The annual Guys Night Out and Seder Summit event, the brainchild of Mark Eidelman held every year at Beth Sholom in Potomac, Maryland, draws over 500 professionals from all over the community to bond, network, and consume an abundance of ribs and scotch in a laid back, feel-good environment. The event is always in the days leading up to Pesach, but Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Nissan Antine says that he is stopped throughout the year at various supermarkets by people who say they recognize him from somewhere, and generally that “somewhere” is the previous Guys Night Out.
What is less well-known about the event, however, is the amount of meaning, charity, and social action that is infused into this night. The program opened with a clothing drive where attendees donated hundreds of suits, sport coats, and sports equipment for those in need. In addition, a portion of the night’s proceeds were donated to Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), which provides a range of counseling, education, specialized employment, in-home support, hospice and nursing care, and social services for those in need.
The people in attendance came from an array of Jewish backgrounds and locations, including DC, Baltimore, Fulton, Rockville, Potomac, Silver Spring, and even as far as Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and New York. There were even a number of people who flew in, including Rabbi Antine’s father, who came from Florida. Surveying the room, it was fascinating to see everyone bonding, enjoying themselves, and feeling very appreciative of the program that Eidelman put together so meticulously.
Lee Cowen of Potomac told us about how Eidelman and he decided over drinks one night that they would like to make this year’s event even more special by honoring Jewish firefighters and members of the military. They decided to collaborate with David Sussman, a retired major from the U.S. military, to arrange for local heroes to attend the event.
The first group of heroes have lent their expertise to Israel over the years during various crises, including Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and Operation Fire and Water in November of 2016. These men included: Scott Goldstein, Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company captain; Robert Katz, who helped organize and lead the deployment team to Israel during the Gaza missile attacks; Evan Feur, a paramedic volunteer during Operation Protective Edge; Scott Weiner, a medic team leader during Operation Protective Edge; and Jason Broth of the Baltimore County Fire Department.
The second group of heroes included U.S. Major Josh Mayoral (Assistant Deputy Director for Operations and Presidential Strike Adviser), Lieutenant Stew Latwin (serving Flag Aide to Commandant, Naval District Washington), Captain Garry Schwartzman (deployed to Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom), and Corporal (ret.) Jeff King (two combat deployments to Afghanistan).
A number of guests from the Israeli embassy received recognition as well.
Attorneys Robert Parker and Steve Lieberman (the latter a Kol HaBirah Editorial Advisory Board member as well) talked about how impressed they were with the event. Parker mentioned how it is a “wonderful event for the Greater Washington community,” for the attendees, as well as those who will benefit from its fundraising. Lieberman said that it is amazing to have an event that brings together Jews of all backgrounds and that the “feeling of community and togetherness was palpable and overwhelming.”
After the scotch, ribs, and networking took place, everyone gathered in the main sanctuary. Eidelman introduced by name each of the heroes and had them stand while everyone clapped wildly for them. Then Rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah who traveled in from New York for the event, introduced Rabbi Antine. He talked about how Rabbi Antine interned with him in Chicago when he was the head rabbi of Anshe Sholom and how he was impressed with his creativity and genius even then.
Rabbi Antine then took the stage and gave a masterful presentation to the diverse audience. His message was about the importance of expressing the Jewish identity via clothing. He talked about the difference between ultra-Orthodox Jews and many of the people in the room in that it may not be easily apparent to observers of those in the room that they are Jewish, based on the clothing they wear. He mentioned that the Jews in Egypt were able to avoid assimilation by wearing their own garb and gave numerous examples of how the tzitzit (fringes) played an important role for people in need of help.
A poignant example he gave was from Israel, where members of an
ultra-Orthodox yeshiva (who would likely never join the army) donated 4,000 pairs of tzitzit to IDF soldiers. Although these soldiers are not religious, they recognize the power of the tzitzit and wear it as the spiritual vest along with their bullet proof vest to protect them in battle. Tzitzit is our life blood, said Rabbi Antine, and it is important that we realize its power and meaning.
To further demonstrate his point, Rabbi Antine showed a video of him asking his five-year-old son how he knew he was Jewish, to which he responded that he wears a kippah and tzitzit. He closed by asking the attendees to consider taking on a bit more for themselves: to wear their kippah and tzitzit a bit more, to demonstrate their Judaism outwardly a bit more, to help them and others further identify with their Judaism. He then implored everyone, as the Pesach Seder is coming up, to study the Hagaddah and think about the message they would like to transmit to their families this Pesach.
Once Rabbi Antine finished, everyone headed back to the social hall for dessert and final good-byes. Many people took home food for their families that will maybe last a day or two, but most took home lessons, meaning, and inspiration to last them until next year’s event.