Picture yourself lighting Shabbat candles. You strike a match. Hear the spark. See the light. Feel the heat. Connect the flame and the wick. Breathe in Shabbat — inhale fully and exhale completely all that can be left behind. And you, like the candle, light up with joy. You smile and expand in gratitude.

Now, look around you and see you are not alone. After months of pandemic isolation and restrictions, today you are part of a beautiful and welcoming in-person community. And each person around you is ignited and alight with the joy of Judaism and a weekend filled to the brim with only-in-Detroit experiences.

From June 25th to June 27th, The Well brought together a group of nearly thirty people in their 20s and 30s to enjoy a weekend in Detroit. For many of us, this experience was the first significant gathering following an extended and trying period of isolation, disconnection and loneliness brought on by the global pandemic.

The weekend was full of unique Detroit experiences. Among the many highlights, two nights at the Renaissance Center Marriott, kayaking with Detroit River Sports, lunch at American Coney Island, grilled cheese sandwiches at Mongers' Provisions, touring Midtown with Detroit Experience Factory, a private movie screening at Cinema Detroit and a (winning) Tigers game.

In a word?

Unexpected, as described by Stephanie Belsky.

“Jeff and I have lived in Metro Detroit for a year now and because of COVID we've barely been able to explore this city we live in, let alone MEET our community in-person! It felt so good to be surrounded by new friends and feel the support of our community and get to know the city we live in together, while getting to know each other.”

Necessary, according to Rabbi Jeff Strombough.

“We needed this, and punctuating the weekend with some intentionality with a little Jewish ritual let us have authentic conversations that reflected on the past year. It was not lost on us that this was a bold, sensitive, and courageous step for everyone on some level to gather like this. We mitigated health risks where and how we could, followed CDC guidelines, and were transparent about what we were going to do. I was impressed by everyone’s ability to go with the flow, embrace the weekend and each other. It was a blast.”

“Renewal” for me (Elana).

“Renewal to ourselves individually, to our souls, ‘neshama’ and to one another as a collective in spirit, breaking free from the heaviness and exhaling a big communal breath of relief that things will get better and that this is just the beginning, we can let go of the past and renew our spirit, body, mind and soul.”

One irrepressible, beautiful quality of Shabbat is that she returns weekly no matter what is going on in your life — in the world. The Staycation was no exception. In spite of the torrential rain — and with those dealing with its effects in our hearts — we took to the city’s canals by kayak.

As Stephanie described it, “I love to be outdoors and in nature. It was so fun, great exercise, and I loved learning about the Purple Gang and more of the history of Detroit. Plus, the fact that it didn't get rained out is a miracle in and of itself.”

The Tigers, too, managed to avoid the showers Sunday. Kayla Kapen “loved going to the game. It was my first time going with a group of friends and it did not disappoint.”

“The Well is about fun, it’s about connecting, the intersection of doing Jewish and life, and it was really special to see that happen in real time,” said Rabbi Jeff. “Individuals and couples who had never met became friends, connected with each other and by the end were planning on getting together again for more adventures, or maybe just dinner, I don’t know! And a personal highlight, Stephanie and I got Tigers hats at the game and I got to dance to Hava-Nagila in the stands which was quite special ... and a little silly.”

Our Staycation refueled us with a passion for Detroit and Judaism. Like Shabbat candles, we can be a source of light and comfort extending far beyond our physical space. Radiating peace and joy is an active choice we must continue to make in order to radiate the best of ourselves on to the world around us.

The path forward from the pandemic is to show up — for ourselves, for each other, for our city and our world. What better way to shatter the isolation of the pandemic than to embrace joy, love, light and healing together?

– Yevgeniya and Elana