I’m not really following Ben Brafman, but it seems that he is present just about everywhere I go. Okay, not exactly everywhere, but he seems to be the choice MC for an unusual number of high-profile dinners for major Jewish organizations and other events.
The reason that Mr. Brafman is the choice becomes abundantly clear after you are at one such event. He is erudite and well spoken. He has an almost courtroom-like demeanor that states the case of whatever the particular event represents. He delivers his message cogently and efficiently without being verbose or going off on time-consuming tangents that so many fear at such functions.
The other night, at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces dinner in Cedarhurst, he made a joking comment to me in passing that he wanted to place a help wanted ad in this newspaper looking for people to help him out with all his MC chores. That comment served as a catalyst for this idea about why, with so much eloquent talent out there, the burden of these duties seems to fall in an inordinate fashion on Mr. Brafman. So here is the question: what is he doing right?
My feeling is that what makes Mr. Brafman so perfect for this position and so much in demand is that he is reluctant to be in the spotlight and does not need the attention, considering that the nature of his work as a criminal-defense attorney keeps him in the limelight on a fairly regular basis.
Analyzing the situation with him last week, he said that he believes his being MC at all these events is a tribute to his parents and in particular his father. Although his father did not have the resources to generously support causes that he felt were important, as a young man Ben observed his father always going to meetings and doing whatever he possibly could to help these organizations.
“I do not have the time to help out by going to meetings and so on, but I thankfully have the ability to contribute both my resources and, on occasion, as an MC of these events,” Mr. Brafman said. It is probably his comfort in front of a crowd and that he does not find performing in this way intimidating that leads to the many requests to anchor various large dinner programs.
Mr. Brafman says it all started about 30 years ago at his shul’s annual dinner—Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence. Aside from being a set fixture at the shul dinner and the man whose remarks and commentary on events of the day are widely anticipated, there are many other venues in the course of the year where you can catch Mr. Brafman. In case you want to make sure to attend the next such event, make a note that Ben Brafman will most likely be the master of ceremonies at the dinners for the Hebron Fund, One Israel Fund, Kulanu, Israel Cancer Research, and Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.
Israeli activist Yossi Baumol said that years ago he went to a Beth Sholom dinner just to hear Ben’s emceeing. “I was blown away and tried for years to get him to be an MC at an Ateret Cohanim dinner without success. When I joined the Hebron Fund I kept pressing Ben and after a couple of years he relented and agreed more than once to do it.
“I have worked with many emcees, but I love Ben for his many superb qualities. He makes a point of being prepared, but when necessary he is the master of ad-lib and improvisation. He is knowledgeable, smart, intuitive, and sympathetic, combining a biting wit and a sweet, loving sense of humor. He is fun and a joy to work with. Above all, he is the consummate mentsch.”
If I can assume the role of a critic for a moment here, I would say that Ben Brafman’s allure at these types of events can be understood along the lines of the old adage that says “the medium is the message.” For when the acclaimed defense attorney rises to speak, the room falls silent and ears perk up because you are going to hear the words of a man who exudes sincerity and commitment to whatever it is that he takes the time to get involved in.
As an individual who enjoys a status at the top of his profession, listeners are assured that there isn’t any superfluous information emanating from Mr. Brafman. The other night, before getting to the core of the program, he delivered the following line in a deadpan fashion: “You will notice that there are no politicians here tonight, and that’s because they are all in jail.” Of course he was just bringing some levity to what was going to be a very serious evening (and no, not all politicians are in jail—just some).
Mr. Brafman speaks candidly as a man who is, in a sense, a bridge between two worlds. He works in the so-called outside world and has been an active participant all his life in the goings on of the Orthodox Jewish community—in both its positive as well as not so sterling aspects. On that subject, his message is that we as Torah Jews should be aware that however we behave and whatever we do, we are not doing so in a vacuum. Because we are who we are, Mr. Brafman says, our every nuance is scrutinized, and that is a very large responsibility.
Brafman shares a recent story about his son who teaches Torah in Israel and who was in New York recently. Father and son, he says, had an opportunity to attend a baseball game, something that they used to do frequently but had not done for a long time. “For some reason everyone likes to catch a foul ball at one of these games,” Brafman says. After all those years of attending games (in pretty good seats, no doubt), a ball was fouled off a player’s bat and headed in their direction. It landed right near Brafman’s son and there was the customary scramble for the ball. “My son picked the ball up while one of the kids who came equipped to the game with his baseball glove had done his best to grab that prized ballgame souvenir but to no avail,” he says. Brafman’s son, as the father describes it, in his white shirt, yarmulke, black pants, with tzitzis hanging along the sides, handed the ball to the young child. There were cheers from the crowd and no doubt a simple but rather indelible kiddush Hashem over a small gesture had been performed.
Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Congregation Beth Sholom says that Ben Brafman is a natural in these key roles that he plays at so many functions. “Being MC at important events brings together two extraordinary qualities Ben Brafman is fortunate to possess in abundance. First is his passion to further the significant causes to which he is so committed, e.g. Israel, Torah, and the Jewish people. Second is his remarkable gift of communicating and connecting with virtually any audience. Combined, his deep commitments and masterful skills enable Ben to be a source of true blessing to our community and our people,” the rabbi says.
Scott Feltman, executive director of the One Israel Fund, whose dinner Mr. Brafman anchors every year, says, “There is no one like Ben Brafman when it comes to coolly and smoothly communicating important issues to a large crowd. We are truly privileged and treasure the relationship he has with One Israel Fund.”
On the question of unusual circumstances at these dinners, Brafman says he can recall one. One of the honorees at a dinner was a former client whom Brafman had successfully represented in a certain matter. He had been spared formal prosecution, and the fact that he had even been investigated was a well-guarded secret. The individual was keeping his distance most of the evening so as not to seem that they knew each other from another realm—that is in another capacity or a different life, so to speak. That continued, Brafman said, until he had to present the man with his award. They shook hands, hugged, and there were smiles everywhere. The man whispered in his ear, “Thanks a lot.” Sure, it was a little awkward, Mr. Brafman adds, especially since the man was doing his best to keep his distance from the famed defense attorney throughout the evening. “But I understand completely,” he said. “It happens a lot.”
Despite the fact that many of the cases that he is active in are extensively covered in the news, Brafman says that most of his work and his most successful cases never see the light of day in the voraciously hungry New York press, as he helps dozens of people each year quietly avoid prosecution.
His message, in summation, ladies and gentleman of the jury, (do they really talk that way?) is that as Jews and especially as Orthodox Jews there is no flying beneath the radar. We are always “on” and there is no down time or “off duty” sign that you can click on. Additionally, and on the reverse side of that message, is the idea that we can constantly sanctify G‑d’s name by being mindful of who we are and what our role in this life is. I say we give a standing ovation to Ben Brafman.
No more questions. Your witness. v
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