Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT
A week of silence, awareness, and insight with Rabbi Jay Michaelson, Beth Resnick, Miriam Eisenberger, and Shir Yaakov Feit.
Months later I am still accessing the deep peace I experienced on this retreat. I experienced total rejewvination – the reset button was activated fully!
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. 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
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).
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.
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-intended 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.
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.
We’re happy to have you! Orthodox participants join us every year. Our facilities are certified Kosher by the HKC. Please note that all services, Shabbat included, will be in the Renewal tradition and feature instruments and amplification without a mechitza. Organized Orthodox prayer services are not provided on this particular program. We recognize the importance of religious practice, and encourage you to contact us with questions so that we can discuss expectations and support you as best as possible.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Why a Jewish Meditation Retreat?
by Rabbi Jay Michaelson
Why do mindfulness meditation in a Jewish context?
These days, there are seemingly endless ways to meditate: in secular contexts, like mindfulness-based stress reduction; in a wide variety of Buddhist communities; at yoga classes. So why do Jewish?
It’s not because Jewish meditation practices are better, holier, or more effective than any others. Believe me, I’ve studied them for twenty-five years. There are some uniquely Jewish practices that can be helpful for some people – Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav’s hitbodedut comes to mind – but in fact, Buddhist traditions, coming from a tradition which placed meditation at the center of monastic life for two thousand years, actually tend to be more fully developed than Jewish ones, which don’t. That’s why, at the Hazon Meditation Retreat, we tend to focus on Buddhist-derived meditation practices like mindfulness and open awareness, and blend them with Jewish practices like davening and Shabbat.
But there are a lot of reasons to meditate in a Jewish context, whether you’re Jewish or not. Here are four.
First, there’s a powerful cultural resonance. Whether Judaism is in my genetic DNA or not, it’s definitely in my cultural DNA. Jews have special joys and oys; uniquely beautiful and tragic communal histories (and traumas); particular ways of being in the world; common languages. We don’t all share the same languages and histories, and many of us have been excluded from some of them. But for some of us, the Jewish cultural frame can be deeply comforting, helpful, and conducive to deep spiritual work. As one of our teachers used to reply, when someone would ask “what’s Jewish about this practice”: we are.
Second, the Judaism I choose to practice is a way of being in relationship with that which is beyond my personal concerns and my human, self-centered nature. Judaism gives form to my life and a shared community of meaning with which to shape the sacred moments of life. As a rabbi, I love sharing those with others. Jewish practice has also given me ways to encounter what some call the sacred or holy aspect of human experience. This way of being in the world is accessible all the time, but for reasons quite similar to the teachings of the Buddha, it’s difficult to access, because at almost all waking moments, the mind is busy going somewhere else. As Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav said: “The world is full of light and mysteries both wonderful and awesome, but our tiny little hand shades our eyes and prevents them from seeing.” In this context, meditation is one way to cultivate wonder at and gratitude for being alive – and that I take to be a highly Jewish (and Western) spiritual goal.
Third, when they come home from retreat, many people find that meditation can enhance religious practices that integrate really well into daily life, whether it’s lighting candles on Friday night, or working on one’s ethical conduct, or ‘showing up’ for moments in the life cycle. In Jewish and Kabbalistic traditions, meditation was often used as a preparation for other practices—prayer and Torah study, for example. The quiet mind absorbs sacred text much more readily than the busy mind does, and the presence of mind that comes from mindfulness (not a traditional Jewish form, though certainly a contemporary one) also enables a richer, juicier gratitude for life’s many blessings. That’s why mindfulness has found its way into so many synagogues and services. It makes life juicier.
Finally, at our retreats, we’re not just using Buddhist technologies for Jewish ends. Rather, as Jews have done for thousands of years – consider the bagel, or cantorial music, or our Biblical myths – we are blending, remixing, and transforming elements from diverse traditions. To put it another way, we’re not just sitting quietly in order to have a powerful spiritual experience – although that does often happen. Rather, in the words of my teacher and friend Sylvia Boorstein, “we’re sitting quietly with the intention to notice those characteristics of heart and mind that lead to unhappiness, and those that lead to happiness, and therefore ‘choose life.’ This is not just a groovy way to alter your consciousness, or feel a little bit high or a little bit relaxed, but really to see deeply into the nature of your own character and—whatever language you want to use—the glory of God, or the wonder of creation, or the awesomeness of being alive, and to have that vision transform you into the kindest and most courageous person that you can be for the duration of your lifetime.”
As usual, Sylvia put it perfectly. Whether you have a Jewish religious practice or are purely a ‘bagel-and-lox Jew’; whether you’re Jewish by birth, a Jew by choice, in a multi-faith relationship, or just Jew-curious; whether you love the richness of the Jewish tradition or have often felt excluded from it (or both!), we invite you to join our warm, pluralistic Jewish community of seekers, finders, and contemplatives.
Rabbi Dr. Jay Michaelson is the author of five books, including Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment (North Atlantic, 2013) and Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism (Shambhala, 2009). He has been included on the Forward 50 list of influential American Jews and The Advocate’s list of leading LGBT religious leaders. Dr. Michaelson holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and a B.A. from Columbia, as well as nondenominational rabbinic ordination from Rabbi David Cooper. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at Brown University. Jay has taught contemplative practice at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Omega, Kripalu, and New York Insight, and was designated by Rabbi Cooper to be his successor in his popular Jewish meditation retreats. Jay’s contemplative journey includes twenty years as a student and teacher of Kabbalah and twelve years in the dharma, including several long-term retreats in the United States and Nepal.
Beth Resnick is a spiritual teacher and psychotherapist. She began actively searching for truth and peace of mind in her early teenage years and has been a dedicated student of meditation and contemplative practice since her early 20s. Over the years, Beth has practiced extensively with Rabbi David and Shoshana Cooper, with various teachers at Insight Meditation Society, and with Adyashanti, whom she considers to be her main teacher. She is also a passionate student and practitioner of Hakomi, a mindfulness and somatic-based form of psychotherapy. Beth works primarily with people 1-on-1, both in-person and over Skype, uniquely integrating spiritual practice and deep emotional work. She sincerely believes in our potential, as humans, to heal our emotional wounds, to discover the deepest truth of what we are, and to live from non-division.
Shir Yaakov Feit is a singer, composer, designer, producer, teacher and Aba. He, his partner Emily, and their three daughters live in New York’s Hudson Valley, where they founded the Kol Hai: Hudson Valley Jewish Renewal community. Shir Yaakov has recorded and released four albums of original music and co-founded and performs with The Darshan Project. His song “Broken-hearted” won the Jewish Daily Forward’s 2016 Soundtrack of Our Spirit songwriting contest. Professionally, Shir Yaakov has served as Creative and Music Director for Romemu; Director of Engagement at ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal; ritual consultant for Eden Village Camp; and visiting faculty at Hebrew College and the Academy for Jewish Religion-NY. He is a Wexner Graduate Fellow in the ALEPH Rabbinic Ordination Program. shiryaakov.com
Miriam Eisenberger is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, mindfulness and somatic-based therapist, reiki master, sacred song and Jewish ritual facilitator, meditation instructor, and founder of Mindful Element (mindfulelement.com). Miriam centers on creating and supporting the space for each individual to discover ways to utilize their innate untapped wisdom as an ally in their healing. She facilitates an experiential, relational, somatic, and person-centered experience for those she works with, integrating Somatic Experiencing® techniques, mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems, reiki, and meditation. Miriam has practiced meditation techniques from Buddhist, Jewish, and mindfulness traditions for over 15 years and integrates these varying ancient wisdom teachings into her offerings. She has many years of silent retreat practice, ranging from one week to 2 months in duration, and believes strongly in the power and potential retreats have to significantly deepen one’s practice and right understanding. She has participated as a student of Rabbi David and Shoshana Cooper on their week-long silent Jewish Meditation retreats at Isabella Freedman Center for many years, and began studying directly with Shoshana Cooper in 2013, including engaging in a month of practice under Shoshana’s guidance in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico. She supported the work of and taught at the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn since 2009. She was Director of Mindfulness and Meditation at Because Jewish for 3 years. She is a certified Mindfulness Teacher and teaches to individuals, groups, and organizations around NYC.
Robert Pileggi, MSS, LSW is passionate about expanding awareness, supporting compassionate self-acceptance, and growing confidence with navigating life’s challenges and changes. His approach truly integrates body, mind, heart and spirit. As a Raja Hatha yoga teacher, he has taught classes and retreats for 10 years. As a meditation teacher, he currently facilitates Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses in studies funded by the National Institutes of Health as well as for the public. As a psychotherapist and licensed social worker, he uses mindfulness and humanistic, body-centered approaches of Gestalt therapy working with individuals, couples and groups. As an Interfaith minister, he supports creative self-expression through custom life-cycle ceremonies honoring life’s challenging and poignant moments. Robert’s life has focused on the empowerment of LGBT people. He is currently a full-time psychotherapist for an LGBT health center and over 25 years he has contributed to cutting-edge civil rights equality issues through community organizing and education at local and national levels. His documentary and portrait photography is a form of meditation and education; it has focused on portraying social justice and has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, numerous websites and several books.
Rabbi Phyllis Berman is a Spiritual Director now that she has “retired” from the Riverside Language Program in NYC which she founded, taught at, and directed for more than 36 years. She regularly leads the Shabbat morning Torah service at week-long Jewish meditation retreats at the Elat Chayyim retreats where, for 12 years in Accord, NY, she directed the summer program. She was ordained by ALEPH in 2004 in the first class of Renewal women rabbis and has been a student of Rabbi Shefa Gold, and Rabbi David and Shoshana Cooper and, of blessed memory, Father Charles Curran, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and Rabbi Max Ticktin. She collaborates as teacher, writer, and life-partner with Rabbi Arthur Waskow. Ima and Savta are some of her other favorite names.
3:00-5:00 PM – Arrival & Check-In
5:45-6:45 – Dinner
6:00 – Logistical orientation (at dinner)
7:00 – Opening program and Welcoming of Silence
8:30-9:30 – Walk and Sit
Monday – Thursday, December 24-27
6:00-6:45 AM – Early Sit
6:45 – Wake-up Bells
7:00-8:00 – Yoga or Sit
8:00-8:30 – Breakfast
8:45-10:00 – Musical Prayer Service
10:00-11:00 – Walk/Stretch and Sit
11:00-11:45 – Walk or Group Interviews
12:00-12:45 – Sit with Practice Instructions
12:45-1:30 PM – Lunch
1:45-3:45 – Sit and Walk
3:45-4:30 – Walk or Group Interviews
4:45-5:45 – Yoga or Sit/Contemplation
5:45-6:30 – Dinner and Walk/Stretch
6:30-7:45 – Sit and Walk
7:45-8:45 – Teaching
8:45-9:30 – Walk/Stretch and Sit
Friday, December 28
Follow the weekly schedule from wake-up until 2:30 PM
2:30-3:15 PM – Walk or Group Interviews
3:15-3:45 – Preparation for Shabbat
4:00-5:15 – Candle Lighting and Kabbalat Shabbat
5:30-6:30 – Shabbat Dinner
6:30-7:45 – Sit and Walk
7:45-8:45 – Teaching
8:45-9:30 – Walk/Stretch and Sit
6:00-6:45 AM – Early Sit
6:45 – Wake-up bells
7:15-8:00 – Sit
8:00-8:30 – Breakfast
8:45-11:00 – Musical Prayer Service and Torah Service
11:00-12:30 – Walk and Sit
12:30-1:30 PM – Shabbat Lunch
1:45-3:45 – Sit and Walk
4:00-5:00 – Yoga or Walk & Sit
5:15-5:45 – Havdalah and Kabbalat Dibbur
5:45-6:15 – Sit – Silence Resumes
6:15-7:00 – Dinner and Walk/Stretch
7:00-7:45 – Sit and Walk/Stretch
7:45-8:45 – Teaching
8:45-9:30 – Walk/Stretch and Sit
Sunday, December 30
6:45 AM – Wake-up Bells
7:15-8:00 – Sit
8:00-8:30 – Breakfast
8:30-9:00 – Pack out of rooms
9:00-10:15 – Musical Prayer Service
10:15-10:45 – Walk
10:45AM-12:00PM – Closing Circle
12:00 PM – Lunch
Retreat fees – including lodging and homemade kosher farm-to-table meals – begin at $560 per person.
Donations for teachers will be collected at the conclusion of the retreat.
Online registration is for full credit card payments only. You will receive a confirmation email once you have registered and made a payment online or by phone. If you do not receive the confirmation email within 24 hours of registering, please call us at 860.824.5991 x0.
We strive to make our programs affordable to everyone. Limited scholarships are available, please see the scholarships tab for details.
We strive to make our retreats affordable to everyone.We believe retreats are important experiences to be shared. Inclusiveness is one of our core values. We strive to ensure that our retreats are as financially accessible as possible. The Tamar fund makes that aspiration possible. The Tamar Fund is in loving memory of Tamar Bittelman z’’l.
Please be sure to read the application guidelines in the form below
Arrival & Departure Check-in is from 3 to 5 pm on Sunday, December 23, with dinner at 5:45 pm. Check-in is located in the Main Building — the big red building in the middle of campus. The opening program and Start of Silence will take place immediately after dinner. You must be checked out of your room by 10 am on Sunday, December 30. The retreat will come to an end with after lunch on Sunday. Driving & Parking There are two parking lots: one next to the tennis court by the main entrance, and one by the barnyard on the other end of campus. There is also accessible parking located across from the Main Building. Please do not park on the grass anywhere on campus. Parking in front of guest buildings is not allowed. Train Transportation For those coming from the New York City area, we are conveniently located just half an hour from Wassaic Train Station, the last stop on the Harlem Line of the Metro North. We offer a shuttle service at the following times: You will have the opportunity to reserve the shuttle service when you register. If you have already registered and still need to reserve the shuttle service, please call (860) 824-5991 ext. 0 at least a week before the start date of the retreat to reserve your spot. For more information on getting here, click here. Rideshare Help to reduce the environmental impact of car trips to and from Isabella Freedman by checking out our carpool initiative! Upon registering you will receive a link to a rideshare board. Offering a ride in your car will help reduce carbon emissions, cut down gas costs and make new friends! If you are looking for a ride, adding yourself to the wait list (on the right hand side of the page) is the best way to be notified when movements occur. Kashrut Policy One of our mashgichim (kosher supervisors) must pre-approve all food items that enter the designated dining spaces. If you plan to supplement our delicious, healthy, farm-to-feast meals, your items must be completely sealed in original packaging. Unapproved food and drinks may be enjoyed anywhere on campus besides our dining spaces. Packing List You may want to bring: We provide: If you’re new to Isabella Freedman, check out our Frequently Asked Questions. Tzedakah / Daana for Teachers Please note that registration covers only room and board for this retreat. At the end of the retreat, a request will be made to all participants to contribute additional funds to pay our teachers and cover their travel expenses. The faculty relies solely on these voluntary contributions for payment and to cover expenses.
Driving directions can be found on our website. If using a navigation system, our address is 116 Johnson Rd, Falls Village CT, 06031.
Arrival & Departure
Check-in is from 3 to 5 pm on Sunday, December 23, with dinner at 5:45 pm. Check-in is located in the Main Building — the big red building in the middle of campus. The opening program and Start of Silence will take place immediately after dinner. You must be checked out of your room by 10 am on Sunday, December 30. The retreat will come to an end with after lunch on Sunday.
Driving & Parking
There are two parking lots: one next to the tennis court by the main entrance, and one by the barnyard on the other end of campus. There is also accessible parking located across from the Main Building. Please do not park on the grass anywhere on campus. Parking in front of guest buildings is not allowed.
For those coming from the New York City area, we are conveniently located just half an hour from Wassaic Train Station, the last stop on the Harlem Line of the Metro North. We offer a shuttle service at the following times:
You will have the opportunity to reserve the shuttle service when you register. If you have already registered and still need to reserve the shuttle service, please call (860) 824-5991 ext. 0 at least a week before the start date of the retreat to reserve your spot.
For more information on getting here, click here.
Help to reduce the environmental impact of car trips to and from Isabella Freedman by checking out our carpool initiative! Upon registering you will receive a link to a rideshare board. Offering a ride in your car will help reduce carbon emissions, cut down gas costs and make new friends! If you are looking for a ride, adding yourself to the wait list (on the right hand side of the page) is the best way to be notified when movements occur.
One of our mashgichim (kosher supervisors) must pre-approve all food items that enter the designated dining spaces. If you plan to supplement our delicious, healthy, farm-to-feast meals, your items must be completely sealed in original packaging. Unapproved food and drinks may be enjoyed anywhere on campus besides our dining spaces.
You may want to bring:
If you’re new to Isabella Freedman, check out our Frequently Asked Questions.
Tzedakah / Daana for Teachers
Please note that registration covers only room and board for this retreat. At the end of the retreat, a request will be made to all participants to contribute additional funds to pay our teachers and cover their travel expenses. The faculty relies solely on these voluntary contributions for payment and to cover expenses.