The 11 Miracles of My First Jewish Women’s Retreat

It was two years ago when I planned to go to my synagogue’s women’s retreat and I had to cancel due to treatments for my depression. I was devastated. I was so excited that my time had come to attend this women’s weekend away.

In one word, I can sum up the experience I had this past weekend: miracles. There were so many miracles it is difficult for me to begin. I met a group of women, most of whom I did not know. I was given the gift of connecting and getting to know new people in my life. There were 14 of us, including my amazing close friend, our Rabbi and leader.

1.     The first miracle was meeting a woman who I carpooled with, whom I had heard of but never met. I instantly felt a warmth about her that was so inviting and we had non-stop conversations the entire ride.

2.     The next miracle was meeting these women, doing fun icebreakers that you do when you begin a retreat. I learned names and was proud of myself for remembering them so easily (I do have lingering memory problems from ECT-electroconvulsive therapy).

3.     The following miracle was meal times. While the food was excellent and we all enjoyed it, it was a time to chat, laugh and continue to get to know one another. Each of us never sat in the same place which helped to foster our relationships. I enjoyed that time immensely.

4.     The praying that we did together, as one community, was not only filled with warmth and feeling, it was personal. I felt more connected to myself than I ever have in my life. I am not exaggerating at all. I sang as part of this amazing community of women and prayed with them and felt both completely connected to them while at the same time, connected to myself. It was a true miracle to experience this.

5.     I believe there is a blessing in sharing oneself with another human being but I also believe there is a blessing and an emotional wonder that occurs when women share themselves with each other. The strength of 14 women sitting in a room together, whether eating, praying, singing, laughing, hugging, etc. is a miracle, not only in its occurrence but in the actual experience of it.

6.     Shabbat afternoon we had free time with a few options of activities, if interested. There was a quiet hike option and a talking hike option. While I thought the quiet hike option would be nice, I felt it was not what I needed. I had been so talkative already during the retreat and I did not want to hold back! The group of us walked, talked, shared and laughed and it was wondrous. The perfect weather along with the beautiful foliage added a natural element that was not lost on us. More connections were made between us and amongst us and it was indeed another miracle.

7.     By Havdalah on Saturday night, our group was quite solidified. Arm in arm, we did Havdalah in the darkness, led by the light of the candle and I was tearful. These women became my weekend family and it happened so quickly. I thought how beautiful the moment was but also how incredible it was and how powerful women are in terms of connecting to one another. I felt blessed, again, and acknowledged this miracle in its moment.

8.     The miracle of fire came on Saturday night when we had our bonfire (and smores, of course!). We sang songs, mesmerized by the flames of the fire and it was fun and a wonderful way to share our last night together.

9.     Sunday consisted of praying, using spirituality, as we had been, as an individual and as part of a community. It also consisted of reviewing and wrapping up this gift of a retreat. We shared more, questioned one another, exchanged thoughts, laughed and cried. It was a miracle to feel complete as we marked the end of the weekend, not just as a group but as individuals. I could feel it and I am sure the others could as well.

10.  As I hugged each woman goodbye, I smiled and felt connected, held and excited to see them again as we had already begun planning future women’s groups for study and comradery at our synagogue. I thought of how it is usually sad to say goodbye after experiencing something meaningful, but I felt at peace, quiet and whole. I felt ready to return to my husband and daughter and the chaos that is life. That was just another miracle—the ability to be able to move on because of the experience I had. I was given strength and could use that strength to move forward.

11. The miracle that was ongoing from the moment I arrived at the retreat center was my presence. I do not mean that my body was physically there for the weekend, rather the fact that I was present, as in my mind was centered and able to accept and experience each aspect of the weekend. I was focused, thinking clearly and emotionally open to anything. Prior to this weekend, I do not believe I have ever experienced this in my life.

My physical body endured too much these past few years of intense illness: ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), medication trials and ketamine infusions. My body continues to cope with memory issues and word gathering difficulties due to the ECT. The fatigue, nausea and other physical side effects and consequences of these treatments emptied my body and not in a positive way. This weekend fed me and filled me. My slightly broken body was given something that has been missing for some time. My stomach, heart, legs, neck and head were given breath, love, peace and ease and my body has not had any of these internally for years. One weekend made this happen. My body was healed in a way I did not even know was possible.

The significance of all that I gained over this weekend is not lost on me. This will be the lingering (and I hope everlasting) miracle of this significant weekend. The remarkable women I connected with, my dear friend who led us safely and steadily — and me – these are the miracles that I hold as I reflect in this moment. May each of these weekend retreat miracles stay with me, in my heart and in my soul.


I’m Not Running Away

The election is finally over. I am so glad it is as it has been a difficult thing to witness. I am quite upset with the outcome and thought better of our country than to elect such a mean, ignorant and inexperienced person as our President. I am scared about our future in the next four years as so many others are. Mostly, I am scared for my young daughter and what it means for her as a female growing up at this time.
People have joked and some are serious about moving to Canada now that Trump has won. While I understand that notion and share their fear, I am not going anywhere. This is not just about me, this is about my family. All four of my grandparents immigrated to this great country in the 1920s and 1930s and they left parts of Russia, Romania and Latvia to find a more peaceful and tolerant country. They were welcomed and made incredible lives for themselves and their children. I am only a 2ndgeneration American. My father always made a big deal about voting and I know it’s because he never took for granted that he is a 1st generation American. We are quite proud of that. My grandparents worked hard and long hours while assimilating to a new culture, language and way of living while still maintaining their ethnic and religious selves. That is remarkable.
It is for this reason that I will not run. I want to teach my daughter more about her great-grandparents and ensure that she sees how important America is to our family. I want to teach her that the places where her great-grandparents came from were not always nice to Jews and that because of that living in America is a gift and a way of giving back to them as they worked so hard in order for us to have our freedom and comforts we have today.
I do not think I am being naïve. I know that our country is fractured at this time. I am not sure how we will come together. I know from my friends on social media that we all want to come together and work together and that kindness does matter. I still actually want to be a part of this country even as I shake my head with awe and worry.

I will also not run away from who I am. I am a Jewish American woman who is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin and friend who also has a chronic illness that is depression. As a mental health advocate, now more than ever, I have to stay in this great country and continue my quest for mental health parity from insurers and to continue to tell my ongoing story in order to combat the stigma and increase understanding. Yes, I am scared of what the next four years will bring but I am going to stick with it because that is what my grandparents would do, it’s what my parents would do and it is the only thing I can do.

More Questions than Answers After the Kansas City Shootings

When bad things happen we always ask the same questions: “why did this happen?” The real question is, “what led to this happening and how can we fix it?”
The shootings at the JCC of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and Village Shalom Retirement Community is simply, horrific. At this point, it appears that the shooter was a white supremacist, neo-nazi. 
How do we fix our society?
That is a daunting question and I am not sure of the answer. There will always be people, extremists, whose minds have already been taken by harsh ideas and notions that simply cannot be undone. What does this mean for our individual communities? How can we feel secure? As someone who works in the Jewish community, I am always vigilant. Our building is always locked, cameras scan the building and parking lot and it is not easy to be a visitor. It feels safe though.
Precautions are good, but, as in the case in Kansas City, there are those moments when there just is not enough security to go around. This is why it is scary. Kansas City represents “Anywhere USA,” for this horrible act of violence could happen in any of our communities. 
While I wish I were raising my daughter in a carefree manner, this is not the case in a post-9/11 world. Everything is heightened due to communications, technology and access. I cannot allow my daughter to go play with her friends down the street on her own, as I was able to when I was a child. There always needs to be adult supervision. 
It is as if we are forming a new way of life, a way to feel safer in the world we live in now. My niece goes through metal detectors at her city high school every day. At this point, I don’t believe this phases her.
The question is, will we ever feel safe in our home communities? While I wish for the “perfect” community to raise my daughter, that does not exist. There will always be people who hate and feel the need to act on that hatred. We can’t always find these people early enough to stop the violence or law enforcement does not have enough evidence to act.
What is the answer to this violence?
I am sure there will be much reflection as we sit for our seders tonight.