Deepening Connections at Kallah 2023

September 13, 2023

Students smiling at the camera hold clay creations

There are grounding and reflective elements of coming together to learn with classmates in nature after a summer apart. HUC-JIR students in New York and Los Angeles began the academic year with Kallah, the highly-anticipated annual retreat that kicks off the school year. The time spent together was filled with learning, discussion, and team-building activities to cultivate a culture of partnership and trust within and across the community.

Kallah Retreat participants smiling for a photo

Students in New York enjoyed a multi-day experience at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in the Southern Berkshires. Over the three days, students and faculty participated in community-led conversation, prayer, and creative thinking around significant Jewish ideas, with topics ranging from “Jewish responses to Historical and Contemporary Disruption” to “Hope and Grief in the Age of Climate Change.” Students also valued planned social gatherings and the outdoor activities of the retreat center, like kayaking.

One of the student leaders on the planning committee, third-year rabbinical student Eden Anolick, says, “Kallah was a moment to connect with and get to know members of the community on a deeper level than I would have if we had simply started the school year off in our building.”

Fourth-year rabbinical student Ben Luks-Morgan served as a co-leader of the planning committee with fifth-year rabbinical student Gabi Cohn. He says, “A particularly rewarding moment was sitting by the campfire during ‘Tikkun Leil Kallah.’ I had a moment with a friend where they told me about the spiritual rejuvenation they were receiving from Kallah. It was warm, thoughtful, and exactly what we had hoped for when we began designing this year’s program.”

In Los Angeles, Kallah took place at Holy Spirit Retreat Center. The day started off with lunch, followed by a special community-wide program led by Ken Rosen, Director of Student Life and Campus Culture.

Third-year rabbinical student and planning committee member Hannah Pomerantz says that she advocated for a half-day Kallah program this year, with optional social time before, to better accommodate for student and faculty schedules. She wanted everyone to be “present, physically and mentally. Knowing that participants felt we planned with them in mind made me feel proud of our work. I am hoping that sense of community and trust will carry on through the months ahead.”

The afternoon offered participants the opportunity to explore Elul through a variety of modalities. Another committee member, third-year rabbinical student Ally Karpel, shares, “We were able to weave in meaningful spiritual preparation for the High Holidays. I think as Jewish professionals it is really easy to get bogged down in the tachlis of High Holy Day preparation. Add in the chaos of beginning a new semester and it takes great effort to invest in our own spiritual growth.”

Third-year rabbinical student Rebeca Orantes and fifth-year rabbinical student Julia Berg led the session, “Tohu Va’Vohu: Making Sense of Elul Through Clay.” Rebeca explains that they used clay as a creative medium to help people express their own introspective journey in the session. She says, “It’s endearing when adults allow themselves to make art; their inner child is craving to express emotions and thoughts beyond words, and, giving them the space to do so can be powerful.”

Julia adds, “I wanted to use the medium of clay because it lends itself to thinking about this idea of primordial chaos and endless possibilities. Because of the work I have done with Dr. Miriam Heller Stern and Beit HaYotzer, I have been deeply interested in the ways that we can incorporate creativity into our Jewish learning, specifically learning about text.”

Opportunities like Kallah allow us to deepen our sense of community and shared purpose; to feel that our work and our learning are part of something bigger.


With gratitude to our generous partners for their vision and leadership in investing in transformational educational experiences at HUC-JIR:

  • LA Kallah: Jay Geller, Esq. and Lowell Gallagher through the Geller-Gallagher endowment and support funds
  • NY Kallah: Erica and Kevin Penn