Center for Small Town Jewish Life to host Fall Shabbaton Oct. 25-26

On Oct. 25-26, the Center for Small Town Jewish Life will host the sixth annual Fall Shabbaton on campus. The Shabbaton celebrates the best of Jewish life and includes a weekend full of song, learning, meals, prayer, and outdoor exploration. Several guests will appear at the Shabbaton. 

First, scholar in residence Dr. Ruth Calderon will discuss Israeli culture and society. She represented the Yesh Atid Part in Knesset, Israel’s parliament. She holds a professorship at Harvard University and spearheads efforts to revive Hebrew culture. In recognition of her achievements, Dr. Calderon was awarded the Avi Chai Prize for Jewish Education, the Rothberg Prize in Jewish Education, and multiple honorary doctorates. 

Second, Nefesh Mountain, a band combining American bluegrass and Jewish tradition, will serenade Shabbaton attendees. They blend both English and Hebrew lyrics to create unique, beautiful music. They will perform songs from their album “Beneath the Open Sky.” At Americanafest 2019, Nefesh Mountain featured as a Showcasing Artist. The Shabbaton will help build community and provide members of the Jewish community with opportunities to meet one another.

The Center for Small Town Jewish Life organized the Shabbaton. The Center represents a collaboration between Colby’s Jewish Studies Program, Colby Hillel, and Waterville’s Beth Israel Congregation. It provides members of the Jewish community with learning and cultural opportunities. 

As the Center planned the Shabbaton, Liz Snider managed both the administrative and programmatic elements. In an interview with the Echo, Snider said, “I work in supporting and bringing to life all our major programs, particularly the Fall Shabbaton and the Maine Conference for Jewish Life. I also work on scheduling, communications, and all the details that keep the infrastructure of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life strong.” 

After months of preparation, Snider is excited for the Shabbaton’s arrival. She describes it as “a weekend of joyful celebration.” She adds how “it’s an opportunity to feel the beauty of the season, and of the community, through expressions of music and song, along with learning and, as always, really good food!” 

The Shabbaton partly derives its importance from its community building aspects. Following the Maine Conference for Jewish Life, which annually takes place in June, many expressed the desire for a similar event later in the year. According to Snider, “The Shabbaton gives the Maine Jewish community, and Maine Jewish college students, another opportunity to gather on a statewide level. With an event this big, there is an energy and an uplifting feeling that lasts long into the winter months.” 

Naturally, challenges accompany the organization of such a large event. Snider believes the Shabbaton’s timing serves as the most difficult obstacle. “The biggest challenge is getting something this big going at the start of the school year, when everyone is so busy, and right after the Jewish holidays. We have so much planning to do, but during the holidays we really can’t get anything done, so we have to work around it and be prepared well in advance.”

The wide age range of the Shabbaton’s attendees presents a puzzling challenge, too. The Shabbaton must engage the interests of students as well as older people, so events must cater to several age groups. That being said, Snider emphasizes that in some situations, students participate in their own events. “We make sure that there is time for the students to leave the bigger group and be together and share the experience in their own space,” Snider said. 

While the Shabbaton transpires, Snider believes her favorite part is “seeing the joy in people’s faces as they come together for what can feel like a reunion of the Maine Jewish community. I also love having the students from Bates, Bowdoin, University of Maine, and sometimes other Maine schools, show up and connect with one another.” In the future, Snider hopes to provide attendees with on site housing. Snider asserts, People come from far afield and want to be here in Waterville for both the Friday and Saturday programming. The way it is now, we offer discounted hotel rooms, but it would be nice to be able to have a dorm where folks could stay for an overnight.”

During the planning process, Snider received significant help from Alecsandria Davis `20, the Fall Shabbaton Fellow. Davis majors in English and leads ministry for the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. In an interview with the Echo, Davis detailed her responsibilities: “I am essentially working as Liz [Snider]’s assistant. I help her make funding requests to departments… I help her with things like tabling, putting posters up on campus, being a presence on campus, if there’s a meeting that needs to be had I’ll go with her and help take notes and make sure records are kept. The week of Shabbaton I will help her with cooking and child care and various other administrative things.” 

For Davis, facilitating student attendance remains the most difficult challenge. The Shabbaton may appear intimidating at first, but Davis insists that “this really is a space where there’s food and there’s community and there’s learning and there’s music, all creating this really awesome experience that we want students to come to and enjoy and have access to.” 

As Snider did, Davis also dealt with planning events for a multi-generational crowd. A primary goal of the Shabbaton is “Introducing the younger generation of Colby students with the older adults from the community,” said Davis. She believes that “ this band in particular will do a good job of that because they’re new and they’re young and taking on a new music scene, but also they are blue grass and are singing traditional songs… drawing from Jewish traditions.”

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