Being the wife of a Rabbi who has run several organizations over the years, I have become a professional fundraiser attendee. I collect place cards. I have perfected my crudités schmoozing lingo. Usually I start with a- “So where are you from?” sort of question. “Where did you go to school? How many kids do you have, where do they go to school?” If I get really interested in the person I am meeting, the questions will start pouring out of me like a host with a mic. My husband calls this the “Barbara Walters” routine.
If you’re going to do schmoozing professionally, you gotta take your time with the ultimate question which is – What do you do? I have had a hard time answering this question for many years, and always dreaded coming up with the perfect answer. What do I do? I do motherhood. I do clean- up. I do spousal stuff. I do errands. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly confident I’ll tell people I’m a singer, I’m a writer, I’m a poet, I’m a runner, I’m a cookie dealer. You know, try to mix it up.
Then there’s the actual dinner, which usually moves into the ballroom. This is the moment you get to tag your seat with your place card. It’s like having your name up in lights. It’s quite the ego boost. I always wondered how the dinner chairs decide where to seat people. Dinner chairs, that’s what they call people who have their name engraved on the invitation. (It’s way more significant then my little folded place card.) They are usually overdressed in ball gowns and carry clipboards looking quite important at the event itself. (I should know- I’ve been one of these before. Put on an earpiece that is attached to a walkie-talkie, you got yourself the bell of the ball. )
Sometimes they seat you next to people who are in the same profession as yourself, which means we’ve sat next to other Rabbis occasionally. If it is separate seating, then I’ll be seated next to Rebbetzins. Sometimes, I get seated next to people that reside in the same vicinity as myself. Why is it that if you go to an event in Los Angeles, they assume EVERYBODY in the valley knows each other, from North Hollywood past Ventura, like we’re all part of the exact same neighborhood watch committee?
“Hello this is Sandy, you should know each other, she lives in North Hollywood.”
Oh of course I know Sandy- she only lives eighteen miles away, goes to a completely different synagogue, and has her children in a school that if I were to drive to during morning rush hour, I would arrive just in time for carpool, that is Pick-up, not drop off.
I love noticing the centerpieces. I’ve sat next to jars filled with water and orchids, tight roses and gardenias in a glass box, feathers in a vase that change colors, crystals hanging on a tree. But the worst combination I have ever seen was Red roses with baby’s breath on a black tablecloth. It felt like I was at a funeral awaiting a procession. Here’s a little hint, when it comes to the centerpiece,
A) Keep it simple so it doesn’t feel like my dollars went to the florist instead of the sick kids.
B) Keep it low so I can see the people sitting across from me.
C) Keep it narrow, so the bread-basket doesn’t end up on my plate. I like having room for my cute little handbag on the table so I don’t lose it. Also, I don’t like your fancy centerpiece to detract from my place card. I worked hard for that handwritten calligraphy calling-card, don’t make me have to chuck it too early.
The best part of going to events, are the many speeches. But there is always some poor shmuck who is offended he was not thanked. It happens every time. It’s like the rule in fundraisers. No matter how many lists are made of people that have donated their time, money and resources, there is always one forgotten. In fact, I think we should make it a Jew rule, that if you are forgotten in a speech you deserve a prize, like a free bring-a- friend place card for the next event. (We can make that a Christian rule too.)
If you’re attending a really awesome fundraiser, they’ll throw in a great entertainer, just so you don’t get bored. My favorites have been Peter Himmelman the singer and Modi the comedian. Both of whom I’ve hired for events. (And yes, I was holding a clipboard and wearing an ear-piece during their events.) Even when the lights went out and the crowd became rowdy, they stood their ground and took the glitches like real men. Still coming off funny and entertaining, they held their own.
Then there comes dessert. I’ve been served sorbet with fruit, chocolate mousse, strawberry praline, cookies, apple pie ala-mode, but my favorite by far is always the very elaborate Viennese table. Cause nothin’ says “we’re using your money for good” like a long table filled with over priced whimsical little layered cakes.
My favorite part of going to fundraisers is the overall feeling that eating my roast beef helped a little girl learn Aleph Bais, or chowing on my chocolate torte helped a teacher get her pay check. To all of you who have gone to your share of fundraisers, I raise my glass to the added effort you have taken in paying for your Barney’s dress/suit, hiring a sitter, and writing that check that funds the many benefits we are all trying so hard to support even in this most difficult economic climate.
And to Judith, at the Luxe, the one woman I see pretty much every two weeks, you can write my place card ahead of time, and just keep a seat warm, cause I’ll be back next week for another one. I’m sure.