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I’m very fortunate to have recently attended the summer retreat program Hevreh: A Community of Adult Jewish Learners. For five days, participants from Reform and Reconstructionist backgrounds joined together in Jewish learning, worship, and just enjoying one another’s company.
Held at the very beautiful and comfortable Capital Camps retreat facility in Waynesboro, PA, Hevreh is co-directed by Rabbi Joan Farber, founding editor of the URJ’s Ten Minutes of Torah, and Marilyn Price, a Jewish educator who specializes in puppeteering and storytelling.
Here’s what I found to be extraordinary at Hevreh.
First, four remarkable scholars and master teachers offered exceptional opportunities for Jewish learning. Rabbis Larry Hoffman and Mark Washofsky represented the Reform Movement, while Rabbis David Teutsch and Jacob Staub came to us from the Reconstructionist Movement. All four faculty members are notable experts in their fields and are delightfully capable in their presentations.
It felt so good to be learning with them, but it was the depth of their humanity that moved us the most. What a privilege to spend time with these kind, generous people. Sitting in their classrooms, we received not only fascinating ideas and concepts about Jewish life, but we were lifted up by each one’s inherent goodness.
Second, the services, coordinated by Cantor Ellen Dreskin, overflowed with engaging music that was variously soothing and uplifting. I’m a big fan of Ellen’s, of course, but I’m also constantly amazed by the profound skills she brings to Jewish worship, both in her musicality and in the spirit she not only generously shares but transmits to others, making these moments a highlight of Hevreh. Services were certainly a time for prayer, but it was the community she helped build, joined by those who led services with her, that left us feeling energized with infused with our tradition’s passion for hope and love.
Third, time spent relaxing with one another was simply and purely delightful. Meeting these kind and fascinating individuals from across North America was a very special treat. Conversations held during meals and between sessions, frequently including our scholars, were fun, far-reaching, free-wheeling adjuncts to our classroom learning. Each of us felt welcomed and embraced by the other members in this pop-up community, something not easily come by in today’s world.
Of special note was the encounter between Reconstructionist and Reform Jews: The interactions were nearly seamless. While our practices may differ by degrees, our sentiments don’t. Our movements are of one mind on the objectives of religion and ritual. Our specific choices may vary, but we are brothers and sisters, to be sure, when it comes to our ideas about Jewish living and our shared passions for ethics and justice. Our movements would benefit from more time spent together, not least of all because each movement’s scholars have so much to offer us all. It’d be a shame to miss out on the learning – and the humanity – that flows through the others’ community.
With any luck, Hevreh will be back next summer. In your own search for deeper significance to your Jewish living, I invite you to check it out at hevreh.net. If your experience is anything like mine, the five days you give to this retreat will send you home happy, inspired, smarter, and proud to be part of such a lovely and valuable communal heritage.