A Glorious Shabbat Spent in Community

I hadn’t attended a Shabbaton (also called a kallah) since I was in high school. A Shabbaton is a weekend-long celebration designed around the Jewish Sabbath, beginning Friday evening at sunset and concluding 25 hours later on Saturday evening.  A Shabbaton is an opportunity to steep in Jewish learning, prayer, and song, have great discussions with a wide variety of people, all with eating lots of wonderful food while socializing.

When I learned that Hadar was having its first Shabbaton since the pandemic, I wanted to go. I’d spent the first two-and-a-half years of the pandemic Zooming with a wonderful group of women as our teacher led us through Jewish study and prayer, daily meditations and as we grew to know one another, quite deep sharing.  Some of these women were also going; we were eager to meet one another face-to-face for the first time.

The organized pandemonium at the hotel Friday afternoon was much as I remembeered it from high school. This time, however,       I was not lugging a sleeping bag and a pillow. Frazzled yet cheerful staff directed us to the check-in, distributed totes filled with info,      a syllabus, and a cool set of reusable silverware and handed us our room keys. When I reached my room, there was a text from a friend back home.

“Are you in Connecticut?”
“Yes. Are you here at the kallah?”
“No, but D. [her daughter] is. She thought she saw you.” 

And that is the essence of Jewish community — it’s not six degrees of separation but one. Sometimes two. D. and her wife were there with their three daughters. I hadn’t seen them since their wedding years before. I trusted eventually we’d bump into each other even though I learned there were nearly 600 people attending.  Shelving that number along with any anxiety over  getting Covid, I put on my mask and headed down to services and then dinner.

One of Hadar’s founding principles is a commitment to what I like to call diversity united. This, in part, from Hadar’s About page: Hadar welcomes people from all walks of Jewish life – teens to great-grandparents, of all denominational backgrounds, from around the country (and around the world). We have programs for college students, for music-lovers who seek to build spiritual community through singing, and for lay people who simply enjoy Torah study. 

It was amazing to see the range of ages throughout the weekend.  Young parents attended with their children and their parents. The youngest attendee might have been three months and the oldest a tad north of 90. What better way to model learning and joy in Jewish life than to bring together many generations for a weekend. At the final event, a fabulous concert by Joey Weisenberg, I saw a curve of  teens standing with their arms around one another’s shoulders as they swayed to the music. Pretty standard I thought remembering myself at their age. Then I realized that some of the kids had come with their parents who were sitting (and dancing) nearby grooving to the music. What?  Going to a Shabbaton with your parents is……cool? Wow.

It was thrilling to engage in deep study at every level of complexity. Some classes studied the texts in Hebrew; the majority were in English. Hevruta (partnered) study assumes the two (or three or four) learners are on equal footing. A nine-year-old’s insights into a text are just as welcome and valid as those of someone four or eight times her age. Seeing new perspectives on familiar texts is as exhilarating as studying a text for the first time. 

At services on Saturday morning men and women had equal roles in leading the davening (prayer) and chanting from the Torah scroll.  Toward the end of the service a group of youngsters came up to lead a prayer that is sung responsively. The words are complex and the pace is quick. They led us with energy and skill. The youngest was probably four. She didn’t know the words but joined in just the same with her sibling who was holding her.

I felt a deep sense of continuity. The next generation is already taking their place in the chain of Jewish life. A dark thought or two intruded. What a target 600 praying Jews would be to some hateful broken person with an automatic rifle. I gazed at an infant sleeping in her father’s arms and thought of the infants shot and bayoneted by Hitler’s alcolytes. We can’t make those who hate us stop hating. In my opinion that’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to be a Jew in the fullest way possible and to share that joy when the spirit moves me. My responsibility is to be kind, to be aware of the times   I judge reflexively, to help those in need and contribute to my community.

Somewhere along the way I did see my friend’s daughter and her family. She speaks only Hebrew to their daughters. Her spouse speaks to them only in English. All their girls are learning Spanish in daycare. Like any young parents they are juggling eleventy million balls in the air and somehow manage through the craziness. After lunch on Saturday one of my Zoom buddies and I took a long walk. We’d only met once, a year before. It was still novel to see one another in three dimensions.  We got to talking as girlfriends do, weaving a relationship one shared story at a time. We are thrilled by the miracle and novelty of having become friends during a worldwide calamity of isolation and pandemic.

When I received a survey some days after the Shabbaton I gave rave reviews and probably a suggestion or two. What I couldn’t yet realize  was what would stay with me since then.  It might have been fifty years between my last Shabbaton as a teen and the one last November. The girl that I was came along to this one, too. We still have much in common. We love Jewish learning. We love that we are Jews. We still get a kick out of random one degrees of  separation. It was cool to reach back and bring her along and know she was delighted that I did.

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