An Additional Soul: Family and Fun at the Reach for Shabbat Family Retreat

Circles began to form around nine different havdalah candles in the glass-walled sanctuary. As new and old friends gathered together around each candle, marking the separation of our beautiful Shabbat from the rest of the week, I could already see the impact of spending these past 25 hours together. This havdalah marked the end of a weekend in which more than 140 members of the BJ Hebrew School engaged in much-needed rest, prayer, games, hiking and family bonding at the Reach for Shabbat Retreat at the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center.

The weekend got underway Friday evening with the lighting of dozens of Shabbat candles at sundown. After a lovely Kabbalat Shabbat service, some families took advantage of a guided, moonlit walk around the lake. The 6th graders also had the first of three learnings about B’nai Mitzvah, during which parents and children shared their hopes and fears about their upcoming journey.

Many families began Shabbat morning with an inspiring hike that allowed us to pause and witness nature’s beauty before returning to camp for an equally invigorating morning service led by Rabbinic Fellow Bryan Wexler. Families generously prepared kavannot before the start of the retreat that they shared during the service and throughout the weekend, enriching everyone’s experience by imparting a piece of their own Torah.

After lunch, the games began. Children went on a wild scavenger hunt over the grounds, and then split into groups for exploration of the Torah portion that involved everything from blessing the beauty of nature to destroying two false idols. The 6th graders also enjoyed a moving moment in which they received a special blessing related to their own Torah portion. When asked what he thought of the final 6th grade program, Zachary Cohn stated, “It was a beautiful, meaningful experience.”

Meanwhile, parents spent time together in the synagogue, pairing Rabbi Felicia’s learning with an assortment of wines. Outside, the children competed in Maccabiah, ending the games with a very loud and spirited cheer-off. Everyone regrouped for Havdalah as we ushered out Shabbat with singing and reflection. As the candles were extinguished, Matan Marder Friedgood of Kitah Hey described himself as “fantastically happy” and said that he and his mother “had shared a second soul this weekend,” referencing the teaching in our tradition that we are given an extra soul on Shabbat to more fully experience and appreciate our weekly day of rest and reflection.

No retreat is complete without a talent show. There was singing, dancing, musical and comedy acts, and a costume parade through the Great Hall. Afterwards at the campfire, as 10-year-old Eliza Bromberger stood in line for her sixth marshmallow, she declared, “This weekend was a lot of fun!”

Lekh Lekha, the weekly parashah (Torah portion) read during the retreat, is about journeys and finding one’s way. To close the retreat on Sunday, each participant identified something they would take with them from the retreat. We recorded those ideas on footprints, which are now posted in the 89th Street Community House. These footprints signify that the beauty of the retreat doesn’t have to end when we go home. There are many ways to incorporate meeting new friends, the opportunity to be outdoors, feeling connected to family and the BJ community, and the restfulness of disconnecting from the outside world as we continue on our way.

The power of immersing in the Reach for Shabbat Retreat is the best of Jewish experiential education. It energized our children and parents, allowed educators and families to connect in new ways, and provided a launch pad for further learning and engagement in the year ahead. We look forward to continuing this sense of fun, bonding and shared souls throughout 5775.