New friends, about to go on a midnight boat cruise on the Potomac River
At the end of August, I went on a five-day, all expenses paid trip to Reston, Virginia. I stayed at a very nice Hyatt, hung out with over 100 other college students/recent graduates, ate a ton of delicious food, and…
Wait. I know I did something else. What was it?
Oh yeah. I attended classes and lectures and discussions on different aspects of being Jewish.
You see, I was attending the fifth annual Sinai Scholars Retreat, as a part of the National Jewish Retreat. I had taken the Sinai Scholars class during the school year at Northwestern’s Chabad house, where we delved deep into each of the Ten Commandments every week. It was really interesting, and helped to relate the Commandments to my life in a modern way, which I had never really thought was possible before. So when I was accepted to go on the retreat, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Yes, I knew there would be classes about Jewish things…but that’s really all I knew going in. I had no idea what kinds of classes would be offered, what they would be about, what I would be doing in the five days that I would be there. I was blindly boarding an airplane by myself, with no expectations. So I buckled up, put my seat and tray table in their upright positions, and took a deep breath.
And I am so glad I did. The next five days were a whirlwind of amazing people, subjects, and food.
Oh the food. I could write a full post on just the food! There was a 24-hour buffet of delicious snacks and desserts in the lobby, there were pretty much four huge meals everyday, different themed dinners…I was in food heaven! But I digress.
The girls on Shabbat
As for the classes, we were given a program in the beginning of the retreat with our choices of what we could attend. For each time slot, there were about 3-5 different discussions, lectures, workshops, and classes to choose from. The choices ranged from the Iranian Nuclear Threat, to Quantum Physics of the Torah, to one of my personal favorites, From Krakow to Krypton: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero. There were classes on love, humor, history, and even yoga! There were workshops where you could bake challah, make your own shofar, write your Hebrew name on parchment like real scribes do. Sometimes I had trouble choosing just one class to go to. But then, other times, like at nine in the morning, the quantum physics of the Torah was only just defeated by the idea of an extra hour and fifteen minutes of sleep.
That’s right. I am freely admitting that in the face of all this culture and learning, a few times I chose to skip a class and sleep. Not just in the morning, too. I also skipped a class time and napped during the middle of the first full day. I was so tired from my flight the day before, and I was still getting over a nasty little virus that had been plaguing my immune system for a while. So yes, I feel no shame in confessing that I played hooky to get some well-needed shut-eye.
And you know what? I honestly don’t think I “didn’t get the most out of my weekend” like the Rabbis and their wives stressed the first day during orientation when they told us to attend EVERY. SINGLE. CLASS. OFFERED. I could have either sat through a lecture that I would fall asleep in anyways, thereby offending the guest lecturer, or I could really enjoy my weekend to the best of my ability. And that’s exactly what I did. Because even though I didn’t attend EVERY. SINGLE. CLASS. OFFERED…I did find my own Jewish community.
I met a great group of people around my age from colleges all over the country. We became super close, and even took off during Saturday to spend a few hours roaming around (aka trying to find where we parked our car) in downtown D.C. We hung out at night together after dinner, and by the end of the trip we were all promising to visit each others’ respective schools/hometowns.
Our group out and about in DC for the day
This experience really cemented my theory that being around Jewish people, regardless of if what you are doing together is religious in any way, reinforces your own Jewish-ness. Just by forming your own little Jewish community, you are tied that much closer to your religion.
So while I could write an entire post on the classes I attended, and all the new ideas that were presented to me (like I had originally planned for this post), I realized along the way that the most important thing to take away from this retreat is that by surrounding yourself with a solid group of Jewish friends, you are that much closer to your religion. And really, that is what matters most.