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The power of retreat

Shana tova – happy new year.

I was in shul and I was wondering: if a social psychologist could somehow track the behavior of all the Jewish people in the world, relative to a/ our own behavior the rest of the year and b/ everyone else’s behavior this week, would there be some statistically significant measure of our somehow being better? Kinder, more thoughtful, more generous?

I hope that would be the case. I do actually believe that that is the case. If the steady drip, drip of a religious tradition doesn’t make us better people then it’s not in either sense of the word a good religion – not morally good, not practically useful.

Before Rosh Hashanah, I sent out the recent Andrew Sullivan essay on the need to step back from technology. If you haven’t read it, it’s really worth reading. If not before, print it out for the afternoon of Yom Kippur. But I also wanted to share the journal published ten years ago by Michael Steinhardt’s foundation on “The Power & Potential of Jewish Retreats.” The essays make interesting reading after a decade’s reflection. The power of retreats has, if anything, increased, as day-to-day life becomes more fully 24/7. If you’re observant and you really switch off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur then you place yourself outside of the world of social media. But most people, most of the time – we have no boundaries. Anecdotally there seems a sense that Jewish people are over-represented at Buddhist meditation retreats, over-represented in spas, over-represented (certainly the Israelis amongst us) in parts of India and the far east. But we haven’t fully languaged for ourselves why it is so critical to step back from day-to-day life, as a Jewish community. And because we haven’t fully languaged why this is so important, we have not moved on from why to how and when and where and what shall we do?

If your shul doesn’t do an annual retreat – you should think about doing one. It’s an important way to strengthen relationships within the community; to weave older and newer people together; to enable families to celebrate together; to learn more richly; to daven with a different energy. The same is true, in a very different way, for staff groups within the Jewish community. Jewish tradition comes alive outdoors. Relationships are renewed. Meals are shared. The richness and texture of the Jewish calendar comes alive.

Hazon is delivering more than 25.000 person-days a year of immersive retreats, and yet we feel that we have barely begun to scratch what is possible and needed in Jewish life. If you’re interested in joining us for a public retreat, click here. If you’d like to bring your community to Isabella Freedman, speak to Elisheva Massel, our Director of Outreach, elisheva.massel@hazon.org. But even if you’re not near Freedman, you should think this year about going to a retreat – go to Pearlstone, go to Ramah Darom, go to Tawonga, go to Capital Camps, go to Tamarack. Try a different kind of Israel trip. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a good start, in their own way. But the taste they give us is only partial. We need to refresh and renew ourselves, regularly, if we are also to step forward, in this glorious complicated beautiful world.

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