Orlando well represented at Jewish Retreat
We grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y. surrounded by Orthodox Jews, but we were never part of that community. We were all Jews but somehow it seemed that we each lived in our own little world. When Rabbi Yanky Majesky asked us to join him and his wife, Chanshy, to the National Jewish Retreat we did not know what to expect.
We have just returned from the Retreat in the Washington, DC area, and it was five of the most wonderful days. We were warmly welcomed into the Chabad community, and were made to feel very much part of it. We were given food in abundance for our minds, our bodies and our souls.
At the Retreat, the Orlando Jewish community was well represented, in addition to the rabbi and his wife, Azita & Farzin Yashar, and Akiva Anderson were there as well and we formed our own small community among the 900 Jews who came from all walks of life and many Jewish communities from around the country and the world. In addition there were 150 spirited students called Sinai Scholars who came from colleges around the country. Rabbi Chaim & Rivkie Lipskier led 15 students from UCF.
Each day, from morning until evening, there were wonderful classes, followed by excellent entertainment after dinner.
We were treated to discussions of relevant legal issues, such as public placement of menorahs, which lawyers have argued before the Supreme Court; also how the Talmud addresses modern dilemmas in the fields of health, medicine, and medical ethics; and the Jewish view of the afterlife. It was difficult to choose which of the four to six sessions that were scheduled in each time slot to attend, because they all looked so interesting, and indeed, they were. The time was brilliantly orchestrated so lectures started and ended on time, while keeping our creative, spiritual and intellectual juices flowing.
We were entertained one evening by world-renowned singer Dudu Fisher (he played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway), who had us singing and dancing and laughing for well over an hour.
We celebrated a moving Havdallah service held in the beautiful outdoors. The highlight was the release into the clear night sky of 50 balloons, each one bearing a flaming candle. They were launched at a rate of about one every 20-30 seconds, and soared into the heavens as we sang the Havdallah blessings; with musical accompaniment. The whole service was brilliantly conceived and executed. It was original, awesome and memorable.
The Sinai scholars had their own activities, which sometimes coincided with those of the larger group and sometimes they were separate. They went to the Holocaust Museum one afternoon and their guide was a survivor, a man in his late eighties. The man told the students that he turned 13 during the war and therefore never had a bar mitzvah. The students asked him if he would like to put on Tefilin for the first time in his life. He agreed. They prayed together and it was a beautiful and unique experience.
“It sent shivers through my entire body when I saw him place the straps of the Tefilin over his number tattooed into his arm” said Emilia Halikman from Orlando. The students were so moved by his story that they invited him to share dinner with all of us. When he was introduced that evening, the students danced around him singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and we all applauded. We can only imagine how he felt at seeing this thriving, enthusiastic young community, celebrating being Jewish, in contrast to his Holocaust experience. The look on his face spoke volumes.
The Jewish Retreat has been held for the past eight years, growing from 200 attendees to the 900 this year. It was the first time we went, but it certainly will not be our last. We hope you will consider joining us next Aug. 6-10 at a location yet to be determined, for what you will definitely find to be a meaningful vacation with a soul.
David and Harriet Moldau live in Longwood and attend several classes and events at Chabad or North Orlando throughout the year.