Pre-Pesach retreats aim to clean out internal shmutz

Cleaning out the shmutz from the heart will be the theme of two pre-Pesach retreats next weekend, one held by Oakland's Aquarian Minyan and one by San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom.

In the pre-Passover preparations, "there is this incredible focus on cleaning the house," said Karen Roekard, shomeret, or president of the board of the Aquarian Minyan. But Jewish mysticism places equal value on "the home that is in ourselves and our beings and our hearts," she said. And that place is equally in need of spring cleaning.

"People neglect the idea of looking at the places that are narrow and dirty in their lives. All those things that hold us back and keep us in Mitzrayim [Egypt], the narrow place. It's important to stop and be present now and be mindful of what is my internal shmutz that I've got to clean out."

The Aquarian Minyan's retreat, at 7th Heaven Body Awareness Center in Berkeley, begins with Shabbat on Friday night, March 30, ending with a daylong workshop on Sunday, April 1 with Sylvia Boorstein, a Jewish-Buddhist meditation teacher and writer.

Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night will also have a spring-cleaning theme, and will be led by Estelle Frankel, a longtime member of the Aquarian Minyan and teacher of Jewish mysticism and meditation.

On Saturday, there will be various events at people's homes, and in the afternoon a "Rebbe's Tish" led by Rabbi Meryam Zislovich, author of "Meryam's Passover Haggadah," which uses the metaphor of leaving Egypt as symbolic of leaving the birth canal.

Zislovich will "teach about combining the portion of the week, Vayikra, with Passover," along with singing and dancing, said Roekard. A potluck dinner in the evening will be followed by a jam session.

Then on Sunday, Boorstein, a founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin, will lead the "Spring Cleaning" portion of the workshop, assisted by Roekard. This is the only time this year that Boorstein will be teaching Buddhist meditation practices from a Jewish perspective. Roekard called the weekend a time to "focus on the narrow parts and open up and clean out our hearts, ready ourselves to leave Mitzrayim, our own personal Egypt."

Meanwhile, at Congregation Beth Sholom, Rabbi Alan Lew will lead a daylong meditation retreat on Sunday April 1 with Zoketsu Norman Fischer, who is the former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center.

The retreat will focus on "sitting meditation, non-theological breath-awareness meditation, with some walking meditation," said Jennifer Kaufman, program director of Makor Or, Beth Sholom's meditation center.

"We'll also do Torah study as it pertains to Passover and issues of leave-taking and transformation, and going from one place to another," said Kaufman. "In the Torah, every time someone leaves a place, they encounter God."

Participants will bring their own vegetarian kosher lunches, and eat silently in the garden, which "helps sustain the attention to the themes at hand," said Kaufman. That will be the goal of the retreat, too.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."