Caring, comfort and confidentiality. Shabbat joy and “re-creation.” These were the themes and experiences of the first-ever Shabbaton at Camp Solomon Schechter for those who had converted to Judaism or were in the process of conversion through the Conservative Movement.
Fifty people came from three area synagogues: Herzl-Ner Tamid and Beth Shalom from Seattle, and Neve Shalom from Portland, on the weekend of Jan. 26–28. Participants expressed enthusiasm for all aspects of the retreat, from the lake immersion in a total Shabbat experience (for many, for the first time) to the sense of relief in finding shared concerns and challenges.
“I’m not alone!” one woman wrote on her evaluation. That theme was echoed throughout the weekend. Most people mentioned as highlights the prayer experience, which included explanations, singing, and opportunities to spend time with rabbis away from the usual settings. Rabbis Daniel Isaak (Neve Shalom) and Dov Gartenburg (Beth Shalom) were present, along with educators Joanne Glosser and Ruz Gulko of Herzl-Ner Tamid and Terry Kalet from Beth Shalom. Two key staff people were not there: Because of Rabbi David Rose’s shoulder injury from a bad fall, neither he nor his wife, Natalie Merkur Rose from Jewish Family Service’s Family Life and Education department, were able to attend.
The retreat was structured around the Shabbat meals and prayer services, interspersed with three main programs. These consisted of a particular topic taught by one of the rabbis, followed by three discussion groups facilitated by the educators. The most powerful moments came when people shared their personal stories: What had brought them to Judaism, what was instantly understood and integrated and what was confusing and difficult, how birth families reacted, what it felt like to be left out and what it felt like to be embraced. New friendships were made, others were deepened, and just about everyone said the retreat had exceeded their expectations.
Hilary Buff, director of Camp Solomon Schechter, was a gracious and welcoming hostess, entertaining the group with her stories, coaxing them out of our “safety nets” with her ice-breakers, rushing around making sure everyone had enough to eat and whatever else they needed. People were amazed how good the “camp” food was. Of course, some of the “ta’am” — taste — came from that special “Shabbat spice” of good fellowship, singing and thanksgiving.