Minutes from the Western Wall, brilliant bougainvillea grace the courtyard of an Old City apartment encased in Jerusalem's signature stone. This is where participants in Sarah Yehudit Schneider's women-only meditation retreats symbolically leave the rest of the week behind to embrace the healing, nurturing powers of Shabbat.
One powerful way to harness these transformative qualities of Shabbat is through stillness.
"Stillness resonates with stillness," Schneider said. "Hashem 'rested' on Shabbat and ceased from creating form and vibration. When we 'rest' in silent retreat and meditation, we create a vessel for receiving the precious flow of Divine peace that is uniquely available on this holy day."
Schneider is the founding director of A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school that provides weekly teachings in classic Jewish wisdom to subscribers around the world. The program has earned the endorsement of many respected leaders, including Rabbi Levi Y. Horowitz, the Bostoner rebbe; Rabbi Noah Weinberg, dean of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah; Rabbi David Refson, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Neve Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Meir Schuster of Heritage House.
Schneider, who says she "has pursued the study and practice of religion, meditation and comparative mysticism since the early 1970s," moved to Jerusalem in 1981. She has studied at Neve Yerushalayim and with Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a noted teacher of chasidut and kabbalah.
She teaches privately to individuals or small groups and is the author of "Eating as Tikkun," "Purim Bursts " and "Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine."
Observing traditional halachic guidelines for Shabbat, Schneider said, usually fosters an atmosphere in which to access the "healing, guiding and enlightening potential inherent on Shabbat."
Taking this experience to a heightened level is the goal of her meditation retreats, which are also halachic.
"There is a whole other wealth of 'light' and bountiful resource that ... remains untapped. Shabbat is a healer. Shabbat is a counselor. Shabbat is a teacher. Shabbat is a loyal and beloved companion," Schneider said. "It is a taste of the world to come -- a taste of perfect clarity, health, knowledge and ecstatic satisfaction."
The typical retreat takes place monthly before Rosh Chodesh. It begins two hours before Shabbat candlelighting and continues two hours after to allow for journal writing. Sitting and walking meditations complement traditional Shabbat davening. Save for meditation instruction and meals, when conversation focuses on the weekly Torah portion, the group maintains an otherwise silent environment.
Schneider leads participants through specific meditation exercises focusing on the Shem Havaya -- the Ineffable Name -- based on traditional Jewish sources. She also encourages participants to label thoughts that arise in meditation and, in a subsequent exercise, to respond to these thoughts with short affirmations or prayers, including the following examples:
All-encompassing prayer for those who come into one's thoughts during meditation, whether for good or bad: Please Hashem, bring light and love, trust and healing into this place [or into that person].
A potentially helpful prayer for thinking or planning: Hashem, please engrave this thought into my memory so that when I sit down to plan it will be there.
Remembering (positive): Thank you for all the sweet experiences of my life but help me stay in the present.
Remembering (negative): Hashem, help me find a way of healing this memory, perhaps by just letting it go. In the meantime, help me to stay in the present.
These small retreats accommodate four or five guests. Advance registration is required. Fees include vegetarian/dairy meals and modest accommodations. It also requires shared responsibility for clean-up and other tasks. For more information, contact A Still Small Voice, Correspondence Teachings in Classic Jewish Wisdom, at POB 14503, Jerusalem, 91141; phone (02) 628-2988; fax (02) 628-8302, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.amyisrael.co.il/smallvoice.
Lisa Alcalay Klug, a former staff writer for the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, writes for The Jerusalem Post, The New York Times and other publications.