From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
Over the years, I have done quite a bit of public speaking. In my late teens and early twenties, I crisscrossed the country, speaking at hundreds of NCSY events. For a few years after that, as a director of admissions for Touro College, I again traveled the country, trying out my persona on the public stage.
Later, as a synagogue rabbi, I had the opportunity to address the crowds at least once a week. Throw in almost twenty years as a trial lawyer and the last four or five years as a professor, and I would venture to say that the times I have stood to deliver some sort of message in public number in the thousands.
But never, I repeat never, had I experienced before what I experienced about two weeks ago.
I follow a format when I deliver remarks. It is my style to immediately make a comment either about the person who introduced me or about the introduction itself. Doing so creates a three-way connection between the person who introduced me, myself, and the audience. This is especially important in a situation where the audience is more familiar with the introducer than they are with me. I then prefer to toss in a quip, humorous if possible, to perhaps draw in the listener who is on the fence as to whether he wants to hear a speech or would rather undergo root canal. The hope being that if I can get their attention with a laugh, perhaps they will listen to the rest of my remarks. The comment about the introducer or introduction is not scripted, as often I don’t know what will be said or who will be saying it. The quip, on the other hand, is very much rehearsed, down to the precise wording of the punch line, to ensure maximum effect.
I then have two distinct roadmaps to deliver my message, a longer one and a truncated one. If I sense that I am losing steam or that the audience’s attention span is waning, I take the shortcut. If we are both good to go, I deliver the longer version.
Finally, I close, making sure my last sentence mirrors as best as possible one of my opening sentences. Again, it serves to bring back a listener who might have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
And so I was ready to go the other night with my opening comment, my quip, and my remarks. I had rehearsed the quip over and over throughout the day, as it was one of those lines where delivery was the key.
Just as I concluded the joke, as I was waiting for the laughter to subside, someone screamed, “Call Hatzalah!” A young lady to my left had fainted. A group of people surrounded her, including a Hatzalah member from out of town, trying to render immediate assistance. Thank G‑d, it all ended well, which is the only reason I would write about it in this forum.
As the crowd was waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I stood to the side of the podium. The patient was in good hands and there was nothing I could have done to help anyway.
I did not know if it was expected that I would continue to speak. I for sure was not going to continue as long as the young woman was still in the room. I planned on waiting till the ambulance crew removed her from the room, and I would play it by ear afterwards. If asked to pick up where I left off, I would gladly do so. Otherwise, I was just as happy to call it a night.
While the patient was regaining color, but still before the ambulance arrived, I took one step closer to the lectern, not to continue to speak but simply to retrieve my notes. As I extended my hand to secure my notes, again the scream of “Call Hatzalah!” filled the room, as a second woman had fainted.
Now, thank G‑d that woman was fine as well. She was not even taken to the hospital like the first woman was.
I am not a paranoid person, but even I felt that no matter what the request, I was done speaking for the evening.
I am happy to report that both women were fine and are doing fine. The first patient was suffering from dehydration and the second woman fainted as a result of seeing the first woman in distress. There is a medical term for that, though I am not sure how to pronounce it let alone spell it.
There were no additional speakers that night, though there were a few the next day. And while the other speakers held the audience’s attention, I can honestly say I was the only speaker who had them on the floor.
• • •
The calendar informs us that we are just a few weeks from Rosh Hashanah. In days of old, the pious would faint from fear in the month leading up to our day of judgment. I don’t know too many people that operate on such a high spiritual level that the fear of the impending judgment causes them to tremble and perhaps faint. At most, we are like the second woman, perhaps moved by someone else’s piety. And then there are those who are neither stirred themselves nor moved by the stirrings of others. Thirty days is really not that long to try to maneuver ourselves to a loftier level of inspiration and awareness. Nevertheless, we try. This time of year is surely not for the faint of heart. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.