PROVIDENCE – Some 1,200 Jews from all over the U.S. and other nations gathered at the Rhode Island Convention Center July 31-Aug. 5 for the National Jewish Retreat.
The retreat is a component of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, which serves learning centers in over 900 communities, according to the group’s website, www.myjli.com. The institute’s mission is “to make Jewish learning accessible and personally meaningful for every Jew, regardless of background or affiliation.”
Rabbi Efraim Mintz, executive director of the institute, said, “The JLI retreat is the continuation of the multi-educational offerings produced by JLI. We now have, around the world, over 1,400 instructors with a wide variety of Jewish-related subjects. The overall goal is to tap into the ancient wisdom of our heritage from the Bible and find the modern-day relevance.”
The conference had something for everyone, with events that addressed everything from living an inspired life to Jewish history and art, medical ethics, personal growth, spirituality and relationships.
Rabbi Moshe Bryski made a particularly moving and relevant presentation, “Living Inspired in a Cynical World,” presenting a case for seeing light, goodness and hope despite all the strife across the globe.
Asked why Providence was chosen as the site of this year’s conference, Rabbi Mintz said, “We like to move the conference around, move the retreat around to different parts of the country. We searched a number of places; Providence was a very lovely option for us. But I must say, the staff at the convention center, the city, the [visitors] bureau of the city, the hotels, were very accommodating.
“They wanted our group to come, and we salute them [for] their warm welcome and embrace. It’s the first time we’ve been to a convention center. Although it is a large convention center, we were able to replicate the warmth and intimate settings we have had at previous retreats.”
Rhode Island was represented in several areas.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee welcomed the participants, noting that Rhode Island was the first state to declare religious freedom for all.
Bracha Stuart, of Warwick, an art director and Israel advocate, was part of a women’s panel on “The Life of Shabbat.” Each panelist, from millennial to baby boomer, shared the meaning and joy of Shabbat in her life.
Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, also welcomed the participants.
In an interview, Mintz detailed why he thinks conferences such as this are important.
“What makes us Jewish is not what we do, it’s who we are. Once we know who we are, we are encouraged to do the most we can do. Studying or observing Judaism does not make or break our Judaism. We are Jewish by birthright. Once we know that and cherish that, we take steps to celebrate that heritage,” he said.
The rabbi added, “When Jews up their engagement, that’s an up for us. Our enemy is indifferent. Every Jew deserves the access. If someone takes part in the JLI course, if someone takes part in the JLI retreat, if someone comes to Israel, and after the course, after the seminar, after the retreat, their engagement with the Jewish heritage, if they up their engagement, that’s an up for us.”
PATRICIA RASKIN is a Jewish Voice contributor.