When my cousin E asked me to come on an NCSY Shabbaton* to help staff it I had no idea what I was getting into. I'd heard of it of course, but it wasn't a big deal in my town so I never did NCSY myself. Neither did my cousin, but he has been working for them for at least a couple of years now as staff, and when he invited me along this time I thought sure, why not?
Prior to leaving for the Shabbaton I called for some details, and was told to pack nice Shabbat clothes but stuff that could be easily washed. Staff are expected to follow the OU's guidlines for dress and behavior, but I was just told the first of what would become 7 rules:
3. No touching guys
The first two are dress code, meaning sleeves that reach the elbows and skirts (no pants allowed) that reach the knees). The 3rd rule is a simplification of being shomer negiah, which is basically no touching guys - no high fives, no hugs, no nothing - unless you're related or married to them.
Pretty simple, right? Hahahaha. What he didn't tell me was that this was the Winter Regional, one of their 2 yearly Shabbatons for everyone in the "New York" region. Meaning, this was going to be a huge Shabbaton with a ton of people.
After a delay to deal with a worker that showed up at the house while my mom was out running errands, I left a bit late for my 50-mile drive to the Shabbaton. I also completely forgot that this is a holiday weekend, so despite leaving at 2:30 I had rush-hour levels of traffic to deal with. There was a scary 30-minute period of serious traffic on the Cross Bronx when I thought I wasn't going to make it, but I pulled into the parking lot of the shul just before Shabbat (4:20). Other people were also running late so I wasn't even the last one there, it was all okay. I had to get all my stuff out of my car (since I couldn't open it on Shabbat). My cousin Chaim (I had 3 and a CIL on the shabbaton) helped me find a place to leave it in the shul. Luckily I showered before I left so I just changed clothes in the restroom.
About 10 minutes later I found my CIL, E3, in shul and she told me where to find the rest of the staff. And this was when I learned that I was a techie - short for technical staff, and a pretty name for grunt. Techies set up, serve food, clean up, rinse and repeat about 6 times over the course of 24 hours. Cousin E was the head techie, and it turned out that I knew one of the other techies - LG, my frum female biker friend and only other frum biker I know. The other girl, SD, I had met at E's wedding. One of the guy techies I'd never met but had heard about him since he's friends with E3. He's famous (in certain circles) for accidentally falling out a window & down 5 stories during a stunt for a YU radio show. He landed on concrete or something, broke a significant vertebrae and not only survived but is walking just fine. Like he says, no brain damage aside from preexisting conditions. There were 2 other guy techies, a very nice & hardworking one and one who used to be "front of the house" (an advisor) and kept forgetting to stay "back of the house" and help us out.
Our first task was serving dinner. It wasn't easy. They were expecting 150 people and ended up having 200, 3 extra tables were set up at the last possible second, all food was prepped at the shul and then had to be schlepped across the street to the lunchroom of the local public school, and 3 of us were first timers. It was a bit crazy but it all worked out fine, no one starved/died/was trampled in a stampede although we it seemed to be a close call at times, lol. We had about a 10 minute break - not enough time to grab our own dinners - and then had to go set up a room at the shul for the Oneg (= after-dinner dessert buffet, usually accompanied by a kumzits).
Five hours after the dinner craziness started we'd finished setting up the Oneg and the first of the kiddies were trickling in. There was nothing left for us to do but the persons in charge were MIA, so we mutinied and went across to the school to have our own dinner. Rule #4, no inappropriate conversational topics, was born when the persons in charge found us discussing rapelling down the outside of university buildings and other pranks. G forbid one of the kiddies heard us. E and I then had to explain the rules to the other techies, apparently I was the only one to whom he'd given rules. Go figure. Rule #5, no same-sex touching, was created to deal with a comic demonstration between 2 of the guys as to what rule #3 is meant to prevent.
The rest of the rules were also created during dinner that night.
Rule #6 is that the dude who fell out the window isn't allowed to climb on anything to reach high-up things. Meaning no chairs, stepladders, nothing.
Rule #7 is no alcohol. Duh!
Rabbi Z, the head advisor to the New York region, stopped by our techie room to thank us for helping out. And probably to escape the crush for a bit. Once he heard about the radio stunt, conversation turned to "What was the craziest thing that ever happened to you, because this guy can top it". SD did well, she skydived and hit the plane on the way out. Someone else fell out a window, but *only* one story. Shards of glass embedded in their leg weren't enough to tip the scales. I did well with "I have E for a cousin", but falling 5 stories was the clear winner.
After a bit of cleanup we headed over to the Oneg, and Chaim helped me find the other girl who was staying at the house I was, so that I could get the details & key from her. Then LG, SD and I went to the girls' Tisch. They left pretty quickly to go back to their host house to sleep, and I left soon afterwards.
As I entered the house, my eye was immediately drawn to a wallhanging of a grandfather clock hanging in the entraceway. It was huge, probably 30"x60". On closer inspection I saw that it was actually crocheted, the picture was formed by double crochet stitches in various colors. The guy whose house it was heard me come in and came down to say hello. He said that his wife cross stitched the grandfather clock. Guys! When I told him that I also cross stitch & crochet, he told me that the room I was staying in had bookcases full of his wife's craft books, and he gave me permission to look through them! I did get to sleep eventually, but only because the lights were on a timer and went off around midnight. She had some great stuff, including a TW book I'd never seen before.
In the morning we were supposed to meet at 8:45 to set up breakfast and then prep for lunch. The 3 girls were on time. The guys showed up about 2 hours late. LG and I did a lot of schlepping and moving supplies back and forth between the 2 buildings. Then we started setting the tables out for lunch. I'd gotten a couple of nasty splinters from a table the night before, but we weren't wary enough. SD tried to drag a table into position but it was broken such that one set of legs wouldn't lock. The side she was tugging collapsed, catching one of her feet across 2 of the toes. Very luckily she was searing thick, warm boots (and not pumps) so there was some padding, because the toes still started bleeding and might have been broken. The Hatzalah guy on the staff was pretty much useless. He took one look, didn't see any bones sticking through skin, and told SD there was nothing he could do for her. Hello, do you have any bandaids? The poor girl's foot was bleeding.
SD was a real trooper though, didn't complain much and pitched in with any task that didn't require much walking - plating food, directing volunteers etc. And once the 3 of us techie girls plus the Hatzalah guy's wife bullied/nagged/shamed him into actualy doing something 2 hours later, he bandaged her food and she was able to walk around to help too. Guys!
In the interest of not writing a novel let's me just say that we worked from 8:45 to 7:30 with an hour total of downtime and were exhausted by about 2pm.
There was a snafu with losing and finding a key to the UHaul but it was resolved and we loaded everything out of the school and into the van before the 9pm deadline. Then we cleaned out the supplies we'd need for dinner from the shul, took 30 minutes to get presentable and headed further upstate to The Castle.
We weren't so necessary as helpers and LG and I were going home that night, so I wish we would've skipped the Castle and gone straight home. We did have an excellent techie game of Laser Tag. There were no teams but the guys talked big about not hitting each other and *getting* us girls, so we made a pact not to shoot each other. It ended up being 3 of us vs 5 of them, with us gals running around shouting "Girl Truce" to avoid hitting each other. We teamed up well againts the guys although we must've looked & sounded ridiculous.
We were all soooo exhausted at the end of the day, we had worked really hard to make sure the weekend would run smoothly for the kids. It was a great experience, a ton of fun, I met a bunch of really cool people and I would totally do it again. Next time should be a bit better as well, because after teching 1 shabbaton I know what to expect for next time and how/what prepare for it.
I don't have my own photos of anything Shabbaton related, but SD has some pics and promised to post them on facebook so I'll try to put some up for you.
LG and I both had to leave Saturday night because we'd made plans with each other, not knowing we'd be on the same Shabbaton. Lol. I dropped her off in the Bronx at 1:45 and made it home around 2:15 so we postponed our 9:30 outing today to 11:30.
Guess where we went? The Motorcycle Show at the Javits Center. I did mention that she's my 1 frum biker friend, no? Most of the pictures are on LG's camera but I took a few, so here's one of me sitting on a chopper for the first time.
I'll post more pics later this week, we had some really good ones. I sat in a sidecar for the first time, and I'm short enough that I can fully extend my legs so it's pretty comfy. We tried out some touring bikes too, those are ridiculous. Forget ride one, I couldn't even stand the bike upright. I didn't find anyone selling Bell helmets or women's riding pants, but I did find a stall selling extremely durable maps of NYS premarked with interesting bike rides, so I got a couple. Can't wait for warmer weather to try them out!
I need to go catch up on the sleep I missed last night, so ttys. Wish me luck, tomorrow I'm dress shopping with JS.
Happy new years!
*I don't love the wikipedia definition so I'll give you my own. A Shabbaton involves a group of people - a youth group, school group, synagogue group, or a group of friend - spending a Shabbat all together and in a location other than where most of the participants live. Generally this involves either going to a hotel (more common), or to a Synagogue and having members of that Synagogue's community host Shabbaton participants for the weekend. The entire group prays together, takes meals together (usually) and often has some educational programming, especially if it's a youth group or school event.