The Manhattan Jewish Experience, founded by Rabbi Mark Wildes and fast approaching its 20th anniversary, hosted a well-attended shabbaton in Teaneck on Shabbat Parshat Beha’alotcha. The more than 40 participants, including 22 singles from Manhattan and eight MJE alumni families living in the area, were hosted by 13 local families, some of whom are themselves MJE alumni, for meals and lodging. Friday night davening was held at Bnai Yeshurun. After davening, led by MJE Chazzan Rabbi Arnie Singer, a sumptuous dinner was held at the home of Elisheva and Amit Schwartz. During dinner, Rabbi Steven Weil addressed the group about the challenge of ongoing kiruv as a reaction to the dismal Pew Report.
Shabbat morning davening was at Keter Torah, the shabbaton sponsor. Morah d’atra of Keter Torah, Rabbi Eli Baum, has long shared a special connection with MJE founder and director Rabbi Mark Wildes and has personally hosted many MJE alumni over the years. The outstanding Shabbat drasha by Rabbi Wildes was greeted with enthusiasm by the entire congregation. Shabbat lunch was hosted in small groups by Keter Torah families.
The afternoon featured a parsha class at the home of Daniella and Lawrence Schreiber, presented by Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal, director of MJE’s fellowship program. An “Ask the Rabbi” session, hosted by Becky and Avi Katz, was fielded by Rabbi Wildes, Rabbi Rosenthal and Rabbi Pruzansky, who teaches in the MJE fellowship program. Mincha was hosted by Batya and Nachum Paul, followed by seudah shlishit at the home of Joy and Barry Sklar. Joy has hosted MJE programs for the past several years as a tribute to her late brother, whose love for am Yisrael she hopes to perpetuate.
A spirited, song-filled Havdalah marked the end of the shabbaton. In the words of an MJE shabbaton participant Gail Goldspiel, “I’m beyond speechless about the entire Shabbat. My hosts, the Dembys, were so warm and wonderful.”
“Teaneck has been a fruitful venue for our shabbatonim,” shared Rabbi Wildes. “Three years ago at our Teaneck Shabbaton, a young man named Roger Goldberg was hosted by Miriam and Arik Zaider, a Keter Torah family whose warmth and welcoming spirit inspired Goldberg to move ahead in his quest to strengthen his Jewish knowledge. He was inspired to study in Israel at Shappell’s where he met a lovely young lady also on a quest. They married and together are continuing their journey in Israel with their growing family. The annual Teaneck Keter Torah shabbaton, as well as the one in the Five Towns on Long Island, have a great impact upon our MJE participants by normalizing the lifestyle of Modern Orthodoxy for them and helping them envision it for themselves one day through experiencing a full Shabbat. To date, MJE has facilitated over 300 marriages.”
In addition to its Upper West Side location on West 86th Street, MJE has sites at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue on 62nd Street and downtown at Congregation Adereth El on East 29th Street. Each of these locations has its own director and hosts Shabbat dinners once monthly. Rabbi Wildes commented, “We try to attract singles while they are living in Manhattan and craving community. Our agenda is to introduce them to the Orthodox lifestyle without their feeling intimidated.”
MJE also hosts year-round trips, including a winter ski retreat and a spring getaway in the Berkshires. In addition, MJE proudly sponsors three opportunities to visit Israel. The first is through a Birthright trip, which attracts up to 40 participants annually. The second is the MJE Heritage trip, which hosts 30 participants. The third trip is for MJE fellows who take part in a year-long Torah study program named for Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. The program entails three hours of learning per week and culminates in a Tanach tour of Israel. “I named the Fellowship trip in honor of Dr. Lamm as he had a tremendous influence on me and the way I’ve tried to shape the organization these last 20 years.”
Chani Perlman, a Bergenfield resident who serves as the senior educator at MJE, conveyed rave reviews of the recent shabbaton and expressed tremendous hakarat hatov to the many Teaneck families who opened their homes and hearts to the MJE participants. She invites the community to contact her at [email protected] to learn about the many opportunities to become involved in the highly productive programs of MJE.
By Pearl Markovitz