Inside NCSY with Northwest Regional Director Rabbi Stephen Berger

During a week in December, Edmonton was the coldest place in North America and the second chilliest in the world, seeing a record low of -58.4 C with the wind-chill out freezing even the Arctic. But that did not stop a group of 150 Jewish teens from the Pacific Northwest from traveling to Edmonton and its West Edmonton Mall for its winter regional.

Edmonton’s Mega Mall is the biggest in North America and is owned by the Ghermazian family who joined together with the teens to celebrate Shabbat together. There is a hotel, banquet center with a kosher kitchen, and all the activities a teen could want including a sea lion water show and the largest indoor water and amusement parks in the world.

One of the tell-tale signs that this was the right place for NCSY is that every door on the sprawling 6 million square feet shopping center has a mezuzah on it. We felt right at home. The outside may have been (almost) as cold as Siberia but the Shabbat we experienced together was as vibrant and inspirational as any in the Jewish hubs of the world. For the first time in their lives many teens voluntarily turned off and put aside their cell phones to experience Shabbat and the Shabbaton without the distractions of the outside world.