Together with Chabad families, the group spends a Shabbaton prepping for their work and learning about themselves.
By CTeen Staff
Like anyone, teenagers need to recharge their batteries from time to time, even during the summer when they’re officially “off.” And that’s exactly what a group of young Jewish leaders did as part of a long weekend of inspiration, introspection and rejuvenation.”
In the backdrop of the bucolic Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., in mid-August, that energy was palpable as 32 teens and 13 Chabad-Lubavitch emissary familiesgot together for a three-day CTeen Leadership Retreat Weekend.”
The program was offered to young men and women leaders of CTeen chapters, who were chosen to participate (or in some cases, elected) for their reputations as role models and for their passion to make a difference in their communities. They represented cities and towns across the United States and from Montreal.
More than 40 workshops and activities were led by various Chabad emissaries and educators. Topics included effective recruiting; how to plan and design an effective CTeen program; how to teach Chassidus to teens; and more. Teens also discussed the power of youth, Jewish superheroes, relief for age-related anxiety and using their time efficiently.
“At one session, we were given time to ‘vent’ and share challenges we faced with our chapters and gain perspective,” said Risa Mond of Plano, TX. “Once someone shared a setback, numerous hands shot up from fellow leaders to offer advice through personal experiences or an idea they had just thought of. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that a leader doesn’t always have to ‘lead.’
A good leader delegates, gives others the chance to take charge, and leads selflessly.”
In addition to the Chabad emissaries and teens who moderated workshops, the lineup of presenters included Rabbi Shais Taub, a popular speaker and author known for his work in addiction recovery; internationally known author Rabbi Simcha Weinstein; Rabbi Dov Yona Korn, who co-directs Chabad at New York University; and Rabbi Asher Crispe, director of Interinclusion.org, a nonprofit focusing on the convergence of contemporary arts and sciences, and timeless Jewish wisdom. Women presenters included Miriam Lipskier, co-founder and director of the Chabad Student Center at Emory University in Atlanta; Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, national speaker and co-director of Interinclusion.org; and Nechama Laber, founder and co-director of the Girls Jewish Retreat.
Mollie Jakofsky from Skokie, Ill., said she has never witnessed anything as special as the open arms of CTeen and its leaders. “It didn’t matter if we had met before or hadn’t met at all. That is the duty of a leader—to make people feel at ease and a part of the teachings. I have no doubt that our amazing leaders will continue to create a home for those who start off as ‘strangers’ to CTeen.”
One part of the program that really got everyone talking was the question-and-answer session moderated by Rabbi Mendy Cohen, director of youth activities and the Hebrew school at Chabad on the Main Line in Merion Station, Pa. Questions were posed to a teen panel, such as “What do teens wish their rabbis and rebbetzins knew about them?” and “Are your parents a good source to get extra staffing power, or will you resent a teen program if your parents are involved?”
For his part, Cohen said “the retreat was an incredible mix of useful and tangible workshops, plenty in depth esoteric farbrengens [informal celebrations], real and practical motivation, and of course, stress-free time, thanks to the great camp. I don’t have the words to explain the beauty of the Shabbat we shared, but suffice to say that it was massively beneficial, both spiritually and physically, for all.”
Shaping the Future
For some down time, teens and adults competed in games of volleyball, basketball, relay kayaking and a survivor game. And a mini-fair was hosted on Sunday so that teens could sign up for leadership committees, on both local and international levels, in areas such as social-media management, trip and event organization, and regional event planning.
Leigh Bojan from Milwaukee said she learned so many new things about herself, that so many inspiring words were spoken throughout the weekend. “I felt a strong connection to Rabbi Korn, who did not grow up religious. He knew what it was like to be a Jewish teen in a very public environment. “We teens, as leaders—no matter where we are or how we live—have the power to change the world and lead it in the right direction,” she continued. “I look forward this year to connecting Jewish teens and making a measurable difference while shaping the future of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos Suite 302, found the weekend impactful and inspiring. “Watching the teens connect with each other and interested in learning about leadership showed how fit they are to be leaders, and how important it is for them to connect and share ideas. The most uplifting part for me was the ‘Ask the Teens,’ which was a panel where the directors could ask the teens questions for their perspective on CTeen programming. We gained so much useful information from this panel.”
The Chabad emissaries at the retreat also spoke of the wisdom and knowledge they gained. “It was both inspiring and practical,” said Rabbi Yosef Orenstein, who directs the Teen Leadership Initiative at Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. “Listening to and learning ideas and methods from fellow emissaries was a great opportunity for my wife Estie and me, and it was a beautiful, relaxing environment. We are now able to bring home and apply many creative new elements to our CTeen program.”