All the Senses: A Jewish Life Retreat Reflection

musicFriday nights at Georgetown are rarely quiet. Academic hubs by day become gathering spots for bumping parties, speakers and events. Every Friday—while many other Hoyas descend upon the streets of DC—Jewish Hoyas, GU-ish Hoyas and friends gather in Makom in the Leavey Center to welcome the Sabbath.

Several weeks ago, we gathered elsewhere: the Calcagnini Contemplative Center (CCC). Guided by Rabbi Rachel, Sarah Holland (Interreligious Coordinator for Campus Ministry) and the wonderful rabbinical student Nora, we caught the bus from the front gates on Friday afternoon. The Shabbaton, Jewish Life’s Fall 2015 Retreat, had begun.

Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until sunset on Saturday. “Last in creation, first in intention.” Shabbat is not only the seventh day, but also a biblically prescribed day of rest. The basic principal outlining Shabbat is not to alter the world God created. In Orthodox communities, people don’t drive, use computers, or write during this time. At Georgetown, although having some more observant students, Shabbat can be overlooked. Hoyas tend to overschedule themselves and the day of rest often serves as a day of catch-up. The Shabbaton provided a perfect opportunity to retreat from the stress of the Hilltop and observe the Sabbath at the CCC.


Guided by the words of Hillel, the guiding thought for the weekend was, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? But if I am only for myself what am I? If not now, when?” Discussions and services centered on the week’s parsha, Lech Lecha. The biblical story is a busy one, involving God commanding Abram to go from his land, the bequeathment of the Holy Land, the birth of Ishmael by Hagar, and the birth and circumcision of Isaac 13 years later. Discussions, however, focused more on the phrase Lech Lecha. A double meaning, Lech Lecha means get thee out and go to yourself. It is a call to physically leave a place. It is also a call to dive deeper into oneself. The weekend fulfilled Lech Lecha on two levels: we physically left Georgetown; and, spent the weekend reflecting and diving deeper not only into ourselves but into texts.

The weekend activities extended beyond Torah. We spent Friday night after services bonding as a community. Lead by the wonderful Sarah Holland, we played many enthralling rounds of telephone charades. The crowd-pleasing prompts were “The Pope blessing a baby” and “giving birth on the metro.” We learned two things: many Jews don’t know how to do the sign of the cross; and, don’t give birth on the metro. Our conversations extended into meals and free time. Over delicious food, we had some great discussions about mitzvot (commandments) and what the Torah commands us to do on the Sabbath and some discussions on what it means to be GUish at Georgetown. We agreed that Georgetown is great place for those exploring their Jewish identity as Campus Ministry provides great opportunities to connect with peers on campus and with the great Jewish community in DC. At the center, we connected with each other and nature on our afternoon hike and at the beautiful services lead by Rabbi Rachel.


We were sad to leave as we marked the end of Shabbat with Havdalah. Performed at nightfall, Havdalah separates the Sabbath from the week. However, three stars must be in the night sky so that we know Shabbat is over. We persevered through the cloud cover and managed to locate three stars so we could begin. We huddled in a circle, to fight off the cold, and to see the multi-wicked candle Rabbi had just lit. Havdalah is meant to use all senses. We tasted the wine, smelled the spices, and chanted the blessings. Lastly, we stuck out our hands to watch the shadows run across our hands, feeling the flame that distinguished light from dark. We extinguished the candle in the remaining wine. Shabbat, and Havdalah, ended. We boarded the bus and began the drive to our promised land: Georgetown.

Written by Paige Harouse, C’19