By Shulamit Levine-Helleman

Photos by Ryan McGinn

The opening ceremony was beautifully done.

The chalice and Shabbat candle lightings were similar to those at other retreats except that we had to use LED candles to comply with hostel rules disallowing candles. I love how the retreat organizers were able to find a creative solution to the rule. From a distance, the only difference most could see was people not having to struggle with uncooperative matches or lighters. I liked having the opportunity to share the beginning of Shabbat with my fellow retreat goers once again.

Then we moved to the joys and concerns which were quite different this time and incredibly moving. I loved the use of stones in water instead of candles. Not only did it have a beautiful effect of blending our joys with our concerns and blending everyone’s joys and concerns together with everyone else’s, it was also more environmentally friendly. I hope future retreats follow this example. I also loved how Rev. Dr. Thandeka gave a spiritual container for sharing first our joys and then, within the container of love created by sharing those joys, sharing our sorrows and concerns. I noticed that fewer people came up to share this time than at previous retreats. Those who did really shared from the heart.

I cannot praise the mixer led by Emily highly enough. It should be a model for future mixers. This is the first time I have been able to participate in the mixer in a complete and comfortable way, feeling that my contribution was vital and welcome. There was no need to run around chaotically or stand in groups, no need to shout to be heard, no struggle to hear other people. Instead, we sat in groups of 3-4 people sharing stories. We heard real stories, interspersed with creative suggestions from other group members which sometimes changed the story completely. What a wonderful way to get to know each other.