July 17, 2024
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‘Project Inspire’ Shabbat Retreat Leaves Attendees On ‘Cloud Nine’

The Woodcliff Lake Hilton was the home of the recent Shabbat Retreat, held on November 15- 17 and attended by more than 900 people. The excitement for the weekend was so high, and the demand so great, that every single room in the entire hotel was booked weeks before the event.

The camaraderie and an incredible spirit of unity permeated the atmosphere, from the grand challah bake on Friday afternoon to the powerful closing address by Rabbi Shlomo Farhi that crystalized the essence of the weekend.

Project Inspire, a program of Aish HaTorah, has become a household name. Its mission is to empower Jews living in religious communities to reach out and share their Judaism with their less connected neighbors, co-workers and fellow Jews. The quality and breadth of the speakers, the caliber of the attendees and the dedication of the Project Inspire team, pale in comparison to the power of its vision.

The Body and Soul Shabbat Retreat was timed to coincide with The Shabbat Project. It reached across “party lines” and circumstances to unite people from diverse communities.

What are the chances that the following people would be sitting together at one table, sharing their life’s adventures and reminiscing like old friends? A couple from Queens whose children are in public school, but who are eager to place them in yeshiva. A woman from New Square with her longtime Torah study partner from Long Island. A young family from Philly with two adorable children, whose ancestors were among the Founding Fathers of the city during the Revolutionary War. A young woman from East Brunswick who’d briefly lived in Lakewood, and an elderly man from the Hamptons, who came for Shabbat with his daughter.

From the poignant Friday night prayers to the Saturday night concert, the crowning glory was the Carlebach-style havdalah, during which the audience erupted into a spontaneous dance of the spirit. The Saturday night cookoff, hosted by celebrity chef Jamie Geller and sponsored by kosher.com, had the audience pumped with enthusiasm.

There were many heartwarming moments during the Shabbat—too many to count. There were many young teens eager and interested in the prayer services and speeches and people who met longtime learning partners who, after years of learning by phone, finally spent Shabbat in person. One young woman approached a volunteer to ask for help washing her hands and making the blessing, which she’d never done before.

The stellar program, delectable meals and upbeat atmosphere were planned to the tee by Managing Director Yossie Friedman and Director of Programming Yaakov Giniger.

As Allen Isaac Gross, who, along with his wife, Edie, are the generous sponsors of this outstanding weekend, expressed, “We more than accomplished all we set out to do. The achdus and excitement of all 900 plus people who attended the weekend was exhilarating. It was unbelievable to watch everyone’s faces, especially during havdalah.”

Director of Project Inspire Rabbi Chaim Sampson, whose overflowing love for his fellow Jew radiated through the weekend, echoed these sentiments. “It was such an incredible weekend, seeing so many people from diverse backgrounds coming together to learn, to grow, and even share what they learned and what they know,” he said.

Project Inspire Board President Stuart Hytman added, “This event was unique to any other outreach event in the world where half the people are inviting the other half,” he said. “No other event like this has such tremendous lay activism, such intense interest among the attendees, who want to reach out and grow, to accomplish more and more. We are truly one nation with one soul.”

Thanks go out to Chap-a-Nosh catering for the delicious food.

By Chaya Silber

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