Organizations focused upon the return of the Messiah bringing a time of Sabbath from all worldly ills are by definition future-orientated in overcoming problems and reaching new goals. The leaders behind CTeen have experience in overcoming organizational inertia and problems falling into the cracks remaining unsolved. Anticipatory action is built into their organizational DNA.
The development of teen leadership
Director of CTeen Rabbi Shimon Rivkin noted that at the beginning he saw shluchim emissaries shy away from the project, doubting that CTeen could have success in teen outreach. There was a common feeling that the emissaries would just end up entertaining the teens for a few days with no result.
But, “teens can surprise you [with] the amount of leadership they possess,” Rivkin reflected proudly about his recruits. By inviting friends and spearheading outreach projects, the teens themselves have driven much of the growth of CTeen.
Two years ago, a CTeen app was designed by a student from the California chapter. This year, one of the nominees for the CTeen Leadership Award was Ben Bursk from the United Kingdom for his Instagram initiative #StrapandSnap, in which he took pictures of himself each morning to encourage his peers to daily put on tefillin.
Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, vice-chair of Merkos, noted that investment in teens has an exponential effect back in the teens’ homes. By spending one weekend with international teenagers, CTeen will have a direct impact through religious activist teens upon their 200 communities around the world.
Teen Shabbaton births a new Millennial outreach
Rabbi Beryl Frankel, who brainstormed this idea seven years ago, is amazed but not surprised at the growth of the CTeen Shabbaton. Already he is onto his next project. Another demographic has come to his attention: Millennial young professionals.
At 36 years old, he considers himself part of this demographic. Quoting Tony Hawkins, he said “I know my demographic because I am my demographic.” Frankel understands the circumstances that might keep a young professional away from the Chabad network.
“Before mom used to tell you where to go, and when you should go to synagogue,” but now, when a youth reaches the age 21, “they’re thinking about dating, you’re moving.”
His new network, the Chabad Young Jewish Professionals, or CYJP, aims to keep young Jews aged 21 to 35 connected with Chabad. The solution is to have this new generation facilitate their own religious experiences and networks.
For example, in traditional Jewish communities, a young family might celebrate Shabbat at the rabbi’s house. Frankel wants to encourage young professionals to have Shabbat at their own house and invite their friends. CYJP even puts together packages to help them get started: Shabbat In A Box.
Begun last spring, CYJP already has 42 chapters around the world.
Frankel looks forward to the day when he will meet somebody who went through the Schilach program as a child, grew up into CTeen and Chabad on Campus, stays connected through CYJP, gets married to a nice Jewish boy or girl, and has a child. Then, Frankel concluded, the cycle repeats.
Frankel repeated an anecdote that an older rabbi told him.
“What I call Holy Shabbat, my son calls the Sabbath, my grandson calls it Saturday, and my great-grandson will call it ‘the day before Superbowl Sunday’,” he mused. Then, he looked with eyes penetrating into the future.
“Chabad is combating that,” he said like a head coach envisioning his next play. Chabad is constantly scanning the environment for developments and ideas to set up their next win for the hearts and minds of the next generations.
City roots for Shabbaton in 2016
Planning begins five months before the Shabbaton weekend, but Chanky Friedman, one of the program coordinators who lives in Crown Heights, said she comes up with ideas year round, inspired by the city life around her.
“I’ll be walking down the street and see something in a window and think, our teens would really like that,” she said.
The board keeps mentioning that next year is the year of hakhel. In Jewish tradition, every seven years is a year of rest (jubilee) for the land, called shimta. Farmers don’t grow anything on the land or use their animals for labor. The following year, hakhel, the whole Jewish community gathered to hear the king read from the Torah. What will the Teen jubilee look like?
Next year, the Shabbaton “needs to have a special element,” promised Friedman.