My favorite activities at the Oshman Family JCC are the lectures, talks and seminars. Mental exercise! I have always loved learning. My first job out of college was at the Brookings Institution, where going to hear dignitaries, academics and researchers was “part of the job.” Like most of us, my “grown up” job doesn’t offer the same access. Now, the OFJCC has created a forum where I can again hear speakers on important, wide-ranging, and sometimes just fun, topics. Even better, the OFJCC offers a space where I can interact with these speakers in an open environment that encourages communication. These days, that is rare. I rely on the weekly JCC emails to remind me about who is coming to speak. Most of the time I go on a whim and buy my ticket at the door. I never worry about going by myself because invariably I will see a familiar face.
Here are my top four recent talks.
Last week, I heard James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee tell his coffee story. Blue Bottle started when he began experimenting with buying, roasting and selling freshly-roasted coffee beans. Apparently, his company is part of a “third wave” of coffee. Who knew? Maxwell House, Folger’s and other supermarket brands were the first; the second wave was Starbucks and Peet’s. This third wave boasts an artisanal focus on crafting the “perfect” cup. Of course, I would suspect that would be what the folks at Peet’s thought they were doing too. It also helped explain why these cups of coffee command the prices they do.
A few nights later, I was back at the J to hear Rabbi Donniel Hartman from the Shalom Hartman Institute. The room was packed. I was surprised to see so many people waiting to hear this Orthodox rabbi from Israel talk about God. After a few minutes, I knew why. Hartman was engaging. He immediately connected with the audience. His talk was peppered with anecdotes and stories from the Talmud. Hartman convincingly argues that our priority in Judaism should be treating each other the way we would want to be treated. And God should be second on the list. Something new to think about. And I now have his book to explore this further.
Last year, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle came to the J and shared her views on “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in A Digital Age.” Turkle studies the effect technology has on psychology and human behavior. Her latest research examines the impact that smart phones, iPads and laptops are having on human interaction. She concludes that these devices are isolating and we are becoming addicted to them. We converse less. These are my car rides with my teenage son. During our time in the car, I have to pry him away from his device to talk to me. Her lecture was so inspiring that I bought TWO!! copies of her book. One for me and the second for the head of my son’s school.
My very favorite was meeting New York Times writer Mark Kurlansky. Kurlansky writes non-fiction and seems to particularly enjoy exploring food history. I first came across him about 15 years ago when I read Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. I was hooked (pun intended). After Cod, I read Salt. Yes, he researched and traced how salt has impacted history and trade. From salt, I tackled the The Big Oyster, which explores the history of the oyster beds in New York City. Kurlansky was at the J to talk about his latest book, Paper. I didn’t find the story of paper as captivating as cod, salt or oysters but I loved meeting Kurlansky and having him sign my little library of his books. Lucky for me, Kurlansky is turning back to another food — milk — next.
While I go to the gym at the J and participate in the big events like the Zionism 3.0 conference, Paul Reiser and Wynton Marsalis, my favorite events are these speaker series. I feel fortunate to have such a vibrant JCC right here in Palo Alto. This is why we are contributing to the OFJCC for #GivingTuesday on 11/29.