New England Winter Retreat 2019

National Havurah Committee
NEW ENGLAND Winter Retreat

Camp Ramah, Palmer, MA

December 13-15 2019



Studying Torah and vibrant, musical Kabbalat Shabbat services begin our weekend together.  Friday continues with dinner, singing, and study sessions.  Participate in spirited prayer, or contemplative meditation, take walks in the woods or at the lake, study accessible texts, learn and sing new songs, stretch your body and your mind with engaging study and discussion all weekend long.  The retreat ends after lunch on Sunday.

Camp Ramah in New England is located just outside of Palmer, MA, a few miles north of exit 8 off the Mass. Turnpike.  The camp is about 75 minutes from Boston, MA or Hartford, CT; 90 minutes from Albany, NY, or Providence RI; and about 3 hours from New York City.


Camp Ramah has an indoor recreation facility, a lake, wooded walking paths, informal lounges, seminar rooms, a state-of-the-art Beit Midrash complex, a Judaic library, and a prayer space. Accommodations are simple, comfortable, and fully winterized.  Single rooms and “motel-style” rooms are available. Meals are kosher, with vegetarian options. Towels, linens, and blankets are provided.

Saturday Night Entertainment features a talent show, group singing led by Josh Schreiber Shalem and Lauren Rose, and joined by our musical attendees in an open-ended jam session. Bring copies of Rise Up Singing!

Participants from the 413 Area Code can attend for 50% off thanks to a Jewish Family Camp grant available from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Visit or contact the retreat co-chairs for information before registering.

To register, complete this form and send it, with your check, payable to NHC New England Retreat, c/o Steve Lewis, 162 Hampshire St, #1L, Cambridge, MA  02139. We cannot accept on-site registrations. Please return your form by November 21 to avoid the late fee.




Download and Return the Registration Form



Teachers and Presenters

Solomon Mowshowitz

1 – Kissing in the Synagogue

Kissing is one of the nonverbal activities of Jewish prayer, along with bowing, rocking back-and-forth (aka “shocheling”), marching, turning, jumping and lots of other synagogue choreography.  We’ll discuss what we kiss in the Synagogue, when and why.  Time permitting, we might get to some of the other things we do with our bodies during prayer besides talking and singing in Hebrew.

2 – Black Fire on White Fire – the strange letters of the Torah

The Talmud says that when the Torah was given to Moses, it was written in “black fire on white fire.”  When you look into a Torah scroll you see a lot of “Assyrian” (square)-style Hebrew letters.  What happened to the original (Paleo-Hebrew) letters?  There are also strange letters – including some extra large or small, one broken in middle and two upside-down.  What’s up with that?  Show up and find out.

Solomon Mowshowitz is a past chair of the NHC, and taught gene-splicing at Columbia University.

Josh Schreiber Shalem

3 – Embodying “Koach” – Spiritual Strength

When we say “yasher koach” (literally: “may your strength be firm”) to someone, we don’t mean that we admire their brawn, or they should go to the gym and strengthen their muscles. What, then, do we mean? Is the “strength” we are talking about purely internal, a matter of character? Or is there a way of feeling solid and powerful in our bodies that embodies inner strength? Come explore the possibilities with the unique process of Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement®. Bring an open mind and comfortable clothes.

Josh Schreiber Shalem is an active member of Havurat Shalom in Somerville, MA, a popular NHC teacher, a certified teacher of the Feldenkrais Method® of Somatic Education, and performing musician. He is currently studying in the Rabbinical program at Hebrew College.

Trisha Arlin

4 – Exploring “Kavvanot” – preparing the mind prior to the Shabbat Amidah (the “standing” prayer)

Immerse yourself in the Kavvannot of the Shabbat Amidah, using different siddur and denominational translations, along with guided meditation and discussion. As we go from the Opening peticha (three steps back and forward) through the various sections: Ancestors, Power, God’s Holiness, Deep Rest, Service/Prayer/Gratitude, Peace and the Chatima (closing), we will explore what these mean to you and how it may change your Amidah experience. This is a companion class to Sunday’s “Writing our own Kavvanot” class.

5 – Writing our own Kavvanot for the Shabbat Amidah

With some discussion and guided meditation, we will write and share our own kavvanot for each of the seven sections of the Shabbat Amidah, moving from the Opening peticha (three steps back and forward) through Ancestors, Power, God’s Holiness, Deep Rest, Service/Prayer/Gratitude, Peace and the Chatimah (closing). The class will also discuss approaches to prayer writing.

Trisha Arlin ( is a liturgist and author of Place Yourself: Words of Prayer and Intention.

Esther Africk

6 – Recent & Old News about Jerusalem’s Old City

We will learn about two historic hotels from the mid-1800’s built during the latter part of the Ottoman Empire’s rule of Eretz Yisrael, and discuss the divisions of the Old City at that time. We will also learn about some of Jerusalem’s first neighborhoods outside the Old City from 1860 – 1920.

Esther Africk is a licensed Hebrew teacher and a graduate of Teacher’s Institute of Yeshiva University. She has been teaching a women’s group since July 2007 on such topics as:  Mishlei, Jewish history, and Jerusalem.

Laura Bellows

7- “Imperfections” in the holy books

When I began studying to be a soferet (a scribe who copies the Torah and other holy texts), I encountered a world of law that reflects both a desire for perfection and a strategy for accepting the inevitable ink spills in our lives. Join me as we look at some of these core sources for writing holy texts and reflect on (im)perfectionism and holiness in our own lives.

8 – Jewish resiliency & the climate crises: a discussion across generations

As our coastlines, weather patterns, food systems, and ecosystems increasingly show signs of climate change, our communities and younger generations will need to adapt and respond to increased loss, scarcity, and grief. How might we draw on Jewish narratives and histories of resilience help us through these times?

Laura Bellows is an artist, environmental educator, rabbi, and life-long Havurahnik. Originally from the DC area (Fabrangen), she now serves as the Director of Prozdor and Youth Initiatives at Hebrew College. When not teaching, scribing, or dreaming up Havurah-inspired communities, Laura can be found practicing ukulele and snowshoeing at Jamaica Pond (not at the same time).

Aliza Arzt

9 – Erotic poetry in Song of Songs

We will explore some of the erotic verses of Song of Songs and through them will answer the questions of why this book is in our Bible and how does this bring us closer to God.  All verses will be provided in English and Hebrew.

10 – Life in the Fast Leyn:  How to Read Lots of Torah on Short Notice

Learning to chant more than a few verses of Torah (“leyning”) is not simply a question of brute memory.  After nearly 50 years of frequent leyning, I will share some of my tricks for successfully learning large chunks in a relatively short amount of time.  People with leyning experience may get more out of this than beginners, but all are welcome.

Aliza Arzt is a member of Havurat Shalom, and a long-time teacher at NHC retreats.

(Courses 11 and 12 are cancelled)

Sue Gulack

13- The Real Story of Hanukkah – where does it come from?

We will read sections of the book of Maccabees and the book of Judith – the stories of Hanukkah that did not make it into our official Jewish Bible.  We will talk about what they teach us and why they may not have been included.

14 – Make and Take – Reusable Beeswax Food Wrappers

Do you want to decrease your use of plastic wraps and bags? Come and make reusable, sustainable and pretty food wraps that can cover sandwiches and bowls for use both at home and in lunch boxes.  Easy and quick, these will make good Hanukkah gifts as well!  $3 materials fee will cover 3 wraps.

Susan Gulack is a Rabbi and chaplain from Albany, NY, and has been exploring the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical worlds through prayer and study, art and music for a long time. It is her joy to have others join her in these adventures.

Talia Laster

15 – Is There A Case Against Pluralism?

We will look at ancient midrashim (commentaries on the scriptures) to help us explore the questions of when to accept or support other Jews’ practices and convictions, and when not to accept them.

16 – Torah from the Womb

A deep dive into Niddah 30b in the Talmud Bavli, to help each of us remember what it was like to be a fetus.

Talia Laster grew up attending Fabrangen Havurah in Washington, D.C., and is a lifelong member-leader in the National Havurah Committee. She has learned at Yeshivat Hadar and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She is currently studying for rabbinic ordination at Hebrew College.

Ronnie Levin

17 – Bible stories you didn’t learn in Sunday school

Blood, sex, murder, incest, and risqué Jewish texts. We will read several totally compromising texts from the Torah and the Prophets. English versions will be provided, and Hebrew knowledge is not required.

18 – Approaching the “Shema” prayer: Yotzer Or: Parsing, Piercing and Forming the Light

We will examine the structure and formulation of the “Yotzer Or” prayer, the first of the blessings associated with the Shema.  It introduces the structure, themes and motifs of the morning service.  Ability to read Hebrew would be useful.

Ronnie Levin holds a graduate degree in Bible and Tefilah and has been a popular Havurah teacher for years.

Joe Rosenstein

19 – Sage advice: “Pirkei Avot” (Ethics of our ancients):  The Message of Its First Chapter

The first chapter of Pirkei Avot provides a justification for the Sages’ understanding of Jewish history and a rationale for their creation of Rabbinic Judaism which we inherited and practice.

20 – Pirkei Avot and The World to Come

During the 500-year period from 300 BCE to 200 CE, the idea of “olam habah — the world to come” became normative in Judaism.  We will review passages in Pirkei Avot that provide evidence of that process.

Joseph Rosenstein is a former chair of the National Havurah Committee. He is the author of Siddur Eit Ratzon and Machzor Eit Ratzon (see

Download and Return the Registration Form

Comments are closed.