Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 1995.

I'm still staggered at the thought: It was 16 years ago today that I met Martin Stephen Kraar, the popular, respected, and sometimes feared executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). It would be a life-altering event. I was working for the Jewish Agency for Israel. Some 4,000 Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists had gathered in Boston for the CJF General Assembly. No one could have imagined that we would be converging upon Boston to collectively mourn the tragic death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Throngs of people were going through the motion of coming to town for their various gatherings that week, yet the crowd was shocked and numbed from the events of the day - not knowing what to do or how to absorb the information: Israel was an orphan. We were murderers. We were victims. We were orphans. We were lost. The people of the book were speechless.

Marty was doing what he did best: Managing. A black Motorola flip cellphone glued to his ear, Marty was working on logistics for the keynote speaker at the opening plenary. Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to speak, but Shimon Peres was the president and was next in line. Marty never lost his composure. His salt and pepper wavy hair was immaculate; he dressed to the nines; he wore power casual loafers. He never broke a sweat. You could not read him. He had a secret, and you wanted to know the secret, too, so you followed him around. He oozed that charisma everywhere he went. I would never knew him not to be a fashion plate: He did not disappoint on the day I met him.

Some of you know the story - I was geting my press releases ready for the media onslaught. I made plenty of copies of my three now-famous press releases (see below). I was feeling my prowess - dressed in a velour heather-grey short-sleeved turtleneck sweater and a black velour skirt cut above the knee; patterned black hose; black pumps. Screamingly understated. Center of attention. Much as I had dressed during my music career when I was playing my fretless Fender Precision/Jazz bass every night. I was still that rock star.

As I came out of the press area, I spied Marty and walked toward him, pointing to my name tag. We stood, frozen, and then we embraced, roaring with nervous laughter. In all the time I was preparing for the GA, which had been at least six weeks, including the assassination, I had never met Marty. We heard about each other. We were supposed to be at meetings together, but I was so wrapped up in my own work that I never left the office. We were about to head into a very tumultuous and uncertain time in Jewish life, and we both knew it: The thousands of us who were there at that moment could not escape from that uneasy feeling - what Marty used to call "free-floating anxiety," which has always been felt by the Jewish people.

Here it was, again, this time in our generation - and we were ordained to figure our way out of it. This time, anyway.

The rest is commentary.