For more than 80 Russian-speaking Jewish young adults the 9th Annual Midwest Russian Shabbaton, held Feb. 3-5, was a weekend they will not forget. This year's theme was "Find your I in Israel". Planned and executed by 12 student leaders and volunteers from JUF's Russian Hillel, the annual Shabbaton strengthens identity and builds community. "I felt proud that I was able to contribute to such a wonderful weekend where people worked closely and formed new bonds, possibly for a lifetime", said Irina Pukhovich, a Shabbaton leader and graduate of Loyola University.
The emphasis for the Shabbaton was on Israel's place in our Jewish identity. Hillel's Israel Fellows, JUF's Israel Education Center Interns, and a keynote speaker from Jerusalem, David Abitbol shared their passion, love for Israel, and stories of growing up in the Jewish State. They also led a variety of sessions and discussions touching upon issues of delegitimization campaigns against Israel both on campus and online. "I did not realize how big the anti-Israel tensions have become. It got me thinking of how I could help", said Alex Kolbasov, senior at Illinois Institute of Technology. Participants had an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe and welcoming environment. They gained knowledge about Israel and strong advocacy skills.
Tanya Gutsol, a *MASA Israel Journey representative, explained the scholarships available to study or intern in Israel and several students have already inquired about these opportunities.
Promoting Israel in a positive way at the Shabbaton inspired some of the participants, after years of doubts and concerns, to finally register for the free 10-day trip to Israel run by Taglit-Birthright. "I have been considering Birthright for some time and after the Shabbaton and all the references people made to the trip I definitely want to go", said Leo Zakutnik, a graduate of Oakton Community College.
Celebrating Shabbat at the Shabbaton was a first-time experience for more than a third of the participants. Nataliya Atroshenko, a Shabbaton leader and Lake Forest College graduate, was very touched when she got to educate Shabbat first-timers about Shabbat traditions. Susan Giterman, freshman at College of Lake County, noted that "it was honestly a great experience. I hope to be more active in Hillel and get back to my roots some more. Thank you for having me!"
For Anna Zinger, senior at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the most powerful experience at Shabbaton was the feeling of belonging. "Everyone there comes from a similar mixed Russian/American upbringing which can be very confusing and conflicting in one's daily life. I feel like we all had a common understanding and acceptance of one another and the difficulties our parents went through to get us to the freedom that they never had."
The Shabbaton was sponsored by JUF's Department of Campus Affairs and Student Engagement: Encompassing Hillels of Illinois and JUF's Israel Education Center
Support was also provided by: Stand With Us, and Man of Reform Judaism/Reform on Campus Grant.
*JUF Annual Campaign allocations to the Jewish Agency for Israel support MASA Israel Journey