A new Jewish meditation workshop gives Yalies the opportunity to take a break from their busy schedules and just breathe.
Established by Rabbi Jordie Gerson, the meditation sessions are held every Friday at the Slifka Center. The number of attendees has tripled from four to 13 since the first session, which was held Sept. 24.
“It’s about sitting and observing,” Reuben Hendler ’13 said. “It’s very therapeutic.”
The sessions are a way of welcoming Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath that begins Friday at sundown, Gerson said. She said meditation is the practice of focusing on one’s breath and reflecting in silence. The hour-long workshop concludes with a conversation about Jewish scripture and the experience of meditation led by Gerson. Afterwards, participants can go on to Shabbat dinner and prayers.
Gerson said she realized as an undergraduate that meditation needed to be made more accessible to the Jewish community. After being ordained as a rabbi in 2009 and arriving at Yale last August, she was finally able to begin her own meditation workshop.
“I would say it’s an experiment,” she said. “I think it’s taking on its own momentum and I am excited about where it’s going.”
As an undergraduate, Gerson wrote her senior thesis about Jews who left their religious communities to explore Buddhism, and spent a month at a Buddhist nunnery studying nuns. Many of the people she interviewed for her thesis expressed a need for meditation and quiet time, she said, which showed her that for some Jews, going to synagogue is not enough.
Yale has a Buddhist chaplain who hosts meditation daily “Peace and Quiet” sessions in Harkness Tower, but Gerson’s workshop is the first Jewish meditation at Slifka or at Yale.
Two students interviewed said they have found the workshop rewarding.
“Meditation provides an alternative way of experiencing thoughts and feelings which I find healing and meaningful,” said Hendler, who also has some experience with Buddhist meditation.
Hendler said students often become aware of physical sensations, sounds and smells during meditation, as well as their thoughts and emotions.
Ellen Degnan ’12 said meditation has made her more self-aware, and Gerson has helped her to experience that awareness positively instead of converting it into negativity.
This Rosh Hashanah, Gerson led a day-long meditation session at Slifka with Alison Laichter of the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn. About 30 students attended.
Correction: October 29, 2010
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Rabbi Jordie Gerson held a Rosh Hashanah meditation workshop with Sharon Salzberg. In fact, she led it with Alison Laichter of the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn.