From Oxford, England. From Columbus, Ohio. Dartmouth, Boston, Princeton, NYU, USC . . . Four hundred students, from tony ivy league universities to schools devoted to the art of the party, are making their way to Brooklyn, New York, for the annual National Shabbaton at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters November 4-6.
Stephen Sullivan, an international business major from Ohio State University, signed up for the trip for a second helping of the experiences he remembered from last year’s Shabbaton weekend. “It’s an opportunity to meet Jewish kids from around the country,” said Sullivan. “And you experience a good Shabbat both with people like you and with people whose experience is different. Everyone is so accepting. They don’t judge.” Besides, “New York is a lot more exciting than Columbus.”
Students from over fifty campuses across U.S., Canada, and Europe are catching flights, cramming into minivans, and riding the rails to get to the event, which boomed in popularity last year. Higher attendance numbers reflect Chabad’s dynamic college campus work. Chabad now boasts a highly active central campus office and a sparkling new website (www.chabad.edu and www.chabadoncampus.com). Over the past year, fifteen new Chabad campus centers opened, pushing the total over 80. But the National Shabbaton’s momentum is riding on last year’s success where the “atmosphere was electric,” according to Nechama Dina Dubrowski, Program Director of Chabad on Campus National Foundation.
Daniel Lowe, who is studying Arabic and Hebrew at Pembroke College of University of Oxford, is looking forward to tapping into that energy on the Shabbaton. “Crown Heights is one of those places I have heard so much about. It has taken on mystical proportions. To go to what is essentially the center of that movement, having read so much about the philosophy of Chabad-Lubavitch, is quite an opportunity,” said Lowe before adding that along with his intellectual curiosity, the social component of the weekend is a big draw for him as well.
This year, newcomers will join Sullivan and his friends from OSU, veterans of last year’s Shabbaton. “We talked about the Shabbaton so much that we enticed people to go this year,” said Sullivan. But getting students aboard took overcoming some misconceptions. “They thought that since it is a religious trip we were going to be in shul the whole time,” said Sullivan. “But we got time to go to New York City, and even the stuff we did on the Shabbaton was fun.”
Keeping the good times rolling in a Jewish setting is a natural outgrowth of being on the Shabbaton, but it is not the event’s only impact, said Rabbi Alter Goldstein, associate director of the University of Michigan Chabad House. Spending Shabbat in Crown Heights gives students a “hands-on Jewish experience. They see real people in a real community living a Jewish life, who are still involved in the material world, the business world, the professional world. They see that being proudly Jewish does not contradict joy and success, it enhances their lives,” said Rabbi Goldstein.
In addition, the spiritual impact of the Shabbaton cannot be underestimated. Rabbi Zalman and Sarah Deitsch, Chabad program directors at Ohio State University, are accompanying 25 OSU students to the Shabbaton. A weekend within a Lubavitch community–a first for most of the students–provides students with an important tool for evaluating their own relationships with Judaism. “You haven’t explored your own Judaism until you’ve lived in a community that is not your own,” said Rabbi Deitsch. “You grow up with one set of rules, but in another community you realize that it’s only one part of the larger Jewish picture.”
As the clock ticks down to the start of the Shabbaton, work in the Chabad on Campus central office piles up. Family host arrangements must be finalized. Program details have to be confirmed. Emails with last minute reservations pour in. A group of students scattered from New Orleans’s Tulane University will be using the Shabbaton as a reunion point. At 10:00 p.m. Dubrowski is still answering calls, checking details, but the effort is worth it. “Just being in a room with hundreds of other students from all over the country and around the world is inspiring. It’s not something any student will be able to find at their own campus.”