Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cheesecake and things - Sam Lederer MH Palo Alto

The date is 4 Sivan, 5772 / May 26, 2012, the hour 6 PM. I have two cheesecakes in the oven and I am thinking about quantum mechanics. The venture capitalist, the yoga teacher, the art curator, and the financial-analyst-turned-software-engineer are confirmed, but nobody has heard from the documentary filmmaker. I am beginning to worry, but of course I always worry and things always turn out great when the Moishe House of Palo Alto hosts something this ambitious. Allow me to explain. The event is entitled TEDmh (after the TED talks of internet fame) and it's our way of celebrating Shavuot with a Silicon Valley twist. The holiday commemorates the giving of the Torah to Israel at Sinai, and is traditionally marked with an all-night extravaganza of Jewish learning fueled (for reasons never satisfactorily explained to me) by dairy foods. We decided we liked the dairy foods (hence the cheesecakes) and we liked the late night learning, but that our community could go to almost a dozen places in the area to learn 100% Torah, and that revelations from the arts, sciences, and humanities also deserved a place in this joyous celebration. So we assembled an engaging program of speakers from our community. Some we solicited, others saw the facebook event and stuck their neck out. The diversity of interests and backgrounds was invigorating. As the event took form the guest list grew, as did expectations. Doubts began to form: Will people really sit quietly and listen, or will it just collapse into the usual schmoozing? What if it's too quiet, and just ends up lame? What if my talk on one of history's most elegant experiments runs too long and bores people? WHAT IF MY CHEESECAKE CRUST STICKS TO THE EDGE OF THE PAN?! Fast forward: 6 Sivan 5772 / May 28 2012, 2 AM. The cheesecakes are now little more than stray crumbs of oreo and almond crust (in case you were worrying, they turned out perfectly—not that it would've mattered). All the speakers made it, plus a surprise visit from an astrophysicist who showed that minds near stupefied by fatigue and cheesy goodness could still be blown. To call the event a success would be an understatement. It was fun, meaningful, and just Jewish enough to feel the community spirit in the air. The lesson I've learned from helping plan events like this is that, even when logistics are tricky and things don't go as expected, there is really no such thing as failure. In the two years since the Palo Alto Moishe House got started, a real community has formed. Gather together a bunch of Jews who all want to be there and the results will never disappoint.

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