What happens when you put together 750 Jews of all ages and every type of background for an incredible Shabbos Project experience? Just ask anyone who spent last weekend at the Parsippany Hilton Shabbos Retreat. Chances are they will find it difficult to describe in words what they had just experienced. Instead, they’ll say, “Just tell me — When can we do this again??”
Project Inspire is a grassroots movement dedicated to awakening and empowering the Jewish community to learn more about their heritage. Through its many programs and activities, Jews of all backgrounds share the beauty of their customs and traditions together in a wholesome atmosphere and supportive environment.
This year, Project Inspire decided to host a Shabbos Retreat for the Body and Soul in a hotel setting. Mr. Isaac Gross, longtime supporter of the program, explains: “We’ve been running the Shabbos Project for six years, and it was always inspiring, but this time we wanted to bring it to the next level. Instead of asking people to host guests in their homes, we brought all these wonderful families to a luxury hotel and presented them with an unforgettable program. Everyone had a wonderful time because everything was provided for them. We had observant and non-affiliated Jews meeting and connecting all weekend long. The ruach and spirit were genuine. Everybody was happy and no one was afraid to ask questions. In the end, it was successful beyond our wildest dreams !”
An outstanding program kept everyone engaged and inspired. The tone was set at the very start with a fun filled and action packed Challah Bake on Friday afternoon. Shimi Adar motivated the crowd of girls and women by shouting, “It doesn’t matter if you’re Sephardi or Ashkenazi ! We are all Jews!” Says one participant, “Frum and not frum, young and old, sheitels, tichels, and everyone else. We were dancing together like crazy!”
It was all uphill from there, with so many moments of friendship, of discovery, and of inspiration. It was all about making connections. “Unity,” said Charlie Harary at his keynote address, “allows us to move from who we are to who we are meant to be.”
On Shabbos afternoon, participants came on stage to share their personal stories. What began as a panel discussion quickly turned into a series of real life testimonials to the power of Jews to make a difference in each other’s lives. One couple who immigrated from Russia shared that they barely knew about Jewish tradition while growing up. Today, they are fully Shomer Shabbos and have a kosher kitchen. “All this,” they said, “is due to our experience of being invited out for Shabbos by our Brooklyn neighbors.”
Another woman who lives in New Square spoke about her long time Torah partner who had davened for years that her son would move to a Jewish community and reconnect to his roots. She was now happy to report that “he just moved to Miami.” And, she added, “A week later he found a job!”
So many unplanned and unrehearsed moments of connection and inspiration unfolded during the weekend. Two women who live in Baltimore met for the first time and realized that they lived just three blocks from each other. The Shabbos Retreat presented an opportunity for them to get acquainted and they quickly realized that they have so much in common. It was the start of a promising friendship.
The Shabbos Retreat wasn’t just about speeches and presentations. It was a multi dimensional experience that catered to everyone, no matter their age or background. In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine that so much could be crammed into one weekend. From wine tasting to Challah baking, from a pre-Shabbos musical interlude to a spirited Havdallah ceremony, from a gala Kiddush to three sumptuous Shabbos meals, from hilarious comedy routines to fun filled game shows, from Zumba classes to a Magic show – this was a weekend that was enjoyed on every level.
Rabbi Yaakov Giniger, Director of Programming at Project Inspire looks back at a weekend that he says, “exceeded our expectations in every way. The bonds, the connections, and the growth of all participants permeated every aspect of this event.”
Rabbi Chaim Sampson, Director of Project Inspire, spoke about Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s vision to create a community of people who are united, no matter their level of observance. “We have each other,” he said. “We have the Jewish people. We are a community that cares and we’re going to learn and grow, and change the world together. Nothing will stop us when we are united.”
And keynote speaker Rabbi Shlomo Farhi, urged the participants to “let this weekend fuel your fire. Learn more, share, and light this fire wherever you go. Aish is a movement and it’s a movement because of you.”
After all is said and done, it was powerful words like these that riveted the crowds and kept them coming back for more inspiration. As one woman observed, “Who needs the Game Shows? And who needs all the fun and games? As far as I’m concerned, I could have listened to this speaker all night long.”
The Shabbos Retreat was dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Isaac and Edie Gross in memory of their beloved parents. For more information about Project Inspire’s programs, contact them at 646 291 6191 or visit www.jinspire.org.