Times Square; the luminous crossroads of the world. The brightly lit up corner of the city is a universally known landmark. This year, at the 7th Annual CTeen International Shabbaton, the lights of Times Square were made brighter and stronger by the presence of 1,500 Jewish teens from across the globe, who gathered together this weekend to celebrate their heritage.
The star studded weekend culminated in a powerful Havdalah ceremony in Times Square, featuring Israeli Superstar Gad Elbaz. Jumbo screens throughout the square broadcasted the ceremony for all to see. The screens also displayed photos of CTeen’s delegations in over 181 cities, all of whom were present at this life changing weekend.
Opening up the Havdalah ceremony was 16 year old Dalia Benjamin, a CTeen leader from Singapore. Her speech rings loud and true:
“Standing here tonight, looking around at our enormous CTeen family, one thing is certain: The future of the Jewish people is a very bright one indeed! We are gathered to light the great Havdalah torch surrounded by flashing lights and neon screens that make even the darkest of nights seem like day. CTeeners, this is our task. We are going to light up the darkest nights until they shine like the day.”
The mission of CTeen, the global Chabad teen network where teens learn about themselves and their heritage, is to do exactly what was expressed loud and clear on the stage of Times Square: bring light and goodness to the greater community. The Shabbaton began seven years ago with a group of sixty teens; in past years it has exploded into an overbooked event attracting teens from around the world.
Highlights of the Shabbaton included the ever popular Friday Tracks, where teens were treated to famous sights of New York from the Statue of Liberty, to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. While these popular attractions caught the attention of many of the teens, it was this year’s new addition, the educational track, that was the highlight for many. With illustrious speakers and professors, including Rabbi Manis Friedman, popular author and speaker, and Mr. Dovid Efune, editor in chief of The Algemeiner, teen’s walked away with new and fresh ideas about Judaism, Israel, and the impact of youth on the world.
“The educational track was life changing,” said Tori Bischoff, teen leader from St. Petersburg, Florida. “The speakers really opened my eyes to topics that I had not thought about or addressed in my personal life. I definitely walked away with a fresh take on Judaism.”
Of the most inspiring events of the weekend was the CTeen Choice Awards ceremony which celebrates the hard work of CTeen leaders and chapters from around the world. The ceremony opened with a welcoming address from the illustrious Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki Moon. In his speech, Mr. Ki Moon spoke highly of CTeen’s mark on the world: “Chabad institutions such as CTeen have a strong reputation for working in the community….To them we say, thank you – and keep up the good work! I encourage all of you to continue to reach out to anyone in need with no distinction.”
The teens thought they had seen it all. That is, until Philip Yurchenko took the stage. At last year’s Choice Awards, a video was shared of Philip, a young teen battling brain cancer, who due to his health condition, was unable to attend the Shabbaton. In the video, he urged teens to take upon mitzvot, such as wrapping tefillin daily, and good deeds on in the merit of his recovery. Low and behold, a year later, he stood before them, recovered, healthy, and strong.
Holding up his tefillin bag at this year’s ceremony, he spoke proudly of his fellow CTeen members. “These straps in here that connected me to G-d, also connected me to all of you. Every time I wrapped up, I knew that I wasn’t wrapping alone. I was wrapping with hundreds of CTeeners from around the world. I truly do believe that your mitzvah pledges made a difference in my recovery. Seeing that so many people are spreading so much good in my merit brought not only a huge smile to my face, but it also overwhelmed me with positivity.”
This year, teens were eager to once again take on more mitzvah pledges. At the end of the Shabbaton, Jamie Sheer, who attended her final Shabbaton this year, shared her pledge with fellow CTeeners:
“Every year I look forward to the shabbaton and meeting new Jewish friends. I’ve taken on a new mitzvah. The first year, it was to light Shabbat candles. The second year was to give up eating pork. The third year was to say shema before bed. And this year, I’ve taken on to wash my hands when I wake up and give tzedakah everyday. Thank you guys so much for everything!”
In this year’s closing ceremony, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of CTeen, expressed the power of the teen’s mark on the world: “We look at you as the future leaders of the Jewish people. Those who will bring light to this dark world, where there are tragic attacks in Paris, in Copenhagen, where people are beheaded by those who hate others who do not agree with their beliefs. You will have to make the choices, to decide, to lead others. Learn, so you can bring light to this world of darkness!”
It doesn’t stop there. As CTeen’s director, Rabbi Shimon Rivkin put it: “We cannot be satisfied with what we have accomplished so far. There are still so many Jewish teens who are yet to be part of CTeen. There are thousands who have yet to join this monumental Shabbaton.”
If the teens have anything to say about it, it won’t be long before the Shabbaton takes over a lot more than just Times Square.