In the weeks leading up to Freshman Shabbaton, I was excited, but I had no idea what to expect. I knew that NCSY helped Jewish teens learn more about their Judaism, but as an already orthodox Jewish girl, I didn’t exactly need help with the learning part. And as San Diego finally arrived as the last chapter at the Clarion Hotel, I raced up to my room to get ready for the fast coming Shabbat.
I came downstairs to see at least fifty little tea lights arranged to spell out Shabbat in Hebrew. It was such a heart-warming feeling to see all the candles that were lit by all the other girls on the shabbaton, how we all came together to make Shabbat.
When I went into davening, I sat down next to a girl and we introduced ourselves (as an advisor shushed us and we laughed). Sarah and I are now good friends. I met so many different people over dinner that all had different impacts on me. Everyone had such contrasting backgrounds; they all changed me in their own ways. The rest of the night was filled with spending time with new and old friends.
The next morning the freshmen were giving a choice: traditional or explanatory davening. Curious about what it was, and looking for a change from my weekly routine, I went to explanatory davening. Expecting something along the lines of lectures, I was surprised when we were met with skits and candy. The motto was “davening doesn’t have to be boring”, we were all given a fun alternative to connect with Hashem, and afterwards both minyans rejoined for the reading of the Torah. After lunch we had a three-hour break, which I’m pretty sure everyone used to have fun with friends. My break was filled with smiles, laughs, semi-awkwardness, and everything in between.
The next part of the shabbaton was definitely one of my favorite parts. Ebbing. I felt so connected to everyone around me, like we were all one person. No one had any Facebook or Snapchat to pull them away. We were as G-d intended us to be as Jews; one soul. But, all good things come to an end, and, in what seemed like thirty seconds, we were directed to the pool area for havdala.
We could all tell we looked pretty crazy, singing and dancing around a candle. People were out on their balconies watching us, some were even videotaping the event. Doing havdala like that was exciting and spirited, but despite its awesomeness, as soon as it was over everyone raced inside to change for Downtown Disney.
Once everyone came back down, we had a role call, and were warned against going into shops on the way to Downtown Disney. We split into smaller groups and had a blast; our group even almost got our advisor to let us do his makeup in Sephora! (Almost being the key word here.)
When we got back we had some midnight pizza, and some of us went back to our rooms, while others stayed to watch one of the best movies of all time: Wreck it Ralph. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure I went to bed somewhere around three in the morning.
I woke up five hours later, packed up, and went down for breakfast, which was pretty much leftovers from whatever we didn’t eat that weekend. Leftovers as in I had mike n ikes and cold pizza for breakfast (although I could have chosen a more normal option). It was delicious. The morning consisted of davening, crying, singing, and trading contact info with anyone you’d missed the night before. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, one of my favorite weekends had just come to an end.
As I left the shabbaton I realized that NCSY isn’t here to give me the confinements to what being “a good Jew” means. The things I loved that stood out to me on the shabbaton were happy and memorable. I realized that NCSY gave me a connection to something that wasn’t very strong before. A sense of community. A community full of nervous teenagers, who all have to balance their first year of high school with their Jewish faith. Every single person on that shabbaton is about to struggle through four years of confusion and hormones. It’s happening to all of us, and no one deserves to go through it alone (or what occasionally feels like “alone” even when its not); what NCSY did, was ask, “So why don’t you go through it together?”