The semi-annual Jewish retreat is always an event I look forward to. Georgetown often gets a bit too hectic, and disconnecting from it for 28 hours is a great way of stopping to look back at the semester, appreciate the things we’ve achieved and form goals for the time we have left on the Hilltop. This year, 35 students attended the retreat, which is the highest number in the history of Jewish life at Georgetown and a testament to the incredible work the community has done to bring students together. As this was my penultimate retreat, seeing how many freshmen and sophomores attended this year made me hopeful that the community would keep on growing and thriving.
We drove to the beautiful Calcagnini Contemplative Center in Virginia on Friday afternoon and arrived just in time to begin our Shabbat service. We turned off our phones and went to the dining hall where Rabbi Rachel led the service. When we got to Lecha Dodi, the prayer in which we welcome the Sabbath, we all took our books and went outside to pray under the stars. We later enjoyed a great dinner and a facilitated discussion on the Jewish traditions our families have and what we value most about them. After numerous successful retreats in the past years, we have a couple of retreat traditions of our own such as hiking a part of a beautiful trail behind the center (that actually connects to the Appalachian trail), playing a hilarious game of charades made by our awesome staff members, making s’mores and hanging by the fireplace. Our free time is usually dedicated to getting to know our peers better.
Throughout the weekend we had several group discussion sessions led by our staff. We talked about the concept of “shoulds,” and the expectations we set from ourselves, as well as the expectations society sets for us. We deconstructed the concept of mentorship and what it means to be a mentor for others in the community. We read Genesis 19, which is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and discussed the importance of speaking up when we believe an injustice is being committed. Some of us got into very philosophical debates, while others were discussing ways in which we could implement those lessons back on campus. Either way, I had some of the most thought provoking conversations with people I just met on retreat, many of which became my close friends later on in the semester.
During our last couple of hours at the retreat center, we had the opportunity to greet the Muslim students who just arrived to begin their own retreat. As a symbol of unification and our genuine commitment to interfaith dialogue, we all came together and sang Hallelujah, which was one of the most unexpected yet memorable moments I experienced with the two communities. Just before we had to leave, we participated in the beautiful ritual of havdalah, which marks the end of Shabbat and the separation between the sacred and the ordinary. We shared what we have learned on the retreat and what we are thankful for. Personally, I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to share this weekend with a community I love so dearly, and I hope we can continue to provide students with a platform to reflect on their experiences at Georgetown and acknowledge the work that is yet to be done.
Written by Shaked Atia, F’17