By MYRON LOVE For many years now, the Gray Academy has been organizing yearly Shabbatons in January for the high school students attending the school. Last year, Gray Academy teachers Sheppy Coodin and Avi Posen decided to raise the bar with a Shabbaton for young Jewish adults aged 18-26.
Their inaugural Shabbat Unplugged was so successful that this year, the duo did it again – this time with a new partner in the form of new Hillel Director Arielle Branitsky.
“One of our goals this year, since Arielle is new to our community, was to partner with Hillel to give Arielle an opportunity to meet some more of the younger people in the community,” says Posen.
Posen and Coodin took things one step further by also combining their Shabbat Unplugged with Hillel’s annual Shabbat Shabang Shabbaton that brings together Jewish university students from Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
“It is important to us that young people not only have an opportunity to be with each other in a Jewish context but also to meet new Jewish people of the some age,” Coodin says. “We had a good mix of younger people from the three cities as well as people from Winnipeg that we had never met before.”
“I was really excited about this opportunity to merge okur (Hillel’s) annual Shabbat Shabang with Shabbat Unplugged,” Branitsky says. “It was a great chance for younger people from the three largest Jewish communities on the Prairies to forge new relationships in a Jewish setting. Programs like Shabbat Unplugged can serve as a launching pad for our younger Jewish adults who are interested in continuing to build our Jewish community into the future.”
This year’s Shabbat Unplugged took place on the weekend of January 27-29 and was held once again at Lakeview Resort at Hecla. The weekend this year attracted over 90 (including speakers) as compared to 70 last year.
The weekend began with a Kabbalat Shabbat service followed by a Shabbat morning Torah reading (led by Coodin and Posen with the participation of some of the attendees). Also helping out as facilitators were Saskatoon shaliachim Sapir and Yaniv Atiya.
One of the speakers was Ryan Bellerose, co-founder of Calgary United with Israel and B’nai Brith Canada’s advocacy co-ordinator for western Canada. Bellerose, of Aboriginal heritage, makes the case that the Jewish People are the Aboriginal people of Israel. At the Shabbaton, he spoke about the importance of identity.
Also speaking was Allyson Grant, Assistant Director, Government Relations and University Outreach for CIJA (the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs). Coodin reports that she put a number of pictures around a room and had participants choose which picture each one most identified with.
“There was some interesting discussion,” Coodin says.
With 48 students graduating from the Gray Academy in June, Coodin and Posen are anticipating an even higher number of participants at next year’s Shabbat Unplugged.
Branitsky, Posen and Coodin are very grateful to the many sponsors of this Shabbaton, which include Jewish organizations, synagogues, and private donors.