I Go To The Shul Banquet

Preparation Video Post-Banquet Letdown

For the past few weeks when people would ask me if I was going to the shul banquet, I gave a haughty and disdainful no. I was above that plebian fraternizing. It sounded really boring. I was an important thinker with important needs to stay home on Sunday nights and have important chats on my web cam.

Then Shabbos evening I’m walking home with David Suissa and he invites me to be his guest at the banquet.

My chest swelled with pride and I said a quick yes before he changed his mind.

When Sunday evening rolled around and Suissa still had not recovered his sanity, I drove down to the Beverly Hilton.

"What’s Luke Ford doing here?" a bloke asked.

I don’t know. Suissa said he’d try to stop by after his kid’s baseball game.

There’s a half hour of cocktail socializing to get through.

I have two good friends at Bnai David. I share the radiance of my presence with them for as long as they can stand it and then I wander around disconsolately, standing off to the side of what look like fascinating conversations.

It’s time to take our seats. I’m at table 16. It’s right up front. I’m the first to sit down. Then I’m joined by the rabbi, and the shul’s president, and the future president and the biggest philanthropist in Jewish Los Angeles.

"What’s wrong with this picture?" someone asks me. "What are you doing at this table?"

Hey, I know my place. I know I don’t belong here. It’s David Suissa’s fault. Blame him.

The Moshav Band starts up and the rabbi leads us on to the dance floor.

I can’t dance. It’s my Seventh Day-Adventist heritage. It’s a sin. I can’t relax. I’m tense and awkward and I trample on the feet of the men next to me.

Oh, how they must hate me.

I start slinging around the circle faster and faster. "Which part of my body will give out first?" I wonder. "Will it be my knees or my heart? I’m gonna have a heart attack right here on the dance and they’re going to call an ambulance and rush me to Kaiser and then we’ll find out it was just a panic attack. Oh, I’m such a wanker. Last time I was at such fancy digs was for the AVN Awards. That’s where I belong — with the hookers and the wankers."

I’m in the dance but not of the dance. I’m one with the community but I’m floating above it. I’m participating and critquing at the same time.

I like these guys. I might let my guard down a little tonight. But what if I was genuine and then I got booted? What if I revealed my true self and then that true self got kicked to the curb? Oh, how that would hurt. Better to have my big bad self booted if one of me has to go. Must keep my guard up. Must use protection — prophylactics, phylacteries, cynicism, sarcasm, whatever works.

I want to go for a swim in the pool by the light of the moon.

I want that peaceful easy feeling.

There’s no mehitza for the dancing and some of the women don’t want to get on to the dance floor to be ogled by men.

"What do you think about when you watch a woman dance," I’m asked.

"I think about sex."


"But that’s just me. These other men here are on a much higher level than me. They probably think about HaShem and the beauty of His creation."

The dancing is much freer than if this were a Beth Jacob or Young Israel of Century City banquet. The dancers are younger.

The Hilton is my idea of hotel luxury. I grew up in an austere Protestant home. In the summer of 1980, friends of the family put us up at the Hilton in Puerto Rico. It cost them $100 a night. I was amazed at the luxury.

"You look more rabbinic than the rabbi," says a bloke. "I love that about you."

"You can dance like this every Shabbos at the Happy Minyan," says another bloke.

"I was so proud of you dancing," says a sheila. "I was like a proud mama. I wanted to pinch your cheeks. I wanted to cry."

There are a series of speeches. Obama is mentioned and gets applause. McCain is mentioned and nobody claps.

If McCain wins and the shul Republicans sponsor kiddish that Shabbos, much of the shul will stand in the hallway and refuse to touch the cholent.

This is my first synagogue banquet in 15 years. Once Suissa arrives, I start having a good time.

He gets me.

There’s a stream of people coming up to greet him and get his advice.

"So many people want a part of you," I say. "How do you decide which Jewish ventures you’ll support?"

"I’ll help almost everything Jewish," he says. "I love Jews. I have nothing against non-Jews. I just love Jews."

We talk about how I can become one with the community and maintain my commitment to truth on my blog.

He says it’s possible. He says it’ll happen.

I believe him.

As I walk out, I join a friend in taking home as many benchers as possible.

I spot another friend davening maariv with a group.

"You can’t fool me," I shoot at him as I leave.

I ask people for feedback on the banquet. They say:

I thought it was going to be an open bar. Well, I found out to my pain that my two drinks cost $21.

It was a fundraising event. The banquet was a pretext, a formality.

It was nice to see people dressed their best.

I was expecting much more, but it was nice to see everyone celebrating the shul.

The food, for vegetarians there were a couple of spoons of rice and some vegies.

There was no soup and no alcohol unless you went out and bought some from the bar.

I thought the dancing would really start after the meal but just when one would expect that, people were up to leave.

The evening was done before 9 p.m.

The rabbi’s speach was moving – that alone was worth the evening.

I’m glad I went. It was an obligation if you want to be a part of the community. I was disappointed to see so many people not there.

I understand now it’s not about the fun, not about the social aspect, it really is all about the fundraising, so then I don’t have anything to complain about. I would guess you agree.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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