and we were happy to provide guidance along the way. We look forward to sharing the beauty of Shabbos with them every year.”

The story of the annual Shabbaton with JSA and Emet began four years ago, but the relationship with St. John’s University goes back to 2005. The university has been a flagship location for the Emet Leader’s Fellowship, and Emet offers weekly Lunch & Learns and many holiday-themed events in partnership with the JSA. On the academic front, Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, Emet Co-Founder and Educational Director, teaches three classes for credit on campus, including two theology courses. The result is that Emet and JSA are truly intertwined to bring impactful Jewish programming to interested students.

Back to the Shabbaton of 2023. Over 110 students from SJU and other local colleges attended, making it the largest crowd to-date. The impressive turnout was due to months of diligent preparation by JSA’s Executive Board, who handled all aspects from inviting students to planning the menu and securing sponsors. “The Shabbaton is an important annual event for JSA. It enables students who may not be observant to see what it’s like to keep Shabbos. They see that they can start with just putting away their phone or not touching a light switch,” said Gabriella Kandchorov, JSA President. “Having a Shabbaton with Emet keeps the spirit alive. Emet inspires everyone to love Judaism. This year, as always, Emet helped us run the program smoothly, and we are grateful that they were there for anything we needed.”

On Friday night, guests gathered for candle lighting and davening at the Bukharian Jewish Congregation in Jamaica Estates. Over a gourmet Bukharian dinner, Rabbi Rutenberg shared insightful words of Torah, and there was lively singing of z’miros. On Shabbos day, Shacharis and lunch were once again at the Bukharian Jewish Congregation. Rabbi Kraft gave a meaningful d’var Torah at lunch, and a highlight was hearing from students, as well. Two students from each table shared personal insights about their favorite part of Shabbos and what JSA means to them.

In the afternoon, there were separate programs for the men and women. Rabbi Kraft and Rabbi Rutenberg ran a captivating Q&A session for the men to discuss “Torah Insights on How to Have a Meaningful Relationship.” The women were treated to a special lecture at the Emet Center by Mrs. Shonnie Rutenberg, a popular kallah teacher who has taught many Emet kallos before their weddings. She spoke about “The Secret of Jewish Femininity,” and covered relevant topics that were appreciated by the girls. Everyone reunited for s’udah sh’lishis at Congregation Beth El. Among the divrei Torah, Emil Isanov, one of Emet’s first alumni, shared a motivational message about recognizing Hashem’s presence in the world. Another student expressed that she and her friends have been keeping Shabbos and kosher since last year’s Shabbaton.

Shabbos came to a sentimental close with a musical Havdalah led by Rabbi Kraft. Students lingered for the singing to extend the closeness they felt over Shabbos.

In addition to Rabbi and Mrs. Rutenberg and Rabbi and Mrs. Kraft, other Emet team members who attended included Ms. Chava Zaretsky, Rabbi and Mrs. Ari Hertz, and Sara and Yiggy Benyamin. Rabbi and Mrs. Asher Vaknin from the Bukharian Jewish Community Center of Forest Hills were also there.

There were two major takeaways from the Shabbaton. As Gabriella explains, “I heard from students that they loved the Shabbaton so much that they would like us to host these experiences twice a year.” Rabbi Rutenberg added, “The most heartwarming feedback came from catching up with students who are still observant after attending last year, and also hearing the enthusiasm from new students who have now been inspired to increase their observance.”

JSA and Emet would like to thank the following sponsors: The Bukharian Jewish Congregation for helping to organize the Shabbaton in their shul as well as their donation, Ohr Avner, Daniel and Joshua Shamalov, The Abayev family for sponsoring T’hilim books, and the anonymous donors of kippahs and other items that made the Shabbaton possible.