It was a two-day event filled with inspiration and edification as a group of over 70 community leaders flocked to Schaumburg, Illinois for the 9th annual conference of the Midwest Agudas Yisroel Council of Synagogue Rabbonim.
A project of Agudath Israel of Illinois, the Midwest Council has over 80 members serving communities in 17 cities throughout Middle America. In addition to providing rabbonim and rebbetzins the ability to hone their skills in areas including halacha, medicine and mental health and running initiatives to benefit member communities, the Midwest Council also hosts a yearly conference in the Chicago area, a golden opportunity to unify rabbonim serving communities that stretch from Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Minneapolis to Phoenix and to Houston. Several rabbonim from guest cities also took part in this year’s event which was held on July 9th and 10th at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel and was filled with presentations and discussions featuring prominent rabbonim and community leaders.
The conference began with welcoming remarks from Rabbi Yaakov Robinson, executive director of the Midwest Council, and featured several notable guest speakers. In two separate addresses, Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Mora D’asra, Congregation Nachlas Yitzchak in Queens, discussed the role that a Rav plays, both in leading his congregants and in the world of chinuch. Rabbi Oelbaum emphasized a Rav’s need to serve as an example to his baalei batim as a talmid chochom with an unwavering commitment to Torah, as well as the importance of prioritizing and internalizing the kehila’s needs.
Rabbi Mordechai Twerski, Mora D’asra, Ateres Shloime in Brooklyn and Rabbi Dr. Bentzion Twerski, a noted therapist from Brooklyn, addressed the conference jointly for two sessions, giving them a small glimpse into their nine week, 30 hour shalom bayis counseling program. Speaking about providing initial responses to family crises and addressing shalom bayis in all age groups, the pair offered participants practical guidance on counseling families in their times of need.
The final guest speaker of the conference was Rabbi Hershel Leiner, founder and president of H. Leiner & Co. in Monsey, who provided a different viewpoint on the conference theme of the many roles of the Rav. Known as an expert in fundraising and marketing in the nonprofit world, Rabbi Leiner shared his decades of experience in effective financial campaigns and discussed creative methods of branding, planning and strategizing.
A riveting presentation on the many tznius-related challenges that exist in our times, both in general and in the workplace, was led by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, and segued into a lively conversation on the topic at hand. Other sessions included a discussion on reaching millennials, led by Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum, Morah D’asra, Congregation Ohr Hatorah of Dallas, and a comprehensive overview of hilchos chatzitza given by Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Dayan, Agudath Israel of Illinois. Participants also enjoyed a PowerPoint-enhanced shiur on understanding and meeting the contemporary challenges of eruvin featuring Rabbi Shlomo Francis and Rabbi Yonasan Glenner, co-mechabrim of The Laws of an Eruv, and Rabbi Mordechai Paretsky, director of the Skokie-based National Eruv Initiative.
A special women’s track joined the men’s program for several presentations while breaking out for individualized sessions on a number of timely topics. Rabbi Zwiebel spoke about the difficulties of preserving a culture of tznius and Mrs. Rachel Zimmerman, student advisor at the Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov and rebbitzen of Bais Chaim Dovid in Chicago, discussed the importance of making the time to take care of ourselves. The rebbetzins also heard from Rabbi Twerski and Rabbi Dr. Twerski about promoting harmony in the home and from Mrs. Chaya Becker, administrative director of the Center for Jewish Family Life, on empowering children to deal with predators.
Much like doctors, lawyers and numerous others take advantage of continuing education during the course of their careers, it is important to provide the same opportunities to our community leaders who can wear many hats in the course of their day, noted Rabbi Robinson. Giving rabbonim and rebbetzins a forum where they can further polish their already considerable skills is just one of the many goals of the conference and participants return to their hometowns energized and ready to meet the many challenges that are presented to them.
“The rabbonim and rebbetzins anxiously anticipate the annual conference and our numbers continue to grow year after year,” said Rabbi Robinson. “What is most encouraging is that they look forward to the friendships and networking opportunities as much as they look forward to the lectures and sessions. Putting over 50 likeminded rabbonim who truly care about their kehilos in a room to discuss the issues of the day generates a very optimistic outlook for the future of Klal Yisroel.”
Feedback from the conference has been extremely enthusiastic, with organizers receiving emails and phone calls from dozens of participants attesting to the positive growth they experienced and the many practical skills they acquired over the two-day event.
“Year after year, the conference touches on topics most applicable to the lives of rabbonim and the communities they lead,” noted Rabbi Ariel Shoshan of Ahavas Torah in Scottsdale. “The clarity and exposure to experts, coupled with the camaraderie and sharing with peers, makes these two days very special.”
Those words were echoed by Rabbi Avrohom Weirib of Congregation Zichron Eliezer in Cincinatti.
“The most powerful part of the conference is how over the years it has become like family,” said Rabbi Weinrib. “The practical advice and chizuk we get from each other is immeasurable.”