You might wonder, Why Penny would you take time out of your overly-busy schedule to go on a women’s retreat? Well if you have to ask, you’ve never been, or are a man. I tried to explain it to my husband and received a blank stare. Men and women, we are different and Vive la difference! I’ll do my best to describe what made me feel like I was being enveloped in a warm blanket of love, how I found Peace amongst friends…
Throughout our temple we celebrate diversity in a colorful, rich tapestry…young, old, Black, Brown, Yellow, White, straight, gay, Jewish by birth, Jewish by choice—blended together side by side. Each strand comfortably nestled next to the other standing proud as individuals and weaving in their gifts with our sisters making us a stronger cloth.
We are bonded together by our Jewish faith yet these sisters from many mothers brought to our retreat a sense of fun, learning, compassion and shared their authentic selves amidst a fertile ground to grow. It was appropriate that we were at the Rancho Bernardo Inn surrounded by trees, gardens and fountains providing a natural setting in which to flourish.
For me, there were many old friends to catch up with. I apologize in advance if you aren’t mentioned, be assured, I value your friendship. As it is, being succinct has never been my strong suit and I’m still finishing my first book, Finding Peace in Israel, A Mom’s Tale of Touring, Terror & Transformation which will be released around the Jewish New Year, starting off my year right in celebration of Israel’s 70th Anniversary. I shouldn’t begin another just yet : ) Believe it or not, I didn’t include everything.
Friends like my roomie, Amy. We’ve known each other since our kids were one, in “Mommy and Me” at our temple. We raised our son and her youngest daughter together. How fondly I remember all of our adventures, not least of which was our impactful trip to Israel, and now our kids are getting ready to go off to college. It’s every cliché, time really does fly!
I’m sure she wonders, “Were we on the same trip?” Not that running to bomb shelters didn’t catch her attention, but for me, it blew apart my life. I had just taken my first class from Jean Houston on “Finding Your Life’s Purpose,” and in-deed, I did.
My first radical change was writing my book “Finding Peace in Israel, A Mom’s Tale of Touring, Terror & Transformation,” I have my blog at www.PennySTee.com, my Writers4Writers support group, the list goes on and on. Synchronicities abound when you remain open and listen. As the spiritual teachers say, the Universe can dream a bigger dream for you than sometimes you can for yourself.
As I’ve been in the community many years, seeing other old friends brings back great memories, like Norma, my friend from our B’nai Mitzvah class. Learning the ancient Hebrew texts together and sharing our angst of doing it justice will always hold a special place in my heart.
I always look forward to seeing my “Birthday Buddy,” Lily. Strangely, there are three women we know of at temple who share the same birthday. It was so great to see her and we both commiserated how we wished that our beloved Sherri, who usually is there, wasn’t with us. Oh yes, it’s also Oprah’s birthday, and although so far she hasn’t come to one of our retreats, I know if she ever did, she’d love it : )
So you see, I felt very comfortable amongst my peeps from Kim, our musically talented leader of my small group (who knew that at our age as our son is leaving for college, my husband and I would find a whole other joyous layer of temple friends to hang out with), Alice a kind soul always with a smile and welcome who looks and sounds strangely like my long-deceased mother complete with Eastern accent, our cherished Rabbi Kort who sadly will be leaving our temple after nine years to work part-time and have more time with her family (I totally understand the need for that), our multi-talented Cantor Natalie leading us musically for seven years and I have to mention her spiritually connected, artistic mother, well you get the point, I was excited and happy to see everyone. But I also made new friends like Debbie, who drove up with us.
A special thrill for me was when someone would come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed reading my blogs…for a writer, I haven’t heard a better compliment and made me feel like the Universe was acknowledging that I was on my right path.
When we arrived, we were given netted packets of colorful beads and were asked to exchange them with one another asking as many people as possible why they had come to the retreat. It helped to begin engaging, learn something about our fellow participants and promoted a welcoming sense of belonging. I knew my reaction to our retreat wasn’t merely because I knew folks, because Debbie and other newbies by the end of our time together also acknowledged having a great time.
The programming was as always, thoughtful, inspiring and planned with a sense of community for each other, and those less fortunate as one of our projects was making blankets for the Linus Project that gives the blankets to children who are homeless or going through treatments in hospitals.
Our first optional choice if you arrived early enough was making challah. I needed some remedial instruction. I’ve never
braided my hair and don’t have a daughter. God protected whomever she might have been…I only have a son. I’m not a girly girl when it comes to fashion, hair, shopping—all the stereotypical things that girls are supposed to be into.
It’s not even only because at my age my ovaries are probably two little pathetic dust piles, I’ve never been interested in those things. It might in part be from years of trying to shove myself into too small a size which felt like torture, just sayin,’ I’m always trying to understand myself : )
Anyway, usually for fashion questions I seek help from our resident fashionista, Merritt. Another icon amongst us whose fashion sense rivals the designers. Wrapped in this year’s bright pink pashmina, I felt so with it (and very appreciative that we had been handed it in our bags).
After a ceremonial cleansing of our hands, we were good to go to enjoy Shabbat with a little wine in our Temple Beth El SOC Women’s Retreat 2018 glass.
Our Shabbat services throughout the weekend were filled with music, singing and encouragement to participate, whether doing a reading or simply helping maintain the beat joining in with Hilary’s infectious, joyful drumming using colorful, plastic egg shaker castanets. Spontaneous dancing frequently erupted.
I have to mention Cat and Hilary, two friends who co-chaired the retreat. If they are representative of the next generation, we have no worries. Not only was it organized, every detail was put together with care and consideration. Kudos to their entire committee!
Always a moving highlight for me is when Patti with her impressive strength lifts the opened Torah in glory for all to see—it’s more than one woman, it’s all of us, as she represents the strength of Jewish women everywhere. We are blessed to have her among us…and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her wife Bonni, our very own Executive Director who always greets us with a warm, bright Cheshire cat smile.
Crystal started our day with a touch of meditation and yoga. Meditation is something I do religiously, usually twice a day. But rarely do I take the time for yoga. I exercise at Orange Theory fitness 3-4 times a week—their routines are no joke. As tight and sore as I am, the Yoga reminded me of how badly I need to stretch. It felt so good to elongate my muscles and lying down was perfect for relaxing. I loved the combination of movement and hearing our Jewish blessings—thankful for our bodies. Being in comfortable exercise clothes, I was quite happy.
During our Shabbat services Rabbi Kort pointed out that Sally Priesand, the first U.S. female Rabbi, wasn’t ordained until 1972 when I was in high school, yikes! It’s truly such recent history when we were finally allowed to read from the Torah…that saddens me but at least it’s moved in the right direction. Not only has Rabbi Kort led our congregation for the last nine years, now with Rabbi K’vod our congregation is really an anomaly of inclusion at all levels, not only demographically and socially but also religiously, with reform and conservative members separate and also blended under the same roof.
I was grateful that Rabbi Kort mentioned the angst that some of us had that we couldn’t participate in the “March for Our Lives,” the protest against gun violence, none of us are capable of being two places at once.
We attended a number of great workshops. One was an incredible Unity project. Each person was given a skein of colored yarn. Mine happened to be white and I was thrilled, associating the color of white with spirit. There was a pole in the center and poles around an outer circle. The center pole said I am a woman. Each of the outer poles had “identities” posted on them. Since each of us were women, we were instructed to tie our yarn around the center pole and then find other statements that you identified with such as:
I am still searching to find my life path
I am fulfilled in my life path
I have hope for the next generation
I struggle to believe in God
and then loop back to the center pole. Next we were to find another statement that you related
to and so on until you had “captured” each statement with your yarn that you could relate to pushing each tied, taut yarn connection upward. If you wanted to add statements, there was a table with paper covering it to scrawl other important identities that completed your picture of yourself. I couldn’t resist adding: Share your heart and gifts and I am blessed to do for work what I love.
As the women weaved up and down and over and through each other’s arms, conscious of their personal identities and space intertwining with others who differed and also were the same, a rooftop of colored yarn began to form above our heads. We looked up pushing our identities up the pole to the sky, we could see a beautiful white-clouded blue sky…it looked like heaven.
Once we built our multicolored roof support, we put a blue and purple tie-dyed covering atop the yarn roof and it felt like we were standing protected under a sukkah, a group of connected women. It was a beautiful sanctuary to share a prayer together.
Another workshop was entitled Simplicity. We started by reading a poem, called “Simplify,” from the book Blessings for Life’s Journey, by Rabbi Sheryl Lewart:
May you stand unencumbered on the mountain
Feeling the wind blow the hair
Back from your face.
When you return from that height
may you understand
that possessions and obligations
weigh you down
and trap you in never enough.
Trust that you will live well with less.
Heed the call on that mountain to simplify
and return to the Holy one.
Know every living thing needs freedom to rest
and so do you.
A worksheet on “25 Ways to Simplify Your Life in 10 minutes” by Courtney Carver, was distributed. It was filled with many ideas on how to simplify your life with helpful hints on how to clean out your closets, cars, bathrooms, emails, kitchens…clean it all up! They assured us how much better you would feel if you did so, and how much being weighed down with stuff does exactly that…slows you down in lethargy.
Listening to one fellow table member wax on about how much she loved cleaning out closets, tidying up stacks, washing dishes, well there went my mind wandering again. I could only imagine if my anal retentive husband were here listening to her—how it would have had the effect of an aphrodisiac. Unfortunately, along with those other feminine propensities previously mentioned, cleaning house falls into that category of If I never had to do any of it ever again, it would be too soon. Since I moved out of my parent’s house at nineteen, having a housekeeper was one of my highest budget priorities : )
More creative fun was led by Ellen, our resident professional choreographer. Bodies moving, often with our eyes closed, swirling, twisting to the “Five Rhythms,” a practice based on embodying the energies of the Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether. Freely and comfortably enacting whatever rhythmic spirit embodied the participants with the music playing representing the varying beats…flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness—we interpreted what each meant to us as individuals.
I noted the level of trust and comfort that was pervasive in the group, the very definition of listening to your own drummer as music played in the background. It was freeing. Everyone did their own thing without worrying what the person next to you was doing. I was amazed, everyone managed to stay within their own space without bonking into anyone else. Even Ellen commented that this had been an extraordinary free-flowing experience—one of the best she had conducted.
During free time, the hotel had provided a scavenger hunt of sorts. There are so many fountains on the grounds that you could use a map, search for them and leave a charm the hotel provided. The chef’s garden was particularly beautiful and some of us wondered if next year we might be able to do some kind of cooking class? Who knows—feeding our spiritual soul…
After dinner we had Havdalah, enjoying smelling the spice bags we had hand-filled. The conclusion of the night was a raucous dance-party, with booties shaking, drinks flowing and love and laughter filling the air—L’Chaim!
The last activity of the retreat was completing our tree of life painted by Diane, our spiritual artist of TBESOC. Having taken an art class with her previously, with amazing results that I wrote another blog about previously…who is asked to sell their first ever painting? Me. I was looking forward to what was in store.
We were shown a hand-painted painting of a tree with multicolored removable leaves and a hamsa behind it. The instructions were to choose two leaves, write blessings on them and then affix them back onto the tree. The blessings I wrote were: May You Discover What You Love to Do and Give Your Gifts to the World and Create Peace within Yourself, so You can bring it into the World…I seem to be on a mission—wanting people to realize for themselves that those special, unique talents that they come by naturally are the clues to having a fulfilling life and making the World better, for all of us to enjoy.
I was excited to learn that the painting would eventually be moved back to Temple Beth El SOC and hang there for all to see and feel blessed. Afterward I had the honor and privilege to delve deeper with an explanation by Diane, the Artiste, herself of the Tree of LIfe…
As she started, “You see behind the tree in gold is a hamsa, for protection.” Pointing to some green leaves…”Green is the color of hope. The leaves that are here that have fallen to the ground amongst the roots represent our ancestry, The Torah, and what we bring to the new generation, what we leave behind. The blue represents water, the red represents blood. Everything has a meaning. Some colors are blended together like red and blue that makes purple…and the trunk…all the parts fit together. If you look at it from a distance all of the blessings disappear and we are one— Shema Yisra’el, if we behave as such. The light that comes out from the tree is yellow and there is a separation between light and darkness. The blue of the water and the sky is part of God’s creation.”
The painting, combined with the blessings of each of the participants, to be shared with our temple family… Shema Yisra’el, indeed.
My only disappointment with the weekend was that because we were at a resort, for some, they might have been priced out of attending, and that made me sad. I hoped that like other programs such as Birthright, that maybe we could find a sponsor so that any woman who wanted to attend could do so. Scholarships might have been available, but I felt that most people in that position wouldn’t speak up due to embarrassment. Hopefully this will be considered for next year’s retreat and beyond. People who wanted to help defray the costs and could afford it, still could be asked to do so, but it wouldn’t be mandatory for attendance.
With all the love and support expressed throughout the weekend, the sense of what the retreat made me feel was empowered. I found this blessing also in Blessings for Life’s Journey, called “Empowerment” and within its vision I hope you find strength to share your gifts with the world…
Stand strong in your commitment
To shape your own reality, to discern the boundaries between
The hidden and the revealed.
Keep your heart open
and your relationship with divine Mystery
will deepen and mature.
Keep your heart strong
and you will shape and create
reality from what is good and true.
Be steadfast and whole in your heart
and you will be empowered to
reject loss and emptiness
and choose life and its fullness.
The choice is yours.
I admired the multitude of gifted ladies who surrounded us at every turn from musicians, to dancers, writers, and comedians—so many obvious and sometimes hidden talents.
What’s your natural gift? I know you have one. What is something that comes naturally to you that you love to do? I assure you that is why you are here on Earth to share with us. Please do. It will make you happier than you’ve ever been, and if you work at what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. When you do what you love, you’ll live in the flow and doors will open for you. Go ahead, take your first step. The world needs you to be yourself.
As we approach Passover, here’s wishing you Chag Sameach. I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…