Brandeis Ancestor Retreat


The rainstorms from the previous day had transformed the climate at the Brandeis-Barin Campus in Simi Valley. The 90 degree heat had become a cool 66 degrees. The air was filled with a scent of early autumn. It made me crave a pumpkin spice coffee.

At American Jewish University’s retreat center, we were holding a 4 day Bloodline Healing workshop. People from various backgrounds had come to speak with their ancestors about the historic burdens that they inherited from their families. They were bravely experiencing a new form of Generational Healing that gave them a chance to be free of these burdens.

Dina Bernat-Kunin and Aviva Bernat, two of my Assistant Facilitators, were showing me around the property before dinner time. They had grown up with this camp. In fact, they were the second generation of the Bernat family to call Brandeis-Bardin a spiritual home. It was at their encouragement that we had our four day retreat at this Jewish stronghold established on ancient Chumash land.

hills brandeis

Those beautiful hills make me feel that I am in the middle of the Haray Yerushalayim ( the Jerusalem hills),” Dina said. “I get that feeling of ‘I am home’.” The gold shine of sunset highlighted the peaks of the hills.

Dina and Aviva are sisters. Their mother, Gladys (Goldberg) Bernat, attended the Brandeis Camp Institute program with Shlomo Bardin as a young adult in the early 1950’s. “I remember Ima (mom) reflecting fondly on the extraordinary Jewish music, dance, and the arts, that was the signature aspect of this amazing Jewish cultural preserve,” Dina shared.

Dina and Aviva Brandeis

The way that Brandeis-Bardin serves as a preserve of Jewish culture reminds me of Native American reservations,” I said. “This is my first time on a Jewish Reservation.” We all laughed. For many visitors, this land was the closest thing to Israel in America.

We passed by a living, hollowed out tree that had stones pouring out of its belly. It was very symbolic of the work that was happening in the workshop. Many participants were unburdening heavy grief, shame, and the pain that their families still carried from World War II. The workshop was a rare opportunity for them to connect with the greater emotional body of their family. It was an approach that allowed participants to cleanse the unfinished story of the previous generations using part catharsis and part multicultural ceremony.

burden tree brandeis

The piano in the workshop space had become our Ancestors’ Table. This was the place where we asked participants to speak to their deceased kin. It was covered with a colorful table cloth from Hawaii. Candles were set on wooden building blocks. Black and white photos of participants’ deceased kin covered the rest of the Ancestors’ Table. One by one, people shared their tears, their screams, their longings, and their celebrations.

The Brandeis workshop was a potent reminder that we are still healing from World War II. Time alone was not healing these wounds. In fact, the unexpressed emotions were being passed onto the children and grandchildren who weren’t even alive during the war. That’s why Bloodline Healing was so important. Cleansing the festering historic hurts gave these courageous individuals the chance to release their chronic anxiety and heaviness that had become normal to their families. But normal was not always healthy.

The fresh air and beauty of the land at Brandeis-Bardin was a welcomed reminder of the joy of life. I smiled at the site of nearby horses feeding. Earlier, I had given those horses my apple. One mare had split the apple with its big teeth and shared half the apple with another mare.

As the workshop came to a close, Dina captured that feeling of awe that our facilitators shared when doing the work. “I was struck by the visible, physical changes in our participants. One person’s gait looked more steady, another one had lost that panicked look in their eyes…I even observed that another participant’s breathing had changed.” Shy people were claiming their voice and authority. Anxious skeptics had found their hearts. By the end of the workshop, participants were sharing how they felt lighter, elated, and even astounded by what they had discovered about themselves.

L to R: Aviva Shira Bernat, George Kamana Hunter, Dina Bernat-Kunin, Anna Molitor, (back) Jessica Gelson
L to R: Aviva Shira Bernat, George Kamana Hunter, Dina Bernat-Kunin, Anna Molitor, (back) Jessica Gelson

I left Brandeis knowing that Bloodline Healing had found a spiritual home. Our team looked forward to the next workshop at these sacred hills.

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