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A Beautiful Retreat

A participant reflects on the Nehirim LGBT retreat

Imagine the 40 most beautiful people from across the nation, gathering in the snow covered city of Boston, in a building representing a castle, in order to give each other support in any capacity which the individual needed. That is how I spent my last weekend. Myself, along with three other Rutgers students, trekked to Boston to attend a Nehirim student retreat. Nehirim is a national community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews, families, and allies, committed to a more just and inclusive world.

After a bus, train, walk, train, transfer to another train and then walk, we finally arrived at the Boston University’s Hillel building. We received our schedules for the weekend and were off to put our luggage at our hosts place and change to get ready to welcome Shabbat. My hosts were unreal. I knew them for less than 36 hours, but yet I felt like I had known them a lifetime. I enjoyed every second I spent with them, whether it was going out to breakfast in the morning or hanging out in their apartment devouring 5 pizza boxes while watching a movie. I can’t thank my hosts enough for the love they gave and the positive and welcoming vibes they emanated to us.

Throughout the weekend, every moment was packed with prayer, presentations, speakers, food (lots and lots of quality meals) and discussions. Although the 3 breakout sessions on Saturday were really informative and interesting, they weren’t my number one favorite part of the weekend. My top ranked activity of this retreat was our Mispacha groups.

Each day we had an hour dedicated to Mispacha (Hebrew for family), during this time, the students were split into smaller groups and we had time to dig deep and open ourselves up.  A student facilitator helped start off the discussions, by asking questions or giving us thought provoking concepts to bounce around our heads. Once the questions were asked, one at a time we gave our answers, whether they related to the original prompt or we had something we felt we wanted to get off our chest. When we were done sharing we would say “Debarti” which in Hebrew means, “I have spoken.” Then the group would respond with “Shamarti” which means, “I have heard.” This exercise seems simple, but it really was touching in an unexpected way. It taught me that sometimes the most healing thing that can be done is to have someone listen to you and let you know that you are being heard. Oppositely, it taught me to be a good listener, and I endlessly enjoyed hearing other people’s life stories. To be able to tear yourself open and be brutally honest with peers whom you have never met before was an extraordinary surprise. The conversations that occurred in the library of the first floor of the Hillel at Boston University will always remain with me as a sense of triumph, honesty and hope.

One other experience which filled me with only happiness was Havdalah (the closing ceremony of Shabbat). On the second floor of the Hillel, we gathered in a circle, arms around each other, with the window the entire length of the wall showcasing the city of Boston in front of us. We began humming, singing and swaying as the prayers were said over the wine, spices and fire. All of us, with different battles to fight, with different causes for happiness, in a dark room, lit by a single small flame, connected to one another with an almost suffocating warmth of love. It was truly magic.

Sunday morning approached way too quickly and unfortunately the Rutgers students had to leave the retreat early to embark on our 9 hours of travel back to Rutgers campus. We missed the picture taking and goodbyes, which was upsetting, but the energy that filled me from the rest of the weekend will last me over until the next retreat!

As the original welcome letter stated, “We are Jews, we are non-Jews, and we are Jews by choice. We are of every generation, every sexual orientation, and every gender expression. We are out, we are not out, we are coming out. We are traditional, untraditional, practicing, lapsed, questioning, experimenting, learned, learning and unlearning.”

 

 

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