(Mostly X-posted from my home blog, Yinzer in Yerushalayim)
The weekend before last was the retreat Shabbaton for Self, Soul, and Text class at Kibbutz Hanaton, our teacher James’ home, in the Galil. The schedules Friday and Saturday were nearly identical, each day going like: 9-9:45: Sit. 9:45-10:30: Walk. 10:30-11:15: Sit. 11:15-12:30: Lunch. 12:30-1:15-Sit. It was brutal, and that’s no joke, since “Sit” didn’t mean “Lay on a couch, go on your computer, and schmooze,” it meant, “Sit upright in the big white tent like the kind we use in Pittsburgh as the Game Day Live Tent at Heinz Field for 45 minutes, focus on your breathing, or, if your nose is too stuffy to make that even remotely relaxing, then on the feeling of your butt in the cushion and try to meditate without thinking of scenes from The Simpsons.” and “Walk” didn’t mean “Go for a stroll on the beautiful grounds of the Kibbutz,” it meant “Slowly pace back-and-forth over the same 10 feet of ground, trying to focus on your steps and breathing without humming the Red Hot Chili Peppers song in your head. The hardest part of this was that we couldn’t hike: Hanaton is a gorgeous place, with birds singing everywhere, that kibbutz smell (read: cow dung) in the air, rolling green hills and farmland, a huge clear sky showing Omnimax sunrises and sunsets twice-daily, and a Druze village in the distance, and the nearest source of water was the reservoir in the distance sealed-off with barbed-wire; all we could do, however, is see everything from a distance. Meals offered no escape either, since this was a “silent” retreat, and by “silent,” they mean “lonely:” there was no talking, touching, looking, or even smiling at your friends from Thursday night until Saturday night. As I said, it was absolutely unforgiving. When we weren’t Sitting or Walking or praying, we were usually either listening to an excellent class by James, meeting with him privately, or singing niggunim with him. Friday afternoon, we all went to the mikveh.