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.