My name is Natalie Assa, I am 23 years old, and I would like tell my story. Coming from Sofia, Bulgaria, growing up in the local Jewish community shaped my character by showing me what “community” means. With around 5,000 members in my local Jewish community, I grew up in a place where everybody was connected and knew each other. I was comfortable in a close-knit community of friends, family, friends of friends and cousins of other cousins. Then, five years ago, I chose to leave my comfort zone and start again from the beginning, moving to Vienna, a larger community in a city where I knew no-one.
When I moved to Vienna, I was eager to create my own Jewish community. I had always known that Moishe House would be part of my life (from my experience in Sofia, which has an active Moishe House community). And in 2016, this became a reality. With four strangers, we decided together to found our own Moishe House here in Vienna. After a successful two years, I then began to look for further opportunities to develop and challenge myself. In 2018, Moishe House decided to bring their Retreatology training to Europe. But what is Retreatology? It is a training that enables young adults to build their own immersive retreats in their local cities. Retreatology was a program I had only heard of from afar and had always wished to attend. When I heard that it was to be held in March 2018, just
outside of Paris, I applied and started thinking of ideas.
Retreatology took place in a quiet and isolated Retreat center. There was only one room where Wi-Fi was available, and yet I never felt the need to use it. It was different from any other kind of Retreat. I knew I was given a chance not everybody could have. The mere fact that attendees can attend the Retreat just once makes it even more valuable. The Retreat team provided us with a diverse range of sessions, touching upon such subjects as effective budgeting techniques to implementation of Jewish texts, all designed to enable participants to develop their ideas for their local immersive training and make it meaningful for others. Facilitation modalities used during the Retreat were diverse, ranging from exploration of Jewish values, time-frame strategies, artistic methods, effective conversation
starters, developing ideas and much more.
The group that formed there was an intimate and focused cohort, all motivated towards crafting meaningful local Jewish learning. I remember looking around the room and perceiving every Retreat participant as a young entrepreneur eager to create something unique in their local city. Retreatology taught me to be open-minded, that every idea I had, no matter how crazy it may seem, is possible. The best part about the experience is that it was grounded in real action. We were all chosen to participate on the premise of our intention to create, and the team made sure that we had the tools to bring our ideas to life. Following Retreatology, more than half of the participants applied for a micro-grant, which enabled them to create their own local Peer-Led Retreat (a local three-day
educational gathering in their home city).
All of the experiences we took in at Retreatology were designed to develop us as leaders and encourage each of us to bring something meaningful back to our local community. And I did! I had a topic, I had the tools, and it was the right time to act. My partner in crime – Alex Levi, a local Moishe House Vienna community member, joined me and we started creating the “Storytelling around Vienna” retreat, scheduled for May 2018. Storytelling is a tool we use every day that has a lot of influence on those around us. Because of its importance to us in everyday life, it became the frame of our Retreat – to provide storytelling instruments as an integral part of our Judaism.
Fourteen of my local peers gathered in Vienna for the Retreat, a weekend of exploration of local Jewish culture and stories in the heart of Vienna. Our Jewish educator, Yuval Katz, was an inspiration for us. Yuval holds a master’s degree in religious science and is an activist in the local Viennese community in
the field of inter-religious dialogues and Jewish-cultural NGOs. On our Retreat, Yuval introduced certain other concepts such as the Jewish ideas around meditation and relaxation as a Jewish value, as well as stories related to Shabbat. Shabbat was special – it brought us all together, cooking and enjoying the communal atmosphere. Shabbat was the big day of our retreat. We explored the stories and secrets of Jewish Vienna all together, cooked according to some of our grandmothers’ recipes, improvised stories that looked at our own Jewish stories today, and held our own “Chevruta” sessions around Jewish
“This was my favorite day in Vienna” was one of the comments I heard about our gathering. This was
the critical moment that after months of planning and organizing and Alex and I understood that every
single minute was worth it.