My First Week at Ruach Ha’Aretz

This personal reflection comes to Kol ALEPH from  Maggid Ellen Triebwasser-JL

For several years I have read about Ruach Ha’Aretz. I  thought it sounded like a summer camp for grownups!  I was never able to go until this year when my schedule and the location (within driving distance of my home) made it possible for me to attend for the first time.

Something that stood out for me as I read the program offered by Ruach Ha’Aretz was that the week was based on the theme “Imagine: Visions of Peace” and all the classes, taught by enthusiastic and approachable teachers, offered different ways of relating to it. You could choose to chant, sing, meditate, study text, let your body move to express your feelings…or use a combination of any or all of the above. Some teachers encouraged students to work together to create presentations for class.

Evenings were just as full as the days. Early after-dinner choices included mishpocha groups (“family” opportunity to express thoughts and feelings about the day), SpeakChorus (learning Torah in a group and then creating a presentation of the essence of the parshah as seen through the lens of the group members) and Torah Circles (Torah study where the wisdom comes from the participants).

As if that weren’t enough, there were great programs later in the evening, too. The first night, some of the teachers gave perspective on the theme with teachings and processes on four “levels” of peace: inner peace, shalom bayit/interpersonal peace, peace in our communities and peace in the world. The next night we saw peace through the eyes of the next generation, Mia Cohen and Amitai Gross, the young adults who also directed the Ruach Kids program. Wednesday was a “concert” with the Kirtan Rabbi, Andrew Hahn. It was called a concert, but kirtan is participatory and the singing was enthusiastic and soul-lifting. Thursday night was the Ruach Cabaret, which let members of the multi-talented community shine.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the highlights of the week for me was being around the kids. Although my own children, now in their 20s, went to a Jewish summer camp we never did anything Jewish as a family during the summer. I really appreciated the gift the parents were giving their kids (and themselves) by sharing Ruach Ha’Aretz with them. The kids also shared what they had learned about embodying peace during Shabbat morning services and guided us in a visioning and blessing for peace at the closing ritual on Sunday morning.

One of my favorite things was to greet everyone on Friday night when we have all changed from our weekday casual clothes to Shabbat white and festive.

Even though Shabbat morning services lasted a long time by the clock, the experience felt timeless, as Shabbat should be. The SpeakChorus added to our understanding of the parashah and we had a haftorah, too: because it was the Shabbat after the 4th of July, we followed the suggestion of Rabbi Arthur Waskow, shlita, and heard the Declaration of Independence chanted by several strong voices according to the haftorah trope annotated by Chazzan Jack Kessler.

There was time to rest on Shabbat afternoon and after dinner and havdalah an exciting story-creating program for all ages led by Rabbi Mark Novak and Renee Brachfeld.

Another highlight of Ruach Ha’Aretz was meeting people from all over the world. Besides residents of at least a dozen states, participants came from five Canadian provinces, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel and Brazil.

Feed your mind, feed your body, feed your soul. That’s what the amazing week of Ruach Ha’Aretz was for me. I don’t know where it will be held in two years, but I’m planning to be there!