This past weekend, nearly 80 percent of our Wexner Heritage SF ’08 group came together for the third year in a row to learn, celebrate and enjoy Shabbat together with spouses, significant others and families. On location at the beautiful Mayacamas Ranch retreat center in Sonoma, CA, our Shabbaton has evolved into annual tradition rooted in our group’s desire to stay connected despite hectic lives and considerable geographic distance between us. What started out as an experiment the first year (Will it work?  Will spouses and children get along? How much structured learning should we organize? What are the rules?) has turned into an amazing weekend of relaxation, discussion, reconnection and support.

The recipe? Mayacamas Ranch provides a beautiful setting with basic but very comfortable accommodations…as well as hiking trails and a wonderful swimming pool. They also provide delicious, healthy meals served communally, which means no cooking or cleaning. Our “official” learning was coordinated and led for the past two years by Dr. Marc Dollinger – Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University (and very conveniently married to our Wexner fellow Marci Dollinger). The rest is accomplished through a do-it-yourself model:  one family leads Kiddush, another organizes the family-friendly Shabbat morning service, another pulls together a book club for discussion and study. Our group’s musicians lead Havdalah and spirited campfire signing, and the older kids organize games for the younger ones. Credit is due to our fellow Wexner alumna Jill Einstein, who keeps us all in line and moving forward with her gentle (yet firm) organizational talents.

One of the best, unforeseen consequences of the annual Shabbaton has been the many friendships that have developed between our children – who range from young toddlers to young adults – and who look forward to the “Wexner Shabbaton” with anticipation each year. Another is the integration of spouses and significant others into our group to the point that it no longer really matters which member of a couple was “the original Wexner.”

The weekend unfolds through talking, catching up, relaxing and learning together. Though many conversations take place informally and casually, we also set aside time for official connection. On Sunday morning, all adults sit down formally and go around the room “checking in” with each other.  We discuss our volunteer lives, our professional lives and our joys and sorrows. We applaud each other’s successes and we offer assistance and guidance for the challenges we all face as committed Jewish community participants, board members and/or community professionals.  

And while we all wax and wane in our level and type of involvement, we all remain committed to our community, our annual Mayacamas Shabbaton, and to each other and the relationships we’ve built since we embarked on our Wexner journey five years ago.

Sonia Daccarett (Wexner SF ’08) is Director of Communications at Brandeis Hillel Day School, a 600-student, two-campus K-8 Jewish day school in San Francisco and San Rafael, California. Prior to that, she worked in corporate communications for Gap Inc., served on the board of her synagogue and volunteered on bilingual education issues for the SF public school district. She and her husband, Alex Bernstein, live in San Francisco with their three children, Daniela, Rafael and Gabriela. She can be reached at