Coming from the Rabbi’s pulpit or the weekly editorial, the oft-touted virtues of Jewish unity and ahavat yisrael elicit the predictable yawn. But experienced in real life, they are fresh and affirmative tangibles that take the edge off even unyielding skeptics.
I saw this at a Shabbaton weekend in the Berkshires, where an eclectic mix of 200 people from Lexington, Swampscott and Andover, Mass., experienced Shabbat in idyllic Williamstown, with a spiritual ambience to match. Vibes of warmth and acceptance for every individual of a visibly diverse guest list permeated the Shabbaton weekend, led by three Chabad families—Shluchim of these respective outlying Boston communities.
It was a thoughtfully coordinated weekend designed to achieve several objectives. “We wanted our three neighboring communities to have the opportunity get to know each other,” says Rabbi Alti Bukiet of Lexington. What better setting than over shared Shabbat dinners that had people sitting together way past dessert, their children occupied at age-appropriate programs in the sprawling rooms and lounges of The Orchards Hotel’s beautiful facility.
The Friday-to-Sunday shared Shabbat, explained Rabbi Bukiet, “achieves what might otherwise take a year to accomplish.” A total immersion weekend coordinated by the dynamic couple-teams of these communities filled the entire 36 hour period with a rich and varied program. The women leaders—Sara Bukiet, Layah Lipskier and Faygy Bronstein devoted attention to special interests and vital details that made every individual and every family feel that the program was planned with them in mind. Women’s voices were in abundant evidence over the weekend, and was in fact the title of a session led by Layah Lipsker on Friday evening. On Shabbat afternoon many gravitated to her workshop on the origins of the mechitzah.
Sans the intrusion of phones, tv and other disturbances, people become fast friends. “They savor a 24-hour true Shabbat observance where the day is dedicated to family and spirit and consider the idea of recreating this in their own homes,” explained Sara Bukiet.
Indeed, the time/space of Shabbat, introduced by Rabbi Asher Crispe—rabbi-in-residence—in Kabbalistic terms as a unit of Divine time, was here devoted to lively prayer services, a stimulating menu of Torah study and topical lectures. “It gave people who do not live in a Jewish enclave the opportunity to experience Shabbat on a deeper level than is typically available to them in suburban Boston,” explained Rabbi Yossi Lipskier of Swampscott. And its success, he says, “was built on the shared excitement everyone felt for this weekend.”
Friday night, over chicken soup and matzah balls, Sara Esther Crispe, one of the guest lecturers, offered an analysis on speech and communication, as inspired by Kabbalistic ideas. The 25 teenagers who joined their parents on this weekend also got a glimpse into her unique perspective at a session on teenage issues.
“It was an enriching two days for everyone,” says Rabbi Asher Bronstein of Andover. When he spent time with the teenagers on Saturday night, the discussion turned to mother’s day, and each of the teenagers pledged to take on a specific mitzvah in honor of their moms. “One accepted the mitzvah of tefillin,” Rabbi Bronstein told me. “Another vowed to exercise greater patience with her younger sibling, and another took it upon herself to help consistently with household chores.”
“This is an illustration of how the lofty ideas they absorbed over the course of the Shabbaton were translated into practical mitzvot,” says Rabbi Bronstein.
For Anne and Allan Malcolm, of Andover, this was their second year at the Shabbaton. They are now moving to the West Coast, but, says Allan, a native of Scotland, “we’ll come back for next year’s Shabbaton.”
“It’s wonderful being surrounded by stimulating, intelligent people concerned with living a purposeful life.”
Over a relaxing breakfast on Sunday morning, Anne reflected on her Shabbat experience here. “This was a total rest, it allowed me to have a full Shabbat with my teenagers.
Most vacations, she said, are just about pleasure. But here, she says, “with the discussions and the farbrengens, I learned a lot. It is a vacation that provides pleasure plus spiritual and intellectual stimulation.”