Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Life of the Party

September 2, 2013

Life of the Party

I had five “l’chaims” today and one funeral. Thankfully, one of the l’chaims for today (the sixth) was rescheduled. Each group and organization had their own distinct celebration where my involvement ranged from negligible to central, usually with little or no warning as to what my expected role would be. I warmed up with the office l’chaim with a small intimate crowd of employees and directors, the majority of whom I knew or recognized. I said a few words after the President and ran off to the funeral.

I returned to another l’chaim of which I had written on my calendar was for the social worker volunteers of the community. I came to a hall with about fifty people sitting and waiting for me. I quickly understood and confirmed that instead of the volunteers, the room was filled with the actual beneficiaries of the community social assistance. I had to quickly change the speech I had prepared regarding working for a charitable cause (don’t worry – it served me well in two other l’chaims). I said the blessing over a glass of wine and blew the shofar for the crowd. The warm-up act was an adorable group of 3rd grade school girls who performed an Israeli dance, and I was followed by a keyboarder who played Jewish music.

I walked into the ballroom for the third l’chaim. There were about sixty middle-aged and elderly women seated at tables in a large hall. At the far end of the hall, in the middle of the head table remained one empty chair with a tall silver wine cup next to a large Challah. I made a beeline to the chair, with my large shofar in hand and spoke about Rosh Hashana, with my previously mentally rehearsed speech of the importance of personal involvement in charitable organizations besides just giving money. I said the blessing over the wine, said the blessing over the Challah, blew the shofar and ran off to my next appointment.

The fourth l’chaim was in a building I hadn’t been to before. For some reason, due to a previous related l’chaim from the week before, I was actually expecting this one to be of the small intimate variety where I wouldn’t have to do or say much. The first hint that I was mistaken was the heavy security outside the building. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when the security people don’t bother stopping me but rather escort me in. The second hint that my assumption was wrong was the number of people milling in the hallway and the person at the desk in front of the hall checking people in. Mind you, I noticed all these things out of the corner of my eye as I’m running through the hallway, intent on getting wherever I’m supposed to.

I walk into a ballroom with over 300 people sitting at round tables akin to a wedding. I kept walking, not letting myself be taken aback by the size of the audience and just let my forward momentum keep me going. The organizer motions for me to come to the microphone at the front center of the hall next to the keyboarder who I now recognize from the second l’chaim (we should have given them a package deal or something). I was about to address the beneficiaries of another charitable institution that hosts an annual pre-Rosh Hashana dinner for the needier members of the community.

I had a few seconds as the hostess introduced me to think of something appropriate to say to the individuals and families enjoying their meal. I said something that seemed to hold their attention, spoke about faith and hope and Israel and blessings for a better year. Did the wine and the challah and ran off for the next engagement.

The last one for the day was at a board meeting of one of the Jewish organizations. It was actually very interesting to be present during their discussions and it gave me more time to think of what to say to this smaller group. Speech, blessing, wine, challah and shofar.

Somehow I feel like I should now be exempt from Rosh Hoshana given the amount of speeches and blessings I’ve given, the amount of wine I’ve consumed, the amount of sweet round raisin-filled Challah I’ve eaten (which I like) and the number of times I’ve blown the shofar (which keeps getting better). But all of this is just a small preview for the main event…

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