Blankets, Cookies, 9/11, Shabbat. Broadway. What do these have in common? They all had a central place to play in the amazing Live2Give Shabbaton in New York City this month.
The shabbaton adventure was organized by Live2Give Director Gitty Nussbaum, with the assistance of advisors Malky Lipschutz, Adira Shiff, Suri Grossman, Leah Soberano, Eden Gabay, Julia Abramov, and Nina Benayair. The 29 girls who attended were from a wide swath of Toronto’s public and private high schools: Toronto Prep, Bishop Strachan School, Havergal, CHAT, Vaughan Secondary, Westmount, and Forest Hill Collegiate.
The Live2Give mission of engaging Jewish teens in charitable and socially conscious activities and projects was apparent on the long bus ride that began on Thursday night and ended the next morning at Manhattan’s Nylo Hotel on the city’s Upper West Side. As the bus rolled across the miles of highway under the glare of the February moon, the girls were busy cutting and tying swatches of fleece fabric together. The resulting creations, cozy blankets meant to ward off the New York winter, would later be distributed to the homeless in Times Square.
But before arriving at Times Square, there was shopping on Canal Street and distributing goodies in Central Park. There, amid the park’s meandering walks and skeletal trees, police officers and the homeless were treated to heart shaped cookies, courtesy of the Live2Give crew.
The girls returned to the Nylo to get ready for Shabbat, where they donned their finest clothing. The girls lit Shabbat candles together, listened to Gitty discuss her grandmother’s courageously lighting Shabbat candles during the Holocaust and the power of Shabbat candles and women, before singing “Lecho Dodi” together.
The girls, many of whom never kept Shabbat before or even knew of the concept, were graciously welcomed into the homes of the Feinberg and Benedict famiilies. There, they were served a delicious four-course meal. The authentic beauty of Shabbat permeated the hosts’ beautiful homes and the holiness of Shabbat was felt and by all.
On Shabbat day, the girls joined more host families, who opened their eyes to the warmth and chesed that is a common feature of a traditional Shabbat. At shalosh seudot, Steve Eisenberg, a speaker and educator for JICNY (Jewish International Connection New York), spoke about the difference Jews have made in the world with their unique power and gifts, despite our small numbers.
After Shabbat ended, the girls enjoyed a Broadway show— School of Rock—and feasted on ice cream before tumbling exhausted back in their beds.
Sunday in Williamsburg
As the girls entered the tight knit Williamsburg community, their world opened up in positive ways with the scene that opened before them. The men and women, most of whom were Satmar Chassidim in traditional garb, hurried up and down the streets. The girls entered a Williamsburg wedding gemach, where women were busy giving away free gowns to brides. By the end of the excursion, the girls first impressions included a healthy dose of respect for a community that placed the value of chesed (kindness) at the forefront.
Then the girls headed to Times Square where they distributed cookies, chocolate bars, and the aforementioned blankets to the homeless, before heading out to see the sites of New York during free time.
After enjoying a delicious dinner at the famed Abigael’s restaurant, the girls listened to 9-11 survivor Ari Schonbrun. Ari worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street firm that occupied the top five floors of Tower One. He arrived late that morning and was miraculously spared; his son had forgotten to fill out his Scholastic form that he was to bring to school that day. And so being the Dad that he was, Ari filled it out for him and brought it to his son’s school that morning, arriving to work just after two commandeered airliners crashed into the Twin Towers.
Ari believes that God was looking out for him that day. There were many large and small miracles and if there’s anything that Ari does know it is how that day ended up being a day of rebirth. His message: live each day to the fullest because you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. After 9/11, Ari changed his life by putting his family first, by volunteering and giving back to the community, and by speaking to groups of people around the country.
To hear more about Ari Schonbrum’s story, click here.
As the bus rolled over the miles and miles of highway back to Toronto, the girls seemed changed as well. It was an incredible experience that revealed to them the beauty of being a Jew in all of its many wonderful facets.