EACH SPRING, the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) hosts “Shabbat in the Heights,” a weekend retreat in Crown Heights, New York, the hub of the worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement. This year, the Chabad of Laguna Niguel community decide to take the plunge. Twelve of us headed across the country for what participant Naftali Kotler termed “a weekend… on a cloud.”
“Shabbat in the Heights was like the most loving home coming experience you can imagine,” says community member Flori Rosenthal. “We did not know the people there before we went, but by the time we left we were family.”
Mark and Helene Snider agree. “It was a bonding experience, and an enlightening, educational view of Chabad living and teachings…. We were proud to meet Jews from all over the country.”
The weekend began on Friday morning with an appointment at the OK Kosher Certification facility, where we received a fascinating glimpse into the world of kosher, the certifying process, and a tour of the headquarters of this worldwide organization that certifies close to 500,000 products globally. A leisurely stroll down Kingston Avenue, the main thoroughfare, brought us to a scribe’s office, where we gained a new appreciation for the effort and detail that goes into the writing of a Torah scroll, Tefillin, and Mezuzah. It is impossible to remain unmoved when you are holding a three-hundred-year-old Torah from North Africa, or a miniscule pair of tefillin that had been smuggled through the concentration camps.
We met up with the rest of the three hundred participants at 770 Eastern Parkway, the main synagogue and nerve center of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. We were given the rare opportunity to visit the Rebbe’s private office, where he spent hundreds of thousands of hours in study and in private audiences with everyone from heads of state to young children. Countless blessings and miracles emanated from this holy room, and standing inside was a moving experience for us all.
As the women gathered to light the Shabbat candles, our very own Rebetzin Kreinie shared an uplifting message on the significance of this timeless mitzvah. A spirited prayer service was followed by a lavish five star dinner, and a series of fascinating and dynamic speakers who engaged us all Shabbat long, including the Rebbe’s personal secretary, Rabbi Leibel Groner.
Saturday evening brought with it a beautiful Havdala service and cantorial performance by the renowned Hurwitz brothers, as well as greetings from Rabbi Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, and a colorful talk by former NBC news producer turned Torah observant speaker Molly Resnick.
Our final day began with an insider’s tour of the Chabad Lubavitch archive library, which displays religious articles, original texts, and handwritten manuscripts dating back to the founding of the Chassidic movement in the eighteeth century. Following a very special visit to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s home, we boarded buses to the Rebbe’s resting place, known as the Ohel. The Ohel is visited by many thousands of people throughout the year, who come there to pay their respects and ask for the Rebbe’s blessings.
Standing at the Ohel was a deeply moving experience. The soul connection to the Rebbe, the leader of world Jewry, whose care and concern for each one of us was unmistakable, filled us with inspiration to bring back home.
“My life has been touched by this experience like none other,” Naftali Kotler concludes, “and I would recommend this to everyone.”
To participate in future trips, and to learn more about Chabad of Laguna Niguel, visit www.ChabadLagunaNiguel.com.