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Media Contact: Juliana Minsky, (805) 687-3322
Santa Barbara's La Casa de Maria Cited as Top U.S. Retreat
U.S. News & World Report features local retreat center in special issue:
50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2006
Santa Barbara, Calif., April 18, 2006—It is fitting that in its 50th anniversary year, a local treasure is featured as one of 50 Ways to Improve Your Life in top national news magazine U.S. News & World Report. One of the life-changing directives the magazine offers to improve body, mind, home, and finances is to "go for a spiritual retreat". U.S. News & World Report also cites a description of La Casa de Maria from a popular national guide to retreats.
"We are delighted to be recognized as one of our country’s best retreats in U.S. News & World Report," said Stephanie Glatt, Director of La Casa de Maria. "La Casa de Maria is a place where the well being of the whole person - mind, body, spirit – is nurtured. It is gratifying to know that the environment for personal and spiritual renewal that we provide to groups and individuals is acknowledged and valued as a vital part of improving our lives today."
Each year, approximately 12,000 people benefit from a retreat or workshop at La Casa de Maria. Over 400 faith-based, educational and nonprofit groups ranging in size from 10 to 150 people come to learn, reflect and grow. Stays range from one to 14 days. For half a century, the historic twenty-six acre retreat center has preserved a serene rural beauty that suggests timeless peace.
"When you walk through their gates, you [enter] a new and peaceful dimension," says Marcia Kelly, co-author of Sanctuaries: the Complete United States—A Guide to Lodgings in Monasteries, Abbeys, and Retreats.
La Casa de Maria hosts a wide variety of community groups and organizations focusing on spiritual, educational, community building, peace, social and economic justice, at-risk youth, and the environment. The nonprofit organization also sponsors its own programs focusing on spiritual renewal, personal growth, education, health and healing, arts and civic renewal. The Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal, which functions alongside La Casa de Maria under the nonprofit umbrella of the Immaculate Heart Community, serves individuals and couples for non structured, personal retreats. The website is at www.lacasademaria.org.
Note to editors: High resolution photos and b-roll available. To request or to schedule a tour of La Casa de Maria Retreat Center, please contact: Juliana Minsky, (805) 687-3322, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About La Casa de Maria
The mission of La Casa de Maria is to provide, through its programs and its environment a nourishing place of peace where persons of all faiths can search for truth, engage in dialogue, experience personal growth, realize their self-worth, embrace the sacred, and then refreshed and renewed, participate more responsibly in the creation of a just and peaceful world, and a whole and healthful earth.
the Press Release in PDF Format
By Isabelle T. Walker, February
Beyond Words Bridges the
Gap for Israeli Arabs, Christians, and Jews
by Isabelle T. Walker • Photographs by Paul Wellman
her lunch tray, 13-year-old Nitsan Gordon entered the
room full of boisterous adolescents and looked for a place
to sit. For an Israeli girl on the brink of womanhood,
attending public school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in
1974 was too often a lesson in loneliness. But because
her dad was finishing his doctorate at nearby Peabody
College, it was a sacrifice she was willing to make in
order to avoid a prolonged family separation.
After finding a welcoming table to join, Gordon began
eating. Then, from a gaggle of eighth-graders close by
came the unforgettable slur. “Dirty Jew. Look what
the only Jew in the school, Gordon was stunned, speechless,
and horrified. Her classmates were just warming up. They
threw food at her, followed her home tossing rocks at
her back. Once, they even remarked within her earshot:
“Don’t you wish all the Jews had been killed
in the Holocaust?”
It wasn’t until Gordon’s dad came and spoke
to the class about Jewish experiences in Nazi labor camps
that the abuse subsided. But for Gordon, the prejudice
had already affected her deeply. She spent much of her
early adulthood healing its wounds. In the process, she
discovered a talent for helping others heal from bigotry,
particularly Israeli Jews, Christians, and Palestinians.
Twelve years ago, Gordon and a respected Arab-Israeli
educator named Marian Mar’i Ryan cofounded an organization
called Beyond Words. By bringing Arab and Jewish women
together in intimate groups once a week to share their
deepest fears and distrust of one another, bit by bit,
they are creating a foundation for peace.
This January 13, Gordon and 22 other Beyond Words members?—?11
Arab and 11 Jewish women?—?came to Santa Barbara’s
La Casa de Maria for a three-day retreat. All live in
northern Israel near the border with Lebanon, many in
or near the ancient cities of Galilee and Nazareth. The
retreat, which was organized by 20 Santa Barbara women,
Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, who are friends of La Casa
de Maria, came at the tail end of an 18-day intensive
training in non-violent conflict resolution at the Esalen
Institute in Big Sur and provided a welcome interlude
before their long trip home.
The women arrived at La Casa de Maria just after midnight
Saturday morning, having driven down the winding, cliff-bound
Pacific Coast Highway in the dark?—?an eerie metaphor
for the journey they’ve chosen in life. Three of
the women had taken a wrong turn on a nature hike that
day and become lost in the thick brush and wilderness
surrounding Esalen for nine hours, delaying their departure
for Santa Barbara. For Gordon, it was a reminder. “It
wasn’t just the three members of our group who were
lost, it was all of us,” she said. “We are
Gordon was born in a Kibbutz near the Jordanian border.
Her brother was severely wounded in 1986 while intercepting
a suicide bomber, an experience that could have easily
hardened her heart. Yet Gordon is determined to remain
open. For her, it seems a choice she must make again and
again. Her beautiful, yet sad brown eyes and soft way
of being and speech draw people to her.
Saturday morning, Gordon told La Casa staff that the group’s
time at Esalen had been hard, and she wasn’t just
referring to the five hours they spent outside in the
cold waiting for news from search and rescue crews.
“There is deep pain around being Jewish and having
no other place in the world to be safe,” she said.
“And the Palestinians [in the group], they have
other countries they can go to but they feel, ‘No,
this is where our ancestors are from. This is our home
Mervat Hamati, an Arab Christian with Beyond Words since
it was founded, agreed. “I’ve been friends
with a woman [in the group] who is Jewish, and I knew
there was some prejudice there, but we couldn’t
touch it. It was too painful. Then [in Esalen] it came
up, and at first I thought, ‘Wow, this is awful
what she is saying.’ But then I thought ‘No,
it is her truth and it is safe enough for her to say it.’”
This is the heart of the work Beyond Words is doing, according
to Gordon. In every group, the two facilitators, one Arab,
one Jewish, work to create a safe environment in which
the women can access and express their feelings, often
through dance and body work. In a region where violence
is as ordinary as the weather, the feelings that emerge
can be profound. “But sometimes when we have a place
where our pain is really heard, we can let go of it,”
Gordon said. This is the goal.
Miri, a dark, slender Jewish beauty who is a social worker
in Nazareth, said the group has helped her find peace
inside herself, and that when she’s out in the world,
people notice it. They come up to her and want to know
how she can be so centered. But when something like last
summer’s 34-day war with Hezbollah happens, inner
peace goes out the window, she said, recalling the way
she ran from work to get her children when the sirens
warned of a bomb. The problem was, they were all in different
schools. “I didn’t know whom to save first,”
she said. “I can’t think about peace in this
moment,” she recalled thinking. “Someone’s
trying to kill me.”
Beyond Words started after Gordon was hired by Mariam
Mar’i Ryan, the first Muslim woman in Israel to
earn a doctorate. Mar’i Ryan was running a center
for Arab childcare workers in Israel, raising their educational
standards and helping them nurture their students’
sense of connection to their culture. She hired Gordon,
who has an M.A. in dance therapy, to teach these teachers
to become more open to their bodies and feelings and to
claim their power as women. The classes were such a success,
Gordon and Mar’i Ryan received a grant from The
New Israel Fund to expand the work to issues of coexistence.
They began with kindergarten teachers?—?to influence
kids before they’re even capable of prejudice.
The first group of women teachers stayed together for
a year and included Hamati, Mar’i Ryan said. “No
one left and each teacher influenced 30 to 40 children.”
Since then, more than 200 teachers have participated in
a Beyond Words group.
When they return to Israel, Beyond Words will initiate
another expansion?—?the founding of a women’s
peace center in Nazareth, which will be called “Women
in the Center.” A more audacious project is its
Women’s Peace Alliance. Members of the group will
make contact with women in positions of leadership in
Israel and, using their hard-earned listening skills,
invite them to join new groups. One Beyond Words member
at the retreat, a feisty Arab woman named Itaf Awad, is
considering running for elected office herself.
At La Casa de Maria on Saturday, the women came together
in a circle once again. This time what was offered was
training in a technique called Capacitar?—?the Spanish
verb to empower or encourage. Taught in more than 30 countries,
it includes a series of body manipulations and movements
that help release the effects of trauma that become locked
in our tissues. Each woman surrendered to the movements,
sometimes releasing deep, animalistic sounds from their
innards. As a buffer against the cold morning air, many
wore long skirts and scarves around their shoulders. There
was no way to tell who was Arab and who was Jewish. They
were simply brave women sharing a dream.
On Sunday afternoon, the women of Beyond Words gave a
public presentation to 150 Santa Barbarans intrigued by
the idea of women creating unexpected alliances with their
supposed enemy. In La Casa Director Stephanie Glatt’s
introduction, she reminded the audience that this wasn’t
La Casa’s first peace retreat. In 1985, it hosted
a group of Soviet and American religious women working
for peace?—?raising more than a few eyebrows at
To open the presentation, the women proceded in pairs
through the banks of chairs, each holding a candle and
singing. They told personal stories, sang, and read poems
they had written. Each story conveyed a sense of the grief
that permeates the Middle East today, but also hope.
Maureen-Amelia Brodie described the weekly trips she’s
been making to a town called Bartah, which is a no-man’s
land, neither truly Israel nor part of the occupied territories.
One side of the main street is considered the occupied
territories, the other is Israel; the true border?—?and
everything that goes along with it?—?is several
Brodie had been visiting once or twice a week to bring
toys and play games with the Palestinian children when
it became clear that what the children really wanted was
a trip to the beach. For months she and her friends tussled
with Israeli bureaucracy to gain permission for the outing,
which was to have included 80 children. Finally she succeeded
and the trip was set for a Saturday in July.
That Friday, war broke out with Hezbollah.
By Isabelle T.
Walker | February 1, 2007 |