JSA And Emet Host Extraordinary Shabbaton In Jamaica Estates

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It was a welcome break from studying for finals when 130 local college students joined Emet Outreach for a meaningful Shabbaton in Jamaica Estates. Diligently planned by the St. John’s University Jewish Student Association, the annual Shabbaton brought simcha and spirituality in these challenging times. “The Shabbaton was such a beautiful experience and I’m so proud of JSA’s Executive Board for their hard work in making it happen,” said Sara Basiratmand Benyamin, Emet Program Director. “Emet was happy to provide Shabbos programming and support, but this Shabbaton was run by the students for the students. JSA also invited friends from other colleges, which made everyone feel connected.”

St. John’s University has been a pivotal location for several years for the Emet Leader’s Fellowship, weekly Lunch & Learns, and holiday-themed events in partnership with the JSA.  On the academic front, Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, Emet Co-Founder and Director teaches theology courses on campus. “The JSA Shabbaton holds great significance, particularly this year with the ongoing conflict in Israel. It serves as a meaningful gathering for students in our community, offering a welcoming space to connect with the peace and tradition of Shabbos during these turbulent times,” explained Julia Abayev, Treasurer of JSA and Shabbaton coordinator. “As for many of our students, this Shabbaton is not just about observance. It's a beacon of unity and resilience, showing students simple ways to engage, like disconnecting from technology to reconnect with oneself.”

On Friday night, guests gathered for candle lighting and davening at the Bukharian Jewish Congregation. Over a gourmet dinner Rabbi Kraft shared a d’var Torah and there was lively singing of zemirot. The crowd was especially moved to hear from Jeremy S., a friend of JSA who just returned from serving as a soldier in Gaza. He discussed the importance of unity for Am Yisrael and also taking the first step in doing mitzvot. Jonathan Benshimol, a motivational speaker, offered a powerful perspective on the importance of Torah and ahavat Hashem for personal growth.

On Shabbos day, Shacharis and lunch were once again at the Bukharian Jewish Congregation. After lunch there was a lively panel on navigating Jewish dating and relationships hosted by Sara B. and her husband Yiggy, and Chava Fisher, Assistant Campus Director, and her husband Brandon.  A highlight came later in the afternoon when Rabbi Asher Vaknin from the Bukharian Jewish Community Center of Forest Hills was joined by Jonathan Benshimol for a shiur and Q&A about how to deal with hardships in life.

Everyone enjoyed Seudah Shlishit at Congregation Bet El. Students spoke about their spiritual journeys and how much Emet helped them grow. Shabbos came to a rousing close with a musical Havdalah led by Rabbi Kraft. Students were grateful for the Shabbos experience. “One of the only things that we have, unlike any other nation, is Shabbos. It’s an opportunity to rest, reset, and get a break from all the action in the world. This is especially true during these high-pressure times with persistent protests, constant hate, and stressful finals weeks,” said Adam Yukhanov, a student at Baruch College. “The JSA Shabbaton was the perfect thing that I, and many others, needed at this moment in our lives and I am definitely grateful that I was able to experience it.”

JSA and Emet would like to thank the following sponsors: The Bukharian Jewish Congregation for helping to organize the Shabbaton in their shul as well as their donation; Congregation Bet El; The Abayev family for sponsoring Tehillim books, and the anonymous donors of kippahs and other items that made the Shabbaton possible.