Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Biennial Redux: Make New Friends But Keep the Old

Rather than bore you with details about food and beverage fiascos at the Union’s recent Biennial convention in Toronto, let me tell you about the other side -- the hugs, the smiles, the reconnects and the new friends who previously existed only on Facebook and in cyberspace.

A few in particular come to mind:

Early on, I met Rachel Turry Roth, managing director of the American Conference of Cantors in Chicago. We’d had numerous email and Facebook exchanges in recent months, but hadn’t ever met face-to-face. That happened on Sunday (or was it Monday?) night in the lobby of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Lucky for both of us, we were able to steal away for a late-night cup of tea on Tuesday (or was it Wednesday?) in the hotel’s Gold Level lounge. How nice to have a new friend!

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, I posted this status update on Facebook: Saw lots of Facebook friends in person today. Especially looking forward to meeting Phyllis Sommer tomorrow! To that, Phyllis (aka Ima on (and off) the Bima) responded: Can't wait to meet you too! Hanging out at O’Hare waiting for my flight...

A few hours later, there she was – standing right next to me there in the staff office. And, although we chatted only briefly before she rushed off to present at a workshop and I returned to counting meals, Phyllis and I exchanged cell phone numbers and – if we’re lucky – will have more of a chance to get acquainted the next time she makes it to New York or, by some travel fluke, I make it to Chicago.

Marge Eiseman commented on that post as well: Find me tomorrow -- ok? I'm working at Reeva’s 'Ritings with Ruach in the exhibit hall...all afternoon/evening. Although we didn’t connect in the exhibit hall, we did catch a hug when we spotted each other just outside the plenary hall the next day…or was it Saturday? No matter…if I do ever make it to Chicago, a side trip to Milwaukee for a real visit with Marge will definitely be on my itinerary.

Like Phyllis, Andy Busch popped into the staff office, providing me yet another opportunity to meet someone who previously existed only as a signature block in our email exchanges. Andy and I share roots in central New Jersey, so it was an especially nice connection to make. Lastly, I chatted briefly on an up escalator with Billy Dreskin, with whom I’d previously emailed, but never met. In addition to talking about the use of technology in synagogues, which was the context of our initial emails, he told me that he reads my blog.

“The Union’s blog?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “your JanetheWriter blog.”

Hmmm…Who’d a thunk?!

One more note about Biennial connections: On Sunday, I received this Facebook message from Alan Mason (Alan and I “met” a while back when I wrote about his cantorial concert for the Union’s blog):

Dear Jane,

I was looking forward to meeting you at the Biennial, but a serious injury prevented me from traveling and playing the piano for the Shabbat service. I loved reading the posts and updates, and seeing the photos, but it made me even sadder to not be there. I am in a cast from my elbow to my fingers, with a broken wrist and lower arm, but I am doing amazingly well, will have a full recovery, and will be playing the piano very, very soon.

I always enjoy your posts, updates, and news from the Union.


I responded and we went on to have a brief exchange of messages over the last several days. At Alan’s request, I will, once again, plan to write a piece for his 2010 cantorial concert, which is scheduled for January 23, 2010 in Miami. Stay tuned for details.

Of course, not all my Biennial connections were new ones. I was lucky to cross paths with Peter Schaktman, Michelle Pearlman, Antoinette and Stuart Matlins from Jewish Lights Publishing, Sally Neff, Ilene Bogosian, the LAs from the RAC and countless others on my endless treks through the Metro Toronto Convention Centre during the course of the week.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what Biennial’s all about?


  1. Keep the old! Keep the old! Great post, it was fabulous to see you.

  2. great wrap up of what really matters at a biennial:-) sounds like you saw a ton of people even tho you spent so much time in that office:-)

    look forward to a real sit-down, maybe when i'm in nyc in december...

  3. Found your blog through Facebook -- it's a fun resource. I'll keep checking back.
    JanTheWriter :-)