Light It Up!
Last week we had the VTHS Shabbaton and it was amazing. Before I begin let me give a huge shout out to Rabbi Semmel for organizing such a high quality program and to all the Rebbeim and staff who supported the Shabbaton.
The first night when we arrived we were greeted with many inches of snow, below freezing weather and a wild wolf that we quickly adopted as part of the pack. Did any of this stop the students from tobogganing, snowball fighting, playing football, drinking gallons of hot chocolate and having an all you can eat hot dog campfire? Not at all! It was a great start to an exciting jam packed Shabbaton that ended with what I believe to be the most important aspect, or at least reflection, of any good Shabbaton; the Kumzits!
If you are reading this and it is the first time you have heard the word “Kumzits” let’s turn to our good friend Wikipedia. “Kumzits (קומזיץ) is a compound-word in Hebrew derived from the Yiddish words קום (come) and זיץ (sit). The word is used to describe an evening gathering that Jews partake in. Everyone sits together, be it on the floor or on chairs, and sings spiritually moving songs.” In our case, we sat on snow covered logs and sang beautiful Jewish songs led by our amazing Rabbi Moshe Samuels.
Now, you may be asking yourself why would I highlight the Kumzits when the students also went skiing, snowboarding or tubing, played laser tag outdoors at night in the snowy woods, experienced possibly the greatest mentalist ever known to man, beautiful student D’Vrei Torah, inspiring Zemiros, competitive games, great food and more! Why the Kumzits?
I suppose to answer this question you have to understand my belief in what the goal of any Shabbaton should be. For ten years I had the pleasure of facilitating nearly 100 Shabbatons for West Coast NCSY with a singular goal each and every time; to inspire the attendees through a positive Jewish experience. What is the formula? Unlike Coca-Cola, there is no secret formula. It involves amazing staff, high quality fun and educational programming, exciting activities, good food and opportunities to experience Judaism with your friends. This is a formula VTHS has known for as far as I can remember and I will never forget the VTHS Shabbatonim I attended back in the day. Yet, the Kumzits is how you can tell the formula worked.
At VTHS we hope the students have an amazing time on a Shabbaton. We hope they connect more with their peers, Rebbeim and staff. We hope our students enjoy Shabbos and all the Torah learning that happens. We hope they like the food, entertainment and activities. When all of these elements come together we hope that a student leaves the Shabbaton happy and more inspired for everything VTHS has to offer. We don’t survey the students to know if it all worked. We just take a look at the Kumzits.
At a successful Kumzits students sit or stand, arms around each other, singing, smiling, laughing and even sometimes crying (happy tears of course). It is generally at the end of the Shabbaton and is the culmination of everything wonderful that occurred over the past days. It highlights the increased connection of the students and staff as well as a deeper connection to Judaism. The Kumzits at the most recent Shabbaton was exactly that. Set in the woods, snow on the ground, bonfire in the middle, incandescent lights strung around the trees, students joyfully singing and the talented Rabbi Samuels leading the songs letting us all know that the Shabbaton was clearly a success!