By Rabbi Yaakov Robinson
The Midwest Agudas Yisroel Council of Synagogue Rabbanim held its 5th annual conference July 21-22 in Glenview, Illinois. There were over 45 Rabbanim in attendance from major Midwest cities and from as far away as Houston, TX; Dallas, TX; Scottsdale, AZ; and Denver, CO. The conference was a tremendous success, enabling the organization to stay at the forefront of Torah development in the Midwest.
A decade ago, HaRav Avraham Chaim Levin, Shlit”a, Rosh HaYeshiva, Telshe Chicago, and member of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah, recognized that the unique character of communities outside of the East Coast needed their own Rabbinic body. This vision was the genesis of the Midwest Council. Since then the Midwest Council has become one of the primary forces of the oilam haTorah in the Midwest.
The primary goal of the Conference is to strengthen shuls and communities. This is accomplished by providing the Rabbanim with a forum to share ideas and to have opportunities for “continuing education” in specific areas of halacha as well as a host of other issues – including social, emotional, medical, technological, and interpersonal – upon which Rabbonim are called upon to guide their congregants. The conference also provides projects and initiatives to directly serve and protect their kehillos.
The annual conference is always a highlight for the Rabbanim. This year’s gathering did not disappoint. With a comprehensive approach to the topics discussed at the sessions, the Rabbanim are now even better equipped to serve their mispallelim.
The general theme of this year’s conference was, “Anashim, Nashim, V’Taf- The Rav’s Role in Guiding the Members of His Kehilla.” Several sessions were dedicated to helping a Rav even better understand the diverse groups- age, gender, background, etc. – within his kehilla and also provided practical approaches on how to properly relate and guide all of these mispalelim. The two main guest speakers on this topic were Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, Mora D’asra of Congregation Shearis Yisroel in Baltimore and the head of Baltimore’s Vaad Harabbanim, and Rabbi Sheftel Neuberger, R”M Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, who is renowned for his wisdom and insight guiding many communities and individuals.
The program began with opening remarks from Rabbi Yaakov Robinson, Executive Director of the Midwest Agudas Yisroel Council of Synagogue Rabbonim and Mora D’asra of Beis Medrash Mikor Hachaim in Chicago. Rabbi Zev Cohen, Mora D’asra of Adas Yeshurun in Chicago, introduced Rabbi Hopfer as the first speaker. Rabbi Hopfer began with insights and divrei chizuk on the role of a Rav. Rabbi Hopfer then drew from his wealth of 35 years of experience in Rabbanus and gave practical advice on how to counsel congregants who are dealing with a variety of different issues. The Rabbanim present valued the unique opportunity to hear from “the Rav’s Rav” on these crucial topics.
The next mini-session was a presentation from Mr. Aaron Topper, founder of TAG (Technology Awareness Group) Chicago, and from Mr. Josh Rubin, a TAG representative, on the latest technological advancements that every Rav should know about. It was stressed that the technology is always changing and it is everyone’s responsibility to stay current to insure that there is always proper protection in schools, homes and on cellular devices. They emphasized the necessity of every community to have an organization dedicated solely to the topic of internet safety.
The following session was a panel discussion with both Rabbi Hopfer and Rabbi Neuberger on the Rav’s communal role beyond his kehilla. Many times a Rav is expected to get involved with matters on a communal level that are beyond the immediate needs of his kehilla, the question arises- when, how often and how should a Rav be doing this. Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt, Mora D’asra of the Agudah of St. Louis, himself a community wide leader in St. Louis, introduced the session. Some of the specific issues that were discussed included dealing with- addictions, abuse, community Shalom, local mosdos, etc.
The two panelists have built a reputation of taking a stand on important issues and for their ability to maintain Shalom throughout their own community; they were able to clearly share many of their experiences to help guide the attendees to properly maintain this balance while in their own communities.
The next session, was introduced by Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib, Mora d’Asra of Congregation Zichron Eliezer, Cincinnati, OH. Rabbi Doniel Neustadat, Av Beis Din of Detroit and Rav of Congregation Bnei Israel gave a halacha b’iyun shiur on contemporary kashrus issues. A renowned author and poseik, he kept the Rabbanim engaged with a fascinating shiur and frequent give-and-take discussing the sugyos.
The first night session, began with Rabbi Neuberger speaking on, “From the Real World to the ‘Real World’- Helping Yeshiva Bachurim Transition from Kollel into Kehillos”. Rabbi Neuberger has been a Rebbi to hundreds of talmidim and has consistently maintained a connection to these talmidim, giving him a deep insight into the needs of yeshiva bachurim. Two points that he emphasized repeatedly throughout his remarks were the importance of Shalom Bayis and its effect on the future generations of that home as well as the topic of the significance of the Rav’s role and how the rabbanim of our generation have elevated the chashivus of this position.
The evening ended with a discussion moderated by Rabbi Efraim Twerski, Mora d’Asra of K’hal Chasidim, Chicago, IL. The session dealt with a topic that every Rav encounters on a daily basis, how to inspire the tzibbur to reach greater heights in ruchniyos in a positive and productive manner.
The morning sessions began with a presentation from Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Lob, a noted psychologist in Chicago, on the topic of teaching the Torah hashkfa of Inyanei Kedusha to our youth. Afterwards, Rabbi Naftali Kaplan, Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivas Netiv Hadaat in Yerushalayim, spoke on the topic of the importance of, and the practicalities of, how to run a mussar vaad for the growth-oriented members of the kehillos.
A representative from the Department of Homeland Security, Charles Dushane, gave an important and very timely presentation on protecting shuls in our communities. Rabbonim were extremely appreciative for the hands on suggestions that he gave that will help ensure the safety of shuls and mispallelim.
His presentation was followed by a seminar entitled “The Different Hats of a Rav” given by Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Dayan Agudath Israel of Illinois, Rabbi Henoch Plotnik, Mora D’asra Beis Tfilla and R”M Yeshivas Meor Hatorah and Rabbi Avrohom Alter, Mora D’asra Yeshiva Migdal Torah. The session highlighted the importance of reaching out to the various constituencies within a shul.
Rabbi Feurst spoke about the responsibilities a Rav has to his kehillah in many diverse realms spanning the emotional, spiritual and material. Rabbi Alter discussed nurturing the ruchniyus of those in his kehilla and working together with other Rabbonim for those daven in more than one shul, or who transfer from one shul to another. Rabbi Plotnik noted the responsibility of a Rav to the children in his shul and gave several specific examples of ways to engage the children of the shul in positive activities.
The following session, “Open Orthodoxy, Religious Rights vs. Civil Rights and More” dealt with the extraordinary challenge and threat of the Open Orthodox movement and the increasing divergence between traditional and “modern” attitudes. The session was introduced by Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of Agudath Israel of America, and featured Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel. Rabbi Becker spoke about Agudath Israel’s leadership position on these issues and Rabbi Zwiebel stressed the importance of maintaining the mesorah of Klal Yisroel to ensure its viability and future.
The conference ended on a high note with a shiur given by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levin, Rosh haYeshiva, Telshe Yeshiva, Chicago and member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah who encouraged all the participants with his characteristic warmth.
There was a consensus that it had been an extraordinarily valuable two days of learning. Rabbi Becker said, “There were 45 Rabbonim in attendance but the real beneficiaries are the thousands of members of their kehillos throughout the Midwest.”