Heska Amuna, JCOR Members Enjoy Men's Retreat Experience

(Reprinted from Heska Amuna Synagogue HaShofar April 2014)

by Bradley Drew and Matt Niad

A recent weekend retreat was organized by men of the Southeast Region: Anshei Darom, meaning Men of the South. At check-in we were greeted with open arms and the first swag items: an Anshei Darom 2014 retreat t-shirt and an Anshei Darom shot glass (which would come in handy over the weekend). We proceeded to minchah and a tree ceremony. Every year the Southeast Region likes to do something to give back to the camp, and this weekend we collected more than $500 for planting fruit trees.

Late afternoon and early evening Friday activities included Shabbat services and delicious kosher dinner, an evening discussion with Rabbi Albert Slomovitz about blockage in our relationships, and then social time in the bunkhouses.

For those able to wake early on Saturday, there was a yoga session available before breakfast. That was my first yoga experience, and I highly recommend it. After morning services and lunch we were set loose on the camp. Some played basketball and tennis, others socialized, but I opted for a peaceful experience in nature. This whole camp is tucked away amongst some beautiful forests, mountains, and running water. I went on a hike up to a nearby waterfall which was very soothing.

The afternoon continued with minchah and a light meal. International Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs President Myles Simpson led a discussion on all of the great programs that the FJMC has produced such as the "Hearing Men's Voices" program for male dialogue and bonding and the Keruv initiative for embracing and welcoming interfaith couples into Conservative synagogues. We then moved outside, where the sound of a large group of men singing together in harmony for Havdalah was almost enough to keep us warm in the freezing cold. More warmth was provided by campfire activities nearby beside the lake. Not two seconds after arriving fireside, did funny man Saul Sloman of Congregation Ariel burst into his routine of joke after joke that lasted more than an hour. Even Rabbi Michael Bernstein shared some jokes of his own.

Sunday morning concluded the weekend with morning services, breakfast, and two more pieces of swag: an Anshei Darom golf towel and a very nice set of Anshei Darom tallit clips. It was a great experience where we bonded with many great guys and learned a lot about how a Men's Club can enhance every Jewish community. Having never attended a sleep away camp as a child I wasn't sure what to expect, but  I was more than satisfied with the product ion that these Men of the South put on and look forward to next year.

- Matt Niad, Jewish Congregation of Oak Ridge

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When I first heard the theme of the weekend was unplugging, I thought they were going to talk all weekend about the evils of technology on Shabbat and how shutting off all electronics is the only way to experience Shabbat. I was extremely surprised that the only time cell phones or technology was ever discussed was when I brought it up in a group learning activity on Friday evening when we got to know why everyone was in attendance.

On Friday evening Rabbi Albert Slomovitz, former military chaplain and author of "The Fighting Rabbis," spoke about being plugged in our relationships with G-d, our children, or our significant other. Rabbi Slomovitz talked about how simply saying ''I need you" or "thank you" can knock a little hole in the plug that is blocking a relationship from flowing freely and allowing relationships to rebuild. It is a common courtesy that we give to strangers, but how often is it said when your wife makes a wonderful dinner or your son or daughter decides to take out the garbage without being asked? We are so lucky to have built into our tradition saying the hymn Eshet Chayil, a woman of valor, and the blessings over our children. As men we say these blessings over our family each Shabbat, but what are we doing the rest of the week to let them know they are needed, to let them know that we appreciate all they do.

On Saturday, Rabbi Michael Bernstein of Gesher L'Torah shared a portion of an amazing poem by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook and asked us to reflect on what this poem meant to us.

The vessels are broken;
The kings are dead,
The gods are dead.
The world stands naked, lonely, broken,
Stirred by a hidden longing
For higher light.
In His eternal mercy
God left
In the broken vessels residues of
His light.
In every life pulse,
In all existence,
There is a spark,
A spark of a spark.

Rabbi Avraham Yizchak Kook

Many discussed seeing that spark of a spark in the light of a child's eyes when you visit them at their school for lunch or when connecting to the Divine in prayer; that moment of experiencing the awe within the spark of a spark. I would love to hear some of your feedback on what this poem means to you when you reflect on its words.

- Bradley Drew, Heska Amuna Synagogue