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The Shabbaton B'Teva

My Teva events had been going great, and I was discovering so many people with an interest in bringing together nature and Jewish practice. I secured a grant to run a 3-day retreat to the Isle of Arran. A Shabbaton is a retreat to celebrate Shabbat, and 'B'Teva' means in nature. Read more about the previous Teva activities and ethos here.

The following is an article featured in the Glasgow Jewish Telegraph the week following the Shabbaton. It is followed by reflections on specific connections between the Shabbaton and my Forest School practitioner training course.


This past Shabbat marked Teva’s inaugural Shabbaton, bringing a group of community members out to the stunning Lochranza Bay on the Isle of Arran for three incredible days of Jewish learning, nature celebration, and community building. 

The group was based at the Lochranza Field Centre on the north of the island, which became home for the three days. After settling in on Friday, the group began with a welcome circle, getting to know each other and beginning to explore the role that the natural world plays within Jewish practice. We spent the afternoon volunteering at the Lochranza Community Garden, learning about the importance of agriculture in early Jewish life, and discussing the ways in which food is part of our Jewish practice today. The sun shone brightly as we spent the afternoon tending to the beautiful garden, and harvesting some fresh greens to incorporate into our Shabbat dinner later that night. 

Back at the Field Centre, we got busy kneading dough and baking challot to enjoy during our Shabbat meals. For some people it was their first time baking challah, while others shared their own traditions and recipes as we baked together. 

As we headed towards evening, we walked down to the beach, where we built a campfire and began to cook our Shabbat meal. We sang the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat amongst the herons and geese, and as the sun finally began to set towards the horizon, we lit our Shabbat candles from the embers of the fire, and welcomed Shabbat together.

The group was joined for the weekend by Jewish educator Mim Kunin, who joined us all the way from Oxford. Mim led us in a variety of Jewish learning sessions throughout the weekend, bringing in diverse Jewish texts and encouraging us to explore ideas surrounding being in nature and strengthening our Jewish values. Shabbat morning we walked down to the beach, where Mim guided us in a Mikveh swimming experience, using the sea water as a spiritual cleanse.

For Shabbat lunch, we were joined by Barb and Sharon from the Arran Israeli Cultural Association, who spoke to us about island life, being Jewish on Arran, and all the films they’ve shown at their Jewish film club. It was great to hear about the local experience and to gain a deeper understanding of Jewish life across Scotland. 

After lunch, we headed up into Glen Easan Biorach for a beautiful Shabbat walk amongst the hills, ending up at a small waterfall where we swam, meditated and enjoyed the incredible sunshine. After Seudat Shlishit, we came together for a musical Havdallah and to reflect on the beautiful Shabbat we spent together. 

On Sunday we continued our learning, exploring the salt marshes of Loch Ranza and studying the teachings of the Ohev Israel with Mim. Earlier we had discussed the idea of Hefker, or becoming ownerless, in order to be able to open ourselves to receiving Torah. Part of this includes opening oneself up to the world around us, and immersing ourselves in the wilderness, just like the Jewish people in the Sinai before receiving the Torah. We had spent all weekend experiencing different elements of the natural world and celebrating creation, and for our final activity together, we suited up in wetsuits, salopettes and helmets and headed into the North Sannox Burn for a gorge scrambling adventure, making our way through pools, up waterfalls, and eventually leaping off cliffs into the water below. 

Being completely immersed in the river, you lost sight of all of the things holding you back - the need to keep your boots dry, the piles of work back at home, the small day to day things, and the fears and constraints we hold - and we were able to focus on the present, on being together, and on celebrating the world around us. This carried through the entire weekend, which felt like a truly nourishing and transformational space, bringing together diverse Jewish people from all around Glasgow, and forming a community. 

Teva (nature in Hebrew) brings people together to celebrate Jewish life while connecting with the natural world, and hosts monthly activities in and around Glasgow, open to all. To get involved and for information on upcoming events, contact Sydney Switzer and follow us on instagram @getbteva.


Forest School Adjacency

There were many Forest School skills which were very applicable to the Shabbaton, such as lighting fires, cooking fires, and supporting participants in their nature exploration. One of the highlights of the Shabbaton was Friday night, when we have a prayer service to welcome Shabbat, followed by a Shabbat dinner. I tried to involve the participants in every part of this preparation, so help them feel empowered in the creation of the experience.

Earlier in the afternoon they had helped bake the traditional challah bread, and chopped all of the vegetables for the dinner back at the accommodation, for extra hygiene. When we got to the beach, the group decided on the best spot to place our fire, and set out collecting firewood in teams. One pair took on the task of finding suitable poles to make a fire tripod, a task which they took quite seriously. You could tell that they were proud of their achievement, and their contribution to the group meal.

I made sure we had full safety equipment including emergency water, fire gloves and fire blanket, as well as a fire bowl to make sure we didn't damage the ground. One participant took the lead on lighting the fire. They usually used matches, so I supported them in using the flint and steel. They didn't get it started at first, but when they did, you could also sense the achievement.

We then prepared a stew, using the ingredients we had pre-prepared. All of the participants took turns stirring the pot and contributing to the meal. Shabbat officially begins at sunset, and we watched the sun set over the beautiful Lochranza Bay as we welcome Shabbat together.

We were blessed with beautiful weather all weekend, so we didn't need any tarps, although I had brought them just in case. I also brought a hammock, foam mats for us to sit on, and a first aid kit (which we didn't need to use).

On Sunday morning, we studied a Jewish text about creativity and nature. Afterwards, the participants were encouraged to explore the landscape in their own way. I provided a variety of materials and suggestions, and the participants truly took on their own explorations. One participant was feeling cold and antsy, so went for a solo walk along the beach (which was fine because we were all adults). One participant went off with our guest educator for some one-on-one study of Jewish rituals. Two of the participants created artworks using the materials provided, while another went off the explore the saltmarsh where we were sitting and get a closer look at some of the nature. I wandered around, collecting materials, and weaving myself a basket out of some found rushes and stones.

I had originally planned for more of a structured art session, but it was a cool Sunday morning after an intense weekend, and the needs of the participants were very different. By allowing for free play and exploration, all of the participants benefitted in the way that worked well for them.

This idea of doing what worked well for you was very present throughout the weekend. One participant specifically reflected that she always felt like she could do what worked for her, which was a refreshing approach not always present in these sorts of activities, and is not always something I've done with my own facilitation, but is working well.

The whole Shabbaton, and my confidence is leading it, stems largely from my Forest School training and I'm so grateful for all the skills I've learnt which have helped me create this.


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