I met Michael Steinhard a couple of months after converting and getting married. My husband and I were sitting next to him at a table at a synagogue dinner at KJ (Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side).
My husband leaned in and whispered, “That’s Michael Steinhardt!”
And me with my inability to whisper, I said in a normal voice: “Who?”
My husband sighed. “Could you be any louder? He’s sitting right next to us!”
I would not be deterred: “Who is Michael Steinhardt!”
“He’s the founder of Birthright. He’s a billionaire philanthropist.”
I gulped. “We are sitting with a billionaire.” I checked my lap to see if my napkin was still there. Yes, napkin check. Elbows off the table, check. (I realize now that I do much better around people when I don’t know how much they have in their bank account. Next time, I’ll tell you about the time I met George Rohr.)
And a couple of hours later, I thought…damn, maybe I should have convinced him that older people should be allowed to do Birthright. Because it was so not funny when an Orthodox rabbi teased me during the conversion process and said, “You know, you could convert Reform first and get a free trip to Israel…” so I wouldn’t “age out” of Birthright. (The cut off for Birthright is 26.)