“What makes you proud to be a Jew?” This question was presented to a group of young women who gathered for an Emet Outreach “Shabbos of Unity” recently. “Women from all backgrounds who were religious, non-religious, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, and Mizrahi were there. We all felt connected despite our differences,” Michelle Aminova explained. “When we gave our answers as to why we’re proud to be Jewish, I was so touched by the thoughts everyone shared. We laughed, we cried, and we grew closer to our Jewishness. It felt like we were one big family.”

Held in Flatbush, the Shabbaton was hosted by Ms. Adina Fendel, Emet Women’s Director. It was geared to students who are part of Emet’s Step It Up and Stepping Higher learning programs. “The idea was to come together in achdus and keep Shabbos in an enhanced way. For some, that meant keeping Shabbos for the first time, and for others it meant keeping it more fully,” Ms. Fendel said.

After settling in at the homes of area families, the group of over 30 students and Emet mentors met at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah on Friday night. Mrs. Kitzia Davidoff opened the Shabbaton with words of inspiration. She conveyed the messages that Hashem is always with us, and the power of Shabbos. The women then davened Kabbalas Shabbos and enjoyed a beautifully catered dinner and meaningful conversation. “It’s incredible to see how klal Yisrael is united, and how everyone is looking to become closer to Hashem during this time. As we began Shabbos dinner, I shared this sentiment, and we used it as a segue for each person to share a moment when she felt proud to be part of the Jewish nation. We went around the table and heard many heartfelt and personal answers. This created a sense of connection and understanding among the group,” Ms. Fendel added. The women also enjoyed hearing uplifting words of Torah from Rabbi Yosef Palacci. He was followed by Rabbi Asaf Haimoff, who gave an engaging and emotional talk. After dinner, there was lively singing and dancing. Since no one wanted the evening to end, the girls were invited to the Fendel home to continue their conversations late into the night.

On Shabbos day, lunch was enjoyed with other families in the community. The group reunited in the afternoon and heard from Mrs. Shira Uriarte. She captivated the crowd with details of her journey from Reform to Orthodox Judaism. After s’udah sh’lishis, Leyam Badalov, an Emet student leader, brought Shabbos to a close with a musical Havdalah.

The Shabbaton left a strong impression on the participants. “I love the question Adina asked everyone at dinner. I was almost in tears. I’ve never been to a Shabbaton, and I never expected to be in a room filled with new girls and actually connect with them. I didn’t have sisters growing up, and I went to public school. I couldn’t believe how caring, empathetic, and warm everyone was. It felt like I was with my own family,” Sarah Y. said. “Everything was amazing from my host family to the speakers and everyone who made it happen. The Shabbaton was the best experience I’ve ever had. I genuinely can’t wait for the next Shabbaton!”

Michelle added some thoughts. “I’ve been to many Shabbatons, and, baruch Hashem, this was by far the most spiritual, uplifting, and holy Shabbos I’ve ever experienced. I’m thankful to go into the week spiritually refueled. This was something my soul desperately needed during these difficult times. I appreciate the effort Emet put in to finding amazing speakers who really penetrated our souls with so much Torah and inspiration. I loved every minute of it, and I’ll definitely go to the next one!”