By Tamar Farajian
Almost two hundred boys from across the U.S. gathered at Oorah’s camp, TheZone, for a heartwarming and inspirational Shabbos Chanukah. Despite the near freezing weather and blankets of snow covering the grounds, the boys, who were returning campers as well as those who have never attended TheZone, were greeted by the warmth of friendly staff and inviting accommodations. “Shabbazone is the once a year opportunity during the winter months to give returning and potential campers a taste of TheZone and the experience of an entire Shabbos,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Weinstein, director of kiruv development. “Dozens of bochrim [who are mentors to the boys] gave up their off Shabbos, which could have been spent with their families, in order to give inspiration to the boys.”
The ruach of excitement, love, and achdus, as personified by the bochrim, was felt throughout the entire Shabbos. Starting off with a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony with hundreds of menorahs lighting up the vast dining room, each mentor helped the boys recite the bracha and light their own menorah, this being the first time performing the inspiring mitzvah for many. This same ruach was exemplified by Rabbi Chaim Mintz, founder of Oorah, as he greeted each child, wishing them a good Shabbos. Special guest, Lakewood mayor Menashe Miller gave divrei chizuk to the boys throughout Shabbos, helping them gain confidence in their continued spiritual growth.
One of the highlights of the entire weekend, besides for the dreidel tournament, snowboarding, laser tag, and hover-boarding, was the Friday night TorahMates learning session. With the walls of the fully packed bais medrash reverberating with the sweet sounds of Torah study, every boy was excited to be able to learn with their TorahMates and mentors, continuing their growth from the summer months. Rabbi Chaim Reichman, camp learning director, understood the importance of the shabbaton to the campers: “TheZone is not just a camp; it is all about keeping up throughout the year with TorahMates and ChillZone. This Shabbos was an opportunity for our staff and campers to reunite in a geshmake, torahdik, fun, and ruach filled way, which keeps those connections strong and fresh.”
The boys had another opportunity to reconnect with their ChillZone groups after Shabbos, with each city’s ChillZone learning together in the shul. Program director, Dovid Miller, explained the beauty of hundreds of boys learning together. “One of the most beautiful sites you’ll ever see is a national ChillZone which can rival and beat any avos ubanim. A packed bais medrash with hundreds of campers learning, yeshiva bochrim with kids who can’t read aleph bais, kids who have wild hairdos with yeshiva guys with flying payos…it is a true Kiddush Hashem.”
Indeed, the Kiddush Hashem was felt by every one of the staff, as they were enthused by each kiruv boy’s sincerity and love of learning. Dovid Miller shared one such moment of inspiration. “Some may think that to connect and reach a teen could be very hard because they are older and more involved in the world. Let me tell you, behind all the fluff and “macho”-ness even the toughest kid with the craziest haircut is craving a real relationship…someone who really cares…a little warmth…a true interest…a good TorahMate.
I saw a kid who came in with a really negative attitude and wouldn’t even talk to me. After Shabbos when everyone was dancing together in the ballroom, I asked him if he had a good time. He just gave me a smile and a nod. That to me was worth more than 1000 words. I knew we had reached him.”
The effects ChillZone, TorahMates, TheZone, and this special ShabbaZone has on each child is not always easy to see, but is certainly felt by each staff member. As the mentors know, a single word of kindness or show of friendship goes a long way toward helping the boys continue their spiritual growth, as demonstrated by Oorah’s Chanukah ShabbaZone.