New initiative set to bring world of Jewish retreating closer together


The world of Jewish retreating can expect to become a more collaborative field with the announcement of Retreat Jewish, a new initiative announced by Pearlstone that seeks to support Jewish retreat centers while establishing shared common standards.

Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown
Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown (David Stuck)

“Retreat Jewish is an exciting, new initiative for offering education and microgrants supporting Jewish retreat centers across the country,” said Eve Wachhaus, chief operating officer at the Pearlstone Center and Hazon, which are in the process of merging. The concept behind the initiative is for operators of Jewish retreat centers and retreat organizers to come together and share best practices with each other, both online and in person, to accomplish their goals.

The initiative traces its origins partly back to a 2020 study from Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies that looked at the different challenges and opportunities in the field of Jewish retreating, Wachhaus said. The study advocated for “investment to support capacity building and ongoing research about Jewish retreating in America,” she added.

The initiative has four main goals. First, Pearlstone hopes to both expand and professionalize the field of Jewish retreating, Wachhaus said. This would involve increasing the numbers of people who engage in Jewish retreating. It would also involve participants in the initiative sharing best practices with each other, to create shared professional standards.

Next, the initiative would strive to maximize the resources that would be available for Jewish learning, Wachhaus continued. Rachel Feldman, Pearlstone’s senior retreat project director, cited its holiday celebrations, its Farm & Forest School and its Tiyul camps as examples of immersive learning, saying in an email that they “follow a method which leads to a much more profound level of learning.”

Organizations that join the initiative will receive as much as an additional $10,000 in grant funding to support them, from The Marcus Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, Wachhaus said. In addition to funding, Feldman highlighted educators and collaborators as resources that immersive learning can continue to make great use of.

The initiative would also work to create sustainable operating models, Wachhaus said.

Sustainability, Feldman clarified, refers to social sustainability, environmental sustainability and financial sustainability.

“It is commonly referred to as the triple bottom line as in people, planet and profits,” Feldman said. “This is often interpreted as creating value for all stakeholders without depleting natural, economic and social resource.

“Through collective learning and collaboration, Retreat Jewish seeks to establish and build consensus around a values-driven operating model, which allows Jewish retreat centers to thrive,” Feldman added.

Finally, the initiative would work toward creating abundant and immersive opportunities to meet community needs, Wachhaus said. Immersion opportunities, Feldman said, involve leaving one’s everyday space and routine and exploring a person’s own Judaism or other aspects of their life.

As an example, a community that was looking for greater intergenerational engagement, such as grandparents spending time with grandchildren, could take advantage of a program like Pearlstone’s Family Farm Camp, Wachhaus said.

Pearlstone has begun organizing town halls with Jewish retreat centers across the country that have expressed an interest in applying for the initiative, Wachhaus said. Organizations that join the initiative will be placed in one of two “cohorts,” with each cohort composed of eight separate retreat centers that will participate in both in-person and virtual meetings to collaborate together. The participating organizations will be divided into two cohorts as it “allows for there to be much more peer-to-peer engagement,” she added.

“The intent isn’t for Pearlstone/Hazon to change so much as to expand our impact in Baltimore and beyond,” Feldman said. “We want everyone to experience a piece of
the magic.”

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