New Orleans (Part 1 of 3)

14 11 2010

Earlier this week, I flew down to New Orleans to attend the Lion of Judah conference.  (The Lions of Judah are a group of philanthropic Jewish women dedicated to raising funds for the Jewish Federations of North America and guiding donations to charitable causes.)  The group felt like an elite sorority of sorts and most of the members were on the older side, but I felt privileged to join them for the week.

A funny story:  During a session on endowments, one young-looking woman stood up to announce that she endowed a fund, both her grown-up daughters endowed and that one day her grandchildren will endow, too.  The room lit up with whispers in shock that this young woman was a grandmother.  When I chatted with her afterward, I mentioned that she must have loved the hushed responses to her comment.  She admitted that she did and that she sometimes mentions that her daughter is 45-years-old just to elicit people’s reactions.  When I asked what her secret was (nutrition? exercise? moisturizer?), she gave me a big smile and said “Really really good, natural-looking plastic surgery.  It’s a lifesaver!” and walked off.  Maybe you had to be there to appreciate it, but it was pretty comical.

A strange story:  I made friends with a really cool, straight-shooting lady at the event.  I joined her posse for a couple of the meals, and we went out together to explore the French Quarter on our free night.  She is a Lion and has been one for over fifteen years, yet she is currently one hundred thousand dollars in debt.  It’s strange to me that she could be in that much financial trouble (and cases like hers seem to be the norm rather than the exception in the United States) but still attend the Lions conference and fulfill her $5,000/year minimum pledge.  Maybe it’s social pressure or that she really believes in the causes, but if you can’t afford something… well, debt is just bad news.

A semi-frustrating story:  Though the LOJ programming was more fundraising oriented than educational, it was still a great opportunity to network with influential Jewish women from around the country and tell them about Faces of Israel.  However, I was kicking myself for only bringing a handful of business cards and copies of Faces of Israel.  What a wasted opportunity to spread the word, move the several hundred DVDs that were sitting in a box back in New Jersey and make some nice pocket change on movie sales.  Perhaps more frustrating, I ran two sessions at the conference presenting about my experiences living and studying in Israel.  However, since the sessions were meant as a lead-up to the Federation’s fundraising campaign, the LOJ/JFNA staff wouldn’t allow me to pitch Faces of Israel or ask the participants to consider supporting the program at the end of the hour.  The staff facilitator even misled the audience into thinking that ‘by contributing to the Federation campaign, you will be supporting these wonderful programs’, motioning to me and my two co-panelists who also had independent initiatives.  This was patently false – none of us receive a single dollar of Federation support and this felt like false advertising.  While we were excited to be a part of the week, we three panelists felt a bit like pawns by the end of our two sessions.

An exciting story:  A new musical called Soul Doctor about the life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach just opened in New Orleans and will soon begin a traveling tour with the goal of making it to Broadway.  I managed to snag a complimentary ticket and what a treat it was!  The production began with Shlomo’s childhood in Berlin during WWII before following him through his yeshiva days in New York, his introduction to the music scene of the ’60s and his founding of the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco.  The music consisted of contagious Carlebach nigunnim with added lyrics as well as a few non-Carlebach songs, and I was in such a high, wonderful place after Act I.  Act II was a bit more of a downer, chronicling Carlebach’s feelings of alienation from the right-wing Jewish community and individuals close to him as his career reached his peak, and ultimately closing the show with the passing of Carlebach.  The show is still a work in progress and will continue to be tweaked.  It’s a bit long running at three hours flat (including intermission), but there is a lot of good material there and I would recommend it to friends.

The Lion of Judah Mantra: We Are. We Can. We Do.

The Lion of Judah Mantra: We Are. We Can. We Do.

Playbill for the "Soul Doctor" Musical

Playbill for the "Soul Doctor" Musical

Two more posts on New Orleans to come!

posted by ayo

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