How I used to be
My name is Shalom Shore. I am a therapist in training.
And I owe my life to Call of the Shofar.
I grew up a very angry teenager. Not the angry outburst kind, but the sullen, withdrawn, and sulking kind. An all-time low I remember is when I locked myself in my room and watched an entire season (about eight hours) of TV on my computer. I hated everyone, fought with everything, and was sure the universe was out to get me.
Then I heard about Call of the Shofar.
I was very reluctant to go at first, because there is no denying that the stuff people do there is weird. And people came back from there all emotional, which I despised as the ultimate expression of human weakness.
It was only after a large group of my friends attended and simultaneously, my life continued spiraling out of control that I decided to go. It was with great trepidation that I got on the minivan with a group of friends and drove out to the middle of nowhere where the two day experience would be held.
What is it anyway?
It didn’t help that nobody was willing to tell me what the experience entailed. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe they were afraid of scaring people off.
However, I believe that the unknown is more scary than any known, and it is one of my criticism of the program that it isn’t more upfront about the actually activities involved.
So I’ll tell you. Here’s what we did:
We danced. We meditated. We identified core emotional issues that we carry through our lives and become comfortable with sharing them with. The climax of the retreat is an extremely intensive group-therapy like experience where we openly expressed the sadness, anger, and frustrations we’ve been holding in for 20, 40, 60 years.
And it was weird. It was unusual. It was shocking to see men, normally stoic, express this much emotion.
One of the key issues this seminar deals with is the fact that in the western world men are taught that showing emotion is a weakness. I certainly believed this.
We are taught that to cry, to show pain, vulnerability or sadness will mark us as inferior and unworthy of others’ respect. If there is one thing men need, its respect. And we are willing to carry around a tremendous amount of emotional baggage through our entire life to maintain that image of respect.
So we repress these emotions, and as is the case with repressed emotions, they find alternative, destructive ways of appearing:
Violence, anger, numbness, depression and withdrawal. These were certainly manifest in my life, and I am certainly not the only one.
In fact, one of the key realizations I took away from this retreat was just how normal I was, how good my upbringing was. You think you know pain? Look at the seemingly well-adjusted individual who sits next to you in shul. He knows more pain than you can possibly imagine.
In a Call of the Shofar retreat, we encounter a group of men who are emotionally healthy. Who created a new paradigm that vulnerability is not weakness, it’s admirable. Who showed us that the best way to handle emotion is to constructively express it. And that no, we are not the only person in the world who feels, sad, angry hurt or alone.
And that is tremendously comforting.
Is it a cult?
I can see how Call of the Shofar might appear like a cult to the outside observer.
There’s the afore-mentioned secrecy, which I don’t’ agree with. There’s the secluded location within which the event takes place. There is the high-intensity experience that is extremely emotional, and highly unusual. And there is the weekly follow up groups which certainly can add suspicion.
But a distinction must be made.
Firstly, it is unfair to categorize every intense, emotional experience as a cult. The power of the group is a known phenomenon utilized in every group therapy session and Alcoholics anonymous meeting, and is an essential component of these groups’ success. There is something very comforting to know you are part of a larger whole; fully supported and accepted, warts and all, by a microcosm of society.
The Call of the Shofar retreats are deliberately planned to be intense, to shake us out of the years of numbness that we build around our pain. Thus the seclusion and the intensity (although if you feel like breaking the rules, texting during break, or just leaving early, no one is stopping you).
Like everything, the power of a group can be used for good or for bad, and unfortunately cults use it to manipulate and brainwash individuals. The goal of the cult is to subjugate the will of the individual to the collective will of the cult leader.
Which brings me to my second point.
Whereas cults spend their entire time stripping away a person’s identity, a central theme of Call of the Shofar is fostering independence. We are taught to own our emotions, recognize ourselves as unique individuals, and assume personal responsibility for every aspect of our lives.
We use the power of the group to promote individualism.
And this is the fundamental point that many seem to be missing. People come out of this experience more self-aware, more emotionally expressive, and better able to sustain healthier, stronger relationships.
Call of the shofar was the turning point for me: from an angry teenager to someone who understands, values, and embraces emotionality. It has opened the door for me to begin a journey of continuous improvement, which I am far, far away from completing; but which has taken me far, far away from the sullen, morose an individual that I once was.
I know Simcha Frischling personally. He has committed his life to the wellbeing of others. He flies all over the world hosting seminars and he is by no means getting rich in the process.
Far from it. This is probably one of the least convenient ways to earn a living.
Simcha is not some ring-leader at the top of the pyramid. Simcha sits in every session, and carries the full emotional weight of ten or more men venting for the first time in their lives. The raw emotions of molested, abandoned, and abused individuals hit like a ton of bricks every single time. Over, and over and over again.
And he supports these people fully. In an environment far more intense than any normal therapist ever has to put up with. He does it with grace, with courage, and with an understanding that he is helping people in a profound way.
I personally have come a very long way in my lifelong journey of emotional and spiritual growth, and I give Simcha Frischling tremendous credit for sparking this journey. I am eternally grateful. And so are my parents, my wife, my two children, and all my friends; both those who have attended Call of the Shofar, and those who should attend, but haven’t yet.
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