The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, now a part of Hazon, was originally incorporated in 1897 as the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society.
In 1956, the agency moved to its current home in Falls Village, CT, and began serving senior adults within the Jewish community. Camp Freedman has been offering programs for Jewish senior adults every summer since then.
In the early 1990s Isabella Freedman opened its doors year-round, and it became the primary retreat center for the Jewish communities of New York and New England. Each year, over 30 Jewish organizations spanning the denominational spectrum hold retreats at what is now called the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.
In 1994, Isabella Freedman partnered with Surprise lake Camp to develop the Teva Learning Center as an innovative experiential learning program for Jewish elementary school students that integrates ecology, Jewish spirituality, and environmental activism. Every fall, over 900 students from Jewish day schools throughout New England come to Isabella Freedman to attend Teva’s four-day educational programs.
Building on its experience with the Teva Learning Center, in the spring of 2003, Isabella Freedman developed a new program called Adamah. Adamah is a leadership training program for young Jewish adults that teaches the vital connection between Jewish tradition and environmental stewardship. Through a three-month residential program, Adamah Fellows live communally and engage in a hands-on curriculum that integrates organic agriculture and sustainable living skills, Jewish learning and living, leadership development, and community building. The program strengthens participants’ Jewish identities and their commitment to tikkun olam through immersion in an ecologically sustainable, spiritually vibrant, and intergenerationally-connected Jewish community while exposing countless others to a traditionally-rooted yet entirely new way of Jewish living.
In the fall of 2006, the Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center of Accord, New York merged with Isabella Freedman. For fifteen years, Elat Chayyim transformed contemporary Jewish life with retreat programs that integrated Jewish learning, spirituality, and culture. Elat Chayyim’s mission infuses our work here at Isabella Freedman by opening doors to Jewish spiritual practice. The Elat Chayyim spirit in our retreats promotes practices that draw on the wisdom of Jewish tradition and reflect the values and consciousness of the world we live in today. Our Mechon Elat Chayyim offers unique two-year Training Institutes to deepen students’ awareness, spirituality, and leadership in various aspects of Jewish life.
In 2004 Hazon launched its New York Jewish Environmental Bike Ride from Isabella Freedman–the first of many of our annual fundraising bike rides to be held at Isabella Freedman. Eight years later Isabella Freedman announced its planned merger with Hazon, and in 2014 the merger was completed. Adamah, Elat Chayyim, and the Teva Learning Center, all based at Isabella Freedman, also merged with Hazon in 2014.
The history of Isabella Freedman is thus a history of evolution and re-imagination. The needs of both the Jewish community and the wider world have evolved and changed since our founding—and so have we. Yet our consistent commitment to and focus on transformative experiences, thought-leadership, and capacity-building form the common threads between Isabella Freedman then and Isabella Freedman now, even if these specific terms may be fairly recent. For over fifty years and counting, Isabella Freedman has been a place of rest, regeneration, and renewal where breathtaking natural scenery and a loving communal spirit create the perfect backdrop for individuals and institutions of all backgrounds to congregate, celebrate, and draw upon the Jewish tradition together.