By Max Fruchter
“All right, now if everyone can just squeeze together a little more, then . . . Perfect. Beautiful. And, 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . beautiful. And one more . . . Great . . . Wonderful.”
As the routine procedure of photographing a large group came to an end, I scrambled out of the awkward position taken to satisfy the persistent photographer, anxious to set down my belongings and head to shul. Yet, despite all of the hustle and bustle that accompanies the 15 minutes preceding Shabbat, I paused to take in the moment: the 90 of us gathered on this Friday afternoon, DRS alumni from numerous yeshivot, had brought distant memories back into reality, as the laughter and camaraderie among us were renewed.
As I stepped into the palatial building that is Reishit Yerushalayim, I knew that this DRS Reunion Shabbaton was going to be one to remember. The magnificence of the scenic Bet Shemesh view allowed for a picture-perfect setting, one that soon became the background of many phones with a caption reading “DRS Shabbaton at Reishit 2014!”
After enthusiastic embraces between old friends, everyone went to daven Minchah. With so many of us davening in confidence and unparalleled concentration, it’s no wonder that the Kabbalat Shabbat was an uplifting and meaningful one. Furthermore, the presence of two role models–Menahel Rabbi Kaminetsky and Rabbi Balsam–created an inspirational and moving atmosphere.
With the concluding Adon Olam at the end of Ma’ariv, our entire group of 75 Shanah Aleph and 15 Shanah Bet students made its way toward the dining room for what was an all-around terrific seudah. Reminiscing with friends over classic high-school memories and sharing with one another the unique experiences that come with a year in Israel was entertaining and enlightening. Looking around the room, I pondered the uncommon unity and intimacy to be found at each table: conversations were not between those in Yeshivat HaKotel, Netiv, Mevaseret, or Maalei Adumim, but rather between friends: friends who had spent four years together growing and maturing socially, academically, and religiously.
Notwithstanding the homogeneous makeup of our group–all 90 of us being DRS graduates–Rabbi Kaminetsky addressed the fact that many of us are learning in different places and asked one representative from each yeshiva to share some divrei Torah. Over the course of Friday-night dinner, Shabbat lunch, and Seudat Shelishit, I was privileged to hear my friends offer thoughts ranging from ideas on the parashah to special moments experienced on trips to Poland.
Following an extraordinary Friday-night meal was a shiur given by our own Rabbi Kaminetsky. With a full audience, our menahel delivered an inspiring speech with a powerful message–actions shape character, and the more one acts in a positive and beneficial way, the more he becomes a positive person. This is a key idea behind the response of the Jewish people upon accepting the Torah, “Na’aseh v’nishma”–first “we will do,” and in so doing, we will become Jews who live and breathe the values of the Torah, and then “we will listen,” and try to understand the reasoning behind it.
Concluding an already great evening was a legendary DRS tisch. Accompanied by Rabbi Kaminetsky and Rabbi Balsam, we enjoyed one another’s presence while having some delicious cholent and kugel and singing zemirot. Each one of us, without a doubt, remembered our ninth-, tenth-, eleventh-, or twelfth-grade selves seated in a similar setting, but not as the same people; many who were once silent and uninvolved were now energetic and contributive, in addition to those who were always inspired now displaying even greater enthusiasm.
Shabbat day was equally enjoyable, commencing with Shacharit at 8:15. Following a meaningful davening, there was an interesting and educational question-and-answer session. For about an hour, a handful of students had the chance to ask about topics such as maintaining the growth one achieved in Israel upon returning to America, as well as what realistic goals one should set for himself for the future. With their signature sense of humor and precise clarity, Rabbi Kaminetsky and Rabbi Balsam addressed each question to everyone’s satisfaction.
As the final question was answered, the 90 of us raced to the dining room to enjoy another delicious meal surrounded by laughter, friendship, and divrei Torah. At the end of this incredible Shabbat meal, everyone dispersed into groups playing ping-pong, taking naps, or learning. At 3:00, everyone assembled in the shul in order to hear Rabbi Balsam give a shiur on the halachot of pat haba b’kisnin (a certain type of snack food, generally a form of cake or cookie). Within the different halachic interpretations, he systematically discussed whether certain foods would fall into the category of a “snack” or a “meal” and, subsequently, what berachah one would make on them.
After this fascinating shiur, we all convened for Minchah, followed by Seudat Shelishit. Final thoughts were shared by many and accepted by all. Motivated and inspired by the words of our friends and rebbeim, we all gathered in the center of the room to sing in unison one final time. In this intimate setting, Rabbi Kaminetsky left us with heartwarming words of encouragement and genuine affection.
With the concluding Havdallah and Kiddush Levanah, I bade farewell to so many friends whom I had not seen since graduation. Assuring each other that we would have to meet more frequently, I then wished goodbye to my high-school rebbeim, the two incredible people who made this Shabbaton such a special one. As I boarded the bus back to yeshiva, I was accompanied by a feeling of nostalgia which, after I thought about it, quickly became clarity of mind. I now knew, and understood, that DRS is a family, and that no matter where any of us are at any point in our lives, be it Israel or America, we will always be there for each other. v
Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.