City life can be loud, frustrating, demanding, isolating. It sometimes seems like an endless marketplace, with everything for sale, full of flash but empty of meaning. But it needn’t be.
“A thought has blown the market place away. There is a song in the wind and joy in the trees. The Sabbath arrives in the world, scattering a song in the silence of the night: eternity utters a day.”
As Abraham Joshua Heschel understood, Shabbat is an antidote to the overwhelming grind of contemporary life. It is an opportunity to pause, catch our breath, and clear the mind. It is an opportunity to deepen our relationships, try something new, and have some fun. Shabbat offers us the chance to stop doing, and start being.
This is not easy! Our culture is pervasive and demanding. It rewards dynamism and accomplishment, not rest and renewal—even though these ultimately make us more productive. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to take a real Shabbat—to get out of the city, away from the distractions that bind us to the “same old same old,” to open ourselves to new possibilities. That’s when growth can happen.
Beth Shalom is having a Shabbaton this month—a weekend getaway for the whole community centered around Shabbat. We’re heading to a camp site in the Hunuas and we’ll spend a weekend as a community: learning, praying, hiking, creating, singing, and eating. We’ll renew old friendships and strike up new ones. There will be a range of workshops and discussions, and also hikes, prayer services, and a creativity tent. We’ll have a song session around the campfire before the late night (and late late night) movie. A Shabbaton is a weekend to explore some of the possibilities of being Jewish in our time, and a chance to be a kid again.
This is a weekend for the whole family. There will be special programming for our children and young adults, organised by Habo. Interfaith families, where one partner is Jewish and the other isn’t, are especially welcome—as they are at all Beth Shalom events.
There is no Shabbat like a Shabbat in the woods. Birdsong and the sound of falling water replaces car horns and ring tones. As shadows lengthen, they bring with them true darkness and a stillness you can’t get in the city. The candles glow brighter when there aren’t any street lamps, and you’re grateful for their light. Even though there’s no danger in the woods, you treasure coming together to sing—but you carry with you a sliver of solitude, knowing you’ll be back in the dark when the service is over. In the woods, opportunities abound everywhere—to follow a path, gaze at the stars, to sit on a stump. That is to say, to do much or to do nothing. As the Kabbalists knew, Shabbat in the woods is soul-enhancing, and we city folk need all the soul we can get.
We are more than consumers, texters, and commuters. We are full of soul, full of love, full of music and full of questions. We are part of the great pattern of nature, part of the cycle of time. Shabbat in the woods reminds us of who we really are.
The 2009 Shabbaton promises to be a weekend of refreshment and deepening for our entire community. I look forward to sharing it with you.

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