The annual Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls Shabbaton, also known as SKAbbaton, is by far one of the most anticipated school events of the year! This year’s Shabbaton took place at the beautiful Stamford Plaza in Connecticut on the weekend of November 21-23. SKAbbaton is an event that is worked on from springtime of the previous year; there is so much that goes into every Shabbaton. This year’s theme for Shabbaton was “choices,” and the SKA students spent the entire week leading up to the Shabbat preparing for this event. Each day was a hands-on demonstration of student creativity. Every single student from the sophomore, junior, and senior grades (the freshmen had their own retreat) had a part in the preparations for Shabbaton. At some point throughout the week, every student took time to think in depth about choices that they’ve made and how they came to those decisions.
Before heading to the hotel, we had a unique opportunity to go to Chelsea Piers in Connecticut. We had so many choices of activities, such as ice skating, rock-climbing, trampoline-jumping, and gymnastics. After eating a delicious lunch, the three grades participated in an exciting game called “Beat the Seniors.” The sophomores and juniors competed against the seniors in a heated dodgeball game. Everyone enthusiastically participated and had an awesome time.
As we walked through the doors of the Stamford Plaza on Friday afternoon, we saw the entire hotel lobby festooned with all types of decorations, from balloons to banners, with the “choices” theme. We had a warm welcome from the G.O. who had come up the night before to decorate the hotel and get things set up for the weekend. They gave each girl a customized SKAbbaton cup filled with candy and placed a delicious box of cookies in each room. After daveningMinchah, we had some free time to start getting ready for the most memorable Shabbat of the year.
All the girls gathered together for kabbalatShabbat; the men who were on the weekend joined us later for Ma’ariv so that we could have our own kabbalatShabbat and make it extra meaningful with our singing. Throughout Shabbat, I heard various girls say that our kabbalatShabbat was by far one of the most beautiful and inspiring ones they had ever had. It truly was moving; there were beautiful tunes, harmonies, and a true sense of achdut and passion as all the students and teachers joined together in welcoming Shabbat. This was the perfect way to enter a life-changing Shabbat. After our tefillot on Friday night, we headed to the dining room to have dinner with all the grades, our teachers, and their families. Our first Shabbat meal was filled with fun, joy, lovely songs, and zemirot accompanied by an amazing choir of juniors. We were privileged to have Chevi Garfinkel as our guest speaker for Shabbat who spoke to us for the first time after dinner. She gave an inspirational speech about how the choices we make should be to attain happiness and suggested different ways to achieve it. The night ended with an oneg Shabbat for each grade filled with singing and achdut.
The early wake-up the next day was definitely worth it. The seniors put together a whole program following Shacharit and Kiddush. After watching a cute skit about the birth of a baby, the tenth- and eleventh-graders were split into nineteen groups, each headed by four or five seniors. In these groups, the seniors acted out different life scenarios accompanied by various props, and the audience had to decide what choice they would make if placed in that situation. They then voted on a choice as a group, which led them to many more choices! This was an effective way to execute the theme of the Shabbaton. The tasty lunch was filled with ruach and fun again as the school came together to sing songs and zemirot. During the free time after lunch we had the option of attending shiurim given by Rabbi Eisenbach or Rabbi Rice, hanging out with our teachers, or going up to our rooms to relax and recharge before the next part of the Shabbaton. We all gathered once again for seudat shlishit, which was followed by another fabulous speech by Chevi Garfinkel and then beautiful singing. Ms. Garfinkel’s speech transitioned us into havdalah and amazing motzaeiShabbat programming. We spent the entire night dancing to music by Gary Wallin and watching videos and performances at the annual SKA Talent Show. We all wanted the motzaeiShabbat programming to go on and on! When the program ended, the seniors stayed behind and had their own kumsitz. They were overwhelmed at the thought that they had just spent their last SKAbbaton together. The memories they made on these Shabbatons are ones that will last forever.
SKAbbaton is definitely an unbelievable experience. It is a great time to strengthen relationships–not only with your friends, but with your teachers and administrators as well. It is so nice to see friendships formed between girls from different grades, and we all walked away with a greater understanding of the power of the choices we make. We’d like to express our hakaratha’tov to everyone who made this year’s Shabbaton such a success, with a special thank you to Rabbi Yosef Zakutinsky, director of student programming, Mrs. Elisheva Kaminetsky, director of religious guidance, Mrs. Yafa Storch, assistant program coordinator, and Jorge Bienenfeld, G.O. advisor and media coordinator. SKAbbaton 2014 was such an enjoyable and meaningful experience. We were all so inspired!