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Pondering Life at America's Largest National Jewish Retreat

Hundreds are gathering in Washington as the National Jewish Retreat ponders myriad aspects of Jewish life ranging from the sacred to the physical.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 8/17/2010, 6:47 PM / Last Update: 8/17/2010, 7:41 PM

Lubavitch World News Servi

Hundreds are gathering in Washington as the America's largest National Jewish Retreat begins to ponder the myriad aspects of Jewish life ranging from the sacred to the physical.

At least 600 registrants are expected to stream into Reston, Virginia Tuesday to attend the fifth annual National Jewish Retreat, hosted by the Chabad-Lubavitch Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI).

The town itself, built close to Washington, D.C., was named in 1964 using the initials of the Jew who developed the town, Robert E. Simon. Reston was the first modern, post-war planned community in the United States which sparked a revival of the planned community concept.

The five-day conference is expected to be equally unusual, with hands-on sessions teaching the “how-tos” of Jewish life, plus lectures on topics focusing on more intellectual, spiritual and emotional aspects.

Allen's First Time Talk About His Jewish Roots

Former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen is slated to speak publicly at the event for the first time about his Jewish roots.

The former governor only discovered his Jewish ancestry during a run for the U.S. Senate four years ago, when the question of his ancestry was raised by a journalist -- a query that raised his ire at the time. Allen had always ascribed his grandfather's internment at a Nazi concentration camp to his role as a French resistance fighter, and said it had never occurred to him that his ancestor might have been Jewish.

Barely a month prior to a campaign debate, his mother finally told him the information she had guarded so carefully all his life, but swore him to secrecy, even from his own wife, his children and his siblings. Henrietta "Etty" Allen told reporters in a 2006 interview that she herself had never revealed her Judaism to anyone, even in the United States, fearing her family would be persecuted.

Henrietta Allen, born to Sephardic Jewish parents who spoke French in Tunisia, was herself freed from the Nazis by Allied Forces towards the end of World War II. His late father was the famed NFL head coach George Allen Sr., who was inducted in 2002 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for leading the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams to victory.

During his tenure as Governor of Virginia in 1995, it was Allen who created a Virginia-Israel Partnership to focus on promoting trade, art, education and general government.

The Spiritual Root of a Marriage Relationship

Shimona Tzukernik, Executive Director of the Omek Foundation is also scheduled to speak at the retreat, along with at least 45 other professors, rabbis and lecturers from various fields.

Tzukernik, slated to speak several times during the conference, will deliver a talk on “The Sacred and the Sensual,” among other topics. In an exclusive interview with Israel National News, Tzukernik commented that the act of being in a relationship is among the most compelling forces in human life.

“By understanding the spiritual root of what compels us to be in a relationship...we can create richer, more meaningful and more pleasurable lives,” she emphasized. The point, Shimona said, was not to focus solely on the spiritual, but rather, to take a broader perspective.

The event is open to the public and a variety of registration options are available, from single sessions up to the entire conference. Other topics on the program include: The Crossroads of American and Jewish Law; Kabbalah and Quantum Physics: Of Mind and Matter; Kidnapped! Bringing Our Soldiers Home at Any Price?; A House Divided: The Controversy Over Conversion; From Krakow to Krypton: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero; Learning to Like the People You Love; From Hollywood to Holy Wood; Keeping Up With the Clintons: What Marc and Chelsea's Wedding Says About the Jewish American Experience; Ethics in Journalism; Ahmadinejad and Armageddon: the Nuclear Threat from Iran, and others.