Jewish-Buddhist tradition blend in February retreat

By Dan Hibshman, The Willits News, Feb 3, 2006

Ukiah, California (USA) -- A collaboration between Buddhists and Jews in mid-February will offer an unusual retreat and ritual experience to all interested people.

The Ukiah Community of Mindful Living, a group of practitioners in the Mindfulness tradition of monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, and Kol HaEmek, the Inland Mendocino Jewish Community, are co-sponsoring this event. It will take place at Mariposa Institute, a rural setting west of Ukiah, from Friday evening, February 17, through Sunday, February 19. Participants may choose to attend for part or all of the weekend.

As taught by the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness emphasizes awareness of the present moment and uses meditation as a way to follow a spiritual path. The retreat will include times of meditation, practiced especially in silence and in a wooded environment of Mendocino County. All meals will be taken in silence. However, there will be ample opportunities for spoken sharing and reflection, group discussion, and creative expression through writing, music, movement and/or art.

The Jewish calendar places the holiday Tu BShvat, with its emphasis on nature and marking of the birthday of the trees, during this time of year. Thus one retreat activity on Sunday, Feb. 20, will be a Tu BShvat seder (ritual celebration). Also, the retreat will begin with the Jewish weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) service on Friday evening. (Usually, Kol HaEmek congregants celebrate Shabbat at their shul, or gathering place, in Redwood Valley, but on Feb. 17 this service will be at the retreat.)

Historically, according to Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah, Tu BShvat marked the time when one years harvest of fruits was complete and the new years cycle of growth and fruition was beginning again. In the society of ancient Israel this division had practical significance as well, in connection with annual taxes collected on harvests. The holiday, though not as widely known as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover, nonetheless continues to occupy its place on the Jewish calendar, and in contemporary times the birthday of the trees has converged meaningfully with environmental consciousness.

Lyn Fine, an ordained Buddhist teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and one of the event organizers, commented, This meditative weekend of silence, song, reflection, and connecting with nature is open to everyone; no prior experience with meditation or Jewish practice/traditions is necessary. The retreat will deepen our awareness and water the seeds of compassion for our planet. In our use of fire for food and cooking, we will observe the spirit of Shabbat and ecological principles of earth conservation.

A welcome to retreat participants will be expressed at 7 pm on Friday evening, with the Shabbat service following at 7:15. Registration may be completed as early as 3:30 p.m. up and salad dinner will be available at 6.

People attending the retreat have options to be there for all or part of it. Cost for the entire weekend has been set on a sliding scale of $60 to $75 plus contribution of one vegetarian dish for one of the potluck meals; organizers say that no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For those considering partial attendance, the Shabbat service is free, while cost for the Tu BShvat seder is $10. The seder is a ritual rather than a meal and will last approximately two hours, after the retreat lunch on Sunday.

Accommodations are rustic; people will sleep inside heated rooms that contain no beds, so participants should bring equipment for indoor camping. Also, since parking space at Mariposa Institute is very limited, carpooling is encouraged.

For more information, call Jo-ann Rosen at 462-7749. To obtain a registration packet, contact Susan Schulman by email at To discuss special needs or concerns about Shabbat observance, food or accommodations, call Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah, (707) 391-8013.