Isabella Freedman History
130 Years of Transformational Experiences
The history of Isabella Freedman is a history of evolution and re-imagination. The needs of both the Jewish community and the wider world have evolved and changed since our founding—and so have we. Yet our consistent commitment to and focus on transformative retreats and inspirational educational experiences form the common threads between Isabella Freedman then and Isabella Freedman now, even if these specific terms may be fairly recent. For over sixty years in CT, Isabella Freedman has been a place of rest, regeneration, and renewal where breathtaking natural scenery and a loving communal spirit create the perfect backdrop for individuals and institutions of all backgrounds to congregate, celebrate, and draw upon the Jewish tradition together.
1893: Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society
The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, now a part of Adamah, was originally incorporated in 1893 as the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society. The agency was established to offer Jewish working women, primarily immigrants in the New York garment industry, an affordable vacation. The agency paid for the vacation and reimbursed campers for lost wages.
1920 – 1936: Camp Lehman
In the 1920s the name changed to Camp Lehman for Jewish Working Girls, in honor of Judge Irving Lehman, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, who donated land in Port Chester, NY, to the camp. In the 1940s Camp Lehman began offering co-ed summer vacations to young adults, including ex-GIs and students who could not otherwise afford a vacation.
1936: Camp Isabella Freedman
In 1936, philanthropist and Camp Lehman board member Isabella Freedman bequeathed $25,000 to the agency. The agency’s name was then changed to Camp Isabella Freedman in her honor.
In 1956, the agency moved to its current home in Falls Village, CT, and began serving senior adults within the Jewish community. Camp Freedman has been offering programs for Jewish senior adults every summer since then.
1990s: Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center
In the early 1990s Isabella Freedman opened its doors year-round, and it became the primary retreat center for the Jewish communities of New York and New England. Each year, over 30 Jewish organizations spanning the denominational spectrum hold retreats at what is now called the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.
1994: Teva Learning Center
In 1994, Isabella Freedman partnered with Surprise Lake Camp to develop the Teva Learning Center as an innovative experiential learning program for Jewish elementary school students that integrates ecology, Jewish spirituality, and environmental activism. Every fall, over 900 students from Jewish day schools throughout New England come to Isabella Freedman to attend Teva’s educational programs.
2003: Adamah Farm Fellowship
Building on its experience with Teva, Isabella Freedman developed a new program called the Adamah Farm Fellowship in 2003. Adamah is a leadership training program for young Jewish adults that teaches the vital connection between Jewish tradition and environmental stewardship. Through a 3-month residential program, Fellows live communally and engage in a curriculum that integrates organic agriculture and sustainable living skills, Jewish learning and living, leadership development, and community building.
2006: Elat Chayyim Merger
In the fall of 2006, the Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center of Accord, New York merged with Isabella Freedman. For fifteen years, Elat Chayyim transformed contemporary Jewish life with retreat programs that integrated Jewish learning, spirituality, and culture. Elat Chayyim’s mission infuses our work here at Isabella Freedman by opening doors to Jewish spiritual practice. The Elat Chayyim spirit in our retreats promotes practices that draw on the wisdom of Jewish tradition and reflect the values and consciousness of the world we live in today.
2014: Hazon Merger
In 2004, Hazon launched its New York Jewish Environmental Bike Ride from Isabella Freedman – the first of many of our annual fundraising bike rides to be held at Isabella Freedman.
Eight years later Isabella Freedman announced its planned merger with Hazon, and in 2014 the merger was completed. The Adamah Farm, Elat Chayyim, and the Teva Learning Center, all based at Isabella Freedman, also merged with Hazon in 2014.
2023: Adamah Merger
Pearlstone, a Jewish retreat center in suburban Baltimore, merged with Hazon in 2023 – with the combined organization being known as Adamah. The Jewish environmental educational which was pioneered at Isabella Freedman led to the development of the farm and sustainability focus of the Pearlstone campus.
Today, both campuses host a wide variety of retreats, maintain organic farms, host our Teva programs, and continue to lead the field of Jewish environmental education.