The Midwest Region Biennial Retreat: A Recap

The Midwest Region’s biennial Retreat was held from Friday, May 2 to Sunday, May 4, 2014. For the first time ever, the venue was the beautiful Starved Rock State Park in La Salle / Peru, Illinois, just a two hour drive from Chicago and St. Louis. Forty Men’s Club members from throughout the Region attended this year’s Retreat, including a number of “first timers.”  The weather, at times challenging, cooperated to add to the total enjoyment of the event.

Retreat participants began arriving at the lodge Friday afternoon at 3:30. Things got started with a “meet and greet,” together with welcoming remarks by regional president Michael Greenberg. The weekend’s theme was “Eat, Pray, Exercise, a Fun Weekend of Ruach and Wellness.”  Attending from NSS Beth El were Jeffrey Wohlstadter, Gerry Brin and Ernie Smolen.

A rousing Kabbalat Shabbat Service, led by Greg Pollack of Anshe Emet and Rabbi Charles Simon, FJMC Executive Director, was followed by a traditional Shabbat dinner. Dinner concluded with a thunderous Birkat Hamazon led by Burt “Captain Ruach” Fishman of Congregation Beth Judea.  The evening’s activities also included two programs and a Kiddush Club party.

Saturday morning offered an eye opener hike (optional) and breakfast.  Shabbat Services were led by Norm Kurtz and Orin Rotman of Congregation Beth Judea, and included a “modified” triennial Torah service and an inspiring and meaningful D’var Torah.  Following a hearty lunch, the option was a two mile guided hike in the park, or a yoga session directed by a professional from Yoga Studio in Ottawa, Illinois. There was free time to be spent inside or outdoors and a discussion group with Rabbi Simon, the subject being keruv (outreach to intermarried couples). Minchah services were followed by dinner and Ma’ariv.  Shabbat concluded with a havdalah service held outdoors with attendees arranged in a large circle, everyone holding a flashlight and singing, wishing each other a “shavuah tov.”  This was followed by a program featuring the First Vice President of FJMC, Allan Gottesman... and another Kiddush Club session to close out the evening.

Of course, all meals were kosher, supervised by Rabbi Aaron Melman of Congregation Beth Shalom and supplied by Garden Fresh, Northbrook.

Sunday morning again offered an opportunity to “take a hike” for several hardy individuals. The Shacharit service was led by Ernie Smolen, NSS Beth El, and began with a “refresher course” - for those needing it - in the correct way of putting on tefillin. After services, everyone enjoyed a Sunday morning breakfast with the traditional favorites: lox and bagels, eggs, etc. Attendees then split into two break-out sessions for an FJMC Hearing Men’s Voices program. After a deli lunch, participants went their separate ways, singing “Shalom Chaverim” - there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

We all left for home promising to pass the word that if you missed this Retreat, you must attend the next one. It was weekend well spent!

- Ernie Smolen