When Professional Development Works: The Week's End - February 9, 2024
Feb 9th 2024

From Sunday until Thursday, I was in California attending a Jewish mindfulness retreat with more than 50 rabbis and cantors. The theme for the week was the “Power of Speech”. We studied texts from the Zohar, the great Israeli poet Bialik and the Rabbi of the Warsaw ghetto. While the texts were chosen months ago, we were now reading in a post-October-7 world, and we lifted up our current experiences as we unpacked and explored the texts. 

Each day, we were brilliantly instructed in meditation by Rabbi Nancy Flam. On Monday, we leaned into the silent realm, the domem, characterized by the mountains surrounding us. On Tuesday, our meditation connected us to the plant world, the world of the tzomeach. And on our Wednesday meditation, we highlighted our similarities to the living world.

Each day, there was an invitation to participate in physically embodied activities. I chose to take a mindful walk. If you follow US news, you might recall that it was pouring in southern California this week. Three times, our phones received alerts from the National Weather Centre with flash flood warnings.

But I was a trooper. On Monday, in connection to that day’s meditation, I walked in the rain, focused my attention on the mountains that towered over me and witnessed my movement.

On Tuesday, I walked the exact same route, again in the rain, and focused my attention on the different shades of green in the grass, the shrubs, the trees, plants and bushes. I stopped to notice how some leaves were soaking wet, others had droplets on them, and some were dry, all on the same willow.

When we woke up on Wednesday, the sun shone for the first time since our arrival on Sunday afternoon. I finally saw a blue California sky. I retraced the same route for a third time. But on that day, everything felt different. I heard birds chirping instead of the sounds of falling rain.

In conversation with God, I started to hum this song by David Zeller:

Chai ani.

I am alive.

And who is this aliveness I am

Is it not the Holy Blessed One.”

I felt aware of being alive.

In the distance, I saw a gesher tzaar me’od - a very narrow bridge. I stepped onto that bridge and was able to see plants, trees, mountains, running water and a blue sky dotted with clouds. The words iheye tov, it will be alright, jumped into my head. For the first time since October 7, the heaviness on my heart began to lift.

This retreat not only gave me the gift of silence, but it also nourished my soul. I left feeling that while it won't happen tomorrow, I honestly feel that eventually we will be ok. There will still be many more dark days, but this war and these feelings will not be with us forever.

At the very end of Wednesday’s brilliant walk, I took a moment to stroll in a lush fruit grove. One of the lemon trees was in full bloom. Instead of thinking to myself, “What is going to happen to all of those lemons?” I thought, “Wow, God’s creations are still growing and flourishing. We can too.”

The retreat did what it was supposed to do. By pausing and being mindful, I was able to recalibrate and reignite my spirituality and grow closer to God.

Aviva and I look forward to welcoming more than 50 people to Beth Tzedec on Shabbat afternoon, as we, with some beloved partners, offer an abbreviated version of what I encountered this past week.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Fryer Bodzin