The NHC New England Retreat has been taking place since 1986 or 1987 and I’ve attended nearly all of them. We went to our first New England Retreat with our then 6 month old daughter and a huge carload of baby supplies. In subsequent years we’ve traveled to the retreat with a growing family, with young teens who assisted with child care and ultimately by ourselves. This year was especially meaningful since it was the first New England Retreat since 2019, due to the pandemic. Many of the attendees were old-timers who have been coming for some 30 years, but we were pleased to include a number of younger people who not only attended, but also taught some of the classes.
To my mind, what makes the retreat so wonderful is the relaxed atmosphere of the organizers and the participants as we study, pray and eat our way from Shabbat through Sunday at noon. No activity is mandatory. The environment is rustic (as are some of the beds!) and the kitchen staff does an amazing job of providing food which is tasty and includes vegetarian and gluten-free options. There is an unusual number of study slots for a weekend retreat. Two sessions on Friday night, two on Shabbat afternoon, one Saturday evening and one on Sunday morning add up to 6 engaging classes with a choice of 3-4 classes to attend per session. A sampler of this year’s classes includes: “Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): The Big Picture”, “Mother, Queen, Wife, Judge: The Severn Prophetesses of the Torah”, “What happens when you Die?”, “Yiddish Pulp Fiction (“Sound”): Guilty Pleasures from the Archives”, “Bible Stories you didn’t learn in Sunday School”, “Kissing in the Synagogue”.
Saturday night featured a “Shuk” (“marketplace”) where artists and authors could display their wares, and a talent show which was expertly curated by Havurat Shalom member Josh Shalem Schreiber, who led music events as well.
Since the majority of the 50 or so attendees had been coming to the annual retreat for many years and knew each other well, there was a concern that it might be difficult for a newcomer to break in. Not so! One friend of mine who has never been to a NHC Havurah retreat told me she’d had a fantastic time. Attendees are open to meeting new people and engaging in conversation about everything from their personal stories, to the class they attended and their hopes for the future.
My only regret about the weekend is that so few Havurat Shalom members choose to attend. I’m hoping that this article encourages more people to consider attending the NHC Havurah retreat in December 2024.