On Labor Day weekend, Emet Outreach held a “Weekend of Inspiration” retreat at the beautiful Crowne Plaza in Danbury, Connecticut. It was attended by over 150 people, including Emet staff, couples, and young women from Emet’s Step it Up division. Guests included renowned teacher Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger and Rabbi Avi Cassel, Olami’s North American Regional Director.
This was an opportunity for Emet’s couples, alumni, and students to enjoy a warm, personal, and intimate Shabbos experience with rabbis and mentors. The event focused on spiritual growth, deepening connections, and boosting knowledge and appreciation of Torah.
Mrs. Rivka Muskat, Emet’s Associate Director, says that people were engaged in deep conversations throughout the weekend. “Students approached rabbis and staff at all times of day, asking questions that they often don’t have a chance to ask. In addition, there were impromptu mini-shiurim going on, with students surrounding rabbis and teachers as they discussed topics in halachah and Jewish thought.”
Throughout the year, Rebbetzin Jaeger teaches at Emet’s weekly seminary, Ateret Emet. She was scheduled to be joined by her husband, Rabbi Naftali Jaeger shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Sh’or Yoshuv, but when they realized that it was the yeshivah’s first Shabbos of the year, he was forced to cancel. Although the rebbetzin rarely spends Shabbos away from him, he gave her his blessing, because he knows she appreciates the work of Emet in a very deep way and is passionate about teaching Emet’s students.
A Fresh Start
One theme that Rebbetzin Jaeger discussed was “Creating a New Start for the New Year.” In consonance with that theme, during the women’s s’udah sh’lishis, students shared their personal “New Start” experiences. One student described how when she began dental school, she assumed that she would reluctantly have to relegate her Emet studies to the back burner for four years. Emet’s Women’s Director, Shira Fendel, supported her and encouraged her to believe in her ability to balance her intense schooling with the Torah classes that kept her spiritually afloat. She succeeded!
Another student discussed her struggle to remain positive while seeking a shidduch for many years. She rose above her negativity and taught herself to think positively, and find something good even in objectively negative situations. Now she is married with children, baruch Hashem, and she sees that her kids have picked up the same midah of finding the positive, even in negative situations.
The itinerary was replete with powerful classes, extraordinary workshops, and panel discussions. After the retreat, one student expressed gratitude in an email to Emet’s staff, saying “Between the truly incredible shiurim, the Q&A, the dancing (something I did not think I would enjoy half as much as I did), and the unique women on this trip, I cannot believe I almost did not join. By the end of Shabbos, I was on such a spiritual high and I felt so full of joy.”
The Motza’ei Shabbos program ran quite late, and as a result, the Q&A panel did not begin until 1:30 a.m., well after it was scheduled. The lively panel on the hotel patio still had a nice turnout. Students threw their toughest questions at three panelists, Emet Co-Director Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Co-Director Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, and Rabbi Chaim Muskat, whose answers mesmerized the crowd. Questions included everything from “How does a string allow people to carry on Shabbos” to “Is Japanese bowing permitted” to “How do we know olam ha’ba exists.”
Mrs. Muskat says that this weekend gave the staff a chance to catch up with students. “This was a chance to find out about the challenges our students face, and in which areas they can use our support. Some people set up weekly learning groups so they can continue to learn throughout the coming year.”
Attendees came from a range of Emet programs, including Stony Brook University, Queens College, St. John’s University, Baruch College, and Hunter College. In addition, many students are part of Emet’s Step-It-Up for advanced women. The group included pharmacists, attorneys, engineers, PAs, doctors, and psychologists. Many of the couples live in Queens. In addition, people came from North Bellmore, Plainview, Oceanside, and other areas.
This is one of the highest-pressure times of year for Emet’s staff, as nine weekly programs – on and off campus – are slated to begin imminently as the college semester begins. Yet virtually the entire staff attended, and many felt spiritually elevated, commenting that this was one of the most uplifting retreats the organization has held during its 14-year history.
Rabbi Rutenberg and Ms. Shira Fendel were the visionaries behind this retreat. Ms. Celia Harary and the entire office staff professionally prepared an event that ran smoothly, beginning to end. Featured speakers included Rabbi Reuven & Rebbetzin Devorah Kigel, and Rabbi Binyamin Yuhanan who astounded the attendees with his knowledge of the convergence of science and Torah. Students were treated to many lectures by the acclaimed Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, and Rabbi Nissim Musheyev delivered elegant and climactic closing remarks. In addition, this was the first Emet retreat attended by Emet’s popular Program Director, Sara Benyamin, since she married her husband Yiggy early this summer.
Emet’s directors see this event as the perfect way to jumpstart the new year with energy and enthusiasm. Emet’s weekly programming includes campus learning, upper-level weekly learning, programs for young professionals and couples, a weekly seminary, beis midrash program in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, and weekly Shabbatons. In addition, Emet hosts numerous guest lectures, and takes students on inspirational trips, including two yearly trips to Poland and Prague.
The retreat was catered by Simcha Gurgov of Simcha Palace, and all attendees agreed that he did an outstanding job. The food was delicious, fresh, and beautiful. The weekend was subsidized by the Olami Network, and sponsored in memory of Sarah bas Yitzchak Simantov. Sara was a kind and giving person. She felt the importance of Judaism in her life and always sought new opportunities to grow. The Emet weekend of inspiration dedicated to her memory was a great z’chus for her n’shamah.