Nominated and written by Shane Skinner
What can I say about Ari Shabat?
Ari is a kind, gentle soul. But don’t let that fool you. His wicked sense of humor is legendary. I remember that was the first thing that caught my attention about him. I was one of the “problem children” that always skipped out on organized events and gave programs the slip on Shabbat. My very first convention, Ari spotted me and a few of my friends talking in a side room. He came up to us, nonchalantly — and of course, we all thought we were busted. Not with Ari. He sat down with us, crossed his legs, and joined right in on our conversation. Originally, I thought there was no way this could be fun — but I would be lying to say anything other than this man was pure gold! He was hilarious; he was compassionate and he knew what he was talking about! After a few minutes of just pure fun talk, he began to add a bit of that good Torah flavor to the conversation, which only he can provide. I’ve never seen a man grab the attention of a group of, shall I say, more rebellious teens so successfully. I have never wanted so badly to hear what someone had to say about religious interpretation than when he volunteered an opinion.
From that point on Ari became my guru, of sorts. When I would be asked if I was coming to certain conventions, I would ask if Ari would be there. If he was, that was the tipping point of “alright, now if I have to go.” He and I would talk at length about life, about Torah, and about the future. One such time was the tail end of my junior year of high school. I did not know what I was going to do with my summer. By then, Ari and I were—dare I presume the honor—good friends, and I trusted his word implicitly. I had a fear of going to Israel all my life and Ari helped me overcome it. Ari single handedly made me realize I had nothing to fear. He encouraged me to go on TJJ that summer. I signed up the day I got home from that convention, and thanks to Ari’s advice and reassurance, I had the best summer of my life.
Over the course of our friendship, Ari did more for me than I could ever name. He invited me to his home for Shabbat, and I had a better time than I can remember having at any other Shabbat — even at an NCSY Shabbaton. We met a few times for lunch or the odd learning session over the phone or Skype. Most importantly, Ari was always there for me. He still is, even though we don’t have as much contact now as we used to. I know I can trust him with anything and everything I have to say, and that he will give me good and honest advice. His compassion is boundless, and he is one of the most kind-hearted men I have been blessed with the good fortune to meet. In short, Ari Shabat is truly the big brother I never had — and I could not possibly ask for a better role model.