Here’s the full recap of the BeyondBT Shabbaton.
Shabbos started off on the right foot with a gorgeous Kabbalas Shabbos led by Rabbi Gili Houpt. After davening, the participants headed for dinner at their hosts’ homes. A tremendous thanks to all of our gracious hosts for housing and sharing meals with our participants.
Although it was late, and hot, aproximately 50 people showed up for an oneg at the Linns which included an elegant dessert spread and an amazing dvar Torah from BeyondBT contributor and commenter Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz whose family made the trek all the way from Springfield, Massachusetts.
After Shacharis, there was a nice Kiddush at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, where we continued the shmoozing that was kicked off at the Oneg.
Shabbos lunch was really a treat. Our over 100 participants came together for a meal suffused with Ruach (again led by Rabbi Houpt), good food, new and old friends and incredible achdus. We didn’t have to talk about what Yeshivas and camps we didn’t go to or whether we were Chassidish, Yeshivish or Modern. We were just a bunch of people with the commonality of purpose of making new friends, deeper connections and increasing our Ahavas Yisroel.
Beyond BT coordinator Mark Frankel shared some thoughts on the origins of the blog, his own teshuvah journey and his conviction that every Baal Teshuva’s story is “Inspired”-worthy. He also pointed out that due to the fact that most of our children are FFBs, it turned out that the BTs were actually in the minority at our own Shabbaton.
Rabbi Dovid Schwartz, a guest contributor and commentor and a good friend of the blog (FOB) gave a beautiful dvar torah highlighting the individuality and preciousness of each Jew and his/her personal growth trajectory.
Steve Brizel was somehow able to weave his personal thoughts on tesuvah with a Hakaros HaTov for NCSY, his family and his Rebbe, along with a three staged approach to teshuvah all within the 7 minutes alloted (not bad for a lawyer).
Jennifer Meltzer, who blogs here under a psuedonym, shared her journey from being a child of the 60s to being a growing observant Jew.
Mark then did a roll call introducing old and new friends including Beyond BT Contributors Aryeh Leib Ecker and David Kirschner and pointing out some bloggers including Serach and Ezzie from SerandEz (and, yes Eliana is as cute in person as she is in her pics and vids), Shoshana from Beyond BT and SweetRose, Rebecca and her husband Aaron from Life with Estee (Estee thoroughly enjoyed lunch keeping her mother busy by doing laps around the dining room), and a blogger and commenter known and loved throughout the Blogosphere the always-present “Anonymous” who chose to remain anonymous.
There were also a few other bloggers who chose to remain anonymous. That doesn’t mean that they sat through lunch with paper bags over their heads, they just didn’t publicize the blogs that they write under psuedonyms (Dov Bear, was that you?) .
An important rule of our blog was revealed – and that is that while we allow commentors to use their actual names and one psuedonym, under no circumstances are they allowed to argue with themselves.
After lunch and a well-needed two-hour break, Rabbi Yacov Haber from Yeshiva University presented a shiur linking Shabbos Nachamu to Tu B’Av. Rabbi Haber weaved the themes of Achdus and increased Torah study together through the events of Tu B’Av as a means of hastening the geulah.
Following Minchah, we gathered for shalosh seudas including egg salad imported from Massachusetts and made with eggs fresh from the Simenowitz’ farm, yum! (Those of us that were smart enough to purchase the Simenowitz’ maple syrup at the Melava Malka were in for an even sweeter treat!) The singing was amazing and was highlighted with The Modzitzer Rebbe’s “Ship Niggun” written by the Rebbe from the deck of a ship departing Eretz Yisroel with the land still within his sights. As the niggun filled the room, you could feel the Rebbe’s passionate longing for the land. (Thank you Rabbi Schwartz for sharing this niggun with us.)
Our good friend Todd Greenwald, who has been involved with the blog from its earliest stages of conception, shared part of his teshuvah story which included a strong traditional upbringing and his father’s “fortuitous” introduction of him to a Rav at the perfect time.
David Linn refused to share his personal teshuvah story insisting that no one is interested in hearing a boring teshuvah story that starts with getting struck by lightening and falling into the Grand Canyon. He did, however, share the story of “The Monster” pointing out how seemingly mundane everyday events can teach us the deepest teshuvah lessons.
Following Maariv, we kicked off our Melava Malka with pizza and the Beyond BT Jam Band (aka “Six Guys With Beards”). The band was made up of R. Gili Houpt on Guitar and lead vocals, R. Shmuel Simenowitz on Guitar (electric and acoustic) and back up vocals, Bruce Goldenberg all the way from Baltimore, on drums (often joined by his ten year-old son Simmy who doesn’t have a beard), R. Avi Epstein on keyboards and back up vocals, Jesse Asher on bass and Dr. Meyer Halberstam on violin.
The band played late into the night presenting classics as well as some original material. Special guest Reb Shlomo Carlebach (in the form of R. Dovid Schwartz) shared stories and niggunim that, I must tell you my holy brothers and sisters, were mamish the deepest of the deep.
Our Hakaros HaTov goes to all of our participants from near and far, our hosts for opening their homes and especially to Mrs. Frankel and Mrs. Linn for an unbelievable job that would make the most accomplished party planner envious carried out with the able assistance of the Frankel, Linn and Greenwald kids, second generation bloggers.
Thanks to all who joined us for this special Shabbos. We hope to see you all (and many more) next year!!