When I teach or lead seminars for members of the Jewish Communal Service, and when introduced by name and professional background, the first question I am always asked is that I started out . . . where?
One would not consider Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, a traditional starting off point for someone who has chosen to work in the Jewish Community.
But, for me, a guy from the Bronx, there could not have been a better place to begin my 40-year odyssey.
So, as the song says, "let’s start at the very beginning."
Just over 40 years ago, in February 1972, I completed four years in the U.S. Army. After graduating Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., I served two years in Germany and six months in Vietnam (this was supposed to be a 12-month tour and was cut short by President Richard Nixon, but that is another story).
It was during my tour in Augsburg, Germany, from 1968-70 (during which time our first son was born, his bris was the first in that city since the Holocaust), I decided to work in the "Jewish" world, but was not sure in which area.
Upon discharge from the military I applied for the position of assistant executive director at Temple Emanuel in New York City. There was a pretty strong chance that I was to be offered that position.
Then fate hit.
During the Passover holiday in April of 1972, a friend of a cousin suggested that I might find becoming a member of the Jewish Communal Service much more satisfying.
A member of the JCS usually works in organizations such as the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Federation, or Jewish Family Service. In most cases these professionals have social work, communal organization, or community nonprofit education and training. I had none of these.
Just to scratch the itch, I went for an interview with the Jewish Welfare Board, the national JCC umbrella organization. Based on my lack of education, training and experience, I had very low expectations. At best, I thought I might be offered a fourth level (or lower) position in a major city institution.
Then fate hit again.
The staff person who interviewed me suggested that there was one very small Jewish community that might be interested in someone with my background — or lack thereof — to head the local JCC and Jewish Federation.
So, late that April, my wife and I drove to Lewiston-Auburn, the last hour or so during a blinding snowstorm.
The two days we spent in the Twin Cities changed our lives and put me on a career path that could not have been more satisfying.
We met with Jackie and Burton Wilner, Marcia and Irving Bell, Norman Izenstatt, Rabbi David Berent, and had a unique interview (an understatement) with Betty and Julie Wise in his hospital room (Julie was recovering from minor surgery).
The position was offered and accepted. I began work soon after and showed up for my first day not having the slightest idea of what I should be doing.
The leadership taught me, the national organizations taught me, and the first step of my life as a member of the JCS was taken. And what a great step it was.
I cannot say that I learned all that there was to know, but I certainly received one of the best educations one could get. The L-A Jewish Community is strong, committed, friendly, vibrant and generous. One could not have asked for anything more.
The four and a half years spent in L-A were not only wonderful career wise, but our two younger sons were born there and we made some life-long friends.
In 1976 we were recruited by the Orlando Jewish Community and left in late December (during a snowstorm) arriving in Orlando on Jan. 2 to 70 degree weather.
I spent seven years there as the executive of the JCC and Jewish Federation and, in 1984, moved to New York City where, during an 18-year period, I held senior positions with CLAL, JNF and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In 2002 we decided to punish our three "boys," all of whom had moved out west, and followed them. We now live in Los Angeles where, since that move, I serve as the national director of Major Gifts and the director of the Western Region of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, a 740-bed internationally famous medical center in the heart of Jerusalem.
A wonderful, successful, and most satisfying 40 year odyssey. All because of Lewiston-Auburn.
Editor's note: May is Jewish American Heritage Month, so-designated by President George W. Bush in 2006. For more information, go to www.jewishheritagemonth.gov