Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT
A week of silence, awareness, and insight with Rabbi Jay Michaelson, Beth Resnick-Folk, Eliezer Sobel and Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman.
The teachers are so awesome. Beth’s vulnerability, Jay’s humor, Naomi’s realness. All so sweet and wonderful. I really appreciate them!
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
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!
For the last two decades, Rabbi David Cooper and Shoshana Cooper have been pioneers of this movement. Now, they have passed the leadership of this retreat to their teaching successors, Rabbi Jay Michaelson, Beth Resnick-Folk-Folk, and Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman. Together, they are humbled and grateful to be continuing the “Cooper Retreat” format each winter at Isabella Freedman.
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.
|2:00-5:00 PM||Arrival & Check-In|
|6:00||Logistical orientation (at dinner)|
|7:00||Opening program and Welcoming of Silence|
Monday – Thursday
|6:00-6:45 AM||Early Sit|
|7:00-8:00||Yoga (until 8:00) or Sit (until 7:45)|
|8:45-10:00||Musical Prayer Service|
|11:00-11:45||Walk or Group Interviews|
|12:00-12:45||Sit with Practice Instructions
a. Concentration and insight practice (Jay)
b. Open awareness and insight practice (Beth)
|3:00-3:45||Sit [Monday only: Beth’s class]|
|3:45-4:30||Walk or Group Interviews|
|4:45-5:45||Yoga (until 5:45) or Sit/Contemplation (until 5:30)|
|5:45-6:30||Dinner and Walk/Stretch|
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, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Kiddush|
|6:00-6:45 AM||Early Sit|
|8:45-11:00||Musical Prayer Service and Torah Service|
|12:30-1:30 PM||Shabbat Lunch|
|4:00-5:00||Yoga or Walk (4:00-4:30) & Sit (4:30-5:00)|
|5:15-5:45||Havdalah and Kabbalat Dibbur|
|5:45-6:15||Sit – Silence Resumes|
|6:15-7:00||Dinner and Walk/Stretch|
|6:45 AM||Wake-up Bells|
|8:30-9:00||Pack out of rooms|
|9:00-10:15||Musical Prayer Service|
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.
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.
Tamar Fund Scholarships
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. Read about more about the Tamar Fund, in loving memory of Tamar Bittelman z’’l.
- Scholarships are awarded on a rolling basis and are awarded exclusively for dormitory lodging, camping, and commuting (pending availability).
- Applications must be received at least three weeks in advance of the retreat for which you are applying. Please only register after receiving a response; the scholarship will not be applied retroactively.
- We will respond to Tamar Fund scholarship applications within seven business days of receipt.
- If you are awarded a scholarship, you will have one week to register for the retreat at the reduced rate, after which time the offer will expire.
- A scholarship does not guarantee availability at the time of registration; due to the inherent turnaround time of the application process, we recommend applying as early as possible to secure a spot at the retreat.
- If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 824-5991 x0.
ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE Check-in is from 2 to 5 pm on Sunday, December 24, with dinner at 5:45 pm. 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 31. The retreat will come to an end with after lunch on Sunday. SHUTTLE SERVICE 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: 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.
ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE
Check-in is from 2 to 5 pm on Sunday, December 24, with dinner at 5:45 pm. 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 31. The retreat will come to an end with after lunch on Sunday.
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:
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.
Months later I am still accessing the deep peace I experienced on this retreat. I experienced total rejewvination – the reset button was activated fully!