The Oak Ridge Boys and Anshei Darom

Those of us who attend the annual Anshei Darom Regional Retreat are always blessed with a fantastic weekend of friendship, tefillah, and tzedakah. But this year’s retreat, held (as always) at Camp Ramah Darom in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near Clayton, Georgia, on February 21-23, 2014, had some very special attributes.

First, we were joined by FJMC International President, Myles Simpson, whose words of encouragement were certainly not lost on the attendees (more about which later.)

Second, our programming was led by an energetic young planning committee from Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Georgia. Retreat committee chairman Mark Isbitts, ably assisted by Ben and Mark Needle, Brian Naldolne, and Joe Ziskend (with minimal but extremely valuable advice from “old guy” Steve Krodman) put together an outstanding program that provided the right balance between spirituality and spirits, with a good dose of learning and Tikkun Olam thrown in.

Third, we had our largest attendance in several years. 

Fourth, this year's attendees included many newcomers, including Joel Sussman and Roy Rosenfeld from B’nai Zion in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a shul that has not participated in the retreat for several years.

Fifth, included in those newcomers were attendees from two Tennessee congregations that did not have Men’s Clubs at all: Bradley Drew from Heska Amuna in Knoxville, and Matt Niad from the Jewish Congregation of Oak Ridge (JCOR) in Oak Ridge.

The theme for this year’s retreat was “Getting Unplugged from a Plugged in World.”  The planning committee enlisted Rabbi Michael Bernstein from Gesher l’Torah in Johns Creek, Georgia, and Rabbi Albert Slomovitz, Professor of History at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, to speak on what it means to unplug from our highly connected day-to-day world and plug into a far more fulfilling world of family, spirituality, and internal reflection. Rabbi Slomovitz led the discussion on Friday evening; Rabbi Bernstein took over on Saturday afternoon, and on Saturday evening Myles Simpson tied it all together by addressing the ways in which the FJMC can help us all reach that better place. Comments from attendees were universally appreciative of the programming, and they especially loved the spirituality that pervaded the entire weekend.

My thirty-three-year-old son Josh attended the retreat with me. As the weekend was drawing to a close I remarked to him that while I loved the way it all worked out, I had to admit that I was somewhat surprised that the planning committee put together such a spiritual event.  His reply caught me a bit off-guard, but at the same time I learned so much from it. He said, “Dad, you don’t get it. This is, in so many ways, a really messed up world. And it’s a lot more messed up for us than it is for you guys. We really NEED this; we want it; and given a chance, this is what we are going to do.”

Which gets us back to Myles’s words of encouragement and their outcome. Bradley and Matt had such a great experience that, following the retreat, they went back to their respective congregations to actively pursue forming Men’s Clubs. (As of the end of March, JCOR (Oak Ridge) already had a club in place.) Both Bradley and Matt wrote articles about the retreat that were published in the April issue of Heska Amuna’s HaShofar newsletter. (You can read the articles here so you can see that I’m not just making this stuff up.) Meanwhile, Joel and Roy went back to Chattanooga with the message that the FJMC and Anshei Darom are here and ready to assist in rejuvenating their club at B’nai Zion, and they're planning to return for next year's Retreat with more of their members.

- Steve Dix (President, Anshei Darom Region)