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TAO: The South Florida Center for Jewish Renewal, Kabbalah, Spiritual, Meditation, Temple Adath Or, Synagogue, Shul, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, South Florida, Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, Rabbi Marc Labowitz

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Cruise  Retreats
Stories & Photos: 2008  |  2007

May 2008 - Cruise Retreat: Spiritual Approach to Relationships

As seen by Anne Goldberg

On June 16 we gathered together for TAO's 2nd Spirit At Sea cruise, a spiritual renewal aptly titled "Blissful Self Discovery." It was no coincidence there were 18 of us (Chai)... as if to say Intimacy and Life are inextricably intertwined.

Our first night
Rabbi Marc intertwined a sweet Shabbos service and an exercise to open us to an understanding of the nature of Spiritual Intimacy to help us become more intimate with ourselves and a partner. Our relationships were varied: we were married and single, we were with and without partners, we knew each other for a lifetime, we knew each other only casually. Our common thread was the desire to experience a whole weekend of learning from Rabbi Marc. Once again, he did not disappoint.

On this Shabbos we learned how to massage our partner's hands (who knew our Rabbi worked his way through school as a massage therapist!) while coaxing from them verbal lists of our talents and gifts. The first list was of our perceived failings and shortcomings; the second was of our talents and gifts. The massage lasted as long as the list. It was a stunning lesson in how to communicate deeply in sacred intimacy with a partner. I could almost hear hearts breaking open all over the room. And this was just the beginning, a tantalizing first taste of the events to follow.

Saturday was hot and beautiful
We were shuttled by ferry to a sandy tropical cay in the Bahamas where the breezy shade of the palm trees offered the perfect setting for this adventure in trust and commitment. Our Intimacy lessons continued as each partner alternated being blindfolded and being the guide to a chosen nearby destination. Keith and I decided I would go first. Courageously I donned the mask and was immediately plunged into total darkness. I am afraid of the dark, but when Keith took my arm, I surrendered in absolute trust to his strong lead. It was most intimate as he whispered to me what to expect with nearly each step I took. And as his guide, I learned the value of total focus on the job at hand. (Note to self: Stop multi-tasking!)

After we all "walked the path," we had fun sharing our experiences... especially when we heard that Fleur walked Bob (Bub) into a low-hanging branch!

Next Rabbi Marc displayed a mound of colored papers with quotes from our sages and told us to pick whichever one(s) we wanted. Meryl Joblin randomly picked the same same quote FIVE times! Even her husband Michael picked the same quote! It was "God your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth," Isaiah 51-12 and 13. It's about being connected to the earth. For those of you who know Meryl, you know is absolute truth confirmed. And truths were being confirmed throughout our circle. This exercise helped us to open to the intimate relationship we each have with God.

And in that moment of Divine connection, we decided to sing the Shema. So there, with the cerulean blue ocean lapping at the sun-kissed sand and a cool breeze caressing our skin, we sang the Shema from our hearts to God. Our prayer was a love song, a declaration of our intimacy with the Creator and ourselves.

As elevating as that was, none of us could anticipate the experience we were about to have. There are seminal events in one's life. As we walked through the sandy muck of the seaweedy ocean, we didn't know we were about to experience transformation. We formed a circle in the waist deep warm water and prepared to perform a mikvah - the ritual cleansing traditionally for women - on each other. One by one we were floated on our back with the hands of the rest of the group gently and firmly supporting us under the water.

With Rabbi Marc leading, and our combined hands working as one, we began to bob our prone friend up and down up and down, up and down rhythmically chanting "Live, Live, Live, Live, Live, Live, Live, Live" until we were gently directed to hold our nose and simply drop down under the water in a first cleansing dip. Then the collective hands returned to support our back while a much more vigorous bobbing began, faster and faster and faster, again chanting, "Live, Live, Live, Live, Live..." faster and faster until at the last, we would all yell "LIFT" and toss our loved one soaring into the air to then plunge under the water in an exhilarating moment of total trust. Ask Penny Cheever about her mikvah experience. Ask Michael Joblin. Ask Trudi. It was magical and fun and intimate and freeing.

You would think these amazing exercises would be enough. But oh no,
Our beloved Rabbi was not done with his students! He had one sublimely sweet and intimate experience left for us. We all took part in the renewing of the marriage vows of Bob (Bub) and Fleur Heaton and Meryl and Michael Joblin. Each of us made an important contribution to the ceremony - Florence gave the brides away, Jean broke the ceremonial plate, Cecile wrote the wedding poem, Bob (Bub) wrote the ketuba, Patti wrote the blessings, I brought the food, Penny sang a song, Keith brought the napkins, Sandy King the glass to break, and more. It is hard to recreate in words what took place in that holy space on that ship as it smoothly sliced through the waters of the Atlantic.

There was sanctity and Love and Admiration and Trust. We shared pure Intimacy as our friends spoke of their deep and abiding commitment to each other. "Oz never gave nothing to the tin man that he didn't, didn't already have..." - America 1970s

In the end, we learned
That loving, honest communication spiced with trust, fun and God is the path to Intimacy. But didn't we already know that? On a very real level Rabbi Marc knew that while we all had this information, we simply did not know how to access it and bring it forth. So he created the space for us to tap into our own knowing and come out feeling more deeply connected, more in love, more intimate, with ourselves, God, and those closest to us. Thank you Rabbi.

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From Meryl Joblin

The cruise with Rabbi Marc and the fine group of fellow travelers was beyond expectation. Mike and I went at Rabbi Marc's urging. We had no idea what to expect, but we trusted Rabbi Marc when he said it would be transformative... and it was. Rabbi Marc never disappoints us, and he always surprises us. The process for growing intimacy with ourselves, others and the divine was well thought out and experiential. You had to be there however to have shared in this intimate experience, which I believe is life changing and life sustaining. It was a magical process.

We got to really know the other participants and to appreciate them for exactly who they are. Special thanks to Fleur and Bob, who shared their anniversary celebration with us and invited us to renew our vows along with them at a special ceremony that was memorable to all. We all received wonderful blessings that were given so freely and beautifully from our friends and "family of choice." No words can express our appreciation for the changes that have occurred to us individually and as a couple. It was amazing to experience the power of transformation that occurred. Everyone came away happier, healthier and more committed to a life of intimacy and the spiritual journey.

If I weren't so tired, I could ramble on about how I believe that this experience profoundly affected us all and that we are all the better for it.

Thanks to everyone that had anything to do with this wonderful event.

All blessings

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Penny Cheever's Musings...

Words don't properly describe my experience on our intimacy cruise. It exceeded my expectations and transcended my heart and soul to another dimension. I have 18 new friends. And that there is no stranger amongst us.

The Heel Spur
Since late December, I suffered with a heel spur. I bought new shoes, got a special insert, performed daily stretches, and regularly took a calcium substitute. Everyone (including the physicians at work) encouraged me to get a cortisone shot or have surgery. I didn't believe either was a good alternative.

I was unable to walk barefoot... even a few steps. My walking routine had been seriously curtailed from twelve plus miles on Sunday mornings to three miles maximum. My foot even bothered me while swimming and driving. Friday night during Services, I slipped off my shoe and massaged my sore heel. Saturday morning, during prayers, I stretched to relieve some of the discomfort. That afternoon, I slipped off my sandals to walk in the sand to the water, but after two steps, I retreated due to the pain. I put my sandals back on.

My Spirit Soars
Later that afternoon, we entered the water as a group to perform our mikvah. I left my sandals at the waters edge, where there was almost no ebb and flow from the tide. Rabbi Marc recited the blessing for the mikvah, and we each participated in the mikvah ritual. As my body was lifted and then dunked, I felt my spirit soar. I felt my ethereal wings lift me toward the heavens and guide me back to the water. After the ritual was completed we all walked back to gather our belongings. My sandals were gone. There was a beautiful conch shell were my shoes had been. But no shoes anywhere. My wallet with my passport and money were steps away on the beach, but no shoes.

At first I panicked a little, and everyone offered me their shoes. But none were going to fit, and I refused them. So, I said, I must start walking back toward the boat, we were on the opposite side of the island. I thought it may take me a little longer with my heel spur, because I had not been able to walk two steps barefooted earlier in the afternoon.

The Heel Spur Is Gone
Well, I walked to the ferry, walked through the cruise boat and back to my cabin, pain free! My heel spur was healed! It is no longer with me! Had I not lost my sandals I may not have tried to walk barefoot again for a long time. I am sure my shoes were not lost or stolen. There was no one around. Only HaShem could have taken them and left us the beautiful shell to behold.

Now, a few days later, I am wearing shoes I could not tolerate before the cruise. Today I walked three miles with no discomfort.

A miracle happened in the waters of Coco Cay, during our mikvah.
The entire cruise, was like this. I feel at peace and whole after all our teachings and experiences. Thank you TAO, Rabbi Marc and my 18 new friends for this blessing.

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April 2007 - Spirit at Sea 3-day Kabbalah Retreat

April 20-23, 2007 launched an amazing adventure on the high seas. You'll definitely want to schedule this one next year! Here's what Anne Goldberg, Marcia Sweedler and Adam Atkin wrote about the cruise.

Photos by Bob & Fleur Heaton, Rick Wolfe, Anne Goldberg, & Amichai Heppner (includes some Passover pictures)

Spirit at Sea, Majesty of the Seas
(by Anne Goldberg)

We were giddy with excitement as we boarded the bus to the Port of Miami. We knew Rabbi Marc had worked very hard on the program, and we were like kids waiting to see what gifts we would return home with. He certainly did not disappoint!

We were led through a series of discussions and exercises designed to help us move from "Surviving Life to Living Life," the theme of our Spirit at Sea Cruise of April 20the23rd. Each activity helped us open our hearts to ourselves and to the group, as we stood in holy unity with each other. And open we did! We talked, explored, laughed, cried and loved one another with complete abandon while our Rabbi gently and lovingly led us into our sacred center.

Rabbi Marc has a way of touching sweet, simple truths with wisdom, humor and relevance. Each day we were drawn deeper into discovering ourselves. As the huge ship rocked us all with the same gentle motion, it seemed the perfect accompaniment to the romance we entered into with our souls.

The events culminated Sunday evening as we prepared to move into living life larger and don the attributes - the garments - of our divine nature. Rabbis Marc, Phillip and Shoni were the holy lights in this spiritual grand finale, guiding us to the truth of who we are and providing a means for us to embrace this, each in our unique way. With the subtle tones of sweet music filling the air, each of us came forward to announce what we chose to embrace and create for ourselves - joy, passion, love, creativity, kindness and more. And as we uttered these sacred words, we were lovingly wrapped in a glistening white tallis. I was privileged to act as photographer and feel so lucky to have captured some of the most reverent moments of that evening. (Please take a minute to look through our photo journal.)

Those of us fortunate enough to have embarked on this journey were forever changed in sweet and different ways. Not only was our faith deepened by this holy weekend at sea, friendships and bonds between us were deepened and tightened. For me, the great gift was the realization that this TAO community has become the family I've longed for since my childhood. My warm, loving, close-knit group of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents & siblings has worn thin and much smaller from both death and life. I have missed that love and the feeling of safety that grows from it and the close relationships I had, and I am brimming with gratitude for feeling this again with my TAO family.

I love you all so very much. For others in our group, the gifts included new levels of self-awareness to bring into every day life; a feeling of being more deeply connected to the group, a deeper appreciation of Rabbi Marc and a greater acceptance of others... we were stretched to a greater vision not only of ourselves but the world at large.

Lest you think all our pursuits were spiritual, I don't think we'll soon forget Sunday night in the disco and the vision of Sandy King stripped down to his BVD's wearing Irene Yovu's shoes, carrying a purse, with a lipsticked mouth and my bra dangling off his muscular chest! Sandy, you are a great sport (with an impressive physique!), and we thank you for the belly laughs you brought us.

Kudos to Linda Weissman (who knew you could still do a perfect split?), Irene Yovu, Joyce Finn and Rabbi Phil for their open minds and fun attitudes. Linda created a wonderful "Get to know you" game of which Amichai was voted the "Best Player" at the end of the trip. And thanks would not be complete without mentioning Bob Heaton and just how much his music, generosity, fun and loving spirit add to TAO. Despite a miserable cold, Bob's musical accompaniment was always there, always great and always deeply appreciated.

None of this would have happened though, were it not for Trudi who's vision and tireless efforts netted us this remarkable and unforgettable weekend. I know I speak for the group when I say, "Thank you Trudi. You made this happen, and we appreciate it."

The final thank you is reserved for Rabbi Marc who created this thought-provoking, divine theme and a beautiful program of activities to help us all feel and know truth. We are so grateful to you for your wisdom and sweet, kind and loving leadership and look forward to the journeys yet to be taken and discoveries to come.

Anne Goldberg
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Dear Joan,
(by Marcia Sweedler)

The cruise was magnificent... on so many levels. Where to begin? First, spirituality. Rabbi Marc led us through a Friday night service that established the theme. He told a holocaust story in which one person said to the other, "We will get through this. We will survive. "To which he replied, "And then what?"

Our work through the weekend was to search for what comes beyond surviving and creates living.

During our Saturday morning service, we shared a tallis with a partner. Then we sat across from each other in two long rows and asked the person opposite us a question that would help us understand them deeply. My question was:What brings you happiness, or what would bring you happiness? This was a version of speed dating! After a few minutes one row moved one down, and we repeated the activity with our new partner. What a connection we forged with each partner!

In the afternoon, we went to Coco Cay, the cruiseline's island. Hanging from trees and bushes were bright colored papers with meaningful quotations. We each picked our quotations... some of us picked a bouquet of quotations! We reflected silently as we each walked, sat, waded, etc. Then in groups of six, we each took six minutes to talk about our quotation and what it meant to us. This was another deep and connection.

The Saturday night Havdallah service included Bob Heaton's homage to the Beatles. We all joined in.

I was not there but Sunday morning Kabbalah yoga got raves. Rabbi Marc is apparently a master yoga teacher.

For the Sunday night closing, we each identified the quality we wanted to live for the future like compassion, openness, etc. In groups of four, we discussed our choice. Then one at a time, we repeated after Mark a phrase that embodied our intention, and Rabbis Phil and Shoni wrapped us in the tallis and Rabbi Shoni touched our forehead. It was very solemn and loving. Each person's face shone with transformation. And there were hugs for each person as they walked away. What a beautiful, meaningful and hopeful conclusion.

I know I left out parts, but I think you get the general sense. I should also mention Bob's contribution, playing accompaniment for each service, dragging his equipment on the cruise. And he paid full price - this was strictly great generosity.

Next level was fellowship and connection. How beautiful to be on a cruise and wherever you go - to lunch, to the pool, etc. - there are your wonderful friends. We dined together as well.

After evening service, we partied! First we went to the performance and then to karaoke where we watched and danced. Not everyone, of course, but a solid group.

The last night we were on a team for a wild competition. I will say no more, other than that if you want to be on a winning team, make sure you have Irene, Linda W. and Sandy, who is a new man in the congregation, and you can't lose! And you can picture Rabbi Philip entering the competition and skipping in a circle around the room. Supposedly demure Ethelind ran up to show her body piercing (ears) and her false teeth (crowns) and her tattoo (eyebrows). I told you we interacted on many levels!!

Paulina could not be there because she is due very soon, and Galia was home with her mother.

If we do it again next year, and I can't imagine we wouldn't, you must come.

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Family Rising and Shining!
(by Adam Atkin)

I've just been lifted by weekend cruising
Into the Labowitz-family's life-time work - their
Work of teaching us (through TAO) to rise now,
So we shine out sweetly in this moment when
We are each hearing all our own inner melodies
Sing! So please accept my great gratitude for
How you devote such sustained, loving
Attention to raising us together...

(Yet: Dearest Paulina - we did miss you!
Hoped your not being with us was not serious -
So we'll soon again see and hear your
Uniquely joyful, beaming beauty!)
Taken together, though, you Labowitz' are the most beautiful,
All-serving, omni-Inspirational family I have ever known!
Yes - you raise our TAO family - community
toward shining intimate Interconnection.
As your words and songs excite our
Innermost parts and join separated souls
Into dance - line swinging all together - we
Melt into joyfulness feeling one and high!
So that's why I now do this little dance
Of appreciation, to thank you for your work.
You three - together with us your larger family -

Show how a world of peace and harmony
May someway come to pass. (Though
Maybe only after many lifetimes.)
You teach how we may all move into that
All-unifying way toward knowing not only
Our selves but simultaneously each other - to then
Be giving and taking beautiful flows of feeling.
Getting wrapped in prayer by you has
Lifted my soul - those moments revealed
The garment of my inner longing that
All could then see shining out!

Beyond Mechanism (Wanting to Understand) a poem by Adam Atkin
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