These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

(PCJE) Jerusalem Diaries #10…Weekend Retreat/Shabbaton

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Ariella Siegel

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From my blog: 9/22/14 (Pictures below!)

Ari Sie

This past weekend was the first shabbaton, or retreat, of the year with school. It was a really nice way of getting to know people outside of the school environment (which can be intense). Looking at our very scheduled weekend, I was concerned I wouldn’t have enough time for myself, but I actually totally enjoyed spending so much time with my school mates, getting to know them and even carved out some time for myself. We kicked it off on Thursday at community lunch, eating together and getting additional information about the retreat itself. We then had a shiur, or class and headed to the buses.

We ended up at Hotel Yehudah, a gorgeous place that was once a youth hostel, about 20 minutes west of us in Jerusalem. We quickly got situated in our rooms and met outside for a sunset stroll. What a beautiful scene as we walked to a hilltop, the sun slowly descending over the holy city of Jerusalem, people chatting and getting to know each other, conversation flowing as we walked uphill, passing children on bikes and teenagers running.

Once we got to our destination, we sat and talked and then sang songs as the sun went down. It was such a beautiful moment and in that instant, I felt so grateful to be in this place, with these wonderful people, singing Jewish songs as the sun set over this beautiful city.

We then returned to the hotel, prayed (some of us), had dinner, and then had a discussion panel with teachers about why or why not Pardes might be the right place for us. It was really enlightening and a great way to begin the weekend.

On Friday, I woke early to attend the “creative” service (we’re working on the name), which consisted of singing and meditation and breathing. It was really lovely and a great way to start off the day. We then had breakfast, met with our teachers to talk about building a learning community, and were then off on a hike.

We took buses to this beautiful area, and were led by Jamie, Pardes’ unofficial tour guide. The scenery was just so beautiful, and it was a wonderful time for the students, again, to bond and get to know each other. The rich history that Jamie infused into our walk really helped to make the experience even more meaningful and I could imagine Judeans from thousands of years ago, walking the same path as I was (oh, how true that is on so many levels).

We stopped to have group discussions about Shabbat, our experiences and challenges, and then ate the sandwiches we had made earlier. We stopped by a spring to chat and eat, and a few people even went for a dip.

We then hiked back. I was a bit tired of talking, so I went a bit ahead of the second crowd of people, walking by myself between groups of people. I turned it into a meditative experience by listening to my breath as I quickened my pace, being quiet with my thoughts. It was quite lovely.

We made our way back to the hotel, and actually had a bit of free time. I laid down in my bed and red and relaxed. Then we only had a short time to get ready for Shabbat. We gathered outside in the courtyard, greeted each other, all showered and relaxed and smelling yummy after our free time and showers. We sat on beautiful Jerusalem stone stairs and listened to a group of students who sang an a cappella song for us. We then went inside to light candles and came back out for services.

Although there was no dedicated mechitzah, or partition for more orthodox services that separates men and women, we were separated by gender, which caused some friction for some people. I think there was an expectation that there would be a tri-chitzah, which means there’s a men’s section, a women’s section, and a mixed seating section. It’s really interesting to see this ongoing negotiation between different traditions and observances and expectations. As a community, we really run the gamut, and I think one of the biggest challenges for the institution, year after year, is understanding this and making choices that will make the population and faculty most comfortable.

We then had a beautiful service and went in for dinner. Many faculty and their families were there, which was nice for us to get to know them. We then had a tish, which comes from a Hassidic tradition, and consists of sitting around singing songs, wordless tunes, hearing words of Torah, and of course, eating and drinking. Tish‘s often end with some very drunken singing. I guess it’s Judaism’s version of a spiritual frathouse. (I say that with much love).

I headed out after about 11pm, and woke up early for services and breakfast the next morning. We then had another class, about becoming a praying community and what it means to be a member of that community. We had lunch, free time, and met again for another class. We then had havdalah, which signifies the end of the sabbath, and headed back to school. There were selichot services (prayers and poems said leading up to the high holidays) and a class at school, but I ended up eating snacks, chatting, and laughing with a group of people until about 11:00. It was a lot of fun.

I had also led a service for the creative minyan the week before. I loved it and felt inspired to lead another one, this time with the theme of self-love and self-forgiveness. I sat with a classmate who is a talented guitar player and we kind of mapped out the service a bit. We led the service on Tuesday, right before Rosh Hashana, and it was wonderful (according to the feedback I got!). I’m hoping to do much more of this in the future, in addition to teaching.

Stay tuned for my experiences of Rosh Hashana in Jerusalem!


Can’t go on a retreat without the Torah!



Our sunset stroll


Our beautiful view



Making lunch/snacks for the hike



Molly and I are ready for Shabbat!