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The Jewish Advocate

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TheRetreat: Adults can have fun at camp, too!


January 30, 2015. By Stephen Baum.

    Playing, praying, studying, and more laughing than you’ve done since you were a teenager.

The outdoor havdalah service leads to the closing night party and campfire. Photo/Aaron Ginsburg

That’s part of the lineup at the oldest Jewish men’s retreat sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club (FJMC). We’ve been reinventing ourselves for more than sixty years now, and are looking for Jewish men from all movements to come join us.                                                      

We know that Jewish camp is an enormously important part of building the next generation of committed Jews. But why should it be limited to children?

Those of us who attend TheRetreat believe that it shouldn’t be. TheRetreat is the first and oldest retreat for Jewish men in the United States. Initially founded as The Laymen’s Institute, it has provided a way for us to recreate, to learn, and to worship as a community for nearly seventy years. It is sponsored by the New England Region of FJMC.

There are, of course, some large differences between a camp experience for adults and one for children. We don’t (alas!) get summers off, so we can only gather together for an extended weekend. We are less certain of our ability to learn from everyone, so we bring in well-known scholars to teach us. We seem to like choices, so there are often a variety of activities scheduled throughout the day. We also like to ignore those choices from time to time, so nothing is mandatory. Attendees do as much or as little as they wish.

We arrive on a Thursday evening at Camp Ramah in Palmer or, if work makes that difficult, before sundown on Friday. The regular camp season has not quite started, so we have the run of a number of the bunk houses at the camp, as well as the guest house, for an extra fee. Camp staff – including the all important kitchen staff – are on hand to help and feed us. The Retreat ends around noon on Sunday.

Most years, there are between 75 and 100 of us. Many of us are members of men’s clubs in Conservative congregations, but we also welcome and encourage participation from men who are involved in other denominations or who are currently unaffiliated with any. Most of us are from the New England region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s clubs, but we also have members of the Connecticut Valley region who attend each year, as well as some of the FJMC international leadership.

So what do we do for two and a half days? We have a golf outing, we play tennis, softball and basketball, we swim, some of us bicycle to the Quabbin reservoir. We worship together, we discuss the weekly portion together. There are several discussions with our scholar- in-residence and or local speaker. Last year Rabbi Arthur Green added an evening “Tisch” and a morning Torah study, both of which were well received and well attended. Hankus Netsky introduced us to the wonderful world of Klezmer on Thursday night. Some of the best activities provided over the year by our clubs are reprised at The Retreat, as it provides a great venue for sharing those activities which have worked well. And, of course, we eat, we drink, and occasionally we even sleep.

This year TheRetreat runs from Thursday, June 11 to Sunday, June 14. Our scholar-in-residence will be Professor Jonathan Klawans, who has been part of the Department of Religion and the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University since 1997. Our speaker on Thursday night and Friday morning will be Rabbi Dan Liben, the spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Natick since 1991.

Come back to camp this year and see what you’ve been missing.

Stephen Baum is chairman of TheRetreat. To learn more, see or write Stephen Baum at Reprint of The Jewish AdvocateTM Copyright © 2015 The Jewish Advocate, Inc., Jewish Advocate Pub. Corp. All Rights Reserved Reprinted by permission