Marvelous Mr. Marvin

Marvelous Mr. Marvin

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For six and one-half years I worked as the executive director of our synagogue. It wasn’t an easy job. Having 275 member families meant I had 275 bosses. Though the job was part-time, I was on-call 24/7. Some emergencies —such as deaths or building maintenance issues — couldn’t wait until the next business day.

Most of the time I worked in a vacuum. Our staff was small. Some days the only contact I had with the outside was through email and the telephone. Occasionally, a vendor would stop by. I became friends with our pesticide guy and our alarm guy to name a few! About 18 months into the job I was contacted by the executive director of a large congregation in New York. The Orthodox Union, the support organization for “modern,” Zionist-oriented Orthodox shuls in the US, was interested in organizing its synagogue executive directors. This fellow wanted to know if I was interested. The answer, “Of course.”

For four years I was privileged to attend the OU’s executive director conferences. Two were held in the New York area; one was in Boca Raton, Florida (in November—the best weather possible!). The last one before my retirement was in Baltimore. I helped organize it along with a colleague, friend and fellow local executive director. We hosted 40+ attendees.

I learned a lot at those meetings. Best practices were shared. We traded “war” stories. It was wonderful to learn that I was not alone. The best part was making a new group of friends to whom I could turn when needing support or help.One of those friends was Marvin. His synagogue was a large one in Cedarhurst, New York. When I first met Marvin, he was in his 60s. He was a dapper fellow, always dressed in a coat and tie. His personality can be described as always being “up” – a glass half full kind of guy. Naturally, a group of us enjoyed being with and learning from him. We even discussed printing “Marvin’s Maidels” (Marvin’s Girls) T-shirts. I was thrilled when he asked to stay at my house for the Baltimore conference. What an honor to host him!

What was so special about this guy? Marvin knew how to reach out to people. Even though Friday was the busiest day of our week, he made 60-70 phone calls to congregants and friends. I, too, was the occasional recipient of these calls. The office phone would ring. Caller ID would show it was Marvin! ‘

“Hi. It’s Marvin. How are you? How’s Baltimore?”

“I’m doing great, Marvin. Thanks for calling.”

“Good. Be well. Shabbat Shalom.”

Hang up. In 30 seconds or less, Marvin put a smile on my face. Such a simple act – to pick up the phone and say hi to someone. So easy to do but so often not done. As we go through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m trying so hard to be someone of whom Marvin would be proud.

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