My Final Shabbat of the Year at the Peace Retreat

My Final Shabbat of the Year at the Peace Retreat

My daughter invited me to join her this weekend at an Arab-Jewish silent-meditation peace retreat in the Arava. This wasn’t exactly the environment in which I wanted to spend my final Shabbat of the year.

But I decided I wanted to have special time with my daughter. And I wanted a restorative vacation to rest-up before the Jewish-Mom marathon of Tishrei. And I wanted some quiet time to finally make some progress on my “Elul Plan,” Rabbi Nivin’s goal-blueprint for the coming year. And I also wanted a chance before Rosh HaShana to be in a place where I could get quiet and hear what my soul wants to tell me.

So my daughter and I drove down, arriving on Thursday evening. There were some jarring moments at the beginning of the retreat. Like when the Israeli woman running the retreat greeted us wearing the red robe of a Bhuddist monk. And when we noticed a plaque in our room that read “President Shimon Peres Stayed in this Room: May 2012.”

But the retreat was, in many ways, what I had hoped for.

The retreat was, though, in no way Jewish. All Thursday and Friday our Israeli instructors, speaking Hebrew (followed always by an Arabic translation) made not a single mention of:

Rosh Hashanah




Or even (as the Sun sank down on Friday) the impending arrival of Shabbat.

I had brought along 4 tea candles, 2 for me and 2 for my daughter to light. Looking around at the secular, left-wing Jewish participants, it seemed clear that my daughter and I would be the only people observing Shabbat.

I asked one of the organizers where I should light Shabbat candles. He seemed a bit stunned by my question, but after a moment of thought he suggested I light in the outside dining area, where all the participants were gathered, waiting to head out on a walk to see the desert sunset.

When I reached the dining area, imagine my surprise when I overheard a fellow participant asking a member of the kitchen staff where she could light Shabbat candles…

The staff member set out a round baking tray for her, and the woman quickly lit her candle with a Bob Marley lighter and walked away.

Then, when I was about to light my own candles, a different participant approached me with quick strides and a big smile. With a festive flair she placed my candles inside glasses and held them sideways so I could light them, and whispered that this way they would be protected from the desert wind.

After I was done, another woman gestured to my daughters’ two candles, indicating that she wanted to light too.

And then another woman wanted to light.

And another.

And another.

I wished that I had brought an entire bag of tea candles for all of the women to light.

But B”H, as soon as one woman would light the candles, after she would walk away the wind would blow out the candles so the next woman could light them anew. Woman after woman lit the candles until my daughter arrived and lit her candles, for the final time.

The retreat ended on Shabbat afternoon. Before they drove off, so many people came up to me to say how meaningful it had been to have a religious woman with them! Who was dressed up for Shabbat! Actually keeping Shabbat! And how wonderful it had been when we had “lit candles together!”

It wasn’t exactly the Shabbat I would have envisioned for my last Shabbat of the year, but I’m grateful that I was able do all the things I’d wanted to do during the retreat, as well as something I hadn’t dreamed of: sharing the gift of Shabbat with others.

One comment

  1. Amazing, the way Hashem gave you the zchut of kiddush Hashem, along with investing in your daughter and your bond together.

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