For the first time over 300 students from a wide range of countries, many of them English speakers, gathered on Friday, Parshas Shmos, in Venice, Italy. Their single common denominator is that they are Jews. Rabbi Ives is in popular demand and somehow gives personal attention to anyone that approaches him, such as directing the individual to his room in the hotel that was prepared to be Kosher by a designated staff a few days earlier.
Quite some time will pass until the reception plaza will clear out, as over 300 students find their accommodations, and then followed by small talk in the lounge where the participants get acquainted.
After chatting, they discover that Morocco, Switzerland, America, Gibraltar, France, England, Germany are only some of the represented countries participating in this Shabbaton. Rabbi Yoel Kaplan, Shaliach in Salonika, Greece and his staff will go around to each student and check if they put on Tefilin yet. Whoever hasn’t will have the honor to have it put on him. The European Student Association run by Rabbi Zev Ives is active for close to 15 years all over Europe with the goal of exposing Thousands of Jews to their identity for the first time. These Jews have never set foot in a shul or attended ant Jewish event.
The Shabbaton is just one of the 8 activities supported by ‘Keren Meromim’ run by Chairman Rabbi Bentzi Lipsker, Shaliach Chabad in Petersburg, as part of his year-round assistance.
Rabbi Ives began his career 15 years ago.” We reach out to a massive amount of students we have accumulated through contact with Community Rabbis, Jewish populated areas and Student bodies. Our events are situated in Europe but also include places like Vietnam, Thailand, Scotland, Turkey, Morocco, Greece and more.”
“Before I drown in a myriad of data please explain to me precisely what your organization’s goal is?” I said.
Rabbi Ives:” Many young European Jews are isolated from Judaism. They don’t have any interest to connect with the Jewish communities. Most haven’t received a Jewish education and 70 percent assimilate. Our goal is to open their eyes for the first time, and see the light. We organize a wide range of fascinating programs focusing on the interests of the students. The participants are exposed and get inspired as their inner fire ignites. Their data is transferred to hometown Community Rabbis to invite the students to Jewish community affairs.
We can’t be everywhere, but we succeed in connecting the isolated Jewish student to his Jewish community as he will now participate in their events.
In Venice, for example, we heard that for the first time, several students put on tefilin consistently. One of them, 34 years old, hadn’t put on tefilin since his Bar Mitzvah. After investigating, we discovered that he celebrated his Bar- Mitzvah a few days prior his Hebrew birthdate, which means that he never really put on tefillin till now.
Going back to the Venice event, the students boarded tour buses fascinated by the view and then the narrow ancient brick laid streets. The buses returned to the hotel and the students prepared for Shabbos. After davening Minchah they conducted a round of self-presentation, followed by an intriguing lecture given by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Zaklos, and the Maariv of Shabbos services.
The students were exclusively set up in the hotel’s private plaza as they sang “Shalom Aleichem” and Kiddush. Throughout the festive meal the crowd sang along and heard small comments from Rabbi Yoel Kaplan and Rabbi Yossi Weiss from Antwerp. Following the meal Rabbi Zaklos, Rabbi Kaplan, Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Levi Hazan from Milano sang and discussed various topics with groups till 3 a.m.”
Rabbi Ives continued: “Every time we coordinate a Shabbatton for the students I marvel in amazement at the powerful influence the prayer services create. Praying is a new phenomenon for them and still, they come to hear, pray and connect to their Jewish roots.”
Shluchim who took part in the event expressed similar feelings. The Shabbaton was a smashing success we achieved more than we dreamed of.” exclaimed Rabbi Levi Hazan from Milano.
Rabbi Yoel Kaplan from Greece said:” it was an organized and moving Shabbaton loaded with content. Definitely, it is one of the main events in Europe.
Rabbi Yossi Weiss from Antwerp stated emotionally;” It was such a stirring event. Students that are one step away from assimilation, without any qualms of marrying a gentile, come to the Shabbaton and it creates a revolution. Rabbi Ives instills in them Jewish pride. There isn’t an event in the world that can compare to this Shabbaton. Students come from worldwide locations and at the same time receive personal attention from Rabbi Ives.”
As the Shabbos proceeds, Rabbi Weiss entertains the audience with Torah excerpts, and Current issues in the Parshah, and then The Torah is read. A festive meal is served in a unique atmosphere as impacted conversations arise, while the Shluchim go around all the tables and strike up a conversation with the attendees.
Excitement fills the air as the afternoon advances to a symposium, where any question can be asked and on the spot is answered. This lasts for 2 hours. It is well known that this part of the Shabbaton answers many questions and doubts that students have.
The last part of the magical Shabbaton, is Havdalah. Rabbi Ives made it into such a spectacle through song and dance that all the Jewish student organizations talk about it. Malavah Malkah follows with students discussions with Shluchim.
Sunday, starts with Shacharis and then a tour and cruise in Venice known for its beauty. Part of the tour included a visit at the Local Jewish Museum and the ancient shuls while learning about the community life. Later that night Rabbi Zaklos presented a lecture on “Why bad things happen to good people”. Rabbi Weiss became a widower this past year and shared his feelings with the audience. His words made a long lasting impression. Round table discussions were spontaneously formed and Rabbi Weiss was asked to join.
Monday ended the entire weekend with a visit in Varna. The student representative spoke: Every one of us came here knowing that he is a Jew. Now, as we conclude this monumental event, I can say in the name of all, that we now know what Judaism is. You have filled us with a vast amount of knowledge, and much to ponder.”