Saturday, January 25, 2020

While it’s “The Season” for most of the world to eat turkey dinners, to watch football games ad nauseam, to shop ‘til you drop, to decorate the house, to spread holiday cheer—all nice, warm and sentimental traditions—for those of us in the traditional Jewish world, we have another kind of season. And it’s upon us in a big way.

Welcome to Jewish Organization Dinner Season (JODS, for short).

It might not be as sexy sounding as Chanukah or Christmas, but it’s certainly easier to spell. And there is no other ethnic group that I know of that owns the unique and storied traditions of JODS.

It may sound like a serious disorder. If you are a big-time community activist, you have JODS overload. If you can’t stand sitting through the season, you definitely have ADD-JODS. If you can’t get enough of this season and you keep going back to every dinner for every kind of smorg food, you probably have OCD-JODS.

But here’s the punch line: After more than 25 years in the field, I can unequivocally say that we LIKE it.

Ever since Madison Square Garden was filled in the early 1940s to raise funds for the Jews of Palestine (the United Palestine Appeal), we have been congregating in small and large numbers, at the Waldorf or at the Roosevelt Hotel, to raise money for causes that are either dear to us or are dear to our friends being honored. And for all the moaning and groaning, straining and complaining, and humming and hawing that goes on, at the end of the day, we are The People of the Dinner.

We like getting dressed up in our fancy clothes. We LOVE a good smorgasbord. We compare and contrast caterer presentations over our Shabbos tables. And, as much as we can’t stand programs that are too long or not entertaining, the truth is that most every Dinner has some takeaway moment where we all say to ourselves, “that was pretty nice.” When a Dinner provides several “wow moments,” that’s a huge plus.

At my favorite organization’s recent gala, attended by over 1,200 people at the Marriott Marquis, I found it fascinating that the people who were totally enthralled with the evening’s proceedings were the non-Jewish friends in attendance. For them, it’s a night out akin to a Broadway show. They get to hear some good speeches and yes some bad, but in my case they got to hear a Governor, a Mayor-elect, a U.S. Senator and the New York State Assembly Speaker all address the audience. They also watched some highly professional and really good videos. They loved it. To them, it was a wonderful form of entertainment.

And for us, so used to so many of these events, we like them as well—otherwise we would have revolted years ago and put a stop to them. If nothing else, when the chimes sound and the lights dim signaling the end of the Smorg, a People’s Revolt does not ensue. Hundreds respectfully move into the Grand Ballroom for a program that awaits them. Some organizations try to pull off “virtual Dinners,” where no attendance is required. Or, they try to get you to pay so that you DON’T have to come to a Dinner. But these are few and far between, and shortsighted.

When we gather in a large reception area for cocktails, we schmooze with old and new friends; we show each other pictures of children and grandchildren; we talk sports and share old school stories. And we eat like crazy. So, not only is JODS a necessary part of our life, but I would strongly aver that at the end of the day, we actually enjoy it.

When “they” write the definitive history book of the Jews of America in the 20th and 21st centuries, there will be a chapter on the unique phenomenon known as JODS, a season which takes place in November and December of every year; a season where a good time was had by most, really good food was served, and precious monies were raised for important charities—a pretty impressive way to spend “The Season,” indeed.

So this time of year, let’s raise a toast to Jewish Organization Dinner Season. Happy JODS to one and all. And to all, a good night.

By Robert Katz