This silent meditation retreat is an opportunity to slow down and explore life’s deepest truths in a warm and supportive Jewish environment.
Participants are guided through a daily schedule that includes several hours of sitting and walking meditation, as well as soulful musical prayer (davennen’), supportive group sessions, and optional yoga. These components work together to support body, mind, heart, and spirit, and to create conditions ripe for rest and discovery.
The core meditation practice taught on this retreat is mindfulness, an approach which brings forth the natural capacity to notice experience with kind, non-judgmental presence. Currently heralded in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and medicine for its healing and transformative power, mindfulness originated in the Buddhist tradition and has been practiced for thousands of years. Joining this powerful practice with Jewish ritual, mystical teachings, and inclusive community allows for a dynamic cross-pollination, and a rich and beautiful retreat container.
In the longtime tradition of our teachers Rabbi David and Shoshana Cooper, we supplement this meditation practice with a daily chanting service in the Jewish Renewal tradition, fully egalitarian and accessible to all. The retreat’s Shabbat observance features a soulful Kabbalat Shabbat evening service (with musical accompaniment and amplification) and a Renewal-style Shabbat morning Torah service led by renowned Rabbi Phyllis Berman. Throughout the retreat, participants are invited to explore the sacred in the diverse ways that speak to them.
In the open and inclusive spirit of Jewish Renewal and Elat Chayyim, the teachers of this retreat respectfully welcome people of all types of Jewish observance and none, Jews and non-Jews, those who connect with “God” language and those disillusioned with religion, new and experienced meditators, and a community that is diverse in age, background, and sexual and gender identities. Our teachers are available prior to retreat to answer any questions you may have about whether this opportunity is right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the schedule of the retreat?
Each day includes about eight hours of formal meditation practice (sitting, walking, and yoga) plus group davvenen (Jewish prayer), instructional classes on meditation practice, evening talks, and other sessions. The schedule is based on many years of experience and careful attention to the conditions conducive to developing calm and insight. Many retreatants find it helpful to “surrender” to the schedule, and, in general, we recommend that. However, we’re each responsible for our own retreat and our own well-being. You’ll receive a full schedule on arrival (please arrive Sunday between 2 and 5 pm so you have time to unpack before retreat begins).
Is it really in silence?
Yes! To slow down the mind, build calm and mindfulness, and open the heart, we will be in “friendly” silence from Sunday evening until the following Sunday morning. The practice of silence is an ancient one in many traditions, and it allows the attention to turn inward. Don’t worry; there will be plenty of opportunities to use your voice, such as davvenen and group interviews.
What makes it “friendly” silence?
First, we’re all in this together! Often silence indicates distance – here, it indicates togetherness and shared purpose. It’s a loving silence. Second, retreatants have different approaches to boundaries. Some choose to avoid eye contact; others do not. There’s no need to walk around with downcast eyes, and if you happen to catch someone’s eye or share a smile, that’s just fine. At the same time, we ask that you refrain from trying to communicate with others, even non-verbally. It can be very disruptive to your own practice, to the person with whom you’re communicating, and to other retreatants who will hear or see you.
During sitting meditation sessions, we aim for a rich, deep silence, limiting any sound (sniffling, shifting position, moving around) that could disturb our friends meditating with us. Please put derech eretz (loving consideration) above all; if you’re sniffling or sneezing, there are other areas designated for meditation.
It is possible that you will see someone crying or looking upset and your natural inclination might be to want to help or offer comfort. We ask that you please refrain from these well-intentioned actions and allow each person the space to have her or his own experience. The teachers will be available to give people the support that they need.
How can I communicate with teachers or staff?
There will be two group interviews during the week when you can speak with teachers in a small group setting. For emergencies, there will be a box in the lobby where you can leave notes for staff and teachers. All notes will be read, but most will not be answered, in order to support your inner silence. They should be used for pressing matters only. Please do not leave notes for other retreatants, as this could disturb the other person’s retreat.
Is it ok to check my cell phone, email, Facebook or other social media?
No. We strongly suggest that you do not use your electronic devices while you are on retreat. We’ve found that even brief check-ins create a lot of disturbance in the mind that can make your practice much more difficult. If you must use a mobile device, please so do in a place where other retreatants will not see or hear you, such as your car or away from the retreat buildings. Please give Isabella Freedman’s number to friends and family who might need to reach you in case of emergency. The emergency contact number is (860) 671-8751.
What about reading and journaling?
We generally recommend against reading on retreat. It’s fine to jot a few notes during your retreat, but long journaling is generally not recommended. These activities tend to stir up the mind, and can be unhelpful distractions. If you do choose to engage in some inspirational reading or to journal, we ask that you do so in your room and not in the meditation hall, lobby, or other communal spaces.
Are there any rules for the meditation hall?
From the moment the bell is rung at the start of a sit until it is rung again at the end, there should be no entering or exiting the meditation hall. As you’ll find out, even quiet sounds can be very disturbing. Please arrive a few minutes early for each sit so that you can settle in before the bell rings. If you are even one minute late, you will find the door closed. Do not open it. Instead, please sit somewhere other than the meditation hall. Except in cases of physical or emotional necessity, or if you think that sounds you are making are disturbing others, please do not leave the hall before the ending bell has rung, and if you do leave, do not re-enter.
We ask that you remove your shoes before entering the hall and that you enter quietly and carefully so you don’t disturb other retreatants. It’s fine to bring water into the hall as long as it is in a closed container. Please don’t bring any other food or beverage into the meditation hall.
Please also be aware that sound carries into the meditation hall from the hallway.
What should I do when I’m not meditating?
That is a trick question! You can practice mindfulness from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, until the moment you close them at night. So really, you’re never not meditating. It will help your practice immensely if you regard it as continuous, all the time. No matter what activity you are doing—eating, showering, walking to your room—you can do it mindfully and keep your practice going. Many people find it helpful to walk and move more slowly than normal on retreat. This may look strange at first, but quieting the body quiets the mind. Enjoy!
How should I prepare for retreat?
No special preparation is necessary. It will help your practice if you get plenty of sleep this weekend, and if you’re not doing anything too wild and crazy. Just come with an open mind and generous heart!