Ask a Ma’ayanot student about the purpose of the school’s annual Shabbaton, and you will hear that it is about many things—grade-wide bonding; bonding between grades; student-teacher bonding; school spirit; school pride; ruach; just plain fun, and the list goes on. And while the Shabbaton is about all of that, “it also has educational goals,” explains Mrs. Dena Block, Director of Student Programming, and Ms. Sarah Gordon, Director of Student Activities; “it affords an opportunity for in-depth exploration of a topic for which we wouldn’t otherwise have sufficient time.”
The educational theme chosen for this year’s Shabbaton, which took place at the CoCo Key hotel in Waterbury, Connecticut, this past weekend, was Finding Balance. Beginning with the timeless words of Hillel in Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I?” students were asked to ponder how one best strikes a balance between helping themselves and helping others.
Students were introduced to this theme on the Wednesday before Shabbaton, through a presentation by Rabbi Ari Hart, co-founder of UriL’Tzedek. He discussed the challenge of finding a correct balance between individual interests and communal needs within the context of the complex issue of forming a Jewish response to the current Syrian refugee crisis. In truth, within the context of the tragic events that unfolded in Israel and Paris last week, this theme felt poignant and relevant in ways that the Shabbaton planners could not have anticipated.
In addition to this introduction, seniors received additional Shabbaton preparation for the Friday night small-group sessions that they led for the remainder of the student body entitled #sheisforherself #sheisforothers #whoisshe. “A goal of these discussion groups,” Mrs. Block explained, “was to get students thinking about where they are now and where they would like to be with regard to finding appropriate balance in their lives.”
Of course, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. As such, students were encouraged to decide on priorities for personal growth, and, in the weeks following the Shabbaton, will be asked to participate in one of three follow-up activities: setting a self improvement goal and, working with Ma’ayanot guidance counselors, developing strategies for achieving that goal; participating in a project aimed at improving the Ma’ayanot community; or, participating in a project aimed at helping people in the broader world community.
In addition to developing this over-arching theme, the three-day Shabbaton was full of exciting activities, including the opportunity to “jump their hearts out” at Rockin’ Jump in Trumbull, CT; a morning of fun and relaxation at the CoCo Key indoor water park; a Friday night tisch; hilarious grade skits; a musical Havdalah; a lively melave malka, and a final slow kumsitz.
The act of coming together as a community, on the heels of a difficult week for both Am Yisrael and the world, to celebrate Shabbat, brought no small measure of comfort to students and faculty alike. In summing up the weekend, Ma’ayanot principal Mrs. Rivka Kahan commented, “This weekend was filled with bonding and ruach and was suffused with religious substance, inspiration, and meaning.” Best of all, students have been challenged to think about how to best utilize their formidable talents to better themselves, the Ma’ayanot community, the broader Jewish community, and the world at large.