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Mark Slifkin, Man of the Year

On Sunday, March 19, Temple Beth Am celebrated Mark Slifkin as our Man of the Year. I want to take this opportunity to thank Mark publicly for all he has done for us over the years and share with those who could not attend the event the words I used to celebrate, honor, and slightly roast Mark.

Normally, when 200 people gather at a synagogue to talk about one of their friends, the event is called a funeral. But once a year during our Men’s Club’s Man of the Year, the honoree is very much alive, sitting among the guests and listening nervously as one person after another gets up to roast him. I remember times when I compassionately looked at the trembling victim, enduring the pain of such sharp and piercing comments that I knew exactly what he was thinking: “Please God, I wish this chair was a casket.”

The Man of the Year for 2017 is Mark Slifkin. As tempted as I was to join the parade of roasters, I decided that as a rabbi I cannot do it. I must teach by example how inappropriate it is to shame a friend, so I will be speaking only respectfully and lovingly about my friend Mark. If any of you think that it is only an excuse because I know that no matter how hard I’ll try, Hal Baseman (emcee of the event) will always be funnier than me and will push the limits of propriety far beyond the point that I can, you are not completely wrong.

No matter what the real reason is, I am here to be the responsible adult in the room and to defend the honor of Mark Slifkin. I noticed that when people talk about him, there are some problematic phrases that repeat with high frequency. Normally, it is done, according to Jewish tradition—behind his back, so no harm is done. But my fear is that today some of our speakers may decide to mention his attributes to his face, and since he has no sense of humor he may get offended. So I chose to be preemptive and as the first speaker I will present the not-funny, yet accurate and appropriate list of Mark’s qualities.

If you hear for example someone calling him a “control freak,” you should immediately translate this unsuitable phrase in your brain to “perfectionist.” Only a completely ignorant person would confuse Mark’s concern with the length of each nail, the diameter of each screw and the exact number that were used per square foot of drywall (and of course, how much they cost) with control. The smart ones among you know very well that God is in the details, and Mark is a true believer.

Some cynics around here may say that Mark spends more time at the Temple than Debbie Baseman because Arline doesn’t want him in the house from sunrise to sunset.  But of course, they cannot be more wrong; Mark does have a life! And Arline wants to spend every free moment with him, only that we, the people at TBA, need him more and we bring him much greater happiness. 

If you hear that Mark is “bossy,” it is only because the speaker is not familiar with the more sophisticated concept of “mentorship.” Being bossy is when one is fond of giving people orders. But if one does it not for his personal satisfaction, but because he recognizes the full potential in a person and wants to help him reach it—this is mentorship. And Mark is a true mentor for many of us.

If anyone dares to use the word “temper” to describe Mark, you should see it as a clear sign of ignorance and automatically switch it in your heads to “passion.” Mark’s mood is as even as the green line in the ICU monitor after the patient dies. But sometimes to make his point clear, and only for our benefit, he has no choice but to fake a temper tantrum. A few times he even fooled me.

If most of your interaction with Mark was around Chidush, you may think that he is “boring.” He is not. He is an “engineer.”

Calling Mark a “micromanager” is a gross overstatement. He is simply a “detail-oriented manager.” Yes, it is true that he has a tendency to tell people exactly how to do their job, even when they have an advanced degree and 40 years of experience, but that’s only because he knows better and cares more.

And now after I have provided you with the tools with which to accurately understand the other people’s remarks, I would just say that Mark is a true friend, a real leader and the ultimate giver. It is not only the thousands of hours that he has dedicated to TBA. His strong character became evident when he effectively dealt with an enormous amount of frustration, complaints, second-guessing and disappointments thrown at him from all directions. Mark, you are a real smart mensch. 

Rabbi Alon Levkovitz

Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781