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Nehirim East Retreat

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Nehirim East is May 15-17, 2015 at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Baltimore, MD!

The Nehirim East¬†Retreat will bring the best of the Nehirim (now in its 11th year!) to the Pearlstone¬†Retreat Center. ¬≠¬≠¬≠¬†This year’s retreat theme¬†is:¬†Concealed and Revealed: Honoring our Depths and Claiming our Wholeness.¬†We’ll bring about 75 LGBT Jews, partners, and allies together for a heartful, fun weekend where you can…

EXPLORE your connection to Judaism with spirited­­­ Shabbat services, workshops, and community-led programming.

RELAX and enjoy nature and a beautiful site outside Baltimore, MD.

CONNECT with an inclusive and diverse community­­­ of LGBT Jews, partners, and allies.

Learn More:

Cost and Financial Aid

Register at our early bird rates by March 15 and pay the same OR LOWER fees as 2013 and 2014 standard rates!

  • Single:¬≠¬≠¬≠¬†$575 (Lodge/hotel room, private bath)
  • Double:¬≠¬≠¬≠¬†$450 (Lodge/hotel room with your own bath)
  • Add 3rd or 4th teen or adult to Lodge room (two double beds): 3rd and 4th people are $250 each.
  • Cabin: (4-7 people, 2-3 people per room, bathroom in cabin):¬≠¬≠¬≠¬†¬†$325 for twin bed $250¬†for bunk bed
  • Non-residential: $180
  • 1-5 year old child in room: $50
  • 6-12 year old child in room: $150
  • 13-18 year old: $250

Rates  from March 16-May 8:

  • Single: $625 (Lodge/hotel room, private bath)
  • Double: $525
  • Cabin: (4-7 people, 2-3 people per room, bathroom in cabin)¬† $375 for twin bed, $300 for bunk bed
  • 1-5 year old child in room: $50
  • 6-12 year old child in room: $150
  • 13-18 year old: $250

Rates from May 9-15‚ÄĒadd another $50 late fee to every price¬†

Financial Aid: Applications will be accepted until May 1. Applicants must pay $72 towards the weekend. Students, the unemployed and those financially responsible for children and/or parents will be given first priority. Every effort will be made to accommodate all requests, but if that is not possible,  financial aid will be given on a first come first served basis.

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Register Now!


Transportation and Timing

For directions and transportation information, please visit the Pearlstone website ( To offer or request a ride to the retreat, visit our­­­ Facebook Schmooze page. All specific transportation information can be found here.

Getting from the BWI Amtrak station to the Pearlstone Retreat Center and Back

Nehirim has researched every possible transportation option from Amtrak to Pearlstone and has found that three people taking a cab is by far the least expensive option, at $15 per person plus tip each way.
As a result we will be arranging taxi cabs to transport participants from the BWI Amtrak station to the Pearlstone Retreat Center on Friday, May 15 between 3 and 6 pm and back from Pearlstone to the BWI Amtrak station on Sunday, departing approximately 12:30.
If you need transportation from Amtrak or if you are flying from BWI, please e-mail Rachel at with your train or flight arrival time. She will match you with two other participants with similar arrival times, let you know about one another, ask you to find one another once you arrive and have a taxi waiting for you at the Amtrak station at an appointed hour. If you connect with one another right away and you are coming from the same city, you could even travel together and get a jump start on building our retreat community.
Please be sure to disembark at the BWI station, and not the Baltimore station! We don’t want to lose you!¬†
Nesiah tovah…safe, easy, pleasant journey.

For more information, please­­­ email us at info[at]

Workshop Descriptions

The Spiritual Practice of Secrets: Honoring the Hidden and the Concealed (Rabbi Julia Watts Belser, PhD)

In this workshop, we’ll examine tales and teachings from the Babylonian Talmud that invite us to consider the power of the hidden and the secret. Queer culture frequently celebrates visibility and self-disclosure. But while coming out can be a revelatory and transformative act, it isn’t the only way we move through the world. Disclosure isn’t always safe, and it isn’t always valuable. Together, we’ll use the wisdom of our own hearts and insights from Jewish tradition to hone the spiritual practice of tending to truths that remain private, of honoring the aspects of ourselves that we keep concealed.

The LGBTQ Guide to The Galaxy of Modern Dilemmas (Rabbi John Franken)

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!‚ÄĚ proclaimed Douglas¬†Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ¬† And such is the case with queer¬†Jewish ethics. ¬† What would Pirkei Avot (Wisdom of our Sages) say about how to treat¬†the date you picked up at the bar or the person you just meet on the hottest new social¬†media hook-up site? ¬† In a post-marriage equality world, what are the Jewish¬†underpinnings of gay family ethics ¬† — both family of origin, families of creation, blended¬†families and families of choice? ¬†¬†In this interactive session with will immerse ourselves¬†in some brief text study and then share our person experiences and thoughts. ¬† ¬†Join us¬†to expand our collective understanding of ethics in a world with rapidly changing values¬†and clarity.

The Seven Fold (Rabbi Joel Alter)

The Torah portions we read this week, Behar and Behukotai, offer one of the broadest expressions of the Shabbat idea in all of Jewish text. In this session we’ll explore how the Torah envisions a world built on cycles of 7 and how each of us – individually and communally – might be integrated into that cycle. And why it matters. As queer folk, we’ll explore, too, the notion of Shabbat as a hidden structure around which we organize our lives.

Writing Yourself Into Existence (Eryca Kasse)

Explore the healing tool of writing to discover parts of yourself you didn’t even know were there, concretize what has been scattered, and claim your inner truth. You will be guided through a series of writing exercises on your relationship with Jewish LGBTQ identities, and have an opportunity to share your realizations and insights with the group. No writing experience necessary! All writing levels welcome! Please bring pen and paper.

Research, advocacy and practical issues for trans* Jews, mikva and conversion, (Rabbi Laurie Green)

As the rabbi an LGBTQ synagogue, I am constantly approached by prospective Jews, and by rabbis, who are confused around working with trans Jews and conversion.¬† This workshop will examine traditional texts while addressing practical issues.¬† Part halakha, part pastoral care, and a smidge of communal politics, we will discuss questions like: who is a same gender witness for mikvah?¬† and what is the true meaning and practice of hatafat dam brit?¬† We’ll survey views from all the Jewish movements, and recent scholarship from LGBT clergy.

Conceal?  Reveal?  Honor?  Claim?  Navigating Interfaith Experiences & Identities (Mycroft Masada Holmes)

Our retreat theme, ‚ÄúConcealed and Revealed: Honoring our Depths and Claiming our Wholeness‚ÄĚ, seems made to include conversation about our interfaith experiences.¬† What does it mean to be a Jewish and/or interfaith person /¬† couple / family, community member / worker / leader?¬† How do these faith / religion / spirituality experiences and identities relate to our LGBTQIA+ ones?¬† How do they affect our process around disclosure, often known as ‚Äúout‚ÄĚness?¬† What do we do with questions about whether we‚Äôre too interfaithful to be Jewish? How is the faith community responding to these ‚Äúnew‚ÄĚ challenges?¬† Your teacher will share some thoughts from hir personal and professional Jewscopalian / Trewscopalian journey and facilitate a group

Being Authentic – the Personal and the Political (Dr. Dana Beyer)

Applying wholeness as part of¬†tikkun olam¬†requires introspection and self-acceptance, as well as an understanding of the possible in the larger world. Let’s discuss!

The Fringe of the Fringe: Honoring and Celebrating Bisexuality (Rabbi Debra Kolodny)

Current research shows that 50% of the LGBTQ community self identifies as bisexual. At this moment it is especially important to reflect on the beauty, grace and holiness of bisexual/sapiosexual people. Come study the Creation story anew along with a corresponding¬†teaching from Midrash Rabbah to help us ground this reflection in our holy texts.¬†We’ll also explore the Rambam’s thoughts on choice as a foundational Jewish theological principle. We’ll use that platform as a launching pad to support sexual orientation diversity and release from the paradigm that choice damages our case for civil and human rights. Once rooted in Torah, Midrash and philosophy we’ll explore how to best respond when something biphobic is said in our presence and how to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible. Come, learn a little Torah and explore some cutting edge issues that are rarely discussed.

Standing in Not Knowing: Honoring Transits and Transitions (Sabrina Sojourner)

When we leave a building, there is a door that indicates an exit. When life offers us challenges, there are doors and windows to be closed or opened. How do you find them? How do we use them? How do we know it’s what is useful. Whether falling in or out of love; starting a new career, loosing a job or wanting to change your work situation; wanting to feel good about one’s self – pack your bags! Learn to travel the path from challenge to opportunity and how to use the spaces between.¬†

The Breath of Shaddai: Embodying Ancient Wisdom (Michael Alterman)

In the book of Job, we are told that the “breath of Shaddai” (i.e., God) gives human beings both “life” and “understanding”.¬† Drawing on another ancient tradition, that of the Taoist internal arts, this class will set us on the path to embodying this Jewish wisdom teaching.¬† Participants will learn a natural approach to breathing that can help to relieve stress, boost health and vitality, and lay the groundwork for accessing the unconscious.


2015 Schedule

3:00‚ÄĒ5:15¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Arrival, snacks, registration, mikvaot
6:00‚ÄĒ6:45¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Welcome and opening program
6:45‚ÄĒ8:00¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Candlelighting and Shabbat services
8:00‚ÄĒ9:00¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Shabbos Dinner
10:00‚ÄĒ10:55¬†¬† ¬† Mishpacha groups
11:00‚ÄĒ12:00¬†¬† ¬† Tisch 12 step meeting (participant-led)

8:30-9:45         Breakfast
9:45‚ÄĒ12:00¬†¬† ¬†Shabbat Morning Services or Spiritual Practice (choose one)
– Renewal davennen
– Mechitza davennen
12:15-1:30     Lunch
1:45-3:00       Workshop 1 (choose one)

  • The Spiritual Practice of Secrets: Honoring the Hidden¬†and the Concealed, Rabbi Julia Watts Belser
  • Standing in Not Knowing: Honoring Transits and Transitions, Sabrina Sojourner

3:00-3:15        Break
3:15‚ÄĒ4:30¬†¬† ¬† Workshop 2 (choose one)

  • ¬†Being Authentic, the Personal and the Political, Dr. Dana Beyer
  • Research, advocacy and practical issues for trans* Jews, mikva and conversion,¬†Rabbi Laurie Green
  • The Seven Fold, Rabbi Joel Alter

4:30-4:45        Break
4:45-6:00        Workshop 3 (choose one)

  • ¬†The LGBTQ Guide to The Galaxy of Modern Dilemmas, Rabbi John Franken
  • Conceal?¬† Reveal?¬† Honor?¬† Claim?¬† Navigating Interfaith Experiences & Identities, Mycroft Masada Holmes

6:00‚ÄĒ7:30¬†¬† ¬† Seudah Shlishit (Third meal) ‚Äď Dinner
7:45-8:45       Mishpacha groups
8:45               Traditional Maariv
9:15¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Havdallah and dancing followed by¬†It Shall Be Revealed! ‚Äď Open Mic

8:30‚ÄĒ9:00¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Shacharit (participant-led)
9:00-10:00         Brunch
10:00‚Äď11:15¬†¬† ¬† ¬† Workshop (choose one)

  • Writing Yourself Into Existence, Eryca Kasse
  • ¬†The Fringe of the Fringe, Honoring and Celebrating¬†Bisexuality, Rabbi Debra Kolodny
  • The Breath of Shaddai: Embodying Ancient Wisdom, Michael¬†Alterman

11:30                   Mishpacha groups       
12:30                 Closing session
1:15                    L’hitraot!

Register Now!



Debra Kolodny, Executive Director

Rabbi Debra Kolodny,¬†(Rabbah D‚Äôvorah) joined Nehirim as Executive Director in March of 2013. She brings over thirty years of leadership in LGBTQ organizations, including five as National Coordinator for BiNet USA and six facilitating NGLTF’s National Religious Leadership Roundtable. She published Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith in 2000 as well as dozens of articles on religion and sexuality. She has taught in hundreds of venues on the topic of Judaism, sexual orientation and gender identity. Active in interfaith social justice work she is a frequent speaker, ritualist, and teacher. Prior to joining Nehirim Rabbah D‚Äôvorah served as the rabbi for P‚Äônai Or of Portland and the Executive Director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. She practices taiji meditates and is passionate about ecstatic dance. Debra and Brio will celebrate their marriage under the chuppah in August.


Rabbi Julia Watts Belser

Rabbi Julia Watts Belser is a professor at Georgetown University, where she works in Jewish Studies, with a focus in Talmud, rabbinic literature, and Jewish ethics. Her work focuses on classical Jewish responses to drought and disaster, portrayals of sexual violence in rabbinic responses to enslavement and empire, as well as gender, disability, and the dissident body in late antiquity. An ordained rabbi, Professor Belser also writes queer feminist Jewish theology and brings disability culture into conversation with Jewish tradition. Before joining the Theology Department at Georgetown, Professor Belser held a research fellowship in Women’s Studies and Religion at Harvard Divinity School and taught in the Religious Studies Department at Missouri State University. She serves on the board of the Society for Jewish Ethics and holds leadership positions in the American Academy of Religion.




Rabbi Joel Alter, Board Secretary

Rabbi Joel Alter serves as the Nehirim Board of Directors Secretary.¬†He ¬†is Director of Admissions for JTS‚Äô Rabbinical and Cantorial schools.¬† He took up this role after sixteen years of service in pluralistic Jewish day schools as a teacher, rabbinic leader, and administrator.¬† His commitments to advancing institutions organized around Torah study and Jewish living inform his past and present roles. ¬†Having been a closeted rabbinical student at JTS in the ‚Äė90‚Äôs, Joel is particularly proud to be the first out director of admissions for the now inclusive Rabbinical and Cantorial programs at JTS. Joel earned his BA in Jewish History at Columbia University; his rabbinic ordination and an MA in Jewish Education are from JTS.¬† He received additional training at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.¬† Shabbat, Torah, Hebrew, hiking, good friends, and good food are among the things that bring him joy.


Mycroft Masada

Mycroft Masada is a faith leader who moved to the Washington DC area from hir lifelong home of Boston MA a year ago; zie is Chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition’s Interfaith Coalition for Trans Equality, a Community Engagement Adviser at TransFaith, and a member of TransEpiscopal.  Mycroft is called to fat justice, and is a writer and artist. Zie is partnered with Julia McCrossin, the Fat Studies scholar; they have one dogter.


Sabrina Sojourner

Sabrina Sojourner is a Jewish African American Woman with roots in many gardens. She serves as a Shaliach Tzibur providing life cycle services Jews in the metropolitan Washington, DC area. She is also a nationally recognized speaker, writer and trainer on diversity and multiculturalism with a long social justice history in multiple movements; life coach, organizational development specialist, singer, so-so guitar player, mother and grandmother embracing life.


Rabbi Laurie Green

Rabbi Laurie Green brings 18 years of experience as a Jewish educator.¬† Prior to assuming her duties at Bet Mishpachah in July 2013, Rabbi Green served as Associate Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo and Rabbi and Director of Education at Aspen Jewish Congregation.¬† She was a founding board member of the National Union of Jewish LGBT Students, and worked in professional politics before attending rabbinical school.¬† Rabbi Green also has extensive experience in community organizing, interfaith relations, and social justice, having worked and trained with Jewish Funds for Justice, the Religious Action Center, and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, among others.¬† She received her pastoral care training at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.¬† Rabbi Green received her B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000 and her M.A. in Hebrew Literature and Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College in 2007.¬† Rabbi Green’s rabbinic thesis “Pious Prostitutes” explored the midrashim of three Biblical women, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, as a lens through which to explore sexuality, gender, power, and interfaith relationships, as they have changed throughout Jewish history and into our day. Rabbi Green has published on feminist midrash, Jewish education, and other topics. She joins the Bet Mishpachah community with her wife, Mira, and their son, Gus.¬†Rabbi Green is available for pastoral care, spiritual guidance, life cycle events, hospital visits, study, and just to schmooze. ¬†She is a resource to the community-at-large and can offer teachings about Judaism, LGBT issues, LGBT inclusion, LGBT theology, sexuality in Judaism and other religious traditions, feminist midrash, and other topics.


Dr. Dana Beyer

Dana Beyer, M.D., a retired eye surgeon, is Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, chair of the national advisory board of Freedom to Work, and a weekly columnist at the Huffington Post. A well-known advocate for health issues as well as gender rights, she practiced medicine and surgery in D.C., Miami, Mississippi, Africa and Asia. She was a candidate for Maryland State Delegate in 2006 and 2010, and the Maryland State Senate in 2014. She has been Vice President of Equality Maryland, Executive Vice President of Maryland NOW, a member of the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign, a founding member of the Progressive Working Group, a steering committee member of Progressive Neighbors, and a board member at the National Center for Transgender Equality and Mobile Medical Care, Montgomery County’s service provider of health care to the uninsured. She is currently a board member of Keshet, the nation’s foremost Jewish LGBT organization, and A Wider Bridge. She co-authored The Dallas Principles in 2009. She served as Senior Adviser to Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg of the Montgomery County Council, and on the Rules Committee of the Democratic party. A mother of two adult sons, she lives in Chevy Chase, MD.


Eryca Kasse

Eryca Kasse is a Jewish lesbian writer and poet of the written and spoken word. Her work has been published in Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry. As a clinical social worker at community mental health centers, she has incorporated writing therapy groups into her practice with adults recovering from mental illness and substance abuse. Eryca was co-director of the 2nd Nehirim DC Shabbaton and lives in DC with her two cats Nina and Olive. Her poetry has been published in Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry and she has been a featured performer at DC area spoken word poetry venues.


Rabbi John Franken

John Franken is rabbi of Baltimore’s Bolton Street Synagogue, a community which prides itself in its openness, pluralism and love for all people. He arrived there in 2012, drawn by the congregation’s warmth, intellectual curiosity, concern for social justice, and culture of caring and inclusion. Previously he served congregations in St. Louis, Boston and Stamford, Connecticut. A Reform rabbi, he was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2003. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law and a B.A. from Tufts University. Rabbi Franken is passionate about social justice, he fought against the first marriage inequality referendum in 2004 by chairing Missouri People of Faith Against Amendment 2 and as leader in faith community on Question 6 for marriage equality here in Maryland in 2012. Rabbi Franken has energized the Bolton Street Synagogue social action platform to focus on issues of food insecurity.   An avid traveler, he has visited more than fifty countries. He also enjoys hiking, biking, learning, theater and film.


Michael Alterman

Michael Alterman has studied Taoist Water Method chi gung, as taught by Lineage Master Bruce Frantzis, for 15 years.  A longtime member of Havurat Shalom in Somerville, Mass., he has for many years led Shabbat and High Holiday services.  Michael now lives on a homestead in the rural hilltowns of Western Massachusetts.  In addition to ongoing classes & workshops in his community, Michael has taught at Amherst College and the East Boston YMCA.  He is a patient and thorough teacher.


This year’s retreat is co-sponsored by:

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