Many Jews, especially those from New York, become nervous around the word "retreat," which we all grew up thinking was reserved for the use of non-Jews. Aside from the fact that New Yorkers generally prefer to charge rather than retreat, the word conjures up images of nuns holding rosary beads while tiptoeing through green fields, or blonde people who play field hockey and don't own any black clothing reciting Bible verses while eating white bread with mayo. At least that's what I used to think. I was certain, until a few years ago, that participating in anything so titled would be a shonda.
We go on "Shabbatons" instead, big Shabbats, weekends of study, prayer and reflection where the world doesn't intrude and we can truly rest. In other words, retreats. Most kids who grew up steeped in Jewish culture, unlike myself, have wonderful memories of Shabbatons around the campfire in bucolic settings. My synagogue chooses not to play any semantic games, and calls the experiences exactly what they are. We have community retreats, singles retreats, and teen and mediation retreats, all terrific. When I first joined, however, the idea of going on a retreat seemed strange and subversive. I half expected all my friends to start wandering around the lake while praying to themselves.