A Freshman View of the Shabbaton

By Sarah Bourkoff ‘22


Since the beginning of the school year, the freshman class has eagerly anticipated this year’s Shabbaton. However, after hearing this year’s theme, technology, I had my doubts about how successfully it would be incorporated into the Shabbaton. After returning from the Shabbaton, I can testify that not only were my doubts unfounded, but my expectations were exceeded.

The Shabbaton offered a fun and intellectually stimulating experience for students.  As a whole, the freshmen seemed to enjoy the hachanah le’shabbat activities. I made Shabbat-O-Grams — notes wishing students peaceful Shabbatot — for the freshmen, and although I felt rushed, I had a great time chatting and writing notes with students from all grades. The theme sessions after lunch focused on current, captivating topics, including social media and societal polarization. Although the theme session groups included students from all grades, I found that everyone felt comfortable voicing their thoughts and opinions. I found Friday morning to be packed with tiring activities, but our free periods after lunch gave us a sufficient amount of time to relax and get ready for Shabbat.

Friday night was my favorite part of the weekend. I loved the davening and z’mirot, as well as our Friday Night Learning sessions. Even though everyone was exhausted after the long day, my group, led by Learning Specialist Becky Hirschfield, still managed to have a great discussion about the excess of technology in our society. After our FNL discussion, we split up by grade for meetings. The 9th-grade dean, Ora Weinbach, planned a remarkable exercise for the freshmen: we split up into groups and answered complicated philosophical questions. I loved this activity because it allowed me to share my ideas with students in my grade whom I would not normally talk to, as well as giving me a chance to hear their fascinating opinions. To conclude the grade meeting, Ora told us an amusing family story that had us all falling off our chairs with laughter. I finished the night by attending the “Ask an LQ Teacher” elective; this session was very intense, yet highly entertaining. I was engrossed by all of the questions presented by students, as well as the various answers given by the LQ teachers.

Saturday was a wonderful day of activities, davening, and enjoying delicious food. I took part in amazing — and long — davening with the Egalitarian minyan on Saturday morning, complete with fun trivia between each aliyah led by senior Shoshana Scheinberg. Saturday lunch was, to no surprise, delicious, as was the food at every other meal during the weekend. I was surprised with how tasty the food was, especially since school trips are stereotyped not to have enjoyable food. That was definitely not the case at our Shabbaton! Saturday lunch was especially fun because we were sitting with our advisories, which for me was a bit less awkward than sitting with upperclassmen at previous meals. Although I was hesitant about the experience of assigned tables, freshman Risa Lippa said that she “really enjoyed being able to talk to people [she] wouldn’t necessarily go up to,” and had fun sitting with a mixed group of students.

The rest of the day Saturday was free time. I enjoyed playing cards, talking, and roaming around outside with my friends. Students had many activities to choose from during our free time: outdoor sports led by Rick and Jezel, where we were greeted by some light snow; a challenging scavenger hunt created by Austin; board games; and much more. Finally, it was time for Havdalah. The gorgeous singing led by the Heschel Harmonizers paired with the Havdalah candlelight, spices, and students singing in circle — spiraling all the way from seniors to freshmen — for a memorable experience. Afterwards, dinner seemed to go by fast as we all waited for our closing activity: Panopoly. Sporting our new grade-specific Shabbaton t-shirts, we rushed to finish all of our Panopoly assignments while watching the projected board for bigger questions to complete. Most of the big questions seemed unfair to freshmen and almost impossible for us to answer correctly, especially identifying the faculty baby pictures and the material from later grades tested in the “Show What You Know” category.

Even though some details of this years Shabbaton could have been improved, the 2018 Shabbaton was an exciting and fantastic experience for the ninth grade as well as the rest of the school, and a great start to the Heschel Class of 2022’s Shabbaton experiences.

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