Shabbat at Biennial is magical. That may be a strange way to describe a gathering of 5000 Jews, but let me tell you about it. Magic however is best felt than described.
Friday morning at Biennial seems like the other days, attending sessions, meeting up with friends and family, but every encounter ends with ‘shabbat shalom’. Are they just practicing what to say when shabbat comes? No, they mean it. You start to know and feel that today will be a different day.
Friday afternoon became a little frantic as I rushed to get back to my hotel to change for shabbat. Fortunately, I had only a few outfits in my closet, so we are back at the convention centre quickly. It was so beautiful to see hundreds streaming toward the building, from all directions, dressed up, without the heavy knapsacks we’ve been carrying for days. I decided to carry nothing except my ID, and my meal ticket. Off the grid was awesome.
Kabbalat Shabbat services were packed, but it felt like family. Even sitting in the back section of the giant hall felt close with the half a dozen large screens showing the service close-up. While the music was mostly new to us, it was easy to follow along and feel the shabbat spirit.
Dinner followed the services in another large ballroom down the hall. I still remember the logistical nightmare when Biennial was being held in Toronto, and we had to move 5000 people up and down escalators to different rooms for dinner at our convention centre. This was so easy in comparison. We quickly found our table(s) and the other members of Holy Blossom, some of whom I still hadn’t run into over the past 3 days. We were joined by a few others from other Toronto shuls as well. Dinner was tasty and quick. No time to linger too long as the night was still young.
We quickly moved to the third ‘highlight’ of the evening – the famed song session. For over an hour we all sang and danced to Jewish camp style songs with NFTY front and centre. The hall was rocking! Members of the Israeli delegation standing near us were in awe of the intergenerational energy and participation, wondering what was going on. I guess they never attended a ‘song sesh’ at Camp George!
Can I go to bed yet? I thought I would be asking that question, when I first looked at the schedule for the day, and night. Excitedly, filled with terrific energy and excitement we continued up the long escalators back upstairs to the smaller venues for more entertainment. This was where our Aviva Chernick and her band Jaffa Road played, for an hour, gently rocking our bodies and souls with her award winning music.
I managed to get into bed by midnight, excited to be celebrating shabbat with friends and family, this WAS a special evening, and more will come on Saturday.