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Executively Speaking: A Meaningful Weekend

by: Michael Saxe-Taller

I love retreats and I really loved our second bi-annual Community Building Retreat for Kehilla Leaders. Over the weekend of February 2-4, 2018, 71 Kehilla leaders spent a meaningful three days (actually 44 hours) together at Walker Creek Ranch in west Marin County.

Our contingent included Kehilla staff, board members, committee chairs, spiritual leaders, musical prayer leaders, and others who are investing time and energy in sustaining and growing our community. We also included some newer folks who have begun to step into leadership, and that included people who bring more demographic diversity to our leadership, such as young adults, people of color, and people with school-age children.

Our ten-person planning team worked hard to create an environment that allowed us to strengthen relationships and connections amongst ourselves and build the core strength of the congregation, bringing people from Kehilla’s many different centers of energy into conversation. The program of the weekend was centered around full group sessions in which we explored our shared narrative, how we maintain Kehilla’s values and unique identity as we continue to grow, how do we respond to the current political moment, and how do each of us contribute to our collective strength. We also had plenty of time to schmooze, pray, play and eat together.

No decisions were made at this retreat – our work was the generative work of making connections, developing vision and exploring possibilities. The planning team is in the process of putting together the notes from the group exercises and will be sharing them with the whole congregation in the near future.

There was more that happened at the retreat than I can include in one article, but I will share a few of my specific thoughts and observations from our weekend together.

Kehilla is blessed to have an incredible number of people taking responsibility for the well-being of the congregation and there were plenty more people who were not there but could have been. We had 71 people in attendance (and were supposed to have more than 80 until we lost a bunch to the flu and other maladies).  And our leadership continues to grow and to diversify. The crew at this year’s retreat include more racial, class and age diversity then the previous leaders retreat, including folks aged 23 to 83.

We learned a lot about accessibility. We had done work in preparation for the retreat to make the site and the program accessible to all, including set up of an accessibility team to support those with access needs. But we had the opportunity to learn more as we had to make changes on the fly to make sure that all of the programs could be accessed by everyone. Many people put their minds to making it work, and I got a better picture of how important it is for all of us, whether disabled or able-bodied, that we make Kehilla more and more accessible. Given that we are beginning a long process of repairing and upgrading our Grand Avenue home, it was the ideal time for us to address physical access.

Stories are a powerful tool. We had the blessing of hearing five different people share their Kehilla stories, as well as the chance to tell each other our own. The journeys that brought people to Kehilla were moving (and very different from each other).

For me, one of the most powerful moments was when we addressed the current political moment and explored the resources that Kehilla brings to the challenges at hand. I was blown away by the incredible list that was generated (this is one of the things we will share) and how much strength Kehilla has as a community.

And Kehilla folks are pretty darn talented and can dance as was demonstrated at our Saturday night talent show and dance party!


I look forward to the many ways that the growth we experienced at the retreat can affect our whole community in the next years to come. I want to say a special thank you to the other members of the planning team for all of their hard work – Jenny Wong, Remedios Martinez-Cantu, Catherine Lyons, Karen Cohn, Matt Leber, Jonathan Cohen, Maya Joshua, SAM Luckey and Rabbi Dev Noily.

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