Jewish Women on the Map - Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center
The forerunner of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center was incorporated in 1893 as the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society. The agency was established to offer Jewish working women, primarily immigrants in the New York garment industry, an affordable vacation. The agency paid for the vacation and reimbursed campers for lost wages. In the 1920s the name changed to Camp Lehman for Jewish Working Girls, in honor of Judge Irving Lehman, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, who donated land in Port Chester, NY, to the camp.
In the 1940s Camp Lehman began offering co-ed summer vacations to young adults, including ex-GIs and students who could not otherwise afford a vacation. In 1936, philanthropist and Camp Lehman board member Isabella Freedman bequeathed $25,000 to the agency. The agency’s name was then changed to Camp Isabella Freedman in her honor.
In 1956, the agency moved to its current home in Falls Village, CT, and began serving a new segment of the Jewish community, senior adults. Camp Freedman has been offering programs for Jewish senior adults every summer since then.
In the early 1990s the agency began to open its doors year-round, and it became the primary retreat center for the Jewish communities of New York and New England. Each year, over 30 Jewish organizations, spanning the denominational spectrum, hold retreats at Isabella Freedman. Reflecting this programmatic shift, the agency is now called the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.
In 1994, in partnership with Surprise Lake Camp, we developed the Teva Learning Center an innovative experiential learning program for Jewish elementary school students that integrates ecology, Jewish spirituality, and environmental activism. Each fall, Teva serves over 900 students from Jewish day schools throughout New England who come to Isabella Freedman for four-day programs.
Building on our experience with the Teva Learning Center, in the spring of 2003, Isabella Freedman developed a new program called ADAMAH: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship. ADAMAH is a leadership training program for Jewish young adults that teaches the vital connection between Judaism and environmental stewardship. Through a six-month residential program, ADAMAH Fellows live communally and engage in a hands-on curriculum that integrates organic agriculture and sustainable living skills, Jewish learning and living, leadership development, and community building. The program strengthens participants’ Jewish identity and commitment to tikkun olam through immersion in an ecologically sustainable, spiritually vibrant, and intergenerationally-connected Jewish community, while exposing countless others to a traditionally rooted yet entirely new way of Jewish living.
In the fall of 2006, the Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center of Accord, New York merged with Isabella Freedman, where it is now known as the Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality (ECCJS). For fifteen years, Elat Chayyim transformed contemporary Jewish life with retreat programs that integrate Jewish learning, spirituality and culture. Elat Chayyim’s mission continues to be a resource and retreat center for the development, experience, and promotion of a comprehensive Jewish spiritual practice. Elat Chayyim retreats promote practices that draw on the wisdom of Jewish tradition and reflect the values and consciousness of our ever-evolving modern experience of Judaism. Elat Chayyim retreats offer experiential approaches to Jewish learning, ritual and prayer that help participants in their search to cultivate the awareness of the Divine presence in all aspects of life.
Elat Chayyim’s retreats welcome people from all backgrounds, including individuals with limited or no Jewish education, seekers who have walked other spiritual and religious paths and those who are traditionally observant. Our faculty includes today’s most respected and innovative thinkers, authors, teachers, cantors and rabbis from across the Jewish denominational spectrum. Thousands of people from around the world have participated in programs facilitated by rabbis, scholars, and artists based on weeklong, weekend, and Jewish High Holiday retreats. In addition, Elat Chayyim has created unique training institutes that target Jewish professionals and provide compelling cutting-edge programming including Jewish meditation, yoga, chant, text study, and an eco-spiritual residential community for young adults.