Hunger for communal connection after weeks of pandemic isolation drove record turnout for Montclair synagogue Bnai Keshet’s annual retreat, held virtually, May 22-24.

The virtual event drew 225 people–90 families, or 32 percent of the 275-family Montclair congregation—up from 90 people or 30 families, in a regular live, in-person version of the retreat held for the last decade at Camp Havaya in the Poconos.

This year the event, conceived of by congregant Sarah Wolman, attracted a full spread of ages with myriad activities geared to kids, tweens, teens, adults and families who sang, baked, danced, chatted and more. The event also engaged more empty nesters and new members than in previous years.

Congregant and rabbi volunteers organized, hosted, lead and taught via Zoom, Facebook Livestream and in real life with social distancing and face masks. There were dozens of them starting Friday evening May 22 through Sunday afternoon, May 24.

“The virtual retreat exemplified Bnai Keshet as a community coming together in so many ways — starting with religion and social action, continuing with a TikTok challenge, Netflix parties, bagel-making, meditation, yoga, gardening, Broadway singalong, a cocktail hour, a kids’ treasure hunt, game shows, dances and a relay that connected dozens of families for hours covering several towns,” said congregant Melody Kimmel, an incoming member of the synagogue’s Board of Trustees.

“People felt emotional, connected after isolation,” Kimmel continued.

Although Bnai Keshet has offered services via Zoom since the pandemic lockdown began in early March, for many the retreat enabled many to feel part of the community, Kimmel said, adding the experience will hopefully boost live attendance in the future.

“We hope for more attendees at our Camp Havaya retreat in the future now that many have had a taste,” she said.

Reconstructing Judaism in Montclair and surrounding towns, Bnai Keshet is an inclusive community. For more information, visit