Monday, April 26, 2010

Masterful Ceremonies

There is a famous (if overused) saying that goes, "If you need to get something done, find someone who's busy." This post is dedicated in honor of a couple of friends who turned this into an art form.
(For a quick bit of background... After my two years in Israel, I came back to the US and attended the Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY, as a "Lander Scholar" (full academic scholarship). Lander was in its infancy at the time; it was billed as the Honors Division of Touro College, and thank God, it turned out to be rather decent and an overall great experience. Since finishing at Lander, I was asked to join the Lander Alumni Board and was then elected by the other members of the Board to be a Vice Chair. My good friend [and SerandEz contributor] Moshe was appropriately and easily elected to be the Chairman.)

Last night at the White Shul in Far Rockaway was the first-ever Lander Alumni Dinner. Lander has been around for 10 years, and as it's the first dinner, the logistics that went into making it work while bringing back alumni from the beginning was an impossible trick. Our original projections and hopes were to bring in 250 people to the dinner, with an outside shot at breaking 300 - and this despite about 50 people from over the years being honored for having received smicha (rabbinic ordination) over the decade Lander has been in existence.

As a Board member, I was supposed to be doing major work to help out with the dinner. Unfortunately, however, it coincided with the exact weeks I needed to use for preparing my company's financial statements, and I ended up doing just about nothing. Meanwhile, the rest of the Board (except the accountants finishing up busy season) and particularly the tireless Alumni Director of Lander and our Board Chairman Moshe had to work their little tushies off: Despite holding other jobs, despite having wives/families/dating/etc. to deal with, despite all the other headaches that come up in life, or (in Moshe's case) despite being a third-year medical student working on hospital rotations.

And yet... they did it. The AD would work all day, all evening, all night... and Moshe would come back from a rotation and get straight to work. Moshe told me that when he'd leave at 2am to get some rest before the morning, the AD was still working like crazy. They somehow tracked down just about every person who stepped foot in Lander over its ten-year history, and then got a rather large chunk of them to commit to coming. The final total of confirmed reservations was ridiculous in comparison to what we shot for: 507. Including walk-ins who came to wish mazel tov, the total was close to 600 people, despite many alumni who sadly couldn't make it for various reasons. Perhaps even more impressive was the quality of it all: Our innovative approach to the program kept it light and enjoyable, and Moshe kept it moving at a good clip as the MoC. All in all, it gave truth to the (rather impressively done) video tribute to Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander, a'h, whose vision is what created the school and who passed away this year.

I'm trying to get a copy of the video, but what was especially fascinating about it was seeing him give a fiery speech about Jewish education when he was a bit younger. While his insane work ethic and vision were still evident while we were in Lander and he was about 90, he simply wasn't the same anymore. To see him with all of his energy and watch him be a dynamo like that was really something. His approach to everything was that anything is possible - and in fact, it's going to happen, because we're going to make it happen.

For me, watching this video along with listening to the various honorees was a bit of a coming together of a lot of different pieces. My own boss was actually a student at Touro College in its very first year of existence, and had R' Dr. Lander not just as a Chancellor, but as a teacher. In the 10 months I've been working with him, I only recall him showing that he was impressed with a person twice; both times were in reference to R' Dr. Lander and his amazing accomplishments. Interestingly, my boss has a very similar attitude, perhaps taken from "Bernie" - ideas that seem to be far beyond what one could reasonably expect, then going after it full-bore... and realizing that it's actually far more reachable than you originally imagined. One-in-a-million is suddenly more like one-in-three.

Lander itself was built the same way: A nice concept, but come on - could it really be pulled off? And yet... it was. When I went, there were a nice amount of good guys like myself who were given some type of scholarship as a means of drawing us to a school we might have liked conceptually, but been afraid to take a chance on. Just a couple of years later, people were being placed in a neighboring apartment complex because the dorms had already exceeded their capacity. The same occurred with this dinner: What seemed like a pipe dream suddenly turned into not just a success, but a resounding one that exceeded all expectations... and the credit goes to the people who put everything they had into making it happen: Specifically, our Alumni Director and our Chairman, Moshe.

Both of the major honorees touched on it in their speeches, but it's still worth noting about these great young men, good friends whom I will always hold in high regard (even as I nitpick them to death in all our meetings): Bernie Lander would have been proud. And, now that we know what we know, may next year be even better.

(Also, great job on the food. Yum.)

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