It felt strange to drive down the familiar roads to the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center with Drew in the carseat behind me. Last time I made that drive, I was pregnant; I was heading down for my last pre-parenthood Yom Kippur retreat. Now, two months and a bit later, my entire life has turned upside-down. I feel already like a different person than the one who made that trip last time.
It's been two years since I completed DLTI (the Davenen Leadership Training Institute.) I was in DLTI IV, the fourth group to complete the training. Today the fifth cohort of DLTI-niks are finishing their formal learning together, so this past Shabbat was their final Shabbat of the program. A few of them are dear friends of mine, and since I missed Ohalah this year, I'd been feeling somewhat bereft of my rabbinic school community's physical presence. So when I realized they were going to be so nearby -- a scant 90 minutes by car -- I decided to head down to Isabella Freedman for erev Shabbat with Drew.
In the world of assiyah (actions / physicality) it felt slightly risky. Drew tends to get overstimulated by evening-time, which can mean a lot of fretful screaming, and he's also often especially colicky in the evenings. So I wasn't sure what the evening would hold or how Shabbosdik it might (or might not!) feel. But in the world of yetzirah (emotions), I really needed the connection with friends. So we went.
Just arriving at the retreat center felt good. I've had so many powerful experiences there that merely setting foot on the campus evokes layers of memory. I arrived in the late afternoon. I carried Drew in his carseat into the main building and settled with him by the fire, talking with him softly about how last time he was there, he was still inside me. As mincha (afternoon services) ended and people began to emerge from the lounge, I realized that I actually know a lot of people in the fifth cohort of DLTI -- all of whom were delighted to see me and to meet Drew.
Services were wonderful. The singing was terrific, and there was impromptu dancing (I held Drew and danced him around the back of the room.) The abundant love in the room was palpable -- very much what I remember from the end of my own DLTI experience. And I guess Drew was lulled by the singing and my dancing/swaying -- or else we just need to have fifty people davening and dancing in his nursery every evening -- because he was either asleep, or reasonably contented, all the way through Kabbalat Shabbat! (That he had napped in the car on the way down surely didn't hurt.)
And then I managed to eat a quick supper with everyone before Drew began to melt down...at which point my friend David and I exited the room and he helped me get Drew into his fleecy outerwear, singing Brich Rachamana softly as we got Drew and me ready to hit the road for the dark drive home. Thanks, Isabella Freedman: I really needed that.