Shifting Perspectives: Jewish Life Shabbat Retreat

Deb Silver (second from left) with Rabbi Daniel Schaefer (fourth from left) and students at the CCC.

An old Hasidic tale tells the story of a  rabbi’s son who used to wander off into the woods. One day, the rabbi asks his son why he went wandering each day. The boy said to his father, ‘I go there to find God.’ ‘Well,’ the father said slowly, ‘That is a very good thing. But, my son, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?’ ‘Yes.’ the boy answered, ‘But I am not.’

On our recent Jewish Life retreat, we felt this truth in a visceral way. This story illustrates the importance of Campus Ministry retreats. The Mission and Ministry team works hard on campus with our many faith communities to foster shared values of meaning, purpose and belonging. But stepping off campus for the fall Jewish Life Retreat, and all retreats at the beautiful Calcagnini Contemplative Center (CCC), allow for time and space outside of the day-to-day routines and distractions on campus. At the CCC, perspectives shift and we are able to connect with nature, ourselves, and each other more authentically.

With over 30 students attending from all different class years and majors, we began the retreat with icebreakers just before Shabbat began while the sun was still up. We had a beautiful and musical Shabbat prayer service in Arrupe, the community room at the CCC watching through the floor-to-ceiling windows as the sun began to set. At one point in the service, the song leader led us outside for a prayer that brought on spontaneous dancing and an abundance of joy. This was particularly meaningful because it simply wouldn’t happen during a Shabbat service on campus. At Georgetown, we are fortunate to have Makóm as our dedicated Jewish space on campus, but it’s in the middle of the Leavey Center. A moment like this couldn’t happen on the Hilltop, yet was still a quintessential Georgetown Campus Ministry experience.

This experience set a nice tone for the remainder of our retreat. Shabbat is a time to rest from sundown on Friday to Saturday sundown – approximately 25 hours and the exact timing of the retreat. The Jewish people are commanded in the Torah to observe Shabbat. In practice, this can look many different ways, but rest and rejuvenation are common themes. We used our retreat time over Shabbat to observe it in a way not possible on campus. We had alternative staff and student-led options for that morning prayer time, including meditation, yoga, and hiking. Throughout the rest of the retreat, students enjoyed activities and rest time that utilized the outdoor retreat space, and Rabbi Daniel Schaefer, Interim Director for Jewish Life lead students through several thought-provoking text studies and discussions.

Shabbat, and the retreat, concluded with a weekly prayer service called Havdalah. The word havdalah means “separation” as this ritual marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new week. It also meant the end of our time together at the CCC, with students asking when the next retreat was as they boarded the bus back to campus. Rabbi and I are so grateful for the support of fellow Campus Ministry staff, enthusiasm from students, and generosity of donors that allow these deep moments of connection to happen. We have come back to campus rested, rejuvenated, and with momentum!

by Deb Silver, Associate Director of Jewish Life