“The questioning allows us to dig deep into the Torah portion and make the aliyot personal. Excellent strategy to include everyone.”

— Lay retreat participant Winter 2012

Retreats as Spiritual Practice

bench by river

Sacred Community: Retreat for the Sake of Greater Engagement

We have founded our program on retreat practice because retreats are effective in creating alternative cultures in the competitive, overly busy world we inhabit. Retreats are the context in which to acquire and establish contemplative spiritual practices. We believe that retreats – as a mini-sabbatical, as a time for renewal – support the development of a spiritual openness and trust necessary for the revival of our synagogues and institutions. Retreats provide the framework in which we can present, experience and learn to model spiritual community.

A core element of our retreat practice is developing mindful awareness. Mindfulness practice supports us in the creation of spiritual community as much as it is supported by it. Spiritual community depends primarily upon safety and honesty. If we seek to bring our whole beings, honestly and fully, to consciousness then we need to know that it is safe to do so. We will feel more confident and willing to do so when we sense we are where we can let down and not be hurt, where we can say what we really think without being in danger of losing something of value. We will want to know if this is a place where we can be accepted for who we are and who we are becoming.

Safety is a gift to spiritual leaders who do not have a safe spiritual community for themselves because their spiritual communities are also their workplaces. They need a safe place where their souls can open. The mindfulness practice, the silence and all the intertwining practices construct this sacred safety. From within this experience, Jewish leaders then can inspire and lead their own communities in directions that are in alignment with the spiritual principles they have experienced and embodied at the Institute.

The Institute’s core programs are retreat-based, in part because we believe that the participants benefit from time away from work to develop their skills as leaders. To help spiritual communities emerge in their institutions, Jewish leaders must first experience them in their own lives. The retreat format fosters a community of seekers. Based on mutual trust and respect in the context of sacred fellowship, these leaders find the safety to once again connect with their deepest selves. They gain the courage to see themselves honestly, without fear of losing face or power. Held in loving companionship, these leaders rekindle their passionate devotion to God and Israel. The Institute invites leaders to enter into a new form of relationship, to participate in creating a safe, supportive, nonjudgmental and welcoming community, opening the way to a deepened spirituality.

Having renewed their core of inner spiritual strength, participants see more clearly where the qualities of heart and head, that make for sacred community, are missing at home. They carry with them greater wisdom and more refined skills to help make their home communities places of safety and support for their members, as well as welcoming venues for those seeking to deepen their Jewish spiritual lives. We view retreat practice as a form of sacred pilgrimage, where participants confront themselves in the company of others, rekindle commitments and return with greater wisdom. Participation in retreats helps participants refine skills and sustain energies toward transforming Jewish life.