Connecting through relaxation

Updated: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 1:29 PM PDT

At any corner I turn in Huntington Beach, it seems like I spot a spa these days. There are spas and ever more spas to rejuvenate skin, nails, hands, feet, make-up and muscles.

Each summer Chabad of West Orange County ( www.chabadhb.com) takes the concept of the spa to another level when it hosts its one-day “Spa for the Soul.” On Aug. 17, 70 women showed up for the fifth annual event at the Sea Cliff Country Club, which allowed the group to bring in a kosher caterer.

“Just as everybody needs to relax physically [because] our bodies tire, our souls also need this spa time to be refreshed, renewed and inspired,” said Rochel Berkowitz, who with Yiska Berkowitz and Chanie Zavdi, organized this year’s program.

“It’s very important for women to get together in a relaxing [atmosphere] and connect with their spirituality,” Rochel Berkowitz said.

Two morning workshop sessions offered choices of Israeli folk dancing lessons, a beauty makeover session, a talk on prayer and another on living to work rather than working to live. After a kosher sushi and salad bar lunch, Molly Resnick — a former producer at NBC — gave the keynote address.

“You come out of it with such a spiritual high. If I could, I would never miss one,” said Sue Leven, who has attended all five Spas for the Soul.

This time Leven brought a friend. They took dancing lessons from Rivka Bakin before hearing Shaina Trapedo explain how to “Live to Work, Not Work to Live.”

Leven was thrilled to learn some new dances and praised Bakin’s ability to teach intermediate-level Israeli folk dances to women with even modest dancing skills. Many instructors, she said, tend to keep things simpler in order to accommodate those with the least experience.

She found Trapedo’s message inspiring.

“What she was saying is a very important part of Jewish philosophy,” Leven said. “Sometimes it sounds strange when we say, ‘I’m living to work.’ It sounds like we have our priorities backwards.

“[Trapedo] didn’t mean living to work so you can put in 15 hours of overtime a week. Living to work is when we think about work as serving the creator, doing whatever we can to make the world a better place.”

Trapedo graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College with a bachelor’s in English and economics in 2004. She has since entered and left corporate America, working for a time as a risk analyst, and has earned a master’s and is now working on a doctorate in English at UC Irvine. She is married and has three children.

She knows about being busy and the importance of prioritizing, not simply to get things done, but in order to nurture her personal growth as a spiritual being. The work she came to talk about is called “avoda” in Hebrew.

Avoda is not done solely for the sake of income. “You hear,” she said, ‘You shouldn’t live to work; you should work to live.’ Your job should be what sustains you, funds the things [you’d] rather be doing.”

She rejects the notion — central to the Communist Manifesto and reflected in our popular culture in songs like “Working for the Weekend,” movies like “Nine to Five,” and the expression TGIF — that work fundamentally alienates us from our true identities and true selves.

“We’re physical beings with spiritual needs, and we’re going to have to try to reconcile that in some way,” Trapedo said. “G‑d gave us 613 specific commandments and Torah with complete laws … [so we can] uplift and make this world a physical dwelling place for G‑d.”

Work, she believes, becomes a burden when we sacrifice our spiritual purpose, our spiritual well-being and our connection with our creator for career success.

For Trishia Bazerman, Trapedo’s message reminded her that even the smallest things we do in a day have an effect on our soul and on the world. Leven put it this way: “[Work] is how we bring goodness and holiness into the world as we go about our day.”

It can be something as small as a smile or as ordinary as making dinner or talking with our children when they come home from school. It can be as big as how we pray.

On the wallet-sized card Trapedo handed out titled “5 Steps to Change Your Life,” she suggests three actions for tiny bits of time. With 30 seconds, set aside a coin for charity. With 60 seconds get a “Daily Dose” of inspiration designed to read in one minute by signing up for the messages at www.chabad.org/tools/subscribe. With 120 seconds, reach for the sky by reciting a Psalm. (They are on her website at www.livingtowork.com/3.html.)

Trapedo offers a quote from the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch: “If you only knew the power of the verses of Tehillim (the Psalms) and their effect in the highest heavens, you would recite them constantly. Know that the chapters of Tehillim shatter all barriers.”

Which means, Rochel Berkowitz said, “Our prayers and good deeds pierce the heavens and reach the source of blessings to allow the good to come down.”

In her talk, Danielle Forer unfolded the history and context of the Amidah prayer in order to give it deeper meaning for the women. The prayer, which is traditionally prayed silently three times a day, is also known as Shmone Esrei — “18” in Hebrew — because it’s composed of 18 blessings.

The prayer follows the pattern of the prayer offered to G‑d by Chana (or Hannah), the mother of the prophet Samuel, when she wanted a child. It begins with praise and ends with thanks. In between are requests or petitions.

Forer’s presentation aimed at helping the women make each part of the Amidah more personal. Rochel Berkowitz pointed out that it would enable them to “pray with the proper intention and not just lip service.”

In her keynote address, Molly Resnick told of her journey from being a secular Israeli, a high-profile American socialite and journalist to becoming Orthodox.

She reflected the heart of Spa for the Soul.

Asked about the essence of Resnick’s message, Bazerman summed it up, “You can have everything in the world but if you don’t have your relationship with G‑d, you don’t have anything.”

MICHÈLE MARR is a freelance writer from Huntington Beach. She can be reached at [email protected].