Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Driving on interstate 84 away from Connecticut and into New York. My son, sitting in the passenger seat is squinting from the late afternoon sun shining in his face. We are both quiet and relaxed from our weekend retreat. Shabbaton weekend is a way for the sixth grade hebrew school class to bond, have fun and relax. Its also very important because this weekend is when the kids start the process of their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. 

We arrive Friday evening at the hotel. I am checking in when the Rabbi greets us and hand us a packet. "We are meeting in a half hour for dinner, see you there..." He says as he turns to greet other families. The hotel is more like a lodge, lots of wood and fireplaces. We take the elevator to the third floor and enter our room for the weekend.

The room for dinner is spacious, large circular tables with the food set up buffet style. Most of the kids gather quickly at a table at the far end of the room as the orphaned parents find a seat at the next table. The parents introduce themselves and partake in typical parent conversations. "What do you do?", "Where do you live?", fly around the table reminiscent of a mock dating meet-up. The kids are in their element, joking and laughing up a storm, a good start to the weekend.

After dinner is the most important section of the weekend. We enter one of the conference rooms on the lower level of the hotel. Again we gather around big round tables, this time kids and parents sit together. The Rabbi and the Headmaster talk about how far the kids have grown and where the next year will take them. "Now it is time for the class to discover their Torah portions." the Rabbi exclaims. The kids are on edge as they find their Bar/Bat Mitzvah date on the calendar, find the corresponding date on the Hebrew calendar. The next step is to locate the section of the Torah that is read that week. The kids then go to the front of the room to find their folder, which holds their portion. "Bo!" My son yells out. I do not have a clue what that means but my son shows me the passage. Bo is the section of the Torah which speaks about the Jews exodus from Egypt. It talks about the last of the plagues brought upon Egypt and how the Jews were freed. My son is familiar with this section due to years of Passover Seders. He is very happy to receive this passage. 

Later in the evening the kids are done with business and are free to have and continue bonding. The parents meet with the Rabbi to wrap up and discuss ideas in an open forum. The first night ends late.
The next morning starts with a hearty breakfast buffet, again kids gathered together in smaller groups, parents silently nursing cups of hot coffee and tea. After breakfast is the morning service. The kids sing the songs in unison with the Cantor as parents are trying to follow along in the prayer books. I listen to my son sing in hebrew without skipping a beat. Next on the agenda are some crafts for the kids and more free time before lunch. 

Swimming and games at the gym building occupy the afternoon while the parents meet again with the Rabbi. "What is your most memorable part of the weekend?" The Rabbi asks. Parents speak aloud about seeing the kids bond, and meeting other parents. Other speak about getting away and spending time with their preteen one-on-one. To me the highlight of the weekend was watching the kids discover their Torah portion. For years they have been hearing about their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but it was only a concept to them, some abstract thing they need to read before they can start their party. Watching the kids unearth their portion, and learn the meaning behind it the words, it came alive right in front of them. 


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