The Midwest Agudas Yisroel Council of Synagogue Rabbonim held its 7th Annual Conference July 26-27 in Schaumberg, Illinois. Close to 50 Rabbanim and 15 Rebbetzins were in attendance from 20 major cities and from as far away as, Scottsdale, AZ; Denver, CO; Miami, FL; Houston, TX; Dallas, TX;. 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, Rosh HaYeshiva, Telshe Chicago and member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, 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 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 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 theme of the conference was, “Proactive Rabbanus: Staying Ahead of the Challenges of Our Times”. The Rabbanim had the unique zechus to hear presentations and have discussions with two of the Gedolei Roshei Hayeshiva in America, Rav Aharon Feldman, Rosh HaYeshiva, Ner Yisroel, Baltimore, and Member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah; and Rav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshiva, Mirrer Yeshiva, Brooklyn.

MidwestRabbonimConference-2016-Group2Rav Feldman discussed the various movements and trends that are attempting to challenge our mesorah. He has lectured and written extensively about this topic and he shared from his experience and expertise a clear and lucid definition of what stands at the core of these movements and what the Rabbanim and their kehillos need to do to combat them.

Rav Brudny led several hours of highly animated discussion. The Rabbanim greatly appreciated the opportunity to draw from his wealth of knowledge and extensive experience. The wisdom and clear daas torah that was shared will greatly enhance the Rabbanim’s skills in addressing similar matters in their own kehillos and communities.

The movement to redefine marriage and other related issues has saturated the media, caused a significant shift in the attitude of the general public, led to many new laws on a Federal and State level, and has brought a new wave of halachic shailos to Gedolim and shul Rabbanim alike. The conference invited experts to present on this topic from every angle. Rav Feldman discussed the Torah hashkafah pertaining to these changes and how the Rabbanim should educate their kehillos and children about this topic. As he emphasized, “either we will teach them about it ourselves or they will learn it from the street.”

Rav Dovid Cohen, Morah d’Asra, Congregation Gvul Yaavetz, delivered a shiur via livestream outlining the halachic challenges that this movement has presented.

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director and Counsel, presented an update on the legal hurdles that have been put in place by this movement and he projected some potential newer challenges that may come up (r”l) in the future. Rabbi Cohen discussed the issue on the federal, state and local levels as well as it’s legal and legislative ramifications.

Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Dayan Agudas Yisroel of Illinois, spoke on the topic “Behind the Psak: Dealing with Difficult Rabbanus Sheilos”. He discussed a number of practical halachic dilemmas that rabbonim might face and gave a definitive Halachic psak addressing each one.

MidwestRabbonimConference-2016-223Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Lob, noted lecturer and therapist presented on, “How to Teach Our Kehillos and Children to Cope with Terror”. In addition to bringing sources from his clinical knowledge to help avoid a general sense of fear in our community, he also shared many stories and mashalim to support his points. He encouraged the Rabbanim to spread stories of faith and commitment to help create the level of emunah and bitachon needed to maintain equilibrium during scary times.

In addition to the formal presentations, there were several moderated discussion sessions where the Rabbanim shared programming ideas and discussed strategies to enhance the shul experience.

The Rebbetzins enjoyed a full day of sessions as well. Their program began with a lecture by Rabbi Labish Becker, Agudath Israel’s executive director, on the importance of creating a sense of community that encompasses ALL the congregants and the impact that the Rebbetzins can have on their kehillos; Rav Brudny addressed dealing with congregants’ crises; and Rabbi Dr. Lob presented strategies for taking care of ones’ self before taking care of others.

They also discussed Non-Time Consuming Ways to Connect to the Women of the Kehillah, moderated by Rebbetzin Michal Cohen, Congregation Adas Yeshurun, Chicago, IL; and Great N’shei Ideas with Rebbetzin Tova Greenblatt, Agudas Yisroel of St. Louis.

There was a consensus that it had been an extraordinarily valuable two days of learning and interaction. Rabbi Yaakov Robinson, Executive Director of the Midwest Agudah Rabbonim, said, “There were 50 Rabbonim and 15 Rebbetzins in attendance, but the real beneficiaries are the thousands of members of their kehillos.”