I spent most of this past week at the annual conference of the American Jewish Press Association, which convened this year in Washington, D.C.
I always enjoy the yearly gathering of writers and editors for the opportunities they afford me – not only the professional ones but also the personal ones, the chances to meet other Jews, in particular those who are not like me. The opportunity to get to know them and hear about their work, lives and views is, to me, invaluable.
And, as always when I attend AJPA gatherings, I was happy to see my friend Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, a Jewish scholar and the editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, a Denver-area Jewish weekly – one of the few other Orthodox Jews at the conference.
He always asks me to study some Torah with him at some point over the conference, and I am honored and happy to oblige. This year was no exception.
But one particular AJPA-conference study-session we had, back in 2003, will always have a special place in my heart. The gathering that year took place in Los Angeles.
That year was when Rabbi Goldberg told me about a “special project” he was working on: an elucidation of a difficult 18th century commentary (that of the Vilna Gaon) to a complicated Jewish legal text (the Shulchan Aruch on the laws of mikveh), a project he has now completed and is publishing. We spent an hour or so analyzing one of the particular passages on which he was then working.
The next day, all the conference attendees were shuttled to a Universal Studios lot. There we heard a presentation from an official of the Shoah Foundation – which was then temporarily located at the Studios – followed by an interesting panel discussion about teaching the Holocaust in public schools.
We were walking to a dining hall on the premises where the awards dinner would take place and I found myself next to Rabbi Goldberg. Around us were actors’ personal trailers (the more successful the actor, we were told, the larger the trailer); on the drive onto the site we had seen elaborate facades of period-piece buildings with nothing behind them, props for movies or television shows.
Rabbi Goldberg was excited, but not by the trailers or props. He had, he said, cracked a textual problem we had encountered the day before in the Vilna Gaon’s commentary. I listened as he addressed the passage, and we discussed the resolution. As we spoke about the text, there was no doubt in my mind that its resolution was the high point of my friend’s day, and of mine.