Last year, after I came home from the National LGBTQ+ Retreat, my dad asked me about the experience. He wanted to know what the retreat was like, and asked me what I felt was the number one thing that people needed. I told him that it would be impossible to name one thing that we all needed because of how diverse our community is. We all come from different backgrounds, are at different stages of life, live in different communities. Some of us are out, and some are not. Some of us have a strong support system at home, and some of us are still building one.
Yet somehow, the National Retreat is able to help all of us find what we are looking for.
After combing through the highlights shared by participants at last year’s National Retreat, I began to see a pattern that helps explain how that’s possible. While the National Retreat provides a wide range of programming options to meet everyone’s different needs – from sessions on gender identity to having kids to Torah study – there are also a few needs that we have in common.
A Need for Self Discovery and Expression
- “Discovering myself as part of this beautiful community of people”
- “I felt so comfortable being myself”
The national retreat provides a space to explore our identities, to feel safe expressing ourselves in different ways than we can at home. Whether that looks like using a new name and pronouns, showing off a talent at the open mic, or wearing an extra-sparkly outfit to the Saturday night party, the annual retreat provides each of us a chance to be ourselves without judgment.
A Need for Connection
- “Seeing all the people. Seeing newbies’ eyes wide open. Bearing witness to people who can only be their whole selves this one small time per year. ”
- “I loved it, the sense of community and safety was unparalleled to anything I experience in my day to day life. Seeing people from every part of life, whether they were out or not, hearing their stories and struggles that are so much like my own. You don’t feel as alone on the retreat, at least I didn’t anyway. It felt like going home for the first time in a very long time.”
We all need to feel connected to other people. At the retreat, we have a chance to connect with other LGBTQ+ Jews with ties to the Orthodox community. While we are all unique, we are still all united. Most LGBTQ+ people don’t come from LGBTQ+ families – the retreat feels like coming home, even when it is so different from the home we grew up.
A Need for Hope
- “I’ve never known that you can be queer and religious at the same time. I didn’t know what I was expecting to learn by this retreat but it was an absolute culture shock and gave me so much hope and a much needed community. I’m forever grateful.”
- “It was very meaningful spending Shabbos and the rest of the weekend with LGBT Jews of all observances. I walked away feeling moved and brought home with me several new insights/ideas.”
Feeling optimistic and excited about the future ahead of us makes it easier to adapt to challenges as they arise. For newcomers to the retreat, it is an opportunity to envision a queer Jewish life that is fully integrated and joyful, perhaps for the first time. For those returning, its a chance to reflect on how the Jewish community has changed over the years, and catch a glimpse of the changes we’re working towards in the coming year.
A Need for Fun
- “It’s really good to be in a room of Eshel members laughing joyously and freely.”
- “The dance party was so much fun.”
All of us could use a weekend off every once in a while. Whether your idea of fun is a nature hike, chatting with friends around the firepit, or a spirited tisch on Friday night, we have something fun in store. If you’re bringing kids – or are a child at heart – Tracy Patton of Some Messy Fun brings crafts, games, and activities for the whole weekend so that parents can have some time off (and a few adults always sneak in).
I hope you’ll join us for this year’s National Retreat. I always leave feeling refreshed and recharged for the year ahead.