If you walked into this Shabbaton without any background knowledge, you might think you had just stumbled upon a weekend for BBYO, USY, NFTY or NCSY teens. However, every participant had something more than our Judaism in common: we were all members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning) and Ally community.
In February, I had the opportunity to be a counselor-in-training at the 2015 Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton. Located at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., the Shabbaton gave Jewish and LGBTQ and Ally teens an opportunity to be with people who were like them. Keshet, the organization that planned the Shabbaton, is an organization that advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life. For many participants, this was the first time they were a part of a community that accepted their whole selves, not just the Jewish part or just the LGBTQ or Ally part.
The schedule included many activities that blended Jewish and LGBTQ identities: Shabbat services with a d’var Torah relating the story of Purim to coming out, a discussion about quotes from Jewish LGBTQ individuals, and a chance for participants to share their Jewish- and LGBTQ-related stories.
The weekend also took advantage of the gorgeous retreat center with opportunities for hiking and seeing the Isabella Freedman farm goats, a favorite activity of many Shabbaton participants. And of course, no Shabbaton is complete without food. We all enjoyed lots of delicious, locally grown meals throughout the weekend.
In addition to the wonderful activities, the staff members also helped to make the Shabbaton fantastic. Several of the staff members were from Keshet, but many youth groups, such as BBYO and NFTY, also had staff members at the Shabbaton. All of the staff members were open-minded, enthusiastic and committed to making sure that the Shabbaton was a safe space for participants.
The feeling of community at the Shabbaton was truly incredible, and it’s amazing to see how 60 Jewish teens from all over the United States and Canada, and from every denomination of Judaism were able to form such strong bonds in such a short time. By the time Sunday rolled around, everyone felt as though they had a place they could be themselves, and it was difficult to say goodbye to our new friends.
The Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton is sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York, BBYO, Camp JRF, Habonim Dror North America, Moving Traditions, NFTY, SOJOURN, USY and Young Judea. It costs $36 to attend.
For more information, visit keshetonline.org/teenshabbaton/.
Eliana Dobres is a freshman at The Ohio State University in Columbus.