A Surprising and Wonderful Update from the Buddhist Peace Retreat

A Surprising and Wonderful Update from the Buddhist Peace Retreat

Some of you might remember that right before Rosh Hashana my daughter and I attended an Arab-Jewish peace retreat at a Buddhist village in the Arava Desert. As you can imagine, this isn’t my kind of thing so much, but my daughter wanted to go, and spending time with my daughter IS my kind of thing, so I joined her.

You can scroll down to read my original post from 3 months ago, but to summarize, aside from the fact that half the participants and all the monks were born Jewish, the environment in this village was not Jewish to the extreme.

The Buddhist monks led meditation and yoga sessions in a hall with an imposing statue of Buddha in the corner. Even though it was just a few days before Rosh Hashana, there was not a single mention the entire retreat of Rosh Hashana. The environment was so NOT Jewish, that when I asked the (Israeli!) volunteer in charge where I should light Shabbat candles, he responded with a look of puzzlement and shock.

This was less than a month before October 7th. What has happened at this Buddhist village since then is nothing short of a revolution. On October 7th, residents of the Gaza Envelope were placed in temporary housing in safer areas. Many came to Jerusalem and other cities, but one small Orthodox community from the Gaza Envelope was assigned to this Buddhist village, where they remain until this day.

About 6 weeks ago, the same daughter who attended the retreat with me returned to the village in order to volunteer with the evacuees. She found the place transformed. In order to accomodate the evacuees, the statue of Buddha was removed from the main hall, and every Friday night a soul-stirring Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat takes place there.

The monks decided to make the entire village fully Shomer Shabbat and Kashrut (my daughter’s first job, before she was hired to run a one-room schoolhouse for the evacuee children, was kashering the village’s main kitchen!)

The head volunteer who was so shocked when I asked him where to light Shabbat candles now runs around anxiously before Shabbat reminding everyone: “It’s almost Shabbat! Finish cooking! Don’t forget to turn on your bathroom lights!”

3 months ago I would never have dreamed that this Buddhist village would, within only weeks, become so Jewish. But the truth is that this Buddhist village is far from unique, a third of Israelis say that since October 7th, their faith in Hashem has grown stronger. May it only continue, for all of us.

[Here’s the original post from September 10th]

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

Elul

God

Teshuva

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.

4 comments

  1. Shira Schreier

    Amazing! G-d works in mysterious ways.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. We live in amazing times.

  3. Wow, wow, wow!

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