A place on a panel


I was honored to be the only layperson from Rhode Island to speak at the 2018 National Jewish Retreat. Having taken many Rohr Jewish Learning Institute courses, as well as participating in its Land & Spirit trip to Israel, I knew there would be meticulous attention to detail and a varied program at the retreat. I was not disappointed!

Among the many highlights were programs by such renowned speakers as Rabbi Manis Friedman, Rabbi David Aaron, Prof. Jonathan Sarna and television personality Molly Resnick.

Shelly Dembe, of Soulstir, gave a workshop for women on sacred dance inspired by the Kabbalah – movement designed to awaken the soul. Rabbi Reuven Goldstein spoke about how the printing press helped shape Jewish destiny as “People of the Book,“ as well as showing many rare pieces from the 15th century. 

The panel I participated in was called “The Life of Shabbat.” Seated around a beautifully decorated table, along with six other women with very diverse stories, I discussed my journey toward Shabbat observance. The key point was that instead of framing the day as one where “I can’t do this and can’t do that,” it’s how I get to savor wonderful meals, wear beautiful clothes and connect with family, friends and my Creator.

Just like caring for your physical health, anything you undertake in honor of Shabbat will help your spiritual health. It’s not all or nothing.

Observing Shabbat as a family helps tremendously with shalom bayit, peace in the home, blessing not only family relationships but the home itself with peace and serenity.

It can be so sad to witness a family at a restaurant as they sit together but they’re all on their separate electronic devices. Proximity is not togetherness.

But it’s also important not to push your spouse or kids if they are not ready to become observant as quickly as you since peace in the home is an important Jewish value. Regardless of what type of Jewish “label” you identify with, Shabbat is your heritage and ha-Shem’s gift to us.

Another important part of the conference was the Sinai Scholars program, for 150 college students. Also, during the Shabbat service, there were several girls who had a naming ceremony. I was very moved when identical-twin sisters (from my alma mater, Stony Brook University-SUNY), who had lived in Malta until they were 8, received their Hebrew names. Mazel tov to Ariella and Esther!

In addition to all the wonderful workshops, panels and demonstrations, a highlight of the JLI retreat was meeting and making many friends from around the world.

BRACHA STUART, of Warwick, is an art director and Israel advocate.