When it Comes to minority members of RCMA, it's hard to imagine a smaller group than the Orthodox Jewish contingent.
Until this year, there was pretty much just one — Joel Weinberger, coordinator of services for Yeshiva of Los Angeles and Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles.
“There aren't a lot of Jewishgoing on,” Weinberger says. “There are Jewish ethnic and political meetings. Those organizations tend to have their own meeting and travel planners in-house. I don't think there are too many Orthodox Jewish meeting planners focusing on the Jewish religious market.”
As with Christ-based religions, Judaism comes in many flavors, ranging from Orthodox and Conservative to Reform.
“I've met Messianic Jewish meeting planners at RCMA, but I haven't met Orthodox or Conservative Jews there,” according to Weinberger. “A lot of the Christian denominations are doing up to 40 small meetings and one large biennial event. I haven't seen that in the Orthodox organizations. There isn't much substantially going on year-round unless it is campus-based.”
Weinberger, 43, is a married father of six (three boys, three girls). He earned a bachelor of arts degree in hotel, restaurant, and institutional management from the University of Maryland and is active in three areas relating to meeting planning and food:
His primary focus is on the Yeshiva University and its Orthodox Jewish feeder schools in the Los Angeles area. Most of the programs he does are focused on kids events, school meetings, and retreats.
He supervises a program at California Institute of Technology that teaches kosher certification for kosher, Shiite, and Sunni foods.
He does work for Star K Kosher, handling its overseas clients in the Philippines, Pakistan, and Taiwan.
Weinberger is in his eighth year of association membership and says that he has found great value for the cost and time he puts in.
“It's worked well for me because I see that the professionalism of it makes a difference,” he says. “A lot of Jewish schools and synagogues that do retreats and conventions are a little bit Mom and Pop operations. Or they're doing it with the facility and putting the onus of planning it on the facility: ‘We don't have the capacity to do AV, so we expect your professionals to pull it together and we'll pay for it.’”
The opportunity for idea exchange, particularly at RCMA's annual convention, is the big draw for Weinberger.
“I get ideas I wouldn't encounter otherwise,” he says. “A lot of ideas I've gotten are cut and dried for professionals in the industry, but people who do one meeting once in a while wouldn't think of them. Letting attendees tell you what's important, what's not, for example. What do they say there is more value in, or less value? What will they give up in order to get more of what they want?
“Then there is the practical, emergency planning, vendor negotiating info that, on my own, I might not have picked up on. There are also legal issues you encounter. You might make a big mistake. A few times I've been able to call on RCMA about issues I'm having, and they've advised me and led me to people who could help to resolve the issues.”
Of course, there are always a few odd moments from being one of the few — if only — RCMA members wearing a yarmulke at annual conventions.
“In San Jose, a hotel staffer came up and whispered to me, ‘I'm Jewish, too.’ I guess because I'm a man, I wear a yarmulke and I look Jewish, it's apparent. People who sit with me at meals, see I'm getting a kosher meal with all kinds of stickers on it, and say, ‘What's that?’ I say, ‘I'm a planner specializing in the kosher market.’”
Attending an RCMA meeting introduces the largely Christian meeting planning community to the first Orthodox Jew many have ever encountered. But it's often an eye-opener for Weinberger, too.
“In the United States, I live kind of an insular life,” he says. “RCMA gives me the opportunity to meet people with a different world view and who come from a different perspective than I do. It's a little jarring. I'm a religious Jew; I attend synagogue daily. To be exposed to a different environment is a little shocking. But it's good. Otherwise you don't know what drives or inspires other people.
“We live in a country that is very Christian. I'm comfortable with that. I've met people whom I see year after year. We're friendly, we compare notes on things of interest to all of us. They're good people.
“It's kind of a subculture,” Weinberger adds. “We're living in a society motivated by money, and here are people working for the betterment of their religious organizations. It's good to see that. And the RCMA staff always makes me feel very welcome.”
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