Despite the theme of this year’s 5th-8th Grade Retreat (“mystery”), all the clues are there as to how we build such a strong community in under 48 hours. It happens every time we take the ride out to camp and spend Shabbat playing, eating, singing, boogie-ing, laughing, competing, learning, sledding, and being ourselves together.
Last week’s Torah portion was Lech L’cha, which traces Abraham being commanded by God to leave the land of his birth, the land of familiarity, and venture somewhere new. Last week, fifteen students, four teachers, three high school madrichim, two clergy, and two educators took steps towards somewhere new and took rural Wisconsin by storm. As the ice and snow melted under our feet (but not too much—we still went sledding on plastic bin tops!), we continued the age-old tradition of building a Jewish community wherever we are.
It’s astounding that such strong traditions emerge from a retreat that takes place one weekend per year, but returning retreaters expected a high-energy relay race full of breakable eggs, messy whippedcream, and missing shoes, and they were not disappointed. As always, our Beit Café (Coffee House) Talent Show was araucous hit, the competition was fierce but friendly, and the team mascots were delightfully creative. Those who had been on retreat before made friends with those who had never been, and truthfully, I have never seen such strong sportsmanship and inter-team mingling and friendship building than I did this past weekend. Usually on the bus ride home I am asked every ten minutes when I will announce the final scores of the weekend’s competition. This year, everyone was too busy schmoozing and reminiscing to remind me at all! I finally announced the scores as we pulled up in front of Temple Sholom to deafening cheers for each and every team!
I often say in my pitches to parents that retreat is my favorite part of my job. It’s not just a marketing ploy. Retreat is where I get to let my guard down a little, to get into “camp mode,” to be silly and carefree in a waythat isn’t as possible inside the building. Friendships made on retreat are the strongest religious school friendships I see, and it’s a great opportunity for students to bond with their teachers, clergy, and educators.
This year, it’s no mystery why the retreat was so successful. As much as it is the place, it’s the people who make retreat what it is.