April 15, 2024
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Project Inspire’s Shabbos Retreat Nourishes Body and Soul

Most people think of Shabbos as a day of rest. But for the almost 600 participants in the Project Inspire Body and Soul Shabbos Project Retreat, held at the Hilton Parsippany from November 11-13th, it was not only high-energy, it was positively transformational.

Project Inspire, a division of Aish HaTorah, aims to promote unity among Jews by fostering friendships and Torah learning. It’s unique in the way it involves lay people, not outreach professionals, to create connections and share Jewish knowledge. With branches in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island, Rockland, New Jersey, Toronto, and Arizona, Project Inspire offers opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to come together to learn, grow and share the beauty of their heritage with others.

The recent Shabbos Retreat was an opportunity to enjoy an extended Shabbos experience packed to the brim with inspiring and informative lectures, meeting friends new and old, and sensational entertainment from live music to a mentalist to a class in martial arts. Subtitled “For the Body and Soul,” the Shabbaton nourished the soul while regaling the body with sumptuous Shabbos meals and buffets of treats. Special programming for children allowed parents to enjoy the lectures and activities while their children were well cared for and entertained.

True to its name, Project Inspire’s Shabbaton featured inspiring, vibrant speakers whose topics included everything from Jewish beliefs to achieving long-term life satisfaction to creating meaningful relationships with others and Hashem. Among the exceptional line-up were Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht, Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, Rabbi Yitzchak Feldheim, and Rabbi Gav Friedman. Mrs. Sunny Levi held listeners spellbound as she related her journey from aspiring actress and competitive black belt in Taekwondo (she once aimed to compete in the Olympics) to moving to Israel and becoming observant. Mrs. Shannon Nuszen recounted her compelling journey from missionary work to discovering Judaism.

As the sun began to set and the third meal of Shabbos was served, participants inspired each other by sharing their Jewish journeys. Naama, an Israeli woman from Phoenix, related that during a trip to New York she happened to observe a Jewish mother with her children on the subway. When she complimented the mother on her adorable children, the two began speaking, and exchanged phone numbers. What she didn’t know was that this woman, Sheila Israelian, had become involved in Project Inspire and took its mission to heart. When Mrs. Israelian got home, she passed Naama’s number to the Project Inspire staff, who asked their Arizona branch director to reach out to her. From this chance encounter, a life-changing friendship developed, and today Naama finds her life immeasurably enriched by her connection to Judaism.

Naama’s story beautifully illustrates the Project Inspire approach. One Jew reaches out to another, creating a ripple effect that quickly goes viral as one person inspires another. The sense of unity at the Shabbos Retreat was palpable. “Just seeing all these Jewish people singing and dancing together, holding hands, seeing the diversity among all kinds of Jews was great,” says attendee Victoria Chery. “No one feels judged; the Shabbos retreat is for everyone. You can come to recharge, to meet new people, to see old friends. It’s outstanding!”

“This Shabbaton is the highlight of our year; it’s like a family reunion with all the best people,” adds Elisa Hirsch. “It keeps us fired up for the whole year to come!”

If you missed this special event, don’t feel discouraged: Project Inspire runs programs throughout the year. The next one is scheduled for December 4 for men in Tampa, and for women December 6th, each one for three days and two nights of spiritual and outdoor adventuring. Those who want a learning partner or simply have questions they’d like answered don’t have to wait at all. The Project Inspire staff stands ready to help!

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