Confessions of a Repeat Offender: Why I’m Going to Convention Yet Again

With the next FJMC International Convention less than two months away, I found myself wondering just why I was looking forward to it so much.

OK, I’ll admit it: I like Convention. A repeat offender multiple attendee, I’ve been to Conventions in 2007 (Chicago), 2009 (Philadelphia), 2011 (Costa Mesa, CA), and 2013 (Danvers, MA). And here I am getting ready for a fifth appearance, this time at the 2015 Convention in Miami Beach. But just what is it that I like so much? What draws me?

To get a little insight, I went back and looked at the notes I had written while returning from my very first Convention. Before going, I had no real idea what to expect, only what my limited imagination could conjure. No much to work with, in retrospect. But I went, and this is what I came back with…

On Sunday, July 15, I sat in a 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 Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.  The Men of the South – Anshei Darom – were 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 and Ruthi Sacks; from Temple Israel in Charlotte, Michael Abadi and the irrepressible Alan Sussman; from Synagogue Emanu-El in Charleston, Eric and Ruth Oser; 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 our own Larry 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, Anshei Darom Region’s 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. [Note: many of these same chazzanim will be present in Miami Beach this July.]

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 Adult Beverages.  Plenty of kosher wine, as well, 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.

And that closing line is, more or less, what I tell people today when I ask them to go to Convention. If you’ve never been to Convention, you don’t want to miss it… and if you have been to Convention, you know why you don’t want to miss it! As for the world-class programming, I won’t even scratch the surface if I mention all the excellent learning available for Club and Regional officers, the Program Fair that shares the best programming every club has to offer, the sessions of Health and Wealth Management, the incredible ruach at every service and during birkat ha-mazon after every meal. You don’t have to be an officer or a big mucky-muck – there is not just something for everyone, there’s plenty.

I hope to see you there.

– Steve Krodman