The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, the adult education arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, will host its 10th annual National Jewish Retreat at the Omni Shoreham resort in Washington, D.C., from Aug. 11 to Aug. 16, featuring some of the most influential rabbis and lay leaders from across the country as guest speakers, with an expected attendance of over 1,200.
Rabbi Efraim Mintz, executive director of JLI, is overseeing the retreat and has been involved in much of the planning and preparation.
“From morning to night all five days, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., everyone is engaged in discussion and conversation,” said Mintz. “[The retreat] allows people to pause from the day-to-day and reflect as individuals, as a family and as a community on where we are and where we ought to be.” Through study and exploration, it offers “a deepening awareness of our heritage,” he said.
JLI, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., provides Jewish education in more than 900 communities throughout the country and over the Internet.
“What we try to do at the retreat is bring these communities together, so people who are going through the same journeys can connect with each other,” said Rabbi Hesh Epstein of Columbia, S.C., who also serves on the executive committee at JLI. “This retreat creates a support network, friendships and a community.”
Baltimore will have a strong presence at the retreat this year.
As hosts, the regional directors of Chabad-Lubavitch in Maryland, Rabbi Shmuel and Rochel Kaplan will be attending the retreat with contingents from around the state.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for people to get away and do something constructive and worthwhile,” said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan. “It is a cruise on land for both the mind and the stomach.”
The JT’s editor-in-chief, Joshua Runyan, will speak at a panel with other journalists challenging an
Israeli spokesman about how the country is portrayed in the media. He will also interview Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, who was an assistant to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, and a part of the Rebbe’s secretariat for more than 40 years.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Aiken of Baltimore will speak on issues related to women and Judaism.
Aiken, who grew up in Pikesville, went to Towson University. Before starting graduate school in Chicago, she realized the difference in her secular and religious education.
“I was about to enter graduate school and get a doctorate degree in psychology, but I had a seventh-grade education when it came to Judaism,” said Aiken. “I wanted my level of education in Judaism to be on par with my secular education.”
Aiken, the author of several books, has given similar talks in 200 cities worldwide and works with clients in New York and Jerusalem. This year will be her first time attending the retreat and one of her topics will be women and prayer.
“Most people don’t know why 10 men constitute a minyan and why women are not counted,” said Aiken. “A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction to the answer.”
She’ll also talk about issues that couples may face when discussing the level of observance kept in the home.
“If one [spouse] gets excited about their Judaism at a different pace than the other,” she said, “a lot of issues can come up, and they need guidelines and tools to deal with those issues.”
Aiken cited kosher laws and keeping Shabbat as particularly sensitive points. Echoing the remarks of other speakers and organizers, Aiken also feels education of the attendees is what makes the retreat such a critical event.
“This retreat is important because every Jew deserves to be educated about the brilliant, wonderful religion we have,” she said. “It’s only fair that if we have this amazing legacy, everyone should share in its inheritance.”
“I believe that in general when you are in a beautiful surrounding, and it’s luxurious, you feel comfortable,” said Shaindy Jacobson, director of JLI’s women’s studies division, called the Rosh Chodesh society. “You feel open and are willing to accept things that during our daily lives we don’t have the opportunity to examine.”
Jacobson, educator and lecturer to women about their Jewish heritage for more than 25 years, will speak at a farbrengen, a Chasidic gathering, for women. Many of her discussions focus on empowering Jewish women with the knowledge that they can achieve any goal they set while maintaining a Jewish lifestyle.
One of the strongest aspects of the retreat, this year in particular, is the wide range of speakers.
“The diversity of the retreat is phenomenal; it’s a great meeting place of Jewish ideas,” said Rabbi David Eliezrie, from Chabad of Orange County, Calif., and a member of JLI’s advisory committee. “It has really become a place where there is a [wide range] of Judaism at the highest level. Everything there is excellence, everything there is the top of the top.”
Eliezrie will discuss his upcoming book, to be published in September, “Secret of Chabad: Inside the World’s Most Successful Jewish Movement.”
“Our main goal is that people leave the retreat empowered to grow as Jews and, equally important, empowered to inspire others in their communities,” said Mintz.