by Neil Rigler, coordinator of OSRUI’s Father & Son Kallah and dad of two boys
This is the third year I’ve been the coordinator of OSRUI’s annual Father-Son retreat and I’ve come to treasure it not only because of the opportunities it provides for fathers (and grandfathers!) and sons to spend time together but also because it does so in a dynamic Jewish context. Where else could you see families working together to solve a biblical treasure hunt while exploring camp, singing songs, sharing creative worship services, and making iMovie videos based on the Torah portion of the week? But that’s not all – add in fun mixer games and silly relay races, indoor climbing, and making s’mores around the fireplace after a moving Havdalah service and you’re starting to get a sense of the magic of what this weekend has to offer.
I feel lucky to be able to be a part of this retreat and the community created during the weekend. We get to know and play and laugh and work and learn with other families from other states, welcoming newcomers and building relationships with people we see year after year. This happens informally during shared meals and free time, as well as during structured activities. This year we focused on Vayishlach, the parsha that tells the story of Jacob wrestling at night with an angel (or another person? or himself? or Esau?) and having his name changed in the process. During Shabbat morning services, we both read the parsha and performed a creative skit. Then in the afternoon families paired up to create an original story about a person who goes through some sort of struggle and changes for the better in the process. We brought the parsha to life with our creativity, and then enjoyed watching all of the films after dinner that night.
I also enjoyed the chance to engage in late-night conversations with other fathers about the challenges of being a father in today’s world, and what the Jewish component of that can/should be. It was a rare opportunity to hear from a range of perspectives – from people I never knew before the start of the weekend, but all of whom decided to spend these three days as part of this program. Coming out of that, the services and blessings after the meal all took on even more meaning as I looked out across the whole group, and at my own children.
The Father-Son retreat was also about a chance for me personally to step away from the hectic pace of every day and to focus exclusively on my boys. We had a blast. We laughed and played and took long walks and enjoyed drinking in the positive environment of OSRUI. I’m already looking forward to next year – to seeing old friends and making new ones, and to spend time reflecting on the wonderful and challenging responsibility it is to have my favorite job of all: a Jewish father.