A Weekend of Marital Growth and Inspiration

Thanksgiving weekend was a time to relax, reconnect, learn, and be inspired, when over 300 people attended Emet Outreach’s sixth annual “Alumni Couples Retreat.” Held at the majestic Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Long Branch, New Jersey, the coastal setting was befitting a Shabbos of spiritual and marital rejuvenation.

The theme of the weekend was “Connections” and that was not only evident in the incredible warmth and ruach of the gathering, but also encompassed the focus of the carefully crafted three-day program. Participants enjoyed lectures, classes, and workshops that provided a multi-dimensional perspective on the main connections in life – each individual’s relationship with Hashem, spouse, family, and themselves – all within the framework of marriage.

“At Emet, our couples and alumni are like our family. We’ve watched many of them grow in Judaism from the time they were college students and we were honored to attend their weddings,” said Mrs. Rivka Muskat, Emet’s Associate Director. “Our goal in designing the many elements of this retreat was to have our couples emerge with an invigorated appreciation for their marriage within the context of a stronger relationship with Hashem. Our greatest mission at Emet is to build strong Jewish families, and a healthy couple is the foundation of every family.”

Upon arriving at their luxurious “home away from home” for the weekend, couples were greeted by Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet’s CEO and co-founder, as well as the extended Emet team. Among the team was Sara Basiratmand Benyamin, Emet’s popular Program Director, her husband Yiggy, and new baby Kalel. It was a reunion of sorts and a time to catch up with old friends. As they enjoyed a welcome lunch, participants reviewed the comprehensive program booklet and were able to map out the lectures and workshops that were most personally relevant to them from the array of options.

Along with Rabbi Rutenberg and Mrs. Muskat, speakers included members of Emet’s dynamic and talented staff – Rabbi Mordechai Kraft (Emet co-founder and Educational Director), Campus Director Rabbi Reuven Kigel and his wife Mrs. Devorah Kigel (a popular women’s educator, dating and marriage coach), Rabbi Nissim Musheyev (Director of Community Development), Rabbi Binyamin Yuhanan (Emet’s Couples Division Rabbi, rabbinic consultant, and seminary teacher), Rabbi David Delman (who, along with his wife Tova, hosts Emet’s weekly “Shabbat with the Delmans” and is currently Director of JEP of Rockland County), Rabbi Michael Fuzaylov (Director of Emet’s Beit Midrash program and Forest Hills Fellowship Coordinator and teacher), Rabbi Eliyahu Maksumov (Beit Midrash and Fellowship teacher), and Rabbi Hersch Goldberger (Emet’s Office Administrator).

Guest lecturers were Emet partners and contributors such as Dr. Mark Rutenberg (Chairman and CEO of CDx Diagnostics, who is very knowledgeable in many areas of Torah, and extremely well versed in Sfat Emet), Rabbi Chaim Muskat (Director of STAR, an organization that helps support many Torah institutions, and a Torah scholar with wide-ranging expertise), Dr. Akiva Perlman (a mental health expert who is the Director of Guidance at JEC in Elizabeth, Director of Clinical Development at Amudim, and an assistant professor at Long Island University), Dr. Tamar Perlman (a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship specialist who works with couples, women, and at-risk teens, and was formerly the Clinical Director at Ohr Naava’s high school), and Rabbi Doniel Frank (Director of M.A.P. Seminars and a licensed marriage and family therapist).

The retreat was designed to balance Torah concepts, growth-oriented learning, and relationship guidance with fun activities and socializing. Once the couples settled into their rooms, it was full speed ahead with a workshop on “Vision Setting: Marriage and Family Goals” by Rabbi Frank, followed by a lecture by Rabbi Yuhanan entitled “Help Your Spouse Love You More.”

After candle lighting, Rabbi Kraft delivered a d’var Torah for the men. T’filah services were held in a spacious auditorium with a large picturesque view of the ocean. It was an extremely uplifting setting to connect with Hashem and experience the beauty of nature.

As the men davened Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit, Mrs. Shonnie Rutenberg addressed the women on the topic of the “Mystical Secrets of Candle Lighting.” The women then had a choice to hear from Mrs. Kigel on “Prioritizing Your Marriage Even After Kids” or from Dr. Tamar Perlman on “Femininity and Masculinity Redefined: Using Your Femininity to Build Your Marriage.”

Rabbi Rutenberg and Rabbi Kigel delivered welcome greetings to the group after davening, and then it was time for a gourmet Shabbos dinner that included divrei Torah from Rabbi Musheyev and Rabbi Fuzaylov.

Once dinner was complete, there were keynote sessions and the couples were divided into two groups based on the length of their marriage. The first group consisted of newlyweds to those married for not more than five years; and the second group was comprised of couples married over six years. The engaging topic was “Achieving True Connection: with Hashem, One’s Spouse, One’s Family, and One’s Self.” Each group then heard three mini-lectures from Emet rebbeim about each of these connections. Following the sessions, there were panel discussions with the rabbis on “Strengthening Our Connection.” Oneg Shabbat was next with spirited Shabbos singing and a delectable dessert table.

Shabbos morning dawned with an inspirational Shacharis davening, followed by divrei Torah for men and women and a gala kiddush. Guests were then able to choose from five concurrent learning sessions that included everything from the marriages of our Avos to discussions of faith and trust in G-d, the seven mystical gates of Kabbalah, Torah and science, and the fundamentals of good communication.

An enjoyable Shabbos lunch was followed by men’s and women’s lectures entitled “Spotlight on Shabbos: Our Opportunity to Observe Halachah.” After S’udah Sh’lishis, there was a moving musical Havdalah led by Rabbi Kraft and Rabbi Delman. Then it was off to more informative classes with a selection of topics that ranged from marital intimacy to women’s hair coverings, as well as balancing work with charitable giving.

The focal point of the evening was the Motza’ei Shabbos melaveh malkah. Couples enjoyed a dairy buffet, sushi bar, and wine tasting, compliments of HaKerem. Fun activities included a photo booth by Snap-A-Pic and a performance by a world renowned mentalist. A highlight was the incredible energy of the separate men’s and women’s dancing that was energized by the sounds of DJ Yoni. The dancing got off to an incredible start in celebration of the engagement of Emet staffer Ms Celia Harary to her chasan Mr. Aharon Gitchel. An honorable mention goes to Yuriy Shimunov, Moyses Niyazov, and Nison Zavulunov for their impeccable dance steps.

Sunday brought an inspirational close to the weekend, with the crowd eager to gain as much as possible during the remaining hours. Among the final classes was an interactive workshop by Rabbi Rutenberg, LMSW, on “Identifying Key Areas to Boost Your Relationship and Build Lasting Shalom Bayis.” Rabbi Rutenberg’s workshop enthralled the couples and included a discussion of the “5 Love Languages,” as well as many helpful exercises like creating a “couple growth plan,” “admiration lists,” and a “self-care assessment.”

There was a farewell barbecue banquet, but the mood was not farewell, but rather “until we meet again,” since the staff at Emet maintains relationships with their couples and alumni.

As the couples were leaving, the feeling of gratitude or hakaras ha’tov was in the air. One couple remarked, “Every time we attend an Emet Shabbaton, we’re reminded of Hashem’s role in the big picture of life. We feel like we’re with family.” Another couple said, “This Shabbos was like a rejuvenation for the soul. It was one of the best vacations we’ve had in a long time. It was a chance to not only re-connect with each other, but also with friends, relatives, and people from Emet who have become like family.” The most heard comment was, “We look forward to this retreat all year and we can’t wait for next year.”

“This weekend truly represented the spirit and core philosophy of Emet,” said Rabbi Rutenberg. “Over the past 16 years, we have been driven to not only form deep and lasting connections with our students, but also to guide them in strengthening their personal connections with Hashem and their Jewish heritage. These connections have in turn resulted in Jewish marriages, which fulfills our ultimate goal of ensuring the Jewish future by building families. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated team of rebbeim and educators, as well as the most growth-oriented students. We look forward to more meaningful events like this and to, G-d-willing, sharing smachot with our couples.”

The Emet Alumni Couples Retreat was fittingly dedicated in memory of Shmuel and Esther Leah Pieprz a”h. This special couple were Holocaust survivors and the grandparents of Mrs. Shonnie Rutenberg. They overcame adversity, and through sacrifice and deep commitment they raised a family and lived a vibrant Torah life. As the introduction to the retreat’s program reads, “Seeing young couples come together to strengthen their relationships and their commitment to family would have undoubtedly given them tremendous pleasure.”

Emet would like to thank the generous corporate sponsors: Caring Professionals and East Coast Auto Plaza. Simcha Gurgov, of Simcha Palace Caterers, provided the spectacular, lavish, plentiful, and delicious meals for every aspect of the weekend and Rabbi Chaim Schwartz of the VHQ oversaw the highest level of kashrus.

The weekend would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Emet’s office staff, led by Rabbi Goldberger, Ms. Harary, and Mrs. Malkie Friedman, who handled the extensive details that made the retreat such a successful and memorable experience.

 For further information on Emet programs and upcoming events, visit www.emetoutreach.org.