This year’s Lubavitch Young Chevra of greater Los Angeles’ shabbaton was held in the beautiful and picturesque mountain resort in Running Springs, otherwise known as the Running Springs Retreat Center, also home to the Gan Israel overnight camp.
An eclectic group of yoga and exercise instructors, high school teachers, speech therapists, entrepreneurs, comedy writers, pharmaceutical agents, filled the candle lit room on Friday night with song and camaraderie, and those were just the women! The room was packed with over fifty families spanning from Long Beach to Agoura Hills. Doctors, accountants, fundraisers, car salesmen, paint ball salesman, comedians, former Rabbis, current Rabbis, struggling Rabbis, you get the picture. These young men and women were diverse in every which way but all shared the same childhood experience, for they were all students of the Rebbe and what he stood for.
And of course if you thought the group of parents who filled the room were lively, they were no match to the considerable amount of high-spirited children that participated. Roughly 130 children raging from ages zero to twelve enjoyed this fun filled weekend with a full children’s program that kept them so busy, some of us parents only saw our children during meal time!
The meals were delicious and the conversations were engaging. With swimming, high rope courses, farbrengens, and just plain chilling, the weekend lent itself to great fun and relaxation. But one couldn’t help but notice the constant theme that roared amongst the crowd, “Jewish education”.
With the latest article buzzing throughout LA written in the Los Angeles Times regarding the paradox of Jewish survival, which is, Jewish families are struggling to provide the very thing that keeps Judaism alive, education, yet some wonder how it is possible to keep up with this priority based on the very real issue of cost, forcing parents to resort to keeping their birthrate low. And then the question arises, how do we continue to keep Jewish education a priority when so many of our schools seem to “miss the boat” in connecting with our children? How does this very new generation exposed to the modern world yet clamoring to hang on to the traditions of the past bridge the gap? As scholar in residence, and guest speaker, Rabbi Markowitz put it, “All you need is a little twist”.
At first glance, Rabbi Markowitz doesn’t blend it at all against this modern group of young chevra, with his long payos, silk bekishe, and fur Streimel. But don’t let his outfit fool you, because Rabbi Markowitz proved his ideas on education to be as progressive and timely as any of our modern day “Gap and Old Navy” outfits.
Rabbi Markowitz captivated the group when he explained the key to educating our young is not in forcing our mandates on them, but in getting to know the whole child and in recognizing our children’s strengths and connecting with our children in a real way.
“Making Judaism geshmak,” as Rabbi Markowitz put it. He went on to explain we all have our own unique skills and talents. And we all connect to Judaism in our own unique way, and if we want our children to keep those traditions going, it is up to us to make Judaism fun! If you love to sing, do it with your kids,” make your singing geshmak”, if you love to daaven, daaven with your children, and “make daavening geshmak.”
He went on to explain how many children who have been turned off to yiddishkeit are based on parents’ and teachers’ need to cast their own vote on how they thought their children should connect to their own yiddishkeit, and how it is up to us to look at the whole child, and not make them fit into a box, but make the box fit them. Only through connecting and truly finding ways to “make that twist”, and make our kids realize their own potential using their own traits and G-d given talents to sustain their own Judaism, do we really have a chance to continue the Rebbe’s message into the next generation, which is “America is nisht andresh”, America is really no different.
Each of us took away a little extra over the weekend. We are all in the same boat, struggling to pay bills, worried about keeping our marriages in tact, being the best hosts and hostesses, finding time to learn a little extra, keeping up with all our self imposed hachlatos, helping in community activities, and most importantly finding ways to connect with our children. I think the weekend lent itself to really connecting with what is important, and coming back to reality we can become more in tune with keeping our priorities in check. Sometimes all it takes is “a little twist”.
Chava is a professional filmmaker, and screenwriter with an ongoing column featured in “The Farbrengen” magazine.