Categorized | Jewish Religion, Rotto_Gary

A return to the birthplace of his Jewish activism

By Gary Rotto

Gary Rotto

Gary Rotto

SAN DIEGO –I have the Wiz Khalifa/Charlie Puth song, “See You Again” playing in my head today.

It’s been a long day without you my friend / And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again / We’ve come a long way from where we began / Oh I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again

It’s not yet on my playlist and I didn’t hear it on the radio on my drive back from Los Angeles, but the event I attended on Saturday night makes me think about this song.

I was invited to the reunion of Far West USYers, the youth group under auspices of the Conservative movement of synagogues in California and other southern Pacific states.  I had served as an advisor and youth director many years ago while attending graduate school in Los Angeles.

Long ago, I found many USY friends on Facebook.  Those from my days in Los Angeles, others from my time as a youth director in the region covering Texas and Oklahoma (SWUSY), more from my summer staffing USY on Wheels (across the US) and many from my time as an advisor for the summer in Israel are amongst my Facebook Friends.  As the 20th anniversary of these groups came and went, so did various reunion ideas and a couple of actual reunions on the East Coast which I could not attend.

But when Barbara Sher Weiss posted the announcement for the reunion of anyone from 1978-1995 on the West Coast, I had a feeling that this one would be big.

I wanted to attend, but I had three trips planned in the two weeks around the reunion event.  And if the middle one were to be cancelled, I really wanted to be home for one night during that  two weeks of travel.  So despite the good natured teasing, bargaining and plain pleading for me to attend, I had to decline.

Damn, who knew?/All the planes we flew/Good things we’ve been through/That I’ll be standing right here talking to you.

I arrived back in San Diego very late from Denver on Friday night.  The other members of “The Band”, my closer advisor friends from those days in LA, were still trying to figure out a way to get me to come to LA.  I was tired, had modest plans for Saturday and just wanted to get ready for the next trip.  But Saturday started to come into picture.  Another text arrived from my friend Stacy Beigel Goldstein, “You REALLY need to be here tonight!! Beth, Isaac and myself are all together & I don’t know when we’ll all be together again.”

What?  Wow, did that last message sound ominous.

So about 6:30pm I hopped in the car and headed north to the San Fernando Valley – but I had not told anyone – including Stacy – that I had acquiesced and was showing up.

I rolled into the parking lot at Temple Ramat Zion about 9:30, and walked towards registration in the social hall.  The commotion already was serious and my appearance just added to the hysteria.  The RSVPs that had reached beyond the stated 100 people was now well over 200 including a few folks from San Diego like Nili Goren and Beth Klareich.  Yes, the long time youth director at Tifereth Israel Synagogue was one of the members of “The Band.”  I see her only on rare occasion though we are both involved in the San Diego community, so her reaction was as enthusiastic as anyone else.

First you both go out your way/And the vibe is feeling strong/And what’s small turn to a friendship/A friendship turn to a bond/And that bond will never be broken/The love will never get lost.

For the next three plus hours, we all kibbitzed, reminisced, shared somewhat embarrassing photos, told back stories and even noshed a little bit.  And to my pleasant surprise, Sima Ross of the San Diego-based Sima’s Gourmet Catering was the caterer for our event.  It certainly made sense since her daughter, Melanie, had been so involved in USY these past four years.  So Merrill Alpert, the long time USY Regional Director, recruited Sima’s Catering for the evening.

Our emphasis as a youth movement was on culture, heritage and social action.  My friend, Tori Saltz Rogers, described those times best in her post-event Facebook post that, in part, reads:

We were not entitled. We did not leave the work to someone else, we did it, we created it. We did not have egos, we shared credit. Most importantly, we had fun. We made our own fun. Last night we needed NOTHING else but each other to enjoy HOURS, LATE hours, with each other.

And hear of many friends’ current involvements in both the Jewish community and secular community.  Most of us have continued our activism and involvement, which is so great to hear.  Those years shaped us, certainly, they shaped me.   A very new friend, someone not connected to the movement, texted me the other day saying, “I want to be involved in something … where I would really make a difference in the world and improve people’s lives.”  This group surely did just that and continues to do so in very individual ways.

My band mate, Isaac Bernato, was always up for a late night stop at Canters.  And this night was no exception as he and the rest of our group humored me at 2am, before my drive home, as we stopped by this cultural/culinary landmark in Fairfax.  With a few rugalach to go, I said my goodbyes and headed back to San Diego.  Appreciative of longstanding friendships, coercion and prodding, and renewing acquaintances, the song popped into my head.

It’s been a long day without you my friend / And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again / We’ve come a long way from where we began / Oh I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

Here’s to someday, doing this again.

Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  You may comment to him at [email protected] or post your comment on this website provided that the comment is civil and that you identify yourself by full name and city and state of residence.

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