The smells of ribs so tender the meat instantly fell off the bone, chicken barbecued to perfection and scotches of all flavors. The sounds of glasses clinking, a hundred schmoozes happening at once and people’s satisfied groans at their overfilled stomachs.
This was the scene Sunday at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah’s Guys’ Night Out BBQ, Scotch and Seder Summit, which drew 500 men to the Potomac synagogue.
The event raised money for the Jewish Social Services Agency’s Maot Chitim and Passover initiatives to help those in need. It also benefitted A Wider Circle, which collected used suits from attendees. There were so many suits that the delivery van had to make two trips to drop them off, according to event planner and emcee Mark Eidelman.
Guests included current and past headmasters at local schools, rabbis from the area and around the world, students at the University of Maryland and others. When Eidelman announced the presence of a delegation from the Israeli Embassy, each name was met with a standing ovation.
Nissan Antine, Beth Sholom’s senior rabbi, led the crowd in singing the first verse of “Dayenu,” the prayer of thanksgiving that is sung toward the end of the first half of the Passover Seder. “Dayenu,” said Antine, is about demonstrating the depth of your gratitude by listing each thing you are grateful for, rather than about telling God each miracle would have been enough.
Antine said the Orthodox synagogue offers Guys’ Night Out “as a way to bring people together. It’s part of [Beth Sholom’s] overall goal of Jewish outreach.”
He said that the goal of his talk was to provide “a philosophical framing for something [attendees] are trying to accomplish at their seder,” as well as “the nitty-gritty” of accomplishing those goals.
True to its name, for all four years of its existence, Guys’ Night Out has been a men’s-only event.
Eidelman said the event has been such a success as a preparation for Passover that the synagogue has begun to offer a similar women’s event in advance of Rosh Hashanah. Since the synagogue does not have a formal men’s club, he offered the idea initially as a way for men to come together and bond. Eidelman said the event has grown from about 120 attendees in its first year to its current sell-out crowd.
Lew Strudler, a member of Conservative Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim and first-time attendee, said part of what makes the event special is that men are not there “on a date” with their wives. Rather than spending the entire evening with one person, men can “wander” and talk to different people, he said. Otherwise, there would be “zero difference” if the event included women.
“I think it would very much change the dynamic” had women attended, Antine said. Beth Sholom offers many mixed learning sessions and women-only classes, but the mixed sessions “don’t really provide opportunities for guys to get together and bond, to think about their responsibilities as fathers and so on, and that ultimately leads to stronger families.”
“The camaraderie and the feeling in the room” is what makes the night so special, said David Farber, a member of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County and second-time attendee.
“Even with over 500 guys,” Farber said, “the evening felt personal, intimate and warm — and not just because of the scotch.”