In a year where gathering together face-to-face was something that could not be taken for granted, the Diller Teen Fellows Melbourne rounded out the year with a two-day Shabbaton (weekend retreat), thanks to an easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.
The Diller Teen Fellows is a year-long Jewish leadership program designed for year 9 and 10 students who are ready to develop lifelong leadership skills, strengthen their relationship with Judaism and Israel, build connections with like-minded Israeli teens and contribute to their local and global community. The year-long Diller experience generally includes fortnightly workshops, three Shabbatonim and an opportunity to host their Israeli counterparts for 10 days as well as a 3-week Israel trip which usually takes place in July.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, all of the scheduled overseas and weekend trips were cancelled, and the teens were forced to meet mostly online. As restrictions eased, the new Diller cohort 6 was lucky to be able attend a Shabbaton, which took place in mid-December. Remarkably, of the 32 Diller communities in Israel and around the world, Melbourne was the only cohort able to gather in person for a Shabbaton. The teens understood this and were grateful they could meet, particularly when so many other communities around the world are still in lockdown or facing other COVID-19 restrictions.
The group consisted of 15 teens from nine different schools across Melbourne and the aim of this Shabbaton was to connect with one another and consider new perspectives relating to their Jewish identity. The whole experience is made all the more meaningful taking place over Shabbat where the group can share in a beautiful Shabbat experience, and co-create the Shabbat. In the process, the group was able to disconnect from the outside world in order to connect with each other.
The programs they created explored their personal Jewish identity and the individual ways the teens find meaning and connect with their Jewish heritage. For some in the group, it was the first time that they had kept Shabbat which was incredibly meaningful for the entire group. The group lit Hanukkah candles and brought in the Shabbat on a long summer night. Their discussions helped them discover and understand how each teen individually connects to their Jewish identity, whether it be through their connection to Israel, observance of mitzvot, faith or celebration of holidays and keeping family traditions alive.
Of the Shabbaton, participant Theo Feiglin said, “I learnt about my Jewish identity and that Diller was a great choice to sign up to.” Another participant, Rayne Harari said, “over the Shabbaton, I learnt about my cohort’s beliefs and values.” Hadar Flenner concluded, “Judaism is different for everyone and there is no one correct way to show your Jewish identity.”
Diller Teens Melbourne co-ordinator Shlomit Weidenfeld said, “the willingness of the teens to come as they are, be open to connection with people who are different from them, and share a part of themselves shows a level of maturity beyond their years. 15 individual teens went to Shabbaton, returning a cohort, bound by an incredible shared experience.”
The cohort will resume their regular meetings shortly.