By Leah Rivkin

Hailing from 40 countries and 6 continents, 2,500 Jewish teens gathered in Crown Heights, Brooklyn last weekend for the Chabad Teen Network (CTeen)’s 11th annual Global Teen Summit.

The four-day event united the diverse group of attendees with a plethora of educational and inspirational programs, providing unique opportunities for the teens to explore and express their Jewish heritage and empowering teens “not as the leaders of tomorrow, but as the leaders of today,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Chairman of CTeen and Vice-Chairman of Chabad Headquarters Educational Division.

Teens participated in hands-on workshops, lectures, and roundtable discussions covering topics including mental health, overcoming adversity in the face of anti-semitism, and the power of combining science and Torah. The theme of this year’s summit, “iMatter,” encouraged teens to recognize and tap into their inherent value that doesn’t depend on external validation. It is a message that resonated well with the thousands of teens who have found their voices and personal missions through their involvement in CTeen.

“I have a purpose. I’m supposed to be here. Learning that this weekend gives me strength to be who I am rather than be ashamed of who I am,” said Shaina Steir, a teen leader from Orange County, NY.

The sentiment was echoed at Sunday’s closing ceremony, which featured fifteen teen speakers sharing personal stories of struggle, triumph, and strength in the face of adversity.

“To quote the [Lubavitcher] Rebbe, the very fact that you are here, at this place, at this time, with all these opportunities available to you, means there’s something to be done. Something that only you can do. Something of utmost importance to G-d,” teen Ram Cohen from Toms River, NJ told the cheering crowd. “So make your mark!”

Jewish music superstar Yaakov Shwekey performed his hit songs including “I Can Be Anything” and “We Are a Miracle” at the closing ceremony and at the Times Square Havdalah on Motzei Shabbos, where “Am Yisroel Chai” and other Jewish messaging was broadcast to CTeeners and passersby alike from the iconic American Eagle and Express electronic billboards. One South American tourist, visibly emotional at the sight, approached the group and requested a yarmulka, beaming as he removed his baseball cap and replaced it with the kippa.

The heart of the weekend was a traditional Shabbat experience in Crown Heights, with over 200 warm and welcoming local families opening their homes to host teens. While following Shabbat guidelines was not required of teens, many chose to leave their phones behind for the day and experience their first authentic Shabbat experience.

CTeen’s 500th chapter was unveiled at the summit as having recently opened in Prague, Czech Republic.

“The unparalleled growth of CTeen speaks to the relevance of its message,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of CTeen and Executive Director of Merkos 302. “Forty teens attended CTeen’s first shabbaton in 2008. Ten short years later, CTeen has engaged 100,000 Jewish teens worldwide. Traditional Torah values and practices are clearly still meaningful to today’s teens.”

Teens agreed. “Our commitment as individuals and as a chapter is to incorporate the lessons we’ve learned and the mitzvot we’ve taken on this weekend into our day-to-day lives,” said Karen Seidner, teen leader of Conejo Valley, CA and one of the winners of the first annual CTeen Operation Mitzvah Award. “We can’t wait to take our chapter to the next level.”

Leah Rivkin is co-director and COO of the Chabad Teen Network (CTeen), and serves as the creative force behind CTeen’s programs, resources, and multimedia.

The Chabad Teen Network is a project of Merkos Suite 302. For more information, visit cteen.com and cteenconnection.com.

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