Spirited worship, meaningful discussions, spiritual reflection, bonding, and fun activities were just a few of the things that Milken students experienced at the all-grade Shabbaton last week. It was the first time in recent years that the entire Upper School celebrated Shabbaton together. Held on the picturesque Brandeis-Bardin campus of the American Jewish University, it ran February 23-24 – with the seniors staying until Sunday.
It was the perfect time for students from all grades to bond together in a variety of uplifting activities. While some events were grade-specific, everyone came together for others.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the emotional Friday night Shabbat service, which united everyone for worship. It was held in the House of the Book, a stately performance hall perched at the top of campus. Everyone hiked up the hill and enjoyed sweeping views of the beautiful campus below and savored a stunning sunset on the way back. Director of Advisory, Upper School Cheryl Cohen noted the hike was a great way to transition from everyday life to shift gears to Shabbat.
Seniors greeted everyone as they arrived with festive singing. The services were led by the Jewish Studies rabbis. Two students spoke, including Lily Spar ’19, who revealed she had lost a friend in the recent Florida high school shooting tragedy. She stressed the importance of strengthening and maintaining a sense of community, and challenged the community to focus on building those bonds and reflecting on the people in their lives. Brandon Tavakoli ’21 talked about the importance of music to the Shabbat experience, and that music connects people from all over the world.
The service was a powerful spiritual experience for students and faculty. “When we were all in the House of the Book together, as a school, I felt as if I was among my close family,” said Megan Kohanarieh ’19. “After the experience of praying together with the whole school, I don't just consider Milken, its teachers, and its students part of my community, but I consider them family.”
“There were so many great moments of student leadership, participation, and fun, but what really stood out the most was the power of our community taking part in Shabbat services all together at the House of the Book,” remarked Assistant Principal, Grades 11 & 12 Beau Lindsay.
Horseback riding, mountain biking, a ropes course, and archery were among the activities students could choose from during their free time. There were sessions of reflection and classes explored their grade-level themes with different activities and programming. Freshman explored community building, sophomores—making tough choices; juniors—social responsibility; seniors—transitions, from Milken to the world beyond.
Before heading to the Shabbaton, the junior class engaged in service learning and volunteered at several locations including the Salvation Army Bessie Pregerson Child Development Center where they served snacks and reading to children. They also spent time at Belmont Village Senior Living center playing bingo with the residents and sorting food at SOVA Community Resource Center. On Saturday, they reflected on their experiences and pondered tough questions about service.
A common refrain from students and faculty alike was that this Shabbaton was really special. To many, this was their favorite one. They reiterated how it strengthened the Milken community and fostered existing friendships and allowed them to make new ones.
“This shabbaton was my favorite one yet. I was able to connect to new people in my grade, teachers, and the community as a whole,” expressed Spar. “This shabbaton helped me get even more excited for the year to come.”
Ari Cohen ’21 noted how his favorite part was interacting with the Vatikim (senior mentors). Underclassmen were able to ask questions about their in high school experiences and the Vatikim offered advice and tips.
Said Cohen, “I think the Shabbaton was a great chance for students of all grades to connect and come together as a community. It was amazing how the event brought us together, but also strengthened friendships we already had.”
"From Niggunim to playing a competitive game in the gaga pit, the Shabbaton was a great opportunity for not only the ninth grade to bond but for the entire school to establish a strong, tight-net kehillah kedosha; holy community,” commented Tavakoli.
The Shabbaton wrapped for freshman, sophomores, and juniors on Saturday, with the seniors staying an additional night. Havdalah punctuated the end of the Shabbaton with lively music, dancing, and singing. It was a great end to a very meaningful Shabbat.