In 1991, the Pearlstone Institute dedicated the bulk of its annual income to the concept of Jewish Family Education. Since that time, over $1.25 million dollars have been spent in this funding area. The Pearlstone Coalition for Jewish Family Education succeeded beyond expectations. It has been cited nationwide for its innovative design and tangible results. Many of its components have been replicated and incorporated by other Jewish communities. The Pearlstone Jewish Family Educator position at the Center for Jewish Education has brought creative new talent to this community in the persons of Nancy Bossov, Amy Grossblatt Pesach and Marci Wiseman. The quarterly mini-magazine, “The Alef Branch ©”, the federation grants to synagogues for family education programming and retreats, and the community-wide programming such as “Sulam, Ladders to Literature,” the “Zimriah,” and “Driving Me Crazy,” have captured local enthusiasm and have all contributed to the goal of making Judaism more accessible to families with children.
The Jack Pearlstone Institute for Living Judaism fulfilled its founding challenge to promote and nurture Judaism. It has had a significant impact on the Baltimore Jewish community and has contributed enormously to the educational, intellectual, and experiential life of its constituents. One major consequence of the Institute’s success was a demand for an actual conference/retreat center.
In 1997, The ASSOCIATED again addressed the issue of developing a Retreat Center. Josh Fidler was asked to chair an Advisory Board and a feasibility study for a new Conference/Retreat Center facility designed to nurture Jewish living and learning. The evaluation process involved lay leadership and professional staff, professional consultants (market and financial analysts, architects, etc.) and benchmarking with established facilities and industry leaders. In the winter of 1998, Josh submitted a formal proposal to the Board of The ASSOCIATED which set forth the findings and recommendations of the Advisory Board to indeed go forward with the creation of a Center. Following is an excerpt from that document.
“As we approach a new century and millennium, we are concerned about the status of moral values and behavior in our civilization. Judaism has provided a system of order, meaning, and ideals that has benefited mankind for thousands of years. Especially today, in this era of instant gratification, global electronic communication, and pop culture, Judaism has crucial and relevant lessons to teach about human interaction and responsibility.
“Our greatest challenge is to find effective and relevant ways of integrating Jewish values into our everyday lives and conveying our rich Jewish heritage to our children, grandchildren and succeeding generations. The Pearlstone Family Retreat Center has been proposed to address these needs.
“The “retreat format” with its emphasis on experiential learning and doing, family education, and total immersion, is a successful medium for the building of community and the transmission of Jewish behavior and values. There has been a growing demand by congregations, religious schools, youth groups, adult and elder continuing education groups in Baltimore, for an appropriate setting in which to conduct retreats that will renew and deepen the Jewish experience.
“Situated on the Milldale campus on a partially wooded knoll overlooking the pond, the Retreat Center has been conceived as a “rustic Jewish inn.” It will accommodate the sleeping, eating, learning, praying, and playing needs of up to 160 people. The facilities include (1) a central conference center housing the kitchen, dining room, meeting rooms, recreation room, and offices; (2) a sanctuary; (3) a family/youth center; and (4) a 36-room adult lodging unit.
“One of the most difficult economic issues facing retreat centers is mid-week occupancy. While week-end use will be geared to families and teens, we have designed our facility with maximum flexibility to appeal to a broad-based mid-week population, including academic conferences, Elderhostel programs, and small business seminars. We intend to provide a first-class inn experience. We will not be a full-service hotel, but neither will we be a summer camp. We will have a state-of-the art media capacity and we will be able to meet the needs of all streams of Judaism. Our market research has indicated that our site’s easy accessibility and proximity to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area will appeal to our target groups, and we have already begun to get commitments for utilization by such entities.
“Our primary approach to the retreat center is from a community-based, in-reach perspective. We view the most effective retreat experience as one that builds upon, depends, and enhances already established relationships and communities. Retreats can provide transformational moments at particular points along the continuum of Jewish life. But the key word is continuum. We have a wealth of vibrant Jewish institutions and gifted teachers and rabbis in Baltimore. Through education, the provision of materials and resources, consultation and collaboration, The Pearlstone Institute has nurtured a cadre of people within our local congregations, institutions, and agencies, who are able to create and deliver highly-effective programming that is personalized to their group’s needs. After the Retreat Center is built, The Pearlstone Institute will continue to support these institutions’ efforts to create and facilitate their own retreats.
“In summary, we are creating a state-of-the-art, warm, welcoming, kosher, rustic Jewish setting, with great food, wonderful flexible facilities, and an in-house hospitality staff. Programmatically, it will be an empty vessel which many different Jewish groups will be able to fill with their personalized programming. It will be an appealing environment for non-Jewish and corporate groups as well, and will be rented out to them when available. We are confident that this will be a break-even operation, and we hope in the future to make a profit, which we will then use to provide more programming resources.”