Women’s Shabbat Retreat had something for everyone

BY LORIE RAILEANU

There were 88 of us in all, coming together to celebrate our Judaism, our womanhood, and our friendships at the third annual Women’s Shabbat Retreat sponsored by the Jewish Community Center. The gathering took place Feb. 9-10, after months of planning and preparation by committee chairs Sara Winkleman, Joy Fisher, and Mimi Pultman. Other committee members included Lynn Palan, and Margie Hartman.

For some, the Shabbat Retreat has become an annual pilgrimage, a time to escape their ordinary rituals with friends seeking the same refuge. Elise Krug has gone for three years in a row.

“It’s my time to get away and focus on me. I look forward to this weekend with friends … without responsibilities, kids, or husbands … just us girls … and the programming is great!”

For Debbie Eidelman, “the experience is something she looks forward to from the moment Havdalah is over until the following year.” She and her same group of girlfriends come together for an overnight experience that reminds them of how important they are to each other, no matter their different backgrounds or religious beliefs. “For 24 hours, we are all one; learning more about life, women, love and how important it is to continue to learn about our role as Jewish women.”

Others came for the spirituality. Chazzan Joanna Dulkin led services both Friday night and Saturday morning. Attendees were sent a CD with Chazzan Dulkin’s melodies along with their registration materials beforehand so they could familiarize themselves with tunes she planned on introducing. “As a member of CRC, I rarely have the chance to attend services at other congregations,” said Karen Sher. “This was my first time hearing Joanna and I was moved by her voice and touched by the unique melodies she brought to prayers I’ve only heard sung with traditional tunes. Being exposed to other traditions opened my eyes.”

Friday night, Yavilah McCoy, founder of the Ayecha Resource Organization, led a memorable discussion on the “Magic of Shabbat” and helped us to become more in tune with what our own “Shabbat” means to us. We closed our eyes, linked arms and recited “Shabbat Shalom” soulfully, with a gospel rhythm and a feeling of camaraderie and sisterhood. “We all shared a beautiful moment together,” observed Kim Factor, who came in from Fort Worth, Texas. It is amazing that a phrase as simple as “Shabbat Shalom” can elicit such a touching response even after saying it week after week and year after year.

There seemed to be a little something for everyone. For those celebrating the women in their lives, Ronit Sherwin, executive director of Nishmah, led a session on “Sanctifying Friendship.” For those who wanted to just relax or try something new, a Torah Yoga class, led by Maxine Mierowitz, was just what the doctor ordered. Learning about the light within each of us — the light that binds us as Jewish women — infused in us since the first day of creation (Genesis 1:3) made the session spiritual.

Karen Aroesty, the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, led workshops on anti-Semitism, going through an exercise where participants literally stood on one side of the room or the other (one side of an issue or another). “The workshop made me think about where I stand today versus where I stood 25 years ago,” said Margie Hartman. We had to respond to statements like: “I have close friends from many different races and religions” (strongly agree or strongly disagree?). That statement was true for many of us in college and when we were in our 20s. However, now that we have children of our own, it seems our social circle revolves mainly around day school, synagogue, camp, and the JCC. Not a lot of diversity there. It made us think.”

While we were discussing where we stood on issues of prejudice, others were learning about Jewish poetry, Tai Chi, and how to identify their personality styles. Still others expressed their gratitude for Shabbat in another way: through arts and crafts. A small group led by Marlene Sachs hand-painted challah trays to bring back to their own homes to use on Shabbat. And, although Marlene herself admitted to needing some “gentle prodding” to sign up as a participant and group leader for this year’s retreat, she says she’s now “addicted and can’t wait until next year.”

Lorie Raileanu was a particpant in this year’s Women’s Shabbat Retreat.

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