It takes a lot to surprise Emet Outreach students. As members of one of the country’s largest kiruv organizations, they already expect exciting events with delicious food, talented lecturers, and a plethora of Torah learning. They also expect to be showered with attention from rabbis and teachers, devoted to teaching the fundamentals of Torah and spiritual growth, and offering personal guidance and counsel.
And yet, this cutting-edge organization, which has repeatedly broken new ground in the outreach world, exceeded all expectations at its third annual couples retreat.
This past Thanksgiving weekend, over 250 Emet alumni and community members participated in the Shabbaton of the year. From the moment they entered the breathtaking Ocean Place Resort on the Jersey shore, until the final farewell, couples were inundated with lectures, workshops, and bonding time, perhaps soaking up more in three days than most people manage to do in three months.
Many attendees were hoping to enjoy an oceanfront get-away from their job, kids, and “real life,” and they expected some learning as icing on the cake. They never imagined the sheer amount of Torah and spirituality that would be disseminated, and could not possibly realize how professional, inspiring, informative, and action-packed the program would be.
Cutting-edge kiruv follows each individual student’s life journey
With a dynamic team of ten talented, full-time staff members, Emet Outreach is one of the largest kiruv organizations in the US. It spearheads programs on eight NYC campuses, hosts between one and three Shabbatons each week, and runs numerous learning programs and events throughout the week. Yet what makes Emet really unique is the long-term connection it keeps with students, even years after they graduate. The annual couples retreat is a highlight of their year, giving students a chance to reinvigorate their commitment to Torah, strengthen their bond with rabbis and teachers, and receive personal guidance for the next stage of their lives.
The itinerary is filled with classes, lectures, divrei Torah, workshops, and more, all designed to give couples critical tools to raise Torah-centric families and have genuine shalom bayis.
Weekend itinerary filled to the brim
Guests began to arrive at the luxurious Ocean Place Resort on Friday at 1 p.m., and despite the short time left until nightfall, they were greeted with a delicious lunch, followed by a pool and fitness session, and two shiurim exploring the deeper meaning of Shabbos and candle lighting.
While the men davened, two concurrent women’s sessions were held. This was followed by words of greeting from Emet’s Co-Directors, Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg and Rabbi Mordechai Kraft.
Shabbos dinner was particularly memorable, not only because of the endless supply of delicacies, extravagant cuisine, and stirring divrei Torah, but also because of the achdus and camaraderie that permeated the air.
Mrs. Rivka Muskat, longtime Emet teacher, said that the feeling of unity was palpable. “There were 35 tables in the dining room, yet it felt as though we were all sitting together. Everyone interacted with each other, and when one table began to sing z’miros, the others joined.”
Despite the late-night oneg, morning learning began bright and early at 7:30 a.m., followed by davening. Surrounded by rabbis and students, opposite the breathtaking ocean waves, it was the perfect setting for a deep and meaningful prayer experience, and a special opportunity to connect with Hashem.
The rest of Shabbos day was packed with programming, beginning with four parallel learning sessions scheduled before the afternoon meal.
The meal was followed by more learning sessions, along with Minchah and s’udah sh’lishis. After Maariv, guests were treated to insights into the inner dimension of Havdalah, followed by an Emet trademark: live musical Havdalah, Carlebach-style, performed by Emet’s “Dynamic Duo,” guitarists Rabbi Dovid Delman and Rabbi Michael Gutmacher.
Gala motza’ei Shabbos event
After Shabbos, eight more learning sessions took place, followed by a Grand m’laveh malkah that was nothing short of magical. Even more memorable than the physical joy was the emotion and excitement of students energetically dancing with rabbis and teachers, expressing their deepest admiration and gratitude, even raising the rabbis on chairs, a custom reserved for only the most meaningful occasions.
Despite yet another late night, Sunday morning began with an hour-long lecture on the parshah, followed by Shacharis and breakfast. Guests were then treated to a selection of ten diverse and intriguing workshops. At 1 p.m., the entire crowd enjoyed a farewell banquet, with Rabbi Rutenberg and Rabbi Kraft sharing closing thoughts and blessings, an emotional and uplifting end to a truly riveting weekend.
Diverse array of dynamic lecturers
Beyond Emet’s talented staff, students had an opportunity to meet credentialed guest speakers, who provided high-caliber and riveting lectures, sharing practical, fundamental guidance about family life, marriage, parenting, finances, and much more.
A featured retreat speaker was Rabbi Doniel Frank, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and director of the acclaimed MAP motivational seminars.
Mrs. Devorah Kigel, part of the greater Emet family, is a well-known, dynamic speaker in her own right and speaks frequently on women’s topics at various college campuses and community platforms, as well. She enthralled students during her sessions at the retreat.
Other notable guest speakers included Dr. Akiva & Dr. Tamar Perlman, both experts in mental health and psychology. In addition to their private practices, Akiva is Director of Guidance at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and Assistant Professor at LIU’s School of Social Work. Tamar is Clinical Director of the Bnos Chaya Academy, and does extensive lecturing. She’s also very active in the Emet sphere, teaching kallahs, hosting students, and making herself available to guide couples and students.
Rabbi Refael & Mrs. Adina Ribacoff are Family and Life Coaches who play an active role in the Bukharian community, offering extensive marriage and parenting workshops, chasan and kallah classes, and many more services to benefit couples and families. They serve as great role models, and their articles on marriage, relationships, and parenting have appeared in numerous publications.
Dr. Mark Rutenberg is a renowned pioneer in the biotech industry, who has spent 25 years devoted to the development, management, and marketing of advanced medical diagnostics. Dr. Rutenberg is an expert in the S’fas Emes, and he shared insightful divrei Torah and hosted learning sessions on Shabbos.
Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz, noted lecturer and writer, addressed the crowd, as well. She attended the retreat as a special guest representing Emet’s corporate sponsor of the retreat, Caring Professionals, directed by Mrs. Miriam Sternberg, who has graciously partnered with Emet Outreach to support many events and programs.
Being part of “something big”
In the words of longtime Emet student Tina Malakova, who attended the Thanksgiving Emet Couples Retreat: “Such spiritual alignment with everyone in the crowd doing the same thing! Here, you are part of something big; you step away from your daily life, chores, [and] to-do lists, and get together…”
For many Emet students, the retreat is a rare space in time to connect with others like themselves, step away from the mundane, and reflect on the things that matter most. People are exceedingly busy with jobs and family life, and this retreat provides the time they crave for spiritual growth. It’s also a chance to spend three days surrounded by positive mentors and influences who help strengthen their commitment to achieve Torah values. Each couple – in fact, each individual – at the retreat is on a different rung of the ladder than all the other participants, but climbing steadily on their individual Judaic journey. To Emet’s credit, each individual student is accepted exactly as he or she is, applauded for their victories and cheered on and encouraged to forge ahead and become the best that they individually can possibly be.
By Josh Margulies