Electric guitars blast in the background of Copper Mountain Resort’s winter skiing videos, but come August 16-21, the soundtrack of the off-season in Colorado’s picturesque vacation village will be the engaging hum of Torah study, conversation and laughter, as Jews from around the U.S. challenge each other to new intellectual heights.
The first National Jewish Retreat, a project of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), developed when JLI’s executive board perceived a gap in their acclaimed interactive lecture series, offered at some 160 locations around the world. The power of exploring topics in all aspects of Judaism from mysticism to cyberspace, thoughtfully, professionally, attracted more than 30,000 students over seven years. “We are offering an opportunity for Jews to take their Jewish learning to the next level,” said Rabbi Efraim Mintz, Director of JLI. The retreat “really promises to allow people to connect to their inner self by spending time absorbed in serious learning and discussion in a breathtaking environment.”
Alongside Copper Mountain Resort’s lodges gurgling streams flow with winter’s snow gone liquid. Participants will cross rustic log bridges to hear one of the 75 presentations during the retreat, or choose to go horseback riding on the property, kayak, play disc golf, hike, or simply kick back and absorb the gorgeous setting. Schick’s catering, of New York, will have boxed lunches on the ready for anyone setting out for the day.
But chances are there’ll be few box lunch orders. “We are creating an intellectual smorgasbord of ideas,” said Rabbi David Eliezrie a member of JLI’s advisory board. Nationally syndicated radio host and best-spelling author Michael Medved will offer his take on media values’ conflict with Jewish values in one lecture. Chair of Judaic Studies at New York University, Professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, will expose the history behind the “Other the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Debunking the Da Vinci Code, Understanding Midrash, Crypto-Jews of the American Southwest, and Is Judaism Spiritual? will all be part of the five-day intellectual romp. “With a diverse population of people coming, with different needs and interests, we can’t expect the program to be one size fits all. There has to be range of opportunities,” said Chana Silberstein, a longtime JLI curriculum specialist.
The dizzying quilt of lecture and workshop topics reflects the eclecticism of the speakers. Prominent Jewish leaders, like Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schapiro, Dean of the Rabbinical College of Greater Miami and Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch at Lubavitch Headquarters will share the rostrum with a psychologist, archaeologist, film critic, social activists, and writers, among others. Several authors of JLI’s most popular courses will offer insights based on their research. Over a third of the presenters are female, and a solid showing are PhD’s. “We want a program wide enough in variety to engage everyone,” said Rabbi Hesh Epstein, a member of the JLI executive committee. “It’s no fun to have a panel when we all agree with each other.”
Within the first days of releasing the 16-page brochure for the retreat (full of Colorado eye-candy shots taken on site), interest in the conference is mounting.
Diverse in background, beliefs, and passions, the group is self-selected to share one driving passion: an interest in Jewish study and growth. For many, thirsting for Jewish knowledge has landed them squarely out of the in-crowd. “All over the country, anyone who perhaps feel that they are isolated will connect with people doing the same thing they are,” said Rabbi Epstein. Given five days of intellectual growth against an awe-inspiring backdrop and nourishing cuisine, the new “community of Jewish learners” will return to their home communities, said Silbersetin, “energized to take on leadership roles.”
For more information about this retreat, visit (Jewish Retreat)