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More than 3,000 Jewish teenagers representing the largest network of Jewish teens met up in New York City at the annual CTeen International Shabbaton on February 22-25.

At a time when many Jewish teens are feeling targeted by hate, the immersive Shabbat experience at Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, gave them a rare opportunity to connect with peers from around the country and abroad and a chance to assert their identity among fellow travelers. 

At the close of Shabbat, the teens—among them a delegation of 200 from Israel—rode the New York City subway to Manhattan for the annual “Times Square Takeover”—a  Havdalah ceremony and a celebration of Jewish life. They all joined in a prayer for the hostages and peace in the Holy Land.

Ethan, a senior who plays on his high school’s basketball team, came from El Paso, Texas. “My Jewish grandmother kept us involved in Jewish practices. She was the one who introduced me to camp Gan Israel and CTeen of El Paso,” he said. Five months ago, Ethan’s grandmother passed away, and the family stopped doing anything Jewish. 

“Then one Saturday morning I did something different. I decided to go to the synagogue. Standing there in a place she loved, I felt so connected to her and to my Jewish roots,” he said. “I started wearing my Judaism more openly. Now when I leave the house, I’m always wearing my kippah and tzitzit.”

Now Ethan plays every game with a very visible kippah outfitted with custom clips to keep it on his head. And when on the sixth night of Chanukah, his team was competing for the district title, Ethan stepped up to the free throw line with seven seconds left and the game on the line. He secured his kippah, and then made the winning free throw.

“I realized I’m not just showing up for my basketball team. I’m also on another team—together with all of you here,” Ethan said. 

Moshe Italy, 21, came from Maslul, Israel. Reflecting on the experience, he said, “The Times Square Takeover was incredibly impactful. The melodies, the collective prayers for the hostages—it felt as though the heavens themselves were moved by our actions.” he said.

The theme of the weekend focused on supporting each other. To Ethan, it means “boosting our connection with Torah and mitzvot. It means sharing our Jewish identities with the world without apologizing for being different.

“And when we feel like the world doesn’t hear us, let’s amplify our voices, using them to share the light through Torah and mitzvot.”

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