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The sleepy Catskill town of Ellenville, New York, will never be the same.

This past Thursday night, as the buses pulled in to the circular driveway in front of Honor’s Haven Resort, there was a palpable sense of excitement. Shaare Torah’s Boys Junior High Shabbaton was finally here. One by one, the boys filed into the hotel’s dining room, where they were treated to a festive dinner. At that point, the boys had already returned from a jaunt to the Palisades Mall where they attempted to master the world’s tallest indoor rope, and enjoyed the excitement of Dave & Buster’s. It was obvious that the yeshiva had pulled no stops and this gorgeous venue was the icing on the cake. The boys were buzzing, just waiting to discover what the next 48 hours would hold.

This weekend wasn’t only about the students. The Shabbaton was host to eleven Rabbanim, joined by many of their wives and their children, rounding off the attendees. The Shabbat meals were enjoyed together in a palatial, private dining room. Through heartfelt pizmonim and scrumptious food, all present were fused together in an experience of tremendous ahdut.

Some of the highlights included poignant Divre Torah shared by a selection of talmidim as well as the Rabbanim. Our Menahel, Rabbi Kuessous, skillfully conducted the speeches, acting as the meals’ master of ceremonies. He spoke about the uniqueness of Shaare Torah boys, which this Shabbat typified. Rabbi Shlomo Haber, the Menahel of the Boys’ High School, talked about the value of doing a mitzvah with no ulterior motives. Rabbi Yosef Abboud spoke about the tremendous power generated by a Jew’s will to do good, as evidenced by Yaakov Avinu lifting the rock off the well to help Rahel Imenu.

Rabbi Jacob Bijou electrified the audience, demanding that as the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, we each recognize our inherent greatness, and embrace the responsibility that follows having that lofty DNA and prestigious pedigree. Rabbi Isaac Mezrahi implored the boys to take the Shabbaton, and the Aliyah they were experiencing, with them, by identifying one specific growth objective and committing to it. Rabbi Mansour echoed this sentiment, sharing that the secret behind Yaakov’s Avinu’s steadfastness in the wicked Lavan’s house was his ability to keep with him throughout his long exile the ideals revealed to him in his dream of
the ladder.

Shabbat’s crowning event was the beloved annual showdown known as the “Torah Bowl.” Year in, year out, this lively competition to master Parasha and Gemara brings out the best intalmidim who have been preparing from the previous month. This year was no exception, and the tension was rising as Rabbi Mezrahi’s 8th grade class attempted to dethrone Rabbi Debbah’s two-time-winning 7th grade class. Ultimately, the dramatic finale ended in a draw with the Torah Bowl victory being awarded to both teams.

New for this year, was the “Ask-the-Rabbi” session for 8th graders, hosted by Rabbi Shlomo Haber and Rabbi Kuessous, and attended by Rabbi Bijou, Rabbi Abboud, and Rabbi Mezrahi as well. This was a deep and meaningful exchange between the talmidim and the Rabbanim about many of life’s most important issues. Showing impressive maturity, the boys treated the discussion with the gravity it deserved, imbibing the words of wisdom that the Rabbanim so graciously shared.

Spending this Shabbaton together with the Rabbanim and witnessing the way they interacted with their regal families was a great opportunity for Shaare students. Not to be outdone, our students were also well-behaved, and took responsibility for treating the property and staff with the appropriate respect. This behavior was most befitting of a Shabbaton where the mission was to rise beyond our individual needs, forge together, and make a Kiddush Hashem. Indeed, it is the ability to do so that makes a Shaare Torah boy a “Shaare Torah boy.” May Hashem grant us all many more opportunities to be mithazek together and elevate His name.