TOS Kallah 2020: A Communal and Spiritual Experience

Alberta Lipson

This was the 5th Kallah my husband, Roger, and I participated in. We joined TOS 6 years ago, having been members of a large, reform synagogue in Boston for 30 plus years. After retiring from my full-time job, I felt the need for a smaller religious community. We looked around and decided on TOS. After attending the 1st Kallah, we felt our decision was correct; we had found a new Jewish religious home.

For those unacquainted with Kallahs, they combine intellectual, spiritual, and social activities in a retreat environment – in this case, a hotel in Portsmouth NH. Every Kallah has a theme such as Jewish films, a particular book, etc. This year’s focus was on Jewish Music with our own David Sparr, our Musical Director, who gave three interactive study sessions about Jewish Music. As someone who loves music and enjoys singing the melodies (if slightly off tune) at services, this was a wonderful opportunity to learn about music I had appreciated, but had taken for granted. David is a wonderful scholar and has a charming way of presenting new material. We even got to write our own Hebrew niggun. Anything worthwhile and interesting always leaves you wanting more, and I’m eager to learn more about Jewish music.

The services were also special (Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning). We have so many talented and thoughtful members in our community and that was made evident by their contributions – a lay leader who gave the d’var Torah on Friday night, lay leaders who conducted the Saturday morning Shabbat Service, and the lay leader who conducted the Sunday morning service. Rabbi Schaefer gave a very interesting Torah Study Session on Saturday morning. He asked the question, “What name do you use when you pray to God?” It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. It’s also not something that I’ve thought about very much. There was a lively, insightful conversation among the group, including discussions of theological belief systems.

Throughout the weekend, there were many opportunities to socialize and connect with friends and meet new friends — at mealtimes and free time on Saturday afternoon; before dinner on Saturday when we gathered together, chatted, ate yummy snacks and had a beautiful Havdalah Service before dinner. There were also fun activities like Friday night’s “ice-breaker” – name your favorite piece of Jewish music and why; Saturday night’s “Name the Tune” Game. Members offered Yoga on Saturday morning, and Meditation on Sunday morning. The hotel has a fitness center and a pool and Portsmouth is an interesting city to walk around. The closing session was also a highlight – a “Friendship Circle” where we pass around the Torah to each individual who shares his/her thoughts and feelings about the weekend experience. At the Kallah, I feel like I’m part of an extended Jewish family – so meaningful for those who may not have that nearby or may not have that at all. And since the Kallah ended, I find myself going over Hebrew/Jewish melodies in my mind as I go about my daily chores so the Kallah experience continues — what a perfect way to start the day. I hope everyone can have a Kallah experience and I encourage people to join us next year.