South American teens gather in Uruguay for inspiring Shabbaton

It was the first of its kind in the region with plans to hold another for Spanish speakers in the next few months.

Teens from Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina participate in a Shabbaton in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Credit: Courtesy of CTeen International.
Teens from Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina participate in a Shabbaton in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Credit: Courtesy of CTeen International.

Punta del Este, Uruguay, a popular seaside tourist destination, recently played host to a gathering of Jewish teens from three South American countries. The Shabbaton united CTeens from Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina for a weekend of solidarity and inspiration, offering a much-needed boost in Jewish pride amid the rising tide of antisemitism and Jewish isolation experienced worldwide since the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7.

The three-day summit brought together teens from diverse backgrounds such as the large Jewish community of Buenos Aires and the much smaller one of Asunción, Paraguay.

“Connecting with people from so many places was incredibly enriching. Thanks to this Shabbat, I realized I was part of the broader Jewish community,” said 16-year-old Meir Tolces from Asunción.

“Gatherings such as these are crucial for young Jews growing up in remote communities,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302, CTeen’s umbrella organization. “Reaching out to teens in these areas and enabling them to feel part of the wider international community has a long-lasting impact on their future and Jewish continuity.”

CTeen Shabbat South America
Girls enjoy bowling at the CTeen Shabbaton in Uruguay. Credit: Courtesy of CTeen International.

It was the first Shabbaton of its kind in the region with plans to hold another for Spanish speakers in the next few months. Friday’s activities included soccer for the boys, and bowling and arcade games for the girls. Teens stayed at two hotels in Punta del Este, converging to usher in an early winter Shabbat with a collective candle-lighting ceremony. Attendees were encouraged to disconnect from their phones for the duration of Shabbat, fostering connection and reflection.

Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, head Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Uruguay, addressed the teens regarding the current situation in Israel and how best to respond to antisemitism. His words provided comfort and a sense of empowerment, reminding the teens of their strength in unity in the face of adversity. Following evening services, participants enjoyed a catered Shabbat meal and inspirational farbrengens late into the night, giving expression to their Jewishness in a joyous, energetic way and fostering bonds with their new friends.

Shacharit prayers took place at the nearby synagogue Beit Yaacov, led by Rabbi Chai Kohan of the Spanish Desk at Merkos 302. On Shabbat afternoon, Shemtov, author of Dear Rabbi, Why Can’t I Marry Her? and an expert on interfaith marriage prevention, led a scenic beach discussion with the older teens.

CTeen Shabbat South America
Boys in prayer at the CTeen Shabbaton in Uruguay. Credit: Courtesy of CTeen International.

In an unexpected twist, the group bumped into the mayor of Punta del Este, Enrique Antía, taking an afternoon stroll on their way back from the beach discussion. He expressed his support for Israel and informed them of the miraculous rescue of four Israeli hostages that day by the Israel Defense Forces since the teens were cut off from news sources.

Shabbat came to a close with a musical Havdalah ceremony and pizza party at the villa of a Chabad family. The evening wrapped up with an “Ask Me Anything” session with Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, Rabbi Leo Manoblaof CTeen Wolfsohn and Rabbi Ionatan Sirota of Ayeka Center of Buenos Aires. Questions were submitted anonymously, and all received replies.

Wrapping up the event with a Sunday lunch banquet, attendees undertook mitzvah resolutions. Among the commitments to do good deeds, participants decided to begin keeping Shabbat, speaking more positively and organizing Jewish teen meet-ups as practical takeaways from the uplifting weekend of inspiration.

CTeen Shabbat South America
From left: Rabbi Leo Manobla, Rabbi Ionatan Sirota, Rabbi Mendy Shemtov, Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov and Rabbi Chai Kohan.

The CTeen South America Shabbaton was made possible by:

Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302

Rabbi Chai Kohan, Merkos 302 Spanish Desk

The CTeen team at Merkos 302

Rabbi Shimon & Leah Rivkin, Directors of CTeen International

Raizy Leitner and Tzivi Rabin

Rabbi Eliezer and Rochi Shemtov, head shluchim to Uruguay

Rabbi Mendy and Musya Shemtov of CTeen Uruguay

Rabbi Ionatan and Avigail Sirota of Ayeka Center

Rabbi Leo and Vanina Manobla of CTeen Wolfsohn

Rabbi Mendy and Faigui Grunblatt of Beit Jabad Buschiazzo

Alan Charnovich and his team of counselors

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Chabad-Lubavitch is a philosophy, a movement and an organization. More than 5,000 full-time emissary families (2,000 in the United States) apply 250-year-old principles and philosophy to direct more than 3,500 institutions (and a workforce that numbers in the tens of thousands) dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide.
CTeen’s mission is to provide a nurturing environment fusing fun, friendship, humanitarian outreach, mitzvah observance and engaging Torah study among Jewish youth. Inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the group empowers teens to actualize their infinite potential while cultivating a strong sense of mission, Jewish pride and love of God.
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