A Night to Remember: Don’s Tribute Event

Contributed by Mat Sgan

It all began with a spontaneous outburst at the June Sof Board Meeting. President Don Armstrong called for new business, and I called for recognition of him for his decade of leadership and many good deeds. In true Sof fashion, the answer was, “Are you ready to do it, Mat?” So, I had to shut up or suit up. I chose to push forward.

What does one do in such situations? One shouts, “Help!” And sitting next to me were Hefcibah Martin and Joe Ferrara, who volunteered to do their part. Joe suggested having a Roast event, which I amended to be a Roast & Toast. Michelle Schneider came forward to assist, too. We were on our way.

I wrote to Peter Freeman and Carolann Biederman asking for assistance. I spoke to Alan and Pam Kosansky about handling non-attendee responses. I emailed Risa Dickson about handling RSVPs. Michael Leong agreed to set up a sound system after being contacted by Peter Freeman, who also answered the call to help. I wrote to the usual suspects about preparing a Roast, a Toast, or both. I asked Alex Golub to do a reprise of his emcee performance at Bernice Littman’s “Hats on…” 2008 party, after her serving as President for 10 years. They all said, “Sure.”

Sof resources also came into play. Jesse Weinberger advised about which equipment, supplies, and materials were available and welcomed our use of them. Sid Goldstein’s Sof newsletter provided valuable publicity and information. During a Shabbat announcement period, Arnie Warshawsky volunteered to take photos after hearing my plea for someone to do so.

From the start, we didn’t want this to be just a larger and better oneg. We wanted the warmth of an oneg mixed with the style of a gala. Joe and Hefcibah provided ideas, enthusiasm, and food knowledge. Other Sofers provided the program to ensure that such expectations could be realized. Originally, we talked about having it catered. Then, we spoke to caterers about the cost. That threw us back to self-help which Sof does so well. We went to Treasurer Littman who authorized some funds.

Location was a big question and became more significant as the numbers of attendees increased. Parking, space, and security meant that our original site, the social hall in Hefcibah’s building, would not be suitable. She called Bea and David Haymer about the use of the Kuapa Isle Clubhouse in Hawaii Kai. Thank you, Bea and David, for making the arrangements for that lovely site overlooking the water.

Now, the ducks were in a row and all we had to do was set up to feed and arrange a program for about 75 people on the second floor of a club house. Three group planning meetings, lots of emails and telephone calls, many announcements, some strains, and most people delivering on their promises, followed.

The result was a great tribute to a great mensch. The bar was open, the food was good and plentiful, the crowd was joyous, and the program was tough love. There were stations with food of every sort. The white fish was snapped quickly. In less than a minute, Kay Lorraine’s Macaroni & Cheese (made and delivered by husband Brad) was gone.

Thanks to Charlotte White for her Kugel, Linda Lingle for her fruit salad, and Ruth Freedman for her garlic bread. Others brought delicious items. People brought gifts for Don. Plus, Don and Sandy’s former synagogue community in Ridgewood, N.J. made contributions to Sof in honor of Don.

Michelle set up a dessert table including Jack’s chocolate cake, which had everyone’s attention from the moment they saw it. Bartender Joe kept the wine, liquor, beer, and soda glasses full. Sandy blessed the food and drink. Bernice blessed the occasion.

Then, it was on to the program. No let-down on that score. From the creativity of Hef’s Candy Bar Board story of Don to Robert’s account of how excited he and Bernice were when they first heard that the Armstrongs were moving to Hawaii (at last, some real help), and on to Jessie’s great one liner about Don’s Presidential work in the kitchen. Sofers came forward with social, religious, and cultural humor and respect.

Highlights included: Robert’s Talmudic reference to Don as “perhaps” one of the 36 righteous people (lamedvavnikim) who save each generation, Mat’s 10 Commandments, Carolann and Dina’s Dayenus, and Dan Lev’s “Bar Mitzvah Blues” song. Alas, we may never be able to recapture the moment that Bernice changed hats to do “Bernice doing Kay doing Bernice” according to a script dictated by Kay from Texas that very morning.

Alan Kosansky shared a nice note from Unitarian Church’s Reverend Fitzgerald, a word from Peter Freeman, and a Certificate from U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono. Tamara Armstrong, enthused by the moment and the sway of things, leapt to the microphone to express her thanks to Sof and her parents for their accomplishments and support. Linda Rose Herman spoke seriously of the importance of Don’s signature achievement in 2011 when he stepped forward to lead in establishing Abraham’s Garden at the Hawaii Memorial Park Cemetery.

Carolann Biederman led the Champagne toast to a man heavy with lei, the star of the night. Then, Don has his turn. He thanked his fellow congregants for their work on behalf of one another. He also thanked the entire Jewish community of Hawaii. Finally, he thanked Judaism itself.

Rabbi Ken Aronowitz, Morris Rabinko, and Dan Lev, members of Ruach (Spirit), the band in which Don has played at many Jewish community events, ended the program on a lovely musical note.

Finally, everyone pitched in to return the Kuapa Clubhouse to the way we found it. Never can tell when we will ask to have another event there. We certainly have a lot of people who do great things for our shul.