A tradition of togetherness took on greater significance this year when Emet Outreach hosted their ninth annual Couples Shabbaton and Retreat. In the largest gathering to date, over 300 Emet alumni and staff spent Thanksgiving weekend at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Long Branch, New Jersey.

In recognition of the situation in Israel, the retreat theme was “Unity, Growth, and Transformation.” Designed to promote spiritual and marital rejuvenation, the retreat balanced Torah lectures and growth-oriented sessions with a variety of activities. “Our focus this year was not simply getting together as usual, but rather recognizing the importance of being together in achdus for am Yisrael. After the life-altering events in Israel, now is a critical time for growth, both as couples and as a Jewish community,” said Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet Co-Founder and Director. “In addition to our Emet couples, we were proud to host two special guests. We were honored to be joined by Rabbi Raphael Butler, President of Olami and long-time supporter of Emet. We also enjoyed connecting with New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, who is an advocate for the Queens community.”

Upon arrival on Friday afternoon, couples received a comprehensive retreat program and were able to map out the lectures and workshops that were most relevant to them. “We planned the many elements of this retreat to not only be relaxing and share Torah, but also to offer options for meaningful learning so that the couples would gain a renewed appreciation for their marriage,” said Shay Yonaiev, Emet Couples Director.

Throughout Shabbos, the melaveh malkah on Motza’ei Shabbos and culminating Sunday afternoon, participants felt the warmth and achdus of being together at lavish meals, and were uplifted by the constant stream of insightful lectures. Lecture topics ranged from profound Torah concepts to practical tips to enhance marriage, relationships, intimacy, and parenting. Select sessions were geared towards couples based on how long they were married, and at times there were separate sessions for men and women to delve more deeply into certain topics.

Along with Rabbi Rutenberg and Shay, speakers included members of Emet’s dynamic staff: Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, Rabbi Nissim Musheyev, Rabbi Reuven Kigel, Mrs. Devorah Kigel, Mrs. Rivka Muskat, Mrs. Shonnie Rutenberg, Rabbi Michael Fuzaylov, Rabbi Eliyahu Maksumov, Rabbi Ari Hertz, and Rabbi Hersch Goldberger. In addition to Rabbi Butler, guest lecturers included Mrs. Rochel Goldbaum, premier women’s educator; Rabbi Naftali Reich, a renowned lecturer who synthesizes chasidic concepts with inspiring themes; Dr. Mark Rutenberg, an innovator in medical technology, who is very knowledgeable in many areas of Torah, and extremely well-versed in the Torah of the S’fas Emes. Emet is especially grateful that Dr. Akiva Perlman and his wife Dr. Tamar Perlman, licensed clinical psychologists, returned for yet another retreat to share their wealth of knowledge and experience.

One of the highlights was the tremendous ruach at the melaveh malkah, where there was spirited dancing, an illusionist, a delectable dairy buffet, and wine tasting with Pearl Schwartz from Hakerem Wines. Sunday’s last session was an energizing version of Emet’s first-ever “TED Talks.” Rabbi Kigel moderated a fast-paced discussion as many key speakers shared powerful five-minute messages on “Impact and Transformation.”

Couples who attended were thankful for the retreat. It was appreciated at all stages of marriage. “The retreat was exactly what we needed after three and a half months of marriage. We’ve been fortunate to call Emet family, and that feeling grew during this getaway. Spending Shabbos together, away from our usual routines, helped us reconnect and build new relationships with other couples and the Emet staff. We did not consider the lectures ‘lectures.’ Instead, we engaged in real conversations with the rabbis and rebbetzins about growing together spiritually,” Rachel and Jacob Shimonov shared. “Emet has created a space to allow our community to really feel a sense of hope and unity in times of war and distress. We are forever grateful that we have found this organization to guide us in our relationship.”

Spending Shabbos together has already had an impact on participants. “My husband and I have been married for five years and this was our first couples Shabbaton. I went with an open mind. I wanted to connect better with my partner, and really experience a full disconnect from my usual norm on Shabbos. There was no judgment and no pressure. The speakers shared helpful marriage advice, and keeping Shabbos with so many couples was really meaningful,” Inessa Matayeva explained. “We left wanting to try to keep Shabbos on our own level. Our first weekend home was the first time we didn’t drive or use the phones. It’s small steps, but it was major for us. I would recommend this retreat to anyone who wants to grow spiritually and in their marriage.”

Emet would like to especially thank Simcha Gurgov, of Simcha Palace Caterers, who provided the lavish, plentiful, and delicious meals for every aspect of the weekend. Planning has already begun for next year’s alumni retreat. Until then, couples are invited to attend Emet’s engaging monthly workshops and events.