As we set sail on the Carnival Inspiration, I wondered what I would discover this year that would inspire me. It was the second year that we had gone on the weekend cruise to Ensenada as the backdrop to our temple’s annual women’s retreat. The 30+ women attending were a wide range of ages from young women to those who could call on volumes of life’s adventures to share. The mother-daughter attendees added another layer of love that was beautiful to see. These women shining as light-filled role models, had passed down their wisdom to their daughters. At temple, we had basked in the talents of their daughters, and now discovered that the fruit had not fallen far from the tree – yet each daughter had added their own unique flavor to the mix.
The ladies who lovingly planned this event had the intentions that we would leave our daily pressures and commitments from home and stay present, deepen bonds with each other, enrich our minds and souls with learning, share our personal narratives and glean whatever we found individually meaningful offered by a collective of awesome women. There was joy, laughter, music, and dancing in a swirl of delight. One of our first creative activities was to personalize a tambourine, so as the dancing spirits moved us, we could enjoy the rhythmic bliss with our timbrels, like Miriam.
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamont, was the book used to ground the theme of our retreat. It tells the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph. Diamont used this biblical character to present women’s lives as befitting the time period. The book’s title describes the tent in which women of Jacob’s tribe, according to ancient laws, must stay, while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from the women in their tribe. As with many good books, it called to us to draw comparisons to our lives today. So many differences, and still we could see similarities. Some parallels we drew strength from and other references to the patriarchal society, made us shake our heads and wonder out loud, “Why are we still faced with unequal pay in 2016? We were all given a gift of a bright red pashmina to wrap around our bodies, providing comfort and for many a sense of style as the women chose to tie them in many differing fashions, accentuating shoulders, necklines, and heads : )
We traditionally celebrated Shabbat with the candle lighting, blessing over the wine, Friday night services, Saturday services and Havdalah. Besides the guidance of our rabbi and cantor, various women participated in leading the services and activities throughout the weekend so it truly felt like a community event.
We also had some optional events like yoga, and I led a mindfulness meditation one morning. As you know, since our trip to Israel on vacation, finding ourselves touring, and in bomb shelters several times, I have a strong interest in working on Peace. Once again synchronicities aligned on my journey. The Torah, (our Bible), is read weekly, with each section being followed in order. This week it was Parashat Kedoshim, filled with commandments to:
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Do not hate your sister (I took a little poetic license) in your heart and do not take revenge, take vengeance or bear a grudge.
- Do not oppress the foreigner who lives among you.
- We should refrain from all types of cruel or hateful speech.
- Leave gleanings of your harvest for the poor.
All Peaceful obligations that will help us become Peaceful internally, as well as help the world. For our mantra (gerushin, in Hebrew), I chose Shalom. Specific words are chosen to repeat to yourself during meditation to pull back your concentration within. Shalom is a word that often is interpreted as Peace. Shalom comes from the root l’shalem, which means to be complete. Shalom is wholeness. How Peaceful would that be?
On the retreat there was time for introspection, learning and just plain fun. Throughout the weekend we were peppered with thoughtful questions: Which women of the Red Tent do you feel best represents you and your personal expression of femininity? When did you need support of women most in your life? Why do you choose to be in relationship with other women? Workshops were offered on topics such as: Menopause 101 and Burkas to Bikinis and Back. There was Tea Time and some of the women when we were in Ensenada, of course, went shopping. At night there were many options including cruise shows, nightclub dancing, shopping, gambling and simply floating on the ocean : )
One highlight for me was when we were in Ensenada and a number of us visited Casa de Albergue Temporal Para Ninos – a temporary shelter for abused children. It was our Tikkun Olam project. Tikkun Olam is the commitment of Jews to make the world a better place. We had helped there last year, as well. The shelter has been in existence for 26 years. We brought our love, donations, art supplies, balls and chalk.
The children’s ages are from babies to twelve years old. They don’t take kids past twelve because it is a small facility and the older kids – particularly the boys, need more area to run and be free. The children they care for often arrive sick, malnourished and abused. They present psychological and emotional wounds and lack love and attention. Their stay is temporary while their legal situation is resolved. It usually lasts 3-6 months.
They are placed in their care at the request of the State DIF. The DIF is Desarrollo Integral de La Familia – the National System for Integral Family Development. It is a Mexican public institution that focuses on strengthening and developing the welfare of Mexican families. The children arrive by way of the Law Enforcement Agencies or District Attorney’s Office.1
Casa Albergue, strives to provide the children with housing, a balanced diet, clothing, personal hygiene, health care, mental health care in crisis situations, as well as preschool and elementary school programs. They work 3 shifts providing round-the-clock care. They also offer early childhood development classes and arts and crafts. The children must remain within the shelter, as there is a fear that whoever they were taken from, would try to abduct them. Above all, they shower the children with love and care and provide a predictable structure that the kids so desperately need.2 One of the volunteers on the Board of trustees, provides a special ice cream treat on Sundays : )
Some women played with the kids drawing with chalk on the cement, swinging them on the swings or throwing them balls. On this visit, there were a number of babies and some of the women gathered on the couches swaddling them in their loving arms.
I played most of the time with Esperanza. It always amazes me what kids teach us. She was so little that even with the kids’ table and chairs, she had to sit on my lap to reach. We had brought small canvas backpacks for the kids to decorate. We squeezed different colors of paint onto a plastic plate – red, yellow, green, blue. I had her hold the sponge and I took her little hand, dipped it in the paint and blotted the canvas, showing her how it would make a mark. Then we did it again. But no, that’s not what she wanted to do. She wanted to dip the sponge in the various paints and smoosh them all together and move the blended paints in a circle tracing the plate’s edge, around and around. It gave her even greater joy to dip her fingers in the paint, and hold up a colorful, dripping finger, and wait for me to wipe it off, as she smiled with a glint in her eye. I smiled too, playing her joyful game. She was a very young girl, who knew exactly what she wanted to do – before she learned all of society’s rules and the “right way of doing things.” It felt good to her, and it made her happy. No apologies. What would all of our lives be like if we just followed her example, living happily as we truly are?
On the way back to the ship, several of the ladies made a surprising stop. Here in Ensenada, was “Falafel Comida Israeli” – an Israeli falafel shop : ) I understand that they all had a great time and enjoyed the falafel. I, on the other hand, haven’t eaten a falafel since our infamous trip to Israel. Apparently, I had had one too many and the thought of eating falafel ever since is not something that I can talk myself into doing : ) I walked back to the ship with another group of women.
Another highlight began when we were asked to write about one of the following questions:
- Describe a pivotal moment in your life.
- Describe falling in love for the first time.
- What is a part of yourself that you keep hidden?
- What are you most grateful for?
Admittedly, I was tempted to just submit my recently completed script for the 2nd Annual Memoir Showcase that will be seen at the Horton Grand Theatre in San Diego, June 28, 2016. The question regarding a moment in time that changed you, certainly fit the bill, but I decided that I wanted to spend some time in gratitude so instead, here’s some of what I submitted:
I’m grateful for:
- Waking up to a new day and the opportunity to paint my own canvas.
- Memories of my baby boy who now at 15 ½ towers over me, and sometimes as we walk along together, he’ll put his arm around my shoulder.
- My husband of 18 years, who wants me to call home – “just once, so I know you are alright.”
- Learning that I am response-able for my own life.
- Friends who are the family we choose.
- Me : )
Our cantor then lovingly took the snippets from all of our sisters’ lives and wove them into a beautiful living tapestry, entitled One Voice. She gently introduced each grouping with a song or niggun (a melodious rhythm or chant) and our audience spontaneously joined in with each tune. 5 of us were honored to present the stories of our sisters’ lives. Some brought tears to our eyes and others made us laugh. One mom said of her premie “She didn’t look like a baby, but more like an uncooked chicken.” There were tales of motherhood, grateful daughters and birthing new families through adoption. One woman, surviving unimaginable losses ultimately triumphed, and found the “love of her life.” Our piece ended in gratitude for our time on this amazing adventure we call life.
One Voice was a beautiful metaphor for the weekend. 30+ individual women, each with their deeply personal stories yet woven together through our friendships, Jewish identity, female tribe, search for understanding and love of life. Leaving our weekend, I was filled with Shalom. I hope you enjoyed the peek at a terrific weekend and will choose to continue to Join Me On My Journey…