The snow fell wet and thick on to the stairs and sidewalk on Eastern Parkway — and all around the New York area, in fact — but no one heard inside the Oholei Menachem boys’ school in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn on Sunday.
As hundreds of airlines delayed and canceled scheduled flights, more than a thousand carousing teens were joyously dancing on their chairs and romping around the banquet tables as Chabad emissaries chuckled and moved around them, conversing placidly with counselors, teens and each other. “COUNTDOWN!” Total rave on the floor.
“3. 2. 1. PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS SO WE CAN KEEP THE ENERGY FLOWING!!!” Miraculously, 1,500 squiggling, wiggling, laughing and singing teens sat down in two halls to listen as a slender young girl with shining long hair, and then a healthy boy on video hookup from the matching hall each addressed the crowd. Roars of applause for each.
Mark Seddon, speechwriter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, sat amongst the bedlam appearing slightly bemused by it all. Ban himself had sent a personal, videotaped greeting to the teens, delivered with a warm smile and a cordial tone, and kicked off with a bit of Hebrew just for fun.
“Shalom, Bruchim Ha-baim (Welcome) to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky and to all the delegates of CTeen. A special welcome also to the 100 young people from Paris. The thoughts of us all are with those who have lost family and friends in the recent horrific terrorist attacks in that city. Chabad institutions such as CTeen have a strong reputation for working in the community. This year you will honour young people who have made a significant difference in people’s lives through CTeen’s social service projects. To them we say, thank you – and keep up the good work! I encourage all of you to continue to reach out to anyone in need with no distinction. This spirit of compassion and equality drives the United Nations. Empowering youth is one of my top priorities. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN World Programme of Action for Youth. We have a campaign called #YouthNow [“hashtag youth now”] that I hope you will all join. When you speak up about the issues that matter we all benefit. The United Nations stands ready to work with you. Thank you.”
Speaking exclusively with JewishPress.com amid the bedlam, Seddon added, “I like the international aspect of this group especially, and that it gives the teens something to believe in.
“The Secretary-General sent warm greetings to these teens, he has a very strong concern about the events that are taking place. This is a such a special program in that it emphasizes that nothing is too big too tackle, and that anything can be overcome. That is so important.”
No less important to the crowd, however, was a video of a young man that it seemed every one there knew. Suddenly, the halls were silent as the young man related how his year had gone, how he had struggled to survive and had seen a miracle because of his friends sitting in that room.
“Every time I strapped up, the straps of the tefillin were connecting me to God and to all of you. I had that fat stack of mitzvah cards to look at, each one with a different name, when things got tough, said the young man on the video. The teens watched avidly, and then exploded in applause as the young man in the video materialized before their eager eyes, striding up to the podium with spotlights playing around the darkened room and video screens beaming the scene to the second hall.
Hana Levi Julian