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Retreat blends concepts of community, individuality
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Retreat blends concepts of community, individuality

Bnai Keshet rabbi offers program of meditation, reflection

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, religious leader of Bnai Keshet, led a one-day “mediation retreat” on Aug. 22. Photos by Ron Kaplan
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, religious leader of Bnai Keshet, led a one-day “mediation retreat” on Aug. 22. Photos by Ron Kaplan

Consider the solitary raisin. Concentrating on every aspect of this dried morsel — the look, the feel, the smell, taste, even the sound of it being chewed in one’s mouth — gives a new appreciation for the world around us by focusing on the often overlooked details of day-to-day living.

Philosophies like that one were the subject of a meditation retreat hosted by Bnai Keshet in Montclair on Aug. 22. About 20 people participated in the program, which was led by the congregation’s Rabbi Elliott Tepperman.

Prior to the event, Tepperman told NJ Jewish News he had been studying mediation at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality for more than three years and was looking forward to sharing a “very valuable process” with those who came seeking enlightenment on this gray Sunday.

Offering the retreat during the month of Elul was helpful in preparing for the introspection that comes with the High Holy Days, said the rabbi. “All the practices are with the good of finding something broader than ourselves. This is a time of year to look inward.”

With the focus on teshuva (repentance), Jews are constantly looking for change. “The moment of creation is always happening,” Tepperman said. “We constantly have a chance to say, ‘Today I want to be different.’”

Judaism’s connection with meditation goes back thousands of years. According to the Talmud, Tepperman said, those who were truly pious would sit in silence for one hour before their prayers. Such stillness is necessary “to give ourselves…the opportunity to be with ourselves while respecting each other.”

Inward focus

After reading a few texts to set the tone of the day’s study, Tepperman led the group in 20 minutes of seated meditation. “Being quiet with ourselves for the moment — whatever else we do doesn’t matter,” Tepperman said, acknowledging the difficulties of keeping the outside world from intruding.

At the end of the session, the rabbi softly chanted “Hashiveinu” to “release” the meditators and prepare for the next exercise: 20 minutes of silent walking, both inside and outside the sanctuary.

Some of the participants walked slowly and deliberately as if on a tightrope, while others took more purposeful strides. Linda Fisher, an attorney and Bnai Keshet member who came to the program with her daughter, Eve Gutman, a senior at Montclair High School, told the group she sensed a “powerful force field” as she paced in front of the Aron Kodesh.

For the third meditation, Tepperman passed around a small bowl of raisins, noting that much of the time people are too busy with the grinds of daily life to take note of what they are eating. “What a luxury it is to sit with one’s food,” he said as he urged the group to enjoy each sensation.

Even the tiny fruit has larger implications. “It interacts with the environment, [going] all the way back to the Big Bang,” grown through the eons by a combination of water, air, and earth.

Other segments of the program included a silent lunch and a period of prone contemplation.

After the retreat, Eve told NJ Jewish News she was “pleased” with the program, even though she expected “more prayer, less meditation.” Fisher said she would welcome additional classes on meditation at Bnai Keshet. “Any and every time it comes,” she said.

Tepperman assessed the retreat the next day. “I thought it went nicely,” he told NJJN. “It seems like the people who were there spoke to a need [for reflection] in this time when we’re supposed be focusing inwardly on our own behavior and teshuva.”

He saw no conflict between Judaism’s need for community and the individuality of meditation, saying there was balance between the seemingly contradictory concepts.

“There’s a reason you need 10 people for a quorum, but you do the Amida by yourself.”

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