Monday, July 16, 2007


Convention 2007

Yesterday I sat in my window seat on my American Airlines flight, gazing out at the landscape as it slowly slipped by. As we continued southward, occasional puffs of white cumulus were replaced by glowering thunderheads, their anvil tops sheared off flat by invisible temperature gradients. Our plane jinked and dodged around them, searching for patches of smooth air.

I was going home after a remarkable five days as a first-time delegate to the biennial convention of the International FJMC. Anshei Darom was well-represented. Joining me from Etz Chaim were Hank Needle, Barry Dolin, and Chuck Bernstein; from Beth Shalom, Stan Schnitzer; from West End Synagogue in Nashville, Jim Handler, Joe Zendlovitz, Gene Sacks (and his lovely wife Ruthi); from Temple Israel in Charlotte, Michael Abadi and the irrepressible Alan Sussman; from Synagogue Emanu-El in Charleston, Eric Oser (accompanied by his lovely wife Ruth); and from Beth Shalom Synagogue in Columbia, Rabbi David Siff.

So many stories. So many faces - some new, some familiar from past meetings.

One of the other delegates was Mark Travis, the youngest brother of Larry, he of blessèd memory, a stalwart of the Etz Chaim Men’s Club. Seeing him was strangely like seeing Larry magically come to life: The resemblance between the brothers was uncanny, extending even unto the gravelly voice. I showed him the memorial tribute to Larry our club had placed in the convention program, and the tears flowed as I told him how I sat in his brother’s old place every day at morning Minyan.

We applauded as Joe Zendlovitz, our beloved Treasurer, received the Ma’asim Tovim award along with honorees from across North America.

We recognized the accomplishments of Bob Breitman, outgoing FJMC President, and cheered the installation of Norm Kurtz as our new President.

We listened to a concert that included world-class cantorial talent: Steven Stoehr, David Propis, Alberto Mizrahi, Aaron Bensoussan, George Mordecai, Rebecca Carmi, Alisa Pomerantz-Boro. As the weekend approached, our religious services received an extra dose of musicality and spiritual intensity from several of these most excellent chazzanim.

Saturday morning, I had the honor of reading Torah along with a cadre of seven of the finest ba’alei koreh in the organization. Nothing gets your adrenalin going like reading a 29-verse slab of Torah in front of 500 people...and being the leadoff batter to boot.

We enjoyed l’chaims at several late-evening soirées. At the Wednesday evening cocktail party hosted jointly by Anshei Darom and the Florida region, we had mint juleps, screwdrivers, and home-baked cookies. I’m not being overly biased when I tell you that we had the best party of them all, a room packed with happy people renewing their friendships. And over the next several days, the International Kiddush Club offered up an assortment of fine single-malt scotches, cask-strength bourbons, Irish whiskies, et alia. And plenty of kosher wine, in a Wine Tour of Israel. None of that Manischewitz or Mogen David stuff. These were serious wines, the finest varietals from Eretz Yisrael, including a late-harvest Gewürtztraminer that could melt a heart of stone.

Saturday night, we gathered for a poolside Havdalah service. Being among a throng of several hundred people singing Eliyahu ha-Navi made saying goodbye to Shabbat a lot easier.

We listened at breakfast Sunday morning as Jerry Markbreit told of his adventures as the first Jewish referee in the NFL, working the Super Bowl not once but four times.

And then, all too soon, it was over. Time to pack the bags, check out, say our goodbyes, and head off in our many separate directions, heads filled with new learning and new programming ideas.

Let me tell you: If you have never been to Convention, mark your calendar right now for July 2009. You will have an unforgettable experience. And if you have been to Convention, you’ll want to mark your calendar too...for you know just what I’m talking about.


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