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Youth attending CTeen International Shabbaton mob Times Square.  

This year, I had the honor of shepherding 12 Arizona members of Chabad’s CTeen of the East Valley to New York. There, they joined thousands of teens from around the world to celebrate Jewish unity and pride at the 11th annual CTeen International Shabbaton. 

The convention, which drew more than 2,600 participants from 23 countries, was electrifying and inspiring. Participants from around the world assumed Arizona is a huge state with a booming Jewish community because of the enthusiasm and excitement the East Valley group proudly displayed.

“I’m still in shock that it happened,” said Reut Ben-Ezer, who joined the trip for the first time. “I had so much fun connecting with new friends and learned so many new things.”

The weekend included a traditional Shabbat in the heart of Crown Heights; hands-on workshops and lectures about Judaism; and the annual Times Square takeover, featuring Jewish pop star Yaakov Shwekey. 

High school freshman Talia Breyer proudly represented our chapter by emceeing the exciting Midtown event in front of thousands.

“It was such an amazing experience,” Breyer said. 

The theme of the Shabbaton was “I-Matter,” reminding teens to see their inherent value. On Sunday, the convention packed the Brooklyn Armory to watch a dazzling show at the annual banquet. This time, the East Valley was represented by Aaron Stein, who delivered an emotional speech about the challenges he faces in Arizona. Stein studies at a public high school with only a handful of Jews. He struggles with keeping kosher, as well as dating only Jewish girls. He took home the International Leader of the Year award, beating out 300 others.

 “I’m going to be honest, this was the best weekend of my life,” Stein said.   

Fifteen teen speakers shared personal stories of struggle and strength in the face of adversity. 

Then Adam Neumann, CEO of WeWork, offered a message of his own.

“The secret of my life and success is keeping Shabbat,” Neumann said. “Disconnecting from the world for 25 hours and connecting to something greater than myself makes me who I am. ... If you come away with one thing today, I hope it’s that you disconnect to connect.”

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of CTeen, also offered words of comfort: “You may feel like a minority, but remember: There is no such thing as a small Jew. I hope you take the energy you gained this weekend and carry it into every aspect of your lives back at home.”

With more then 500 chapters in 23 countries, CTeen creates a nurturing environment where giving to others encourages self-discovery. Open to all Jewish teens regardless of affiliation, the network’s mission is to empower tomorrow’s next generation of leaders through Jewish education. JN

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