Masorti on Campus held its annual Shabbaton at the University of Pennsylvania for the first time in the organization’s short history.
This was the fourth Masorti Shabbaton, which takes place on a different college campus each year; this past one occurred Feb. 9 to 11.
Masorti on Campus is a grassroots organization supporting Conservative, traditional and egalitarian Jewish communities on college campuses in the U.S. and Canada.
When the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism ended its college outreach arm, Koach, in 2013, the student-led Masorti rose to fill the gap in the movement.
Its main project has been its national Shabbaton, bringing students from campuses across the country together for a weekend of celebrating Shabbat, learning and networking.
Eric Garfinkel, program director of Masorti of Campus, said the Shabbaton attracted about 40 students from varying colleges. In the past, it was held at Rutgers University and the University of Maryland.
The theme of this year’s Shabbaton was “God Was Here and I Did Not Know: Judaism of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”
It hosted a wide range of speakers from varying locations and sects of the movement, including keynote Carly Zimmerman, CEO of Challah for Hunger; Rabbi Joel Alter, director of admissions of the rabbinic school of Jewish Theological Seminary; Ira Blum, Penn Hillel’s director of Jewish student life; Rabbi Joshua Bolton, senior Jewish educator at Penn Hillel; Marilyn Goldman, executive director of the Leifer Family Fund; Gregg Kanter, president of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel; Rabbi Andrew Katz, director of North American engagement at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem; Rabbi Dave Siegel, executive director of Hofstra University Hillel; Trisha Swed, project manager of teen engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; and Matthew Whitehorn, adjunct law faculty member at Temple University.
“We really had a lot of different people with different experiences trying to come together to help the students form exactly what they wanted to see,” said Garfinkel, who also serves as the community educator for Hofstra Hillel.
Students bunked with Penn participants and experienced traditional Shabbat services and meals, all student-run.
The main aspect of the Shabbaton was the breakout sessions in which speakers led interactive discussions on various topics, such as Jewish sports limmud, the future of Jewish institutions, Jewish law, sacred spaces, Jewish philanthropy and a lay leadership crash course.
“It’s designed to be very interactive where it’s not necessarily people talking at students but more like understanding what students are going through or trying to help them figure out different things,” Garfinkel explained.
Some sessions went longer than an hour because the students kept asking engaging questions, he said.
Garfinkel hopes students were able to connect and network to bring those approaches home.
“That’s the goal of the sessions,” he continued. “They’re interactive, they get people talking and thinking and trying to figure exactly out how to struggle with their Judaism while being on a college campus, and also to try to take back some of these experiences to help them on their college campuses.”
Benjamin Porat, one of three Shabbaton student coordinators, had never attended a Shabbaton prior to this one.
“I wanted to be part of a Shabbaton that promotes traditional Jewish values and practices,” he noted.
He said the main highlight of the weekend was getting the chance to meet all of the students who attended and experiencing Havdalah together.
“I hope students were able to find out and discover what other students’ Masorti practices are, and also to reflect on what their own practices are,” added Porat, an electrical engineering sophomore at Penn. “That builds stronger Masorti communities at the various schools, whatever they feel Masorti means to them.”
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