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  • Stories & Articles by Sonia

Articles and Stories by Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Sonia Pressman Fuentes

"My Jewish Weekend in Sarasota," sent by Sonia to her friends, Nov. 16, 2014.

I had a special weekend this weekend and would like to share it with you.

It began at 4:15 p.m. Friday night, when Len Rosen, a member of my congregation, the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (CHJ), picked me up at my condo at The Meadows and then picked up our speaker  for that evening, Dan Friedman, managing editor of The Forward.  Dan was staying with his aunt and uncle who have a condo at The Meadows.

We went to Libby's for a lovely dinner with Dan's father (who was visiting with Dan's mother from Leeds in the UK, where they live and where Dan was born) and members of CHJ's program committee.

Then Len's wife, Addie, drove us to the Unity Church, where CHJ holds its services and programs.  There, Dan gave a talk on "Kirstallnacht in Fiction."

This morning, I went to Temple Sinai for a breakfast with the men's club where at 9:30 a.m. Dan gave a talk on "Jewish Comedy in America." I had the pleasure of sitting at a table with my friends Nancy and David Gold, members of Temple Sinai, and my friends, Solo Schiffman, a member of CHJ, and Lois Altman, CHJ's co-president.

I then said good-by to Dan and his family, came home for lunch, and then drove to Temple Beth Israel on Longboat Key.  I went to a klezmer concert by my friend Yale Strum, a klezmer musician, leader of a band, filmmaker, and author, and his lovely wife, Elizabeth Schwartz, a singer.  In 1994, I came to Sarasota for the first time to attend a week's program at an Elderhostel held at the Ramada Inn in Venice.  While there, I drove to Sarasota, fell in love with it, and that's why I'm living here today.

At the Elderhostel program in 1994, I signed up for three courses, but after the first day I attended only Yale's course because it was excellent and the other two were not.  Instead, I spent my time driving around the area with several friends I'd made at the program.

At the time, I remember Yale saying he'd like to meet someone.

I have remained in touch with Yale. (When someone comes into my life who I think is special, I don't let them go.)  This week, Nov. 14-17,  Yale and Elizabeth are performing at a conference of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs (IAYC) in Boca Raton.  I had signed up to attend but when Dan Friedman chose Nov. 14 for his talk to CHJ, I had to cancel that trip so I could be here to introduce Dan.

In the past, I had suggested to Rabbi Jonathan Katz of Temple Beth Israel that he invite Yale and Elizabeth to do a program at Beth Israel.   That's why Yale and Elizabeth left the IAYC to do the program at Beth Israel this afternoon.  They will be returning to Boca and the conference tonight.

When I arrived at Beth Israel and saw Rabbi Katz, he told me that if I wanted to chat with Yale and Elizabeth before the concert, I could do so as they were in a room opposite the check-in desk.  I joined Yale and Elizabeth and we spent 25 delightful minutes reminiscing.  It turned out that both Yale and I know Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the American Orthodox rabbi who is the chief rabbi of Poland.  Yale told me that in 1994, after his program that I attended at the Ramada Inn in Venice, he phoned Elizabeth as someone had given him her telephone number. Now they live in San Diego and have a lovely 17-year-old daughter who sometimes performs with them.  She'll be joining them on their forthcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia.

After our chat, I went into the auditorium at Beth Israel and sat in the second row next to a number of women, none of whom I knew.  I was very touched when Rabbi Katz thanked me from the bimah for introducing him to Yale and Elizabeth and later when Yale dedicated their performance of Roumania, Roumania to me.   I know that song well; it was made famous by singer Aaron Lebedeff and I heard it often in my home.

Yale's and Elizabeth's concert was fabulous and since I love Yiddish songs, I sang along whenever I could.  At the end of the concert, it turned out that the women seated next to me were with the Sarasota Jewish Chorale and I had recently heard them perform at a program on Kristallnacht at the Jewish Federation.  In fact, one of them, Susan Skovronek, is the co-manager of the Chorale. I was immensely flattered when they invited me to join the chorale and sing with them Thursday nights.  I told them, regretfully, that I wasn't a singer and, furthermore, didn't have the time but I promised to go to Temple Emanu-el on Dec. 12 when they'll be performing.

So ended my wonderful Jewish weekend in Sarasota.