Retreats have always been a part of my life – whether it is a formal, structured event or a simple private escape. When I think of retreat, I think of a getaway to a secluded place for inner contemplation, rest and inspiration for change. It may be a chance to reconnect with something I haven’t had time for, or a kick start for making a change to a personal life habit or, perhaps, merely an opportunity for relaxation. A retreat is an occasion for complete focus and can be as simple as a walk in the woods.
From yoga to Native American sweat lodges (used for purification), from juice fasts (for detoxification) to silent meditation, from writing workshops to self-empowerment – one can find a retreat for, basically, anything.
And did you know there are retreat centers dedicated specifically to Jewish growth and development? A place to go where you can better yourself, explore tradition and connect on a deeper level – all with a Jewish twist.
In Falls Village, Connecticut, you will find the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. It opened in 1893 as the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society, offering Jewish working women an opportunity for an affordable vacation. Today, it is a retreat center providing programs that inspire a passion for Judaism, connect participants to a greater community and assists with the development of leadership strengths and values. Isabella Freedman offers educational programs incorporating, both, spirituality and environmental issues.
The Teva Learning Center is one component at Isabella Freedman. This program is geared toward school-aged children and explores environmental issues through a Jewish perspective. The Freedman center also has a program called ADAMAH. This is a Jewish Environmental Leadership Fellowship for young adults. For 3 months, participants experience organic farming, sustainable living (using resources that will not be exhausted with use) and Judaism through learning and spirituality.
Until 2006, Elat Chayyim was located in upstate New York. Since merging with the Isabella Freedman Center, you can now experience the spiritual programs of Elat Chayyim in Connecticut. Elat Chayyim was founded by Rabbi Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz as a project for ALEPH (Alliance for Jewish Renewal). Instructors offer workshops on yoga, meditation, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), parenting and much more. There are also program experiences geared toward the entire family. Elat Chayyim offers the curious Jew many avenues for exploration and growth.
The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (an educational arm of the Chabad Lubavitch movement) is an adult learning institute offering courses in over 250 cities around the world. For the last three years, their annual retreat - The National Jewish Retreat, has been offered in varying cities in the southwest United States. Sessions are led by leaders and teachers of Chabad Lubavitch and cover unique topics including understanding family members who are becoming more observant, technology in the Messianic era, communication & listening, marriage, Shabbat, and balancing Judaism’s ancient rituals in today’s modern society. While the National Jewish Retreat occurs on an annual basis, there are courses and programs throughout the year.
Located in Berkeley, California, Chochmat HaLev (Wisdom of the Heart) reaches out to individuals no matter where they are in their Jewish exploration. The mission of Chochmat HaLev is to provide inspiration while making every individual feel at home. It is a synagogue that was founded in 1995 by Rabbi Avram Davis. It is also an academy for Jewish learning and a center of Jewish meditation. Throughout the week, you will find meditation programs – either as part of a daily service or as a day retreat - and various classes covering topics on the mikvah (ritual bath), drumming or meditation as it relates to Judaism, and High Holiday preparation.
The mission of Gateways is to help any Jew “unlock the treasure of their heritage”. Reaching out to Jewish people who are just dipping their feet into Judaism as well as those on a traditional path, Gateways offers a variety of retreats all over the United States. Founded by Rabbi Mordechai Suchard, Gateways has specific retreats geared toward every Jewish individual. There is a retreat for the unaffiliated Jew who feels like a blank slate and one for the young professional looking to enhance his or her Jewish identity and leadership skills. There is even a retreat designed specifically for individuals from the intergenerational Russian speaking American Jewish community. Ongoing lecture topics include but are not limited to: prayer as an aid to therapy, the psychology of atheism, and a series on parenting.
Bais Chana International is a non-profit agency in New York City offering “Jewish women of all ages immersion into Jewish life and learning.” Founded in 1971 with inspiration from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Bais Chana reaches out to women with little or no background in Jewish tradition. Specific sessions are offered to teenage girls, college students and women and couples across the United States and in Israel. Their website flashes with invitations reading “everyone has a question” and “uncover your Jewish soul”. The daily schedule may include morning prayers – on several different levels, a question session, the spiritual meaning behind the AlephBet (Hebrew alphabet), Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) and the path to personal refinement, and Chasidic insights into the weekly Torah portion.
Being able to set aside time for Jewish study can be life-transforming, enriching and a time filled with extraordinary moments. If you are able to commit to a class once a week, there are many local options at synagogues, bureaus for Jewish education or local Jewish community centers. You may also choose to gather a group of friends and begin your own learning or personal development circle. However, if you have some vacation time coming up or are in need of a getaway, a retreat with a Jewish twist can be a valuable way to spend your time!
I discovered these retreat centers from an internet search or knew about them from previous experiences with them.