Living In Joy – a Sukkot Retreat
“The whole became greater than the sum of the parts. The singing in both Hebrew and “Broadway” helped to bond us all together..All felt spiritually and personally elevated.”
“The flow was seamless and beautiful…a euphonious mélange of experiences. Very grounded in a sense of movement/dance…ample time for learning and reflection, body and mind.”
“I forgot that Judaism mandates that we be joyful.”
“A joyous learning experience and celebration.”
“I’m so in love with this congregation and the Institute. This retreat series is genius!”
If anyone is wondering how the LSI-WJC inaugural retreat was received, the above comments from participants will answer your questions. It was a resounding success.
Half of the double classroom was transformed into a warm, intimate, joyful sanctuary for singing, praying, and community. LSI posters featuring inspirational “heart” quotes from scripture and Broadway songs were hung. Chairs were arranged in an oval around a rug. Lighting came from lamps placed strategically around the room and the ceiling fluorescents were turned off. Music from one of Rabbi Jonathan’s CD’s filled the room between program activities.
On Friday night, after time for mingling and snacks, Rabbi Jonathan began with a welcome exercise. Each person was asked to tell not just his/her name, but the story behind the name. In that way, we all learned something about each other’s family and history. That made it easy to remember the names of the people and not have to refer to our name tags. After a lovely musical Kabbalat Shabbat service, we enjoyed dinner in the sukkah, the chill in the air warmed by the sense of community and friendship already established. Next Carol Fox Prescott taught us a song titled “Shalom,” from Milk and Honey, the 1961 first Broadway musical with a Jewish theme. We sang that song and others, sang our hearts out with one another, smiled, moved, appreciated. We became a community of joy, eager for the next day.
For the rest of the retreat, people had the option to eat their meals in the sukkah or in the other half of the classroom, which was the room used for dining and text study. After breakfast on Saturday, Rabbi Jonathan conducted a beautiful morning Shabbat service. A wave of joy infused the room as the Torah was carried. Spontaneous singing and dancing erupted throughout the next days. After lunch on Saturday, we enjoyed free time for a walk on the property and/or conversation with our friends, old and new. Text study came next, and we all learned more about joy and the holiday that we were celebrating.
After dinner and Havdalah came the firespinning. Two people danced with fire and the retreat participants described it as a transformative experience of presence. The firespinners must prepare spiritually for this potentially hazardous activity and their undivided attention is crucial to the safety of all. The audience was thrillingly charged with rapt attention and awe. Everyone was in a state of spiritual preparedness from the weekend. After the spinning, a beautifully set bonfire was lit. And everyone’s face was also lit with joy.
On Sunday, Rabbi Jonathan offered a beautiful and unusual teaching on the hidden or not often considered meanings of the Lulav and Etrog. We sang on the way to the Sukkah for the Lulav and Etrog ceremony. Lots of shaking and singing, and a bountiful lunch. Perfect weather for being outside, sunny, warm, and light. At the closing circle, Rabbi Jonathan gave each participant a gift – an engraved polished stone with the word “joy” in Hebrew and English. When we parted, everyone felt happy, joyful, and filled.