Imagine a warm, breezy weekend in Sonoma County filled with your favorite classmates, faculty members, and student leaders. It is also Shabbat, and there is no homework allowed. You eat together and sing at meals, doing everything from swimming in the lake, tie-dying shirts, making liquid nitrogen ice cream, to improv games. It’s the Shabbaton. It’s JCHS highpoint for good reason.
This year was my last Shabbaton. It began the inevitable process of counting the final unique JCHS events of my high school career. Last Shabbaton, last Spirit Week, last Coffee House, etc. Thus, the Shabbaton this year had an air of seriousness, sadness and sentimentality for me. I would find myself beginning to say, “Well, next year we’ll do….Oh. Right”, and then think about how special a weekend it was, but how soon it would be over. But perhaps because of this, I found it to be one of the most heartfelt events at JCHS, and full of integrity at every turn.
Soon after arrival, we had small discussions called “Bunk Talks”, a new Shabbaton activity that will hopefully become tradition. These discussions by bunk helped to explore the meaning of Shabbat for us, and each of our personal relationships to Judaism. It was inspiringly inclusive, as my fellow girls and I took note of one another’s needs for the weekend and for our Jewish identities. I liked that there was no “easing” into this activity. We immediately brought our most authentic selves into the room and so we got a lot out of the discussion.
On every Shabbaton we have “tribes” or groups made of students mixed from every grade, with a couple faculty members included as well. These groups discuss topics surrounding Shabbat, the weekend, and the Shababton theme, this year: I hear them all. I was privileged to be a tribe leader and found great meaning out of my group’s willingness to contribute and take it seriously. This was also a good way to get to know a few more students.
In the spirit of collective character perhaps unique to my beloved class of 2013, Saturday night was one of the most incredible parts of the weekend. The first component was the singing. This seems to have become a tradition for my class, and we were proud to share it with the school. After dinner we banged on the tables, switched seamlessly from English to Hebrew songs, and brought our ruach in full force. We may have been rather loud, but it was the incredibly liberating. The second part of the night for us was the Chill 500, a special event for seniors which is a myth and legend in itself. It is not my place to reveal the nature of this event, only to say that my classmates are a very eclectic and compassionate bunch of people and they created a space in which to bring that special character to light.
Not to worry, all the sincerity and integrity was not marred by the exuberance of free time. I think catching up with friends, talking to teachers you never have before is fun but also further proof of the character of JCHS and of the Shabbaton. Maybe it’s because it’s Shabbat, or possibly because we are all together, or a combination of some other aspects, but the Shabbaton truly elevates the community, taking on an unexpected spiritual air which is hard to forget, making it even harder to come back to school the following week.
JCHS is grateful for generous operational, programmatic, and financial support from:
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace her or his Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.