Isabella Freedman: an update, and an invitation

Thursday, June 23, 2020 | Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5780

Dear All,

I want to explain how and why Freedman has been closed, and also to invite you to join us for an “Isabella Freedman Getaway” – a 5- or 12-night stay at Isabella Freedman. An amazing opportunity to escape from the city – or wherever you are – and hang out in a beautiful place, with kosher food, space for kids, and great hikes, trails and trips nearby.

And I’m delighted, separately, to share with you the launch of a Virtual Camp Isabella Freedman for adults ages 55+, for the week of July 6th – 10th; and to remind you that registration for our first ever cohort of Adamah At Home is now open.

We hope and intend that each and all of these will be very special experiences. To learn more about each, click here for Getaways, here for Adamah At Home, and here for Virtual Camp Isabella Freedman.

To explain how these three programs arose, I want to give an update on Isabella Freedman in the last four months.

On February 25th, we set up a coronavirus task force. On March 3rd, I left Freedman after a superb and impactful Kenissa retreat led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz. And on the morning of March 12th, we closed Freedman…. temporarily. By then the surging of the coronavirus and the new rules in CT meant it was no longer possible to welcome the next group we were expecting.

What was originally a 10-day closure was extended through to Pesach, and then to Shavuot. By last month it became clear that our regular retreats were no longer feasible this year in any form. If we are to gather people at all, it will be in lower numbers, and with social distancing requirements that preclude our normal programming.

The decision to close – and the concomitant loss of well over $2.5m of projected retreat revenues – led us also to cut our staff significantly, and those staff cuts were completed at the start of this month.

All of this is immeasurably sad. We are, of course, just one small casualty of the COVID crisis, and losing a year of retreats, and even people losing their jobs, is not as significant as people dying from this disease. But, nevertheless, it is sad indeed. As one or two Hazon staffers can attest, I personally argued for staying open as a retreat center if we possibly could. But we could not and cannot. To the staffers who have lost their jobs, especially those who have been at Freedman for a long time, we have expressed our gratitude, and I publicly thank each and all of them for helping so many people have such remarkable experiences at this beautiful place. I especially thank Adam Sher, whom so many of you know, who decided to leave at this time, and who has fulfilled almost every conceivable role at Freedman from (literally) pot-washer to General Manager, and Tonia Moody, who first started working in housekeeping in 1986. A huge thank you to Adam and Tonia and to every single person who has left us in the recent period. And, at the same time, we offer thanks and best wishes to Simone Stallman, taking on the new role as Director of Retreats.

And that leads me to the future. For 2021 and beyond, no decisions have yet been taken. As the remainder of this year unfolds, the Hazon board will start to review longer-term choices and options.

For this year, we faced a choice between closing totally (which would mean that even more staff would lose their jobs, and no-one at all would be able to enjoy being at Freedman) or else finding some way to have smaller groups of people come out, in different ways. And that led us to… The Isabella Freedman Getaways.

Our Summer Getaway program is simply an opportunity to ‘getaway’ and enjoy the grounds, trails, pool and lake at Isabella Freedman, as well as the local area – while eating our farm-to-table kosher cuisine. There will be very light programming, including Teva Tuesdays for kids, the chance to visit with and learn about our Adamah program, and probably optional outdoor davening. We will have a large outdoor tent in which we will eat, and tables both there, and indoors if we have to go indoors, will be at least 6ft apart and will be separated by each party.

Our campus is at the peak of its green, lush beauty. We have a new dock at the lake. There are great trails here, and all of the Berkshires around us. This is a chance to get away from the surroundings you’ve been in for the past few months. Rest and relax while you enjoy the outdoors.

I want to add a word about our pricing, by the way. Isabella Freedman is a not inexpensive place to run. We’re providing three supervised kosher meals a day. And our capacity is substantially lower than it was until the coronavirus hit. So our pricing is designed to cover our costs and make a small additional contribution, against the budget hole we still have to close. We do believe that we have priced this fairly, and indeed we hope and intend that this will sell out. But I say this because I want you to know that, in a Maimonidean sense, if you do join us for a getaway, you will, we hope, not only be having a great vacation – you’ll also help us stay in business.

So – registration is now open, to join us at Isabella Freedman for either 5-day breaks, or 12-day breaks. First-come first-served.


Finally, I’m also planning to take a little time off, starting later this week. And so I hope for all of you, and for myself, that we each catch our breath and re-group, after the crazy range of challenges we have faced these last four months. This is the gift of rest – of shabbat –  which the Jewish people introduced into human history. I hope that, in different ways, we may each enjoy different kinds of shabbatot, different kinds of rest, this summer.

All best wishes, chodesh tov,