Over Memorial Day weekend, J Inspire/Project Inspire hosted the “Shabbat Retreat for the Body and Soul.” In order to attend, people who are already shomrei Torah u’mitzvos were required to come with those who are as yet unaffiliated. This unprecedented initiative achieved a staggering attendance of over 400 people, far surpassing everyone’s expectations. The attendees comprised a mix of affiliated and unaffiliated, singles, couples, and families with children. Everyone gathered at the Hotel Bridgewater in Somerset, N.J. to experience a weekend that was yom shekulo Shabbos in every way.
As one participant wryly commented after Shabbos, “My wife dragged me here. I really gave her a hard time about coming. I figured that I would be subjected to a bunch of boring speeches and substandard amenities. I’ve already approached Rabbi Giniger to put myself and my wife on ‘the list’ for next year.”
The goal of Project Inspire is to create a movement of kiruv by way of educating and motivating the frum community to reach out to their less-affiliated friends, relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances. Project Inspire provides them with educational tools and materials. Bursting the myth that only a “professional” involved in kiruv can succeed, Project Inspire continues to swell the ranks of those who have been attracted to Judaism through their innovative programs, coupling the affiliated with the as-yet-unaffiliated.
Consistent with the theme of “Body and Soul,” there were many opportunities to refresh and rejuvenate. Delectable cuisine, catered by Chap-A-Nosh of Cedarhurst, was enjoyed, topped by a dessert buffet and a gourmet barbecue and wine tasting on motzaei Shabbos. A pool and other recreational activities were made available to all the guests. The musical accompaniment of the Traveling Chassidim rounded out the entertainment.
The inspirational speeches, given by Project Inspire’s renowned stellar cast, began on Friday afternoon. Guests were treated to the inimitable styles of Rabbis Yom Tov Glaser and Jonathan Rietti as they spoke respectively about “The Mystical Explanation of G‑d” and “the Mystical Meaning of Biblical Hebrew.” A pre-Shabbos concert set the tone for the soulful Shabbos that was to follow.
Rebbetzin Jungreis, who was introduced by Rabbi Yaakov Salamon as the “matriarch of the Jewish people,” moved the audience to laughter and tears on Friday night after the seudah, as she spoke about “The Hidden Sparks In Your Soul.” Hearing her address the audience on the topic of “Why Is Life So Painful?” at a breakout session was something everyone could relate to, no matter where they were on the spectrum of observance. Coming from a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, her passionate presentation lent even more of an impact to her words. So many of the participants, children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, were moved by her desire to draw the Jewish people closer to Hashem.
On Shabbos morning, Rabbi Simcha Barnett led the beginner’s minyan while others joined the regular minyan. A lavish Kiddush on the beautiful outdoor patio followed.
The keynote session on Shabbos, “6,000 years of Jewish History: A Visual and Pictorial Reenactment” was presented by Rabbi Rietti. According to Mrs. Leah Bleiberg, a Queens partner who mirrored the sentiments of many of the participants, the presentation “showed us that we are a link in the chain of mesorah. Everything that the Nevi’im prophesized is not ancient history. We are a part of a vibrant past and a promising future.”
A series of breakout sessions, given by Rabbis Glaser and Salamon, Mr. Kauftheil, and Mrs. Tzippy Reifer, an outreach activist, focused on topics such as happiness, understanding and misunderstanding G‑d, and getting your prayers answered. Each session left the participants hungering for more, and as one participant expressed, “It was just a drop in the vast ocean of Torah and Judaism.”
Throughout the Shabbos, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser enthralled the audience with the story of his becoming a ba’al teshuvah. One of the women who came with her partner in Torah was heard to remark that she was blown away by the fact that someone who looks like Rabbi Glaser currently does, could have originated from such humble beginnings.
Some of the participants who are already committed to Torah and Judaism were questioned regarding what they felt was the highlight of the Shabbos for them. Mr. Yiddy Klein, an invested member of Project Inspire, related how moved he was to put tefillin on someone for the very first time. He subsequently bought the man a pair of tefillin so that he could continue to observe the mitzvah.
Rabbi Nechemia Feldman, who exemplifies Project Inspire’s goals, brought five as-of-yet-unaffiliated Jews with him from Baltimore. He shared what a privilege it was for him to spend Shabbos with people who were on the way toward becoming more observant, and to hear their struggles with accepting certain mitzvos and also how much their perspective on Judaism had undergone positive changes over the past year. One man shared with him that he had come the past year only to please his wife. “This year,” he shared proudly “I’m here for myself.” Rabbi Feldman further shared that two of the participants who came to last year’s Shabbaton are now shomrei Torah u’mitzvos. When one reflects on the impact of one person on so many others, “Mi Ke’amcha Yisrael” is what comes to mind.
One woman participated with her non-Jewish husband and two children, at the urging of her partner in Torah. She was inspired by the speeches and the whole experience, but amazingly, so was her husband.
The rabbis’ panel was an opportunity for everyone to air their questions regarding observance, halachah, or complicated feelings towards mitzvah observance. The erudition, non-judgment, and breadth of knowledge that were exhibited by the rabbis, both in Torah and secular subjects, were a springboard for the lively discussions that took place afterwards. One gentleman made a commitment to take part in the lunch-and-learn sessions that take place weekly a few blocks from his office in downtown Manhattan. “If I can participate in discussions like these, it will really be worth giving up my lunch hour,” he remarked.
Many participants were moved by the hour-long Havdalah, led on motzaei Shabbos by Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser. The singing and dancing and musical accompaniment awakened the yearning in everyone’s soul to grow together and transcend themselves.
What does one do as the grand finale on Sunday to cap off such a weekend? Mr. Charlie Harary, one of the most sought -speakers in the community, rounded off the theme with “Turning Inspiration Into Action.” One would hope that the “positive fallout” from the Shabbaton would be in the connections forged, exchange of numbers, promises to stay in touch, and anticipated reunions for next year with Jews who have furthered their commitment to Yiddishkeit.
Rabbi Chaim Sampson, director of Project Inspire, commented, “The ahavas Yisrael that permeated the Shabbaton was profound and touched us all.”
We invite you to participate in Project Inspire by contacting 646-291-6191, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us at next year’s retreat and experience something truly inspirational! v