By Rabbi Shawn Zevit
November 8, 2019
From Jewish Exponent
Continuity and Change on Our Soul Journeys - Parshat Lech Lecha
By Rabbi Shawn Zevit
November 8, 2019
From Jewish Exponent
State of the Spirit - February 5, 2019
“They go from strength to strength.” Psalm 84. We in Menschwork interpret that phrase as “their spiritual course should gain in vigor.”
Our last State of the Spirit spoke of our sadness about the terrible Pittsburgh shootings. Our spiritual vigor was demonstrated in the Menschwork Webinar Series program on November 15, 2018, where we discussed that tragedy and the defamation, several months earlier, of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. The discussion was powerful and our collective response offered some healing for those who joined the videoconference.
Menschwork, Inc. Update
The Menschwork, Inc. Wisdom Council gathered in December for its annual planning retreat. The meeting, along with the success of JMR 27, added another pillar to our foundation. The retreat began with an evening of deep sharing and ritual to honor Marty
Pashelinsky, Donald Gardner, and Cobi Waxman, who were leaving the Wisdom Council, and to elect Joseph Kottler and Michael Landau as the newest members of the Wisdom Council. The Wisdom Council also elected the 2019 Officers:
Mark Dwortzan, Chair
Marc Jacobs, Vice-Chair
Harold Belkowitz, Treasurer
Simon Olsberg, Secretary
The Wisdom Council thoughtfully discussed JMR 27 and our longterm plans, and set our priorities for the year. Subsequent to the retreat, Lev Natan was elected to the Wisdom Council.
Menschwork Webinar Series
Our Webinar Series, open to everyone, covers a wide range of topics. Upcoming dates are March 13, May 8, July 10, and September 11. We invite you to suggest ideas for future topics. Please watch our guideline video and send us your ideas to
Our January 9, 2018 webinar topic was Jewish Perspective on Sustainable Living: Protecting the Earth-Our Individual Responsibility, presented by Elliott Myrowitz, Mark Dwortzan, and Donald Gardner. The Webinar is available to view at www.menschwork.org, along with the links to our references and other resources. You may also view the video by clicking this link.
We look forward to you joining us on March 13, 2019 for the next Webinar, Spiritual Eldering, left by Yosaif August. The webinar will continue the JMR27 Pathways discussion on Aging and Sage-ing.
We are considering aligning our next Menschwork regional gatherings with Good Deeds Day on April 7, 2019 (www.good-deedsday.org). Please let us know if you like this idea or have other thoughts about what you would like to see for regional gatherings. Information about Good Deeds Day’s founder is available at
JMR28 will take place October 25-27, 2019, at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut. David Cherenson, Michael Evers, and Ralph Benmergui, the retreat’s coleaders, are busily preparing to lead us into another great retreat. Make sure to mark your calendars now! Please contact the planning team at JMR28@menschwork.org if you want to help plan the retreat.
Baruch Dayan HaEmeth
The Menschwork community extends its condolences to family and friends of Jonathan Jerome, a Vermonter who attended a number of our Jewish Men’s Retreats. Jonathan was killed on December 20, 2018, while walking his dog across a street in Burlington. A
memorial service in Vermont was followed by a funeral in New York on January 2.
We are deeply saddened to learn this news and will miss Jonathan’s kind-hearted spirit. “Jonathan appreciated the values of the retreat and the friendship and support of the men who filled it,” said Jim Grossman, who has attended past JMRs with Jonathan.
Notes of condolences may be sent to his brothers David Jerome and Richard Jerome. For privacy reasons, their addresses are not posted in this blog entry. Please contact us at email@example.com to request their addresses.
May Jonathan's family be comforted by the love of family and friends and may Jonathan’s memory always be for a blessing.
Menschwork, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that is guided by its mission and values. Menschwork’s Mission is: "developing transformative program models, programs and resources that encourage men to take the bold, next steps in their journeys as empowered Jewish mensches, men of spirit, compassion, integrity, dignity, responsibility and purpose in their families, communities and in the larger world." Within this structure is the core value that “Our model of leadership is egalitarian, inclusive, collaborative, and non-hierachical.”
We encourage broad involvement in all aspects of Menschwork. Please contact us to share your ideas and passions in support of our mission.
We recently celebrated Tu Bishvat, which celebrates the “birthday” or “new year” of fruit-bearing trees. Please consider planting a spiritual seed to help us flourish by donating to Menschwork.
Mark Dwortzan, Chair
Marc Jacobs, Vice-Chair
Harold Belkowitz, Treasurer
Simon Olsberg, Secretary
Elliott Myrowitz, Immediate Past Chair
Reb Shawn Zevit
A photo from the Touro synagogue museum in Newport, RI describing what may have been the first Jewish men’s group in the Colonies. We’ve come a long way.
NOTE: On October 27 we were shocked and deeply saddened by the heinous attack on the congregations in Pittsburgh. Watch for details for a Menschwork ZOOM call where we can share our concerns and responses on Thursday November 15, 9-10pm.
State of the Spirit
October 28, 2018
Did the 70 men attending JMR 27 last weekend experience (one of) the best JMRs ever? I for one can’t think of a better JMR retreat! Co-leaders Marc Jacobs and Cobi Waxman looked at the evaluation forms from the previous year (JMR26) as they planned JMR27. Where I only saw the great comments from over 90% of the responses, they saw the few comments that said we could do better. It is most impressive how Marc and Cobi did better because the critical comments were split between “do more” or “do less” in the same areas.
David Cherenson, Michael Evers, and Ralph Benmergui, the three leaders of JMR28 on October 25-27, 2019, are moved in spirit by the exciting challenge to create a deep and soulful retreat for JMR28. We are confident that these Brothers will continue the tradition of building upon the foundation laid by prior JMRs. They will have help and lead the inspired brotherhood of16 men who stepped into the Planning Team during the closing circle this past weekend. Additional resources to the independent JMR28 team will come from the Menschwork Wisdom Council of 11 men.
For the past few years, the Wisdom Council has convened a two-day planning retreat to assess and develop the long-term vision, goals and programs of Menschwork. This year the group will meet December 16-17. We welcome any input of ideas for us to consider about how to grow the vision and types of services Jewish men want to deepen our lives.
We thank Marty Pashelinsky, Cobi Waxman, and Donald Gardner, who are transitioning off the Wisdom Council, and welcome into the Counsel the wisdom and gifts of Joseph Kottler and Michal Landau.
Continuing Menschwork Connections Throughout the Year
This year’s retreat was a very powerful experience. Building from that experience, we are organizing several opportunities to stay connected and through Menschwork activities throughout the year. Please make sure to mark the following dates on your calendars and look for upcoming emails with program information:
Pathways: While for many years there have been various Shabbos afternoon program choices including free time/nap, this year I heard many men say they wished they could be in 2 or 3 places the same time because multiple Pathways offerings were very appealing to them (Spiritual Eldering, Sound Healing,#MeToo, Gender Identity, Original Jewish Texts about being a Mensch, Experiential Service). These offerings took on the name Pathways; based on interest, we expect to continue this work during the year ahead.
Webinars:In 2017, Menschwork created its first webinar. Reb Shawn Zevit and a small group created a great online video, available at www.Menschwork.org, giving a history of Jewish Men’s work along with a discussion among the group. This year, Mark Dwortzan and Elliott Myrowitz created a short video guidelines to making a recorded Menschwork Webinar which includes a list of topics proposed as well as an invitation for you to offer a topic here.
Mishpacha groups: A highlight of JMRs are the Mishpacha groups. These small groups, which meet 3 times during the retreat, are an open hearted, kind, sharing experience. There has been interest to continue this experience throughout the year. The Wisdom Council is considering how to best make this type of opportunity available beyond the JMR weekend.
Mensches, we say Amazing Things Happen When Jewish Men Gather. Please gather with us over the next year in whichever of the numerous rich opportunities for soulful Jewish connection and growth that I have discussed that calls to you: Webinars, Pathways, Mishpacha groups, and beyond. While we have two Webinars ready for our upcoming schedule, Pathways and Mishpacha groups will depend on your interests and response to this communication. Send me a note on our Contact page and tell me what interests you, and I will connect you with the appropriate group.
Elliott Myrowitz, Mark Dwortzan, Marty Pashelinsky, Donald Gardner, David Piver, Harold Belkowitz, Marc Jacobs, Cobi Waxman, Simon Olsberg, Josef Kottler, Michael Landau, Yosaif August, Reb Shawn Zevit.
Wisdom Council members, Menschwork.org
JMR28 Leaders (from left): Ralph Benmergui, David Cherenson, Michael Evers (far right)
JMR27 Leaders: Marc Jacobs (3rd from left), Cobi Waxman
The Menschwork Wisdom Council (board) at the closing of the 27th annual Jewish Men's Retreat. From left, Reb Shawn Zevit, Josef Kottler, Yosaif August, Elliott Myrowitz, David Piver, Simon Olsberg, Harold Belkowitz, Mark Dwortzan, Cobi Waxman and Marc Jacobs
Jewish Men’s Retreat Update
Six years ago, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z"l, spoke to the JMR20 group by video conference from Boulder on the Sunday morning of the retreat. When Zalman was asked about how we could best cope with the many revolutionary changes that were transpiring around the world (particularly in the Arab world), he encouraged us to welcome the disintegration of old ways that were not serving society anymore, and the emergence of new ways that could better serve society. Zalman laid out a vision of making the city/community better in many ways, and maintained that it is sometimes necessary to tear up some roads and buildings in order to create a new, improved, healthier, evolved city/community. He encouraged us to not be demoralized by torn-up roads and buildings under demolition, but to focus on our visions of better cities/communities.
Reb Zalman’s wisdom in many ways captures the essence of the Jewish Men’s Retreat, which strives to support men in their efforts to cultivate better and better versions of themselves and their communities.
This mindset was palpable at this year’s JMR campfire, where perhaps men were more vulnerable and openhearted after just experiencing the powerful physical/spiritual Ohel Avot, a sacred, transformational ceremony beautifully facilitated by David Piver. The campfire stories and sharing were particularly kind, capturing the notion that, as our liturgy says, “the soul You have given us is pure.” My heart was touched and I felt aspects of that truth in almost all the campfire sharings. For example, Jeff Levine showed how simple kindness in his professional legal work had powerful impacts on the lives of his clients. Allen Spivack, whose years of leadership has been instrumental in shaping the JMR experience, continues to show the righteous path with his work in his community Chevra Kadisha, preparing the body for burial. Such mensches! These are just two of the dozens of men who spoke from their hearts at the campfire.
Continuing JMR’s strong attendance the past several years, more than 80 men registered for JMR26. From the post-JMR survey results, we can say that the weekend was transformative for the men in so many different ways. Thanks are due to the great efforts of the many creative men on the planning team. Throughout JMR26, I was in awe of so many wonderful contributions from first-time attendees as well as from men who have shared their truths in the group for decades.
I am happy to report that JMR 27, now scheduled for October 19-21, 2018, at Isabella Freedman, is in strong hands. The retreat’s co-leaders, Marc Jacobs and Cobi Waxman, and 16 other JMR alums gathered on January 14 in Philadelphia at the first planning meeting. There is still time to support your brothers by joining the planning team; just contact Marc (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Cobi (email@example.com), and they will help you get involved. Please mark your calendars to attend JMR 27.
As you know, many of us view Menschwork as the logical next step in the evolution of the Jewish Men’s Retreat.
With JMR’s continued growth and desire to provide more opportunities to Jewish men, the Wisdom Council, with the legal help of Steve Masters, established Menschwork in 2016 as a 501(c)(3) organization. This development allows us to develop and share our Mission and Values (listed on our website Menschwork.org) to even more Jewish men. On the websiteyou can also find information about regional meetings, a great introductory video to Jewish men’s work by Reb Shawn Zevit, the first of a growing library of Webinars, archives of JMR events, a Blog, a way to contact us, how to support Menschwork, and more.
While we say “Amazing Things Happen When Jewish Men Gather,” it is most often applied when describing the Jewish Men’s Retreat from the planning, during the event, and the transformations after the retreats. We need the input from all men receiving this letter to help define what being part of Menschwork community means to you. Please send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While we are not a membership organization, we do offer at no cost a Menschwork card, which looks and feels like a credit card. Containing the full text of our Mission, the card has been helpful as a way of introducing other men to Menschwork. Let us know if we can send you some cards for yourself and others with whom you might want to share it. Designed by Ori Alon and bringing a smile almost every time it is used, this “credit card” states, in large print, “Valid for good deeds only.”
Strength, Peace and Blessings,
Chair, Menschwork Wisdom Council
By Elliott Myrowitz
About 15 years ago I was attracted to a father-teenage son weekend at Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center. After driving from Baltimore to Accord, New York, my son and I learned from the staff person at the registration table that the program had been cancelled. Not to worry, she informed me, our registration had been rolled over into the Jewish Men’s Retreat, which was also taking place that weekend. There was one other father-teenage son duo from New York City, and they also agreed to give it a try. What else was there to do after the long drive and looking forward to spending quality time with our teenage sons?
So began my exposure to the precursor of Menschwork, the Jewish Men’s Retreat (JMR), which had been holding annual gatherings since 1991. Once drawing about 50 men each year, in 2016 the JMR grew so much that we had to close registration, as we could fit no more than 100 men in our davvening space due to fire code limits. That year, as Menschwork became a 501c3 organization, we identified a number of goals, including to share our process and values in other communities during the year. We call these regional meetings. For one of these, Herb Levine suggested that I try a father-teenage gathering in Baltimore on a Sunday afternoon.
Here is the email I sent to a few of my Menschwork brothers after the gathering concluded that day:
May 19, 2017
I am very pleased with my gathering today, three dads and four teenagers.
We had a meal in my kitchen, then took a hike with the goats for 30 minutes, and then began our sharing discussion. I gave some guidelines and did the first sharing, and asked each person to speak if they wanted to. We did two rounds and then a closing open discussion. The first-round question was, “What does a mensch (compassion, integrity, spirit) mean to you?” For the second round, everyone was asked to give an example where they felt they were and/or were not a mensch. I went first and then let whoever wanted to go next, with a suggested five-minute time limit. I did not need to stop anyone, as the teenagers all easily went under five minutes, and one or two dads went longer, but it seemed all were good listeners.
I felt we all got to know each other well, and I was impressed with these great teenagers and dads. Diverse backgrounds, all very respectful. I enjoyed the whole process. Of interest for the first round: integrity was most frequently addressed, less often compassion, and no one spoke about spirit. (While the word Mensch is in my core from childhood, it was only in one other person's core from childhood, so translating Mensch when I started into the English components seemed to be very important.) So when I started the second round, I made a point to lead with spirit in my sharing, and the group followed, and I felt we really shared at a deep level.
They were happy to agree to allow Menschwork to post the picture I took and be on our mailing list. I hope other Menschwork regional gathering leaders and participants can also share the dynamics of their gatherings so we can perhaps find key elements to make the event successful in getting a taste of Menschwork.
by Jay Lewkowitz and Jeff Schwartz
We want to tell you our story of a 45 year friendship and how the Jewish Men’s Retreat has sustained our deep connection with each other over these many years.
One might think that a friendship that survived decades of adventures, nachas (joy), and tzuras (trouble) would need little outside influence to bind it, but the Jewish Men’s Retreat did exactly that for Jay Lewkowitz and Jeffrey Schwartz.
Jeff Schwartz describes how their relationship has sustained itself for so many years:
I believe it was Jay’s uncle who said that you know you’re getting older when you look in the mirror and see your father, and you know when you are really old when you see your grandfather. Today, we are somewhere in between, but we began with the eyes of two young hippies carefully disguised as nice Jewish boys. Our story covers a journey through life with all of its trials and tribulations. Our Jewish practices ranged from orthodox, to conservative, to renewal, to very little at all – but we always saw ourselves as Jewish men.
We met as acquaintances and as classmates at Yeshiva University in the mid 1960’s. Mutual friends brought us closer together over our stay at Yeshiva and by the time we graduated in 1970 we had a lot of shared experiences, long night conversations, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
Jay took over the lease on my apartment on Elwood Street in New York City, while I headed for a whirlwind trip through Canada where I stayed on a commune and met Caren, the woman who was to become the mother of my children. Not too long after we left Canada we found ourselves back in the Elwood Street apartment, staying with Jay. In fact, while I was off to work, Caren returned to the apartment from the doctor who informed her she was with child, and it was Jay who heard the good news first. From there on, there was an unbroken bond between us.
Life took us on different adventures, sometimes in parallel, sometimes in opposite directions, but regardless, we managed to stay a part of each other’s life. At one point while I was living in Ithaca, New York, Jay and his bride Donna moved there and we all considered buying a farm where we could have two houses built so we could live next to each other. While we never bought the place, our commitment to be part of each other’s life never faltered.
Jay ended up in Chicago, while I ended up in upstate New York for the next 35 or so years, putting a lot of miles between us. Children came along, as did divorces and remarriages. Occasionally we got to see each other in person like when Jay was the best man at my wedding or when Jay returned to New York from his wedding in Israel to his second wife, Ellen. Occasionally, I would visit Chicago on business and always make time to see Jay, especially at the big bash for his 40th birthday.
Sometimes we would talk frequently, and sometimes months would go by between calls, but it always seemed like no time had passed at all. We shared the joys of grandchildren being born, the sadness of a parent’s passing, stories of betrayal, adventures, our travels, the little things in life, and the big things.
When my father’s best friend passed away, my dad told me how sad it was because he would never again have a best buddy. That made no sense to me at the time, because I didn’t understand until now what it meant to have decades of history and sharing between two men that simply cannot be replaced.
Our lives and relationship could have gone on like this forever, and that would have been good enough. By this time in our life we were “seeing our fathers in the mirror,” and had each of us had our own issues to deal with. On one of my visits to Chicago, Jay introduced me to a friend who later moved to New York. That friend introduced Jay to the Jewish Men’s Retreat (JMR). The following year, Jay was on the organizing committee and Jay convinced me to attend the Retreat with him, which is now our annual get-together.
From the power of the unique group of men at each year’s Retreat, to the dynamics of the mishpacha groups(small discussion groups), to the freedom of singing and dancing in celebration of our lives as strong Jewish men, the Retreat is thought-provoking, exhilarating, and cleansing all at the same time.
Jay has lead Mishpacha discussions, and services, while I assisted. I also followed in Jay’s footsteps by joining the planning committee and one year as a roving Ambassador, making sure people felt safe and comfortable within the environment and experience. The Retreat in and of itself would have been enough on its own, but the way it increased the deep connection of Jay and me is really not something I can explain. But you can really feel it when you see Jay and me together at the JMR.
To those who have attended before, you all know what we are talking about. Now, I urge you to bring a friend and your experience will be multiplied tenfold. For those of you considering attending for the first time, all I can say is that you will never regret it. It really can transform your life in so many positive ways. Whether your Jewish beliefs and practices are traditional, conservative, reform, renewal, or non-existent, whether your feet are firmly planted on the ground or you are searching for a new direction in your life, the JMR will offer you support, acceptance and an experience of joy and fulfillment.
While Jay and I are getting older and are both grandparents, we still don’t see our grandfathers in the mirror yet. But at the Jewish Men’s Retreat, as we hope these photos convey, when we look into each other’s eyes, we see each other and ourselves as ageless, joyous, proud, strong Jewish men.
Ori Alon attended his first Jewish Men’s Retreat 2009, having emigrated from Israel to New York City with his soon to be American-born wife. He first heard about the JMR when he attended a weekend strategic planning meeting at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and talked with Allen Spivack about the JMR and how it would enrich his life. Ori explains what that first JMR was like for him and the instant “family” he inherited. This year will be Ori’s third JMR.
The JMR is one of those rare places where I instantly feel at home. The first time I came to the retreat I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit nervous: coming to a weekend with 70 or 80 strangers is not an easy task, even if you are a very social person. After the weekend though, I felt like some of these guys were family.
I was about to get married and the most natural thing to do was to invite everyone to my wedding. Yosaif August, one of the “elders” in the retreat and its founder, also offered to make a “Tish” for me in Brooklyn. I felt a connection with some of the men I met at JMR that I have only with close friends and with all the rest it felt like part of a tribe or a Shtetl, as far as I can imagine those.
Spending a week-end with a bunch of other men was very meaningful, fun and free of judgments. At the JMR I had experienced a meaningful davening for the first time in my life thanks to the beautiful spirit of Rabbi Shawn Zevit, the special drumming of Akiva the Believer and the participation of all of us. I felt a deep connection to Judaism that I never got growing up in Israel. It gave me hope for a different kind of Judaism and it helped me feel at home in the US, to feel connected and part of a community. These and more are such rare gifts that I’m very thankful for them. I’m looking forward to at least 20 more JMR’s!