Often, the highlight for Ramaz Upper School first-years is the Freshman Shabbaton, where the grade has the opportunity to go on a two-day trip, have Shabbat together, and engage in countless activities and bonding opportunities. However, students in the class of ’25 were informed in December that the Freshman Shabbaton had been postponed to February. Ms. Krupka, Dean of Faculty, and Rabbi Dov Pianko, Director of Programming and Student Life, sent an email to parents soon after which provided more details about future plans and cited concerns over the Omicron variant and the uptick in COVID-19 cases prior to winter break as reasons for the postponement.
The Shabbaton is coordinated by Rabbi Dov, along with Rabbi Segal and Dr. Aharon, the Freshman Grade Dean. The grade departs from Ramaz on Friday morning and does an activity during the day before arriving at the hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey for pre-Shabbat preparations. During Shabbat there are services, meals, and student sessions aimed at the concept of friendship with the backdrop of a Dr. Seuss theme. Freshmen leave the hotel on Saturday after Shabbat ends for an activity before returning to Ramaz that night. Dr. Aharon describes that the sessions for students are designed, “…really to think about the value of all these great kids in your grade…” Because the Shabbaton will occur later in the year than originally planned, though, Dr. Aharon acknowledges that the focus of certain activities and student sessions might need to be adjusted in some ways. However, she still stresses the importance of expanding friend groups and meeting new people: “I think people might have their social circles, but I think those circles will be expanded and crisscrossed and overlapped in every every other way.”
Much has changed in terms of the pandemic situation since the administration made the decision to postpone the Shabbaton in early December. The email sent to parents first announcing the postponement says that, “With a new variant of the coronavirus leading to potential quarantine restrictions, we think the idea of a large group being together for Shabbat so close to the vacation is a challenge.” As it has turned out, the Omicron variant has rapidly spread throughout the Ramaz community, even leading to three-days of remote learning right before vacation. Dr. Aharon says, “The whole point of a Shabbaton [is] to be, you know, together,” yet also recognizes that, despite retaining the important feeling of togetherness and doing similar activities, it is unlikely COVID precautions during the Shabbaton will be quite as relaxed as originally thought to-be.
In spite of the challenging circumstances and unforeseen postponement, freshmen await their inaugural high-school Shabbaton as one of the highlights of the year. Rachel Buller ’25, for example, says, “I’m very excited for the Shabbaton. I think despite the fact that it was postponed, it will still provide an opportunity for the freshmen to bond and form friendships like no other.” Similarly, Dr. Aharon maintains that the Shabbaton will be a meaningful for students and faculty alike: “When we’re in school, you get to hang out with people…but there’s something different when you’re dressed in your Shabbat clothes and you’re at a hotel and we’ve spent the day just doing activities together.”