12-21 Winter Shabbaton: Explaining Messianic Judaism

This year’s Shabbaton was an amazing experience.

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On the heels of the success of last’s year Hanukkah Shabbaton, we geared up for another three-day adventure with the 12-21ers.

While last year’s Shabbaton fell over the final days of Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve, this year it fell on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Since a lot of the 12-21er families do not celebrate this holiday, this gave kids a welcomed alternative event. Fittingly, the theme this year was how to explain your faith to your friends.

The 12-21ers arrived on Friday afternoon, and we immediately entered Shabbat. The first order of business after assigning rooms and figuring out sleeping arrangements was to hand in cell phones and light Shabbat candles. Initially, we heard a collective groan at the thought of twenty-five hours without a device, but I think most of the students enjoyed a break from being connected to the outside world and the additional sanctity it brought to the Shabbat experience. We joined in with the Beth Immanuel community for Friday evening services and then had a private Shabbat dinner with the 12-21 group. There were about sixty-five of us when we counted campers and counselors. We had a wonderful evening getting to know one another and discussing a little Torah before it was time to head to bed.

On Saturday we once again joined Beth Immanuel for Shabbat services. Daniel Lancaster kicked things off with the first teaching on the top ten reasons why Messianic Judaism is the best religion in the world. After a packed Shabbat full of prayers, teachings, food, and games we made Havdalah and headed out to bowling. From the laughter and the noise, it seemed to me that everyone was gelling together quite nicely and having a lot of fun.

The lectures throughout the Shabbaton focused on being better able to communicate Messianic Judaism to others. How do we answer the difficult questions such as “How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?” or “How can you not be Jewish but practice Judaism?” or “Why can’t you do anything on Saturday?” or “What’s up with your diet?” In my observation, it was clear that this was helping the 12-21ers to be able to answer difficult questions about their faith as much as it was helping them better understand and internalize their faith.

On Sunday, besides some important teachings, the big activities were snow tubing during the afternoon and a BBQ and bonfire at night. You haven’t lived until you’ve huddled around a pallet bonfire eating a pulled beef sandwich in negative degree temperatures. Monday included more teaching, a craft on the Amidah prayer, a college and career workshop, and a party at the Janicki house to close things out. We ended the Shabbaton with a showing of the Camp Tzadi slideshow from last summer. It brought back a lot of wonderful memories, and we all agreed that, God willing, we would meet again in the Wisconsin Dells this summer for another amazing camp experience.

This year’s Shabbaton was an amazing experience. A special thanks to everyone who was involved including the counselors and all who volunteered their time. From the incredible teachings to the delicious food to the crazy activities to the rousing prayer times, it was an unforgettable experience that I am confident to say made a deep impact on the hearts of all who attended. One new attendee who had never been to a 12-21 event before told me that he was hesitant coming in about whether he would make any friends. He told me that he immediately felt at home with all the kids and by the time he left he felt as if he had known everyone his whole life. He also told me that since he was someone who was new to Messianic Judaism, the teachings were just what he needed to hear. When he told me this all I could do was smile. This is why we at First Fruits of Zion felt the need to create the 12-21 program.

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About the Author: Toby Janicki is the main teacher and Camp Dad for the 12-21 youth initiative, as well as a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He is also the Communications Coordinator for the Torah Club program and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki