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Fifth annual Shabbat Unplugged leadership retreat draws record number of participants

130 university students and young adults attended this year’s “Shabbat Unplugged” at the Hecla Island Resort the weekend of January 10-12.

The fifth annual Shabbat Unplugged Leadership Retreat – which took place on the weekend of January 10-12 – was the most successful to date. Asper School of Business student Einat Livni, who assisted Hillel Winnipeg director Hartley Mendelsohn, reports that this year’s retreat at Hecla attracted 130 university students and young adults, including eight from UBC in Vancouver and seven from the University of Calgary.




CJPAC’s Dovi Chein, one of the presenters, was thrilled to see the young adults (ranging in age from 18-25) praying, learning and having the opportunity to explore new Jewish, Zionist, and political ideas. “I have been a part of many Jewish campus programs across our country,” says Chein, “but for this Shabbaton to occur in a remote location in Manitoba, in freezing temperatures, with such excitement and passion, is something truly special.”
The first Shabbat Unplugged was organized by Gray Academy teachers Sheppy Coodin and Avi Posen in 2016, building on the Shabbatons that Gray Academy has been organizing for the school’s high school students for many years.
The inaugural Shabbat Unplugged was so successful that Coodin and Posen did it again in 2017 and took things one step further by combining their Shabbat Unplugged with Hillel’s annual Shabbat Shabang Shabbaton, which brings together Jewish university students from Winnipeg and other Jewish university students from Western Canada. While Coodin was unable to be involved this year, Avi Posen returned from Israel (he and his wife, Ilana, made aliyah in October) to be one of the facilitators/speakers, joining Chein, Rebecca Katzman from StandWithUs Canada, Jesse Primerano representing Birthright Israel and Calgary and Vancouver Hillel directors Danielle Braitman and (former Winnipegger) Noa Farage, as well as Mendelsohn.
Catering was provided by Grandma Alla from The Jewish Learning Centre.
The weekend began with Shabbat candle lighting followed by an ice-breaking exercise. Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat services offered participants a choice of traditional or alternative services.
The Torah, Mendelsohn notes, was borrowed from Gray Academy.
Among the topics for discussion, he says, were how to deal with anti-Israel activity on campus, the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, global anti-Semitism, incorporating Judaism into your life, why politics should matter to young Jewish adults, the importance of maintaining a strong Jewish community and the story behind Hatikvah.
There was also a student-run session, led by recent University of Winnipeg grad Adam Stoller, in which participants discussed the “Two-State Solution”.
Shabbat Unplugged concluded with a havdalah service with everyone joining in.
The weekend was funded in part by grants from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba and StandWithUs Canada, along with a generous gift from the Asper Foundation, Mendelsohn reports. The students from Calgary and Vancouver did their own fundraising to pay for their flight.
The Hillel directors in Calgary and Vancouver and their supporters know how important this kind of retreat is for students,” Mendelsohn says. “For some of our Shabbat Unplugged participants, this may be the only Jewish cultural and religious event that they experience this year.”


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