When our marketing director triumphantly announced that he had gotten an order from a yeshiva in Jerusalem, for 70 18-year olds to spend a shabbat in our hostel, we were filled with trepidation. Our hostel is located in the heart of our community - a community that while it defines itself as Conservative, is surely closer to Reform in terms of the practice and beliefs of the residents. The opportunities for conflict were too many to imagine. We made sure that the teacher who was our contact at the yeshiva knew exactly what they were getting into; they were undaunted.
We carefully reviewed the menu with our mashgiach, especially the plan for what would be heated, how and when. Although we are always shomer shabbat in the kitchen, one tends to be more careful about the details when one knows that the guests are particularly strict in their observance. Indeed the yeshiva asked that the mashgiach stay for shabbat (which no group has ever requested here before), and we were happy to have him, to make sure no mistakes were made.
And so, they arrived, 70 guys from a religious Zionist yeshiva, wearing crocheted kipot in every shade but black (meaning they are Zionists, not ultra-orthodox), sunburned and sweaty from a day at the Kinneret. Lots of young male energy that was about to be sublimated into about 30 hours of enthusiastic praying and singing. This was a graduation trip, as these kids are now finishing yeshiva high school and will soon go off to the army. They charged up the hill to the rooms while I prayed that my repairs to the water line the day before would hold up through all their showers. It did, and soon they were all ready for shabbat, in white shirts, black trousers, and sandals.
No sooner had I gotten home to make my own shabbat preparations when the phone rang: a neighbor had seen some of the boys trying to block the moshav gate, and was threatening to call the police unless we did something about it. When I arrived at the gate four of the boys were hanging around, having moved an oil drum and some other junk onto the shoulders of the road between the gateposts. It seems that they were not satisfied with the way the eruv wire was strung on the poles across the gate, and wanted to narrow the opening from 6 meters to 5 - for if the opening is 5 meters or less, no wire is needed. I explained to them that the regional rabbi had approved the eruv, and I had double checked with him yesterday (which is true); they remained skeptical, but decided to let it go.
They did a lot of singing, and even a bit of dancing, throughout their shabbat, providing some competition to the amplified music from the Arab wedding across the valley None of the neighbors complained. After Friday night dinner they sang with gusto for a long time, and then struggled for half an hour to keep their heads up and their eyes open as their rabbi gave his words of Torah. Saturday night they packed up and then met for a melava malka, singing and dancing until almost midnight before boarding their buses for the three hour drive to Jerusalem.
We of course arranged a separate room for their services, and lent them one of our sifrei Torah. But every once in a while during our Shabbat morning bat mitzvah service, a few of them wandered in and stood in the entrance, gaping, then quietly disappeared. One neighbor said she was afraid they were plotting some kind of disturbance. I had seen enough of them to know that that worry was unfounded, to say the least.
The only comments we got, from the rabbi and his wife and from almost every one of the kids, were thank you for a wonderful shabbat, delicious food, beautiful place, so peaceful, and the like. And when they left, we found their rooms (which had been quite crowded) left as neat and clean as if they hadnt been occupied.