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Significant news from Isabella Freedman…

From Nigel Savage

March 23rd, 2017 | 25th Adar 5777

Significant news from Isabella Freedman…

Dear All,

How do we maintain balance in the 24/7 news cycle? How do we mediate social media and real life – and does the latter need airquotes (“real life” – as if to say, do we know what real life is, anymore, absent social media?)

And how do we engage and deepen our relationship to Jewish tradition, if so many of its presumptions – about the nature of community, learning, relationship to language, practice – seem so far apart from so many of the rhythms of contemporary life?

That’s the backdrop to Isabella Freedman. What does it mean that it is a “Jewish Retreat Center?”

I no longer know when first I went there, but it was some time in the 1990s. I was there when Michal Smart was running it, and then Avital Rech; and maybe I was there when Eric Robbins was running it, though I don’t now remember.

As an English Jewish guy, based at that time in Israel, I found it to be a remarkable place. The rhythms of it. The people wandering around. The Jewish relaxedness of it. The clear sense of Jewish time. The sense of being in New England – the trees, the frozen lake in the winter, a riot of fall foliage 8 months later – sat so easily with frum kids running around with their tzitzit out, a queer couple walking along hand-in-hand, an egal minyan dancing with the Torah.

As a community we have several thousand synagogues, a few hundred camps, more than a hundred JCCs. But Jewish retreat centers remain rare. A Jewish retreat center with – for instance – a working educational farm, and Jewish farmers, and goats and chickens, and environmental education for middle school kids – very very rare indeed.

So Freedman is unique, and those of you who have spent time there have some sense of that.

For us, as an organization – for me, for many of our staff and board members and stakeholders – that sense of the vitality of Freedman is easy to know, just as it is sometimes easy to forget or to take for granted. The hard questions are: how do we renew this place? How do we push back the ravages of our New England winters on our long-suffering buildings? How do we invest in staff, strengthen systems, become the flagship for kosher farm to table retreat dining, add or subtract programs?

I’m happy to report that we’re now a solid year into what we intend will be a multi-year process of renewal and rebuilding at Isabella Freedman.

Here are a few headlines (and keep reading, because I’m saving one of the biggest for last):

  • We launched an Isabella Freedman Task Force, chaired by Marina Lewin. It’s a strong group, and it’s been digging into issues of organizational sustainability at Freedman. Between now and 2020 we’re aiming to add roughly a million dollars a year to overall revenues, both from earned income and philanthropic donations;
  • That led to a master planning process, which will begin this spring, and which will audit the entire campus and map out the sequence of rebuilding that we’ll need to plan and execute;
  • The rebuilding process is about to begin. We have a lead gift to rebuild Daisy guest house, and a board member who has made a significant matching gift in order to spur people to support our ongoing building needs. We’ll announce details of that in the near future;
  • Meanwhile, we had a good year in 2016: the number of guests and overall performance quality increased, including evaluation feedback. I’ve been gratified, personally, at the number of returning guests who have commented to me on their clear sense of new energy on campus, new fittings, things tidier. That reflects changes we’ve made that we’re only now announcing – upgrades to bedrooms, improved linens, new artwork, new window treatments. Thanks to a significant donation, we’re about to put new Leesa mattresses into our bedrooms – by the end of next year we hope to have new beds in every room. We’ve created new menus, strengthened our food sourcing and upgraded the cutlery and crockery in the dining room. The bookstore has been reorganized – onsite and online – and we have (this is a mixed blessing, in my view) faster and more widespread Wi-Fi;
  • In 2016 we gave away well over $100,000 in scholarships to a wide range of retreat participants. One of our most critical needs is to raise scholarship gifts going forwards. If you’d like to support scholarships at Isabella Freedman, please click here to make a donation, and let us know that it’s for the Tamar Fund, which provides scholarship support;

I’m delighted to share with you all that one of our newest pieces of news is that we’ve promoted Adam Segulah Sher to be the new General Manager of Isabella Freedman.

Many of you know him and have watched him grow and thrive at Isabella Freedman since he first arrived in May 2007. Since then he’s been – inter alia – summer intern; porter; pot washer; sous chef; retreat coordinator; program manager; director of the Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality; Director of Transformative Experiences; and most recently Managing Director of Retreats. Along the way he met his wife, got married, and had a baby.

As GM, Adam will have overall responsibility for welcoming our guests, delivering our programs, nurturing our staff, strengthening our campus, and helping to raise the revenues that we need to be a strong institution. The job is a big one, and Adam is uniquely equipped to fill it. I hope you will join me not only in congratulating Adam and wishing him well but also in supporting our ambitions for Isabella Freedman under his leadership in ways large and small.

As a one-off thank you and welcome to Adam, we’re offering you our largest one-off discount this year: $77 off of any 2017 Isabella Freedman retreat that you register for between now and midnight on Sunday, April 9th (the night before Pesach). Here is a list of eligible retreats. Use discount code ADAM77 when you register.

If you or your organization want to bring your own retreat to Isabella Freedman, speak to Eli Massel – if you are coming to Isabella Freedman for the first time anytime between now and the end of 2017, and book that retreat by April 9th, we’ll give you a $777 discount.

Finally, in other news:

If you’re in San Diego, join us on Sunday, April 2nd for the first Hazon Ride in San Diego. We will launch from Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas on a day-long, fully-supported ride through the coastal beaches and inland paved trails, culminating in a group lunch and celebration at the farm, including an interactive marketplace of local, sustainable vendors.

Our Pesach retreat is almost sold out, but we still have room left for Shabbat and the last few days, April 14 – 19. If you’re planning to have seders at home, please consider joining us for the end of the holiday. Pesach at Isabella Freedman is truly a singular experience.

Join Hazon and other Jewish communities as we celebrate a week of action for the Earth – from the Shabbat of Earth Day (April 22) to the People’s Climate Mobilization on the following Shabbat (April 29). As we make our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from freedom to responsibility, we’ll be asking our legislators to confront the challenges of climate change – and create a world with good jobs, clean air, and safe communities for all.

Shabbat shalom,

Nigel