A dozen or so years ago my cousin Kathy called from DC and asked me to join her the following month for a Jewish women’s retreat.
Because geography had always kept us apart, spending a weekend with my cousin was wonderfully appealing and a women’s retreat would be a new experience for us both.
Kathy and I arrived on the beautiful grounds of the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland on a Friday afternoon and met the 16 other participants and the female rabbi and young cantorial student who would be our leaders. By the end of the weekend many of these women would no longer be strangers, and my cousin and I would feel much closer to one another.
We did so much that weekend – we recited prayers, performed rituals, and shared lively communal meals. We discussed Jewish beliefs and customs, learned more about the Jewish matriarchs, and of course debated Jewish feminism. We mediated and practiced yoga and took nature walks, and sang and danced and sat in a drum circle making music together, And we women talked.
We were of varied ages and backgrounds, a few like my cousin Kathy were children of mixed marriages seeking their Jewish identity. Among us was a young woman whose wedding would be the following week, a bereaved recent widow, several mothers and daughters, a woman going through a painful divorce, a pair of sisters, and a mother whose young child had just been given a devastating medical diagnosis. As if by tacit agreement, one of us was always by her side, talking or just holding her.
I’m not sure what my cousin and I expected on that first retreat weekend, but we headed home with a stronger connection to our Judaism, and an appreciation of the powerful bond between women. Kathy and I went back together twice since then, and once our cousin Deb joined us. Each year we left retreat feeling wonderfully enriched and renewed.
Maybe next year we’ll go back with all our cousins!
Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!