And one piece was familiar territory that took my breath away anew – when I least expected it. To start with, just being in this beautiful part of our country is, as it has been for me since the early 1970’s awe-inspiring. From the gorgeous scenery, to the magnificent sunsets, and from driving and walking down new roads and paths, it has been quite a journey.
I knew that I was going to check-out the twice-weekly Mindfulness group that meets in Great Barrington. That was planned. I knew I would be leading a six-week study series on The Jewish Road to Character: A Taste of Mussar at Hevreh of the Southern Berkshires, where my friend and colleague Neil Hirsch is beginning his fourth year as Senior Rabbi. The unplanned stops on the itinerary included a visit to a Buddhist Retreat Center of which I had previously been unaware. Friends invited to join them as they were going to check the Center’s open Sunday Morning sit. It was quite an eye-opener – both visually and spiritually. The grounds of the Center are simple, and exquisite. Sitting in a diverse community of ages, genders and gender-identities, races and, I am certain, religious backgrounds, was inspiring.
I listen to books-on-tape and podcasts as I drive around the Berkshires. One day I received a notification from a Mindfulness teacher with whom I went on retreat several summers back at Kripalu about his most recent talk at the Insight Meditation Center of Washington, DC which he runs with his wife, Tara Brach. Though it has been several summers since I have sat with Jonathan Foust in person, I am constantly drawn to his teachings, talks and guided practices via his website and monthly email blast. Last week's talk was What Does It Mean to Really Forgive? It really struck me where I needed to be reached on this part of my journey.
The Berkshire Mountain Laurel Practice group, which I’ve now attended twice (and which I hope to visit again tomorrow) has afforded me two entirely different experiences. My first visit found me sitting in a circle of about twenty participants with a leader from the community. When I returned for their Thursday evening sit last week there were just two of us who’d come to participate and a leader. Both were incredibly powerful opportunities for me to experience “sitting” with a new community and new teachers.
Each of these experiences became a stop along my journey, the dots of which would only connect for me as I sat with the Eisner Camp community on Shabbat. Eisner Camp first became a home for me in the summer of 1973 as I spent my first summer on the staff. I worked pretty consistently at camp through the mid-80's in a variety of roles. I then spent fifteen years away from Eisner (many of those summers were spent at other URJ camps and in Israel with NFTY groups.) I returned to Eisner in 1999-2000 as our family settled in Newton, and our family has found it to be an important place in our life and lives ever since. All four of my children have grown up there, as campers, and at virtually all levels of staff. Laura has been one of the Directors for upwards of 15 summers now. I think it's fair to say I am pretty much accustomed to camp Shabbat meals, services, singing and dancing. Yet, last Shabbat, the whole experience hit me with a force I had not anticipated. Perhaps the stops on my journey along the way in the week leading up to my first Shabbat with the camp summer.
Worshiping with the second youngest unit, Bonim in the lead on Friday night, and the second oldest unit, Tzofim (in which I was first a staff member in 1973) on Shabbat morning, Most especially, I was profoundly Shabbat morning by Artist-in-Residence Alan Goodis and the campers and staff with whom he had created that new song which I know is already an Eisner standard, Stand Up.
Yes, I found new ways and places to experience the majesty and magic of summer in the Berkshires. But coming home to Eisner lit my soul and touched my heart at a level I thought I'd long since come to simply expect. I left with a powerful reminder of how we should never take our communities and the moments of meaning we are able to live for granted. Thank you Eisner Camp for bringing me home, welcoming me home and lifting me once again.