by Rabbi David J. Cooper
I find myself thinking about the many Kehilla annual retreats we have had these last 33 years. It’s on my mind as I will be attending the retreat for the first time in my new emeritus status at the upcoming annual on July 14-16.
I remember the sensation I had on the Saturday morning of the very first retreat as I walked through the camp. I remember how it was there that I felt for the first time that Kehilla really was a community. We were removed from the city streets; we were out in nature; we were watching children and teens running about happy in each other’s presence. The grown-ups were drinking coffee and commiserating over their lack of sleep, and what was so delicious to me was seeing people discovering each other’s stories — who they were, what they did, what they loved.
Before that, we who were organizing this shul, shared a vision that was inspired by Rabbi Burt to have something called a “community synagogue.” But it wasn’t till that bleary-eyed moment that I experienced this group of people as an actual living community.
And that feeling persists within me today, and especially so at each and every retreat (and I haven’t missed one yet).
It’s one thing to see each other at religious events, at the school, at adult classes or at a meeting here and there. But it is very different to spend a day together most of which is designed to yes, simply be within each other’s company, to hang out and do fun stuff together. And so, we make new friends out of folks who were just acquaintances. And new members get to feel themselves part of this warm and creative community. And the feeling is enhanced a bit if you can actually camp there overnight — but you’ll still get the same feeling whether you camp or not.
Magic happens and also the unexpected. Last year it was all the teens and tweens who kept us entertained with their memorized command of the entire libretto from Hamilton. 26 years ago, I watched my five year-old daughter teach her one year-old brother to walk at the retreat. And I know that several committed relationships began at a Kehilla retreat.
I love the Saturday morning service too. We turn a grove of trees into a space to sing, dance and worship together which always reminds me that in the biblical stories of Abraham, he lived and also worshipped in a grove called Mamre. We create a shul in nature and fill the trees with our singing and drumming. I especially like the Mi Chamocha dance where we are not confined by any walls as we gambol in the field. I’ve seen some people chant from the Torah for the first time under those trees. This year, one of our b’not mitzvah from last year will take a return visit to the same parasha from which she chanted at her service. That’s never happened before.
But there is so much more. We used to have “workshops,” but now we have properly renamed them “play shops.” And there is no requirement to do any of this, you can sit in the shade and schmooze or snooze.
The loosely named “Talent Show” is good for both laughs and inspiration. Who would have known the intricate things that our cantor can do with her toes as we cheer for “Shulafeet”? Or gotten to see children who exhibit skills most of us were unaware that they possessed.
I just love the retreat. I camp whenever I can. I spend time with people and I spend time alone. I sing, I dance, I schmooze, I meditate, and I just plain exist in a really lovely community where all I really have to do is be me. This is what Shabbat is really all about.
If you’ve been at a retreat before, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been to one before, this what you’ve been missing. Don’t miss it. [Learn more about the retreat and register here.]