January 24, 2019
Dear ALEPH friends,
As some of you may have heard, The Embodying Spirit, En-spiriting Body program—for seven years an amazing laboratory for deep exploration of body- and movement-based approaches to Jewish prayer, Torah, mysticism, and life cycles—has come to an end.
As instigator and director of this program, I’ve been privileged to work with an inspiring and dedicated core faculty, including Latifa Berry Kropf, Rabbi Ori Har, Reverend Simona Aronow, Eshet Hazon Julie Leavitt, and Rabbi Leah Novick. Together we’ve developed a curriculum that has invited our students, clergy and lay leaders alike, to dig deep into the roots of Jewish tradition and to savor the nectar of Jewish spirituality through a myriad of movement and other creative forms—improvisational dance, Body-Mind Centering®, Authentic Movement, Five Rhythms, journaling, collage, poetry, and visual art among them.
Together, with the participation of nearly 40 students in three different cohorts, we’ve grown this work and developed new tools for individual spiritual growth and exploration. At the same time, we’ve supported our participants to integrate embodied approaches to Jewish practice and learning into their own lives and to share them with communities across the country and in Europe.
My dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Shefa Gold, recently published a piece, “Why Go On Retreat, Anyway.” In it she writes about her decision to take dedicated retreat time during her rabbinical education: “I was coming face-to-face with the requirements of three essential elements of a balanced, ever-deepening spiritual life. The first was a daily, moment-to-moment practice; the second was a connection to a spiritual community, and the third was a deep dive into retreat.”
I, too, have been a fierce proponent of the rich benefits of spiritual retreat in a Jewish context. The Embodying Spirit program comprised four week-long retreats, spread over 18 months. This format, woven together with periodic on-line learning sessions and regular khevruta check-ins, allowed participants to dive deep, to knit the precious learnings of the dedicated retreat weeks into their daily lives, and to receive the support of a growing international community of “somatic” Jewish practitioners, seeking to engage in a deeply felt, full-bodied, Four Worlds living Judaism.
I’m so proud of and grateful for what we’ve accomplished together! And, over the course of seven years, I’ve become aware that, as richly transformative as the four-retreat format has been, Jewish embodiment work needs to be made more accessible, more available to folks who can’t make the time and/or financial commitment to four weeks away from home in a rural California retreat center.
So after the graduation of Cohort 3 in April 2018, I made the decision to conclude the Embodying Spirit program, in its original form, so that we might look back and receive the rich fruits of our work thus far and begin to investigate other ways that embodiment might be integrated into the worlds of Jewish Renewal learning and practice. To that end, I’ve cleared my schedule to embark on two months of personal retreat time this winter during February and March, to rest, to write, and to dream into the future.
In May, I’ll be joining Rabbi Shefa Gold as guest teacher for her SOULIFT retreat in Wisconsin and will be bringing some of the Embodying Spirit approach into the realm of working with challenging experiences—dealing with tzurus. In July I’ll offer a class during the Ruach Ha’Aretz retreat at Stony Point Center in upstate New York called “Awakening to the Earth’s Call,” an experiential journey to re-open all our senses to the wisdom messages of the natural world.
I’m also involved in a marvelous project called Taproot, which provides retreat space for Jewish activists, artists, and changemakers of all ages to deepen their connection to Jewish practice and community. My role as a Taproot steward involves bringing embodied and kabbalistic text study and prayer into our retreats. Having just concluded our second annual winter retreat (December 26-31) in northern California, we’re exploring offering programs other time frames and venues as well.
So, although the Embodying Spirit program as such has ended, the work goes on! Keep your eyes peeled for future ALEPH and ALEPH-affiliated opportunities to engage in full-bodied, movement-sourced, Jewish learning. I’m proud to be a leader and fomenter on the ALEPH path of renewing Jewish life!
And should you wish to support my two-month mini-sabbatical retreat this winter, I invite you to visit my on-line fundraising campaign, “Diane Turns Toward the Future,” or to make a tax deductible contribution directly to ALEPH, earmarked for “Rabbi Diane’s Sabbatical.” I thank you in advance for your generosity.
With great appreciation for the creative, inspirited community that is ALEPH and all its allied communities and programs, I wish you a deeply energized and productive winter, tapping the sap-rising life force of this inward-turning season.
Rabbi Diane Elliot