Over the course of one week in March of 2017, I experienced the re-birth of an institution, the start of a new life together, and celebrated a beautiful life well lived. All of the events of that week had a profound effect on me, and all of them taught me a little something about who I am, and a little about why I do what I do.
The Re-birth of an Institution
On Thursday, March 16, 2017, I attended a monthly Board of Directors meeting for Kol Rinah, the synagogue for which I have been Vice President for the past five years. At that meeting, the Board voted to proceed with the purchase of a piece of property on which we had been looking to build a new synagogue building. The result of two legacy congregations merged into a new one, Kol Rinah had been searching for a new home to call our own for a number of years. There were opinions on both sides, from legacy members and new members, and the debate often got heated. We worked with multiple architects (which is how I learned that being the client can be just as much work as being the architect), looked at a wide variety of design options, ran into obstacles on multiple fronts, challenged each other, argued over design and money and what is best for the congregation, and pushed ourselves to look into the next 50 to 100 years in the future.
And on that Thursday, as I witnessed the Board take 3+ years of work into consideration, and vote in favor of making the project happen, I realized that I was part of something truly special. Something that would shape our congregation for decades to come. Something that Kol Rinah could finally call “ours.” Something that would give my family and friends a new place to celebrate life events. Something that still had many more months of work ahead of us. And something that gave me hope that, while a building doesn’t define an organization, having a place to call “our own” can bring people together.
The Start of a New Life Together
On Friday, March 17, 2017, I attended the wedding of a good friend from high school. A friend who, quite frankly, we were incredibly happy to see get married. He’s always been loyal and wise, and he’s always been there for the rest of our group of friends, as we got married, and had kids, and celebrated our own family events. But this was his day (and his bride’s, of course), and it was beautiful. Every detail had been considered perfectly, from the infographics on the program at the ceremony, to the color coded name cards at the reception (which indicated your meal selection to the servers!), to the individual flavor of cakes on each table (which forced you to mix and mingle with other guests as you asked for a slice of their flavor cake).
You see, I grew up with the friends I attended this wedding with, and I’ve stayed in touch with them for decades (even pre-Facebook!). But, living hundreds of miles away, I don’t get to see them enough. And I celebrate life events with them even less. And this wedding, on this particularly day, during this particular week, reminded me of how much joy there is in the world, and how a wonderful start to a new life together can be just the beginning of so many beautiful things.
Celebrating a Beautiful Life Well Lived
My mother, Myrna Cooperstein, passed away in January of 2017. It was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through. She was the rock of the family, the one who kept us together through good times and bad. She was brilliant, and compassionate, and more generous than I ever really knew. She loved her family more than anything. She was the greatest listener of all time, knew the exact advice to give for any occasion, and exactly when not to give any advice at all. I think about her every day, and still cry at least once a week when I do.
But it was on Saturday, March 18, 2017, that I fully came to realize the immense impact that my mom had on so many people in the world. On that Saturday, my dad held a Celebration of Life ceremony for my mom. A couple hundred people showed up, and they all had been touch by her in some way. They told stories of her friendship, stories of her compassion, stories of her humanity and stories of her mentorship. I met people who told me they literally owed their careers to my mother. People whom I had met maybe once or twice before in my life, but couldn’t stop singing the praises of how my mom touched their lives. I always knew that my mom was special, but I guess it wasn’t until that day that I realized just how special she was.
What that Week Taught Me
So why are these three consecutive days of that week ingrained in my memory so deeply? What did those three events, seemingly unrelated from different parts of my life, teach me? Well, more than I want to go into here. But I can tell you this: That week in March of 2017 reminded me why I do what I do. That, sometimes, people need places and experiences to celebrate small things in their lives. That sometimes they want to mark the huge milestones with one-of-a-kind experiences that they can’t find anywhere else. And that, sometimes, they need a reminder of just how special life can be, and of the amazing things that life can teach us.
I’m not naïve enough to think that the work I do is going to change the world. However, what I do know is that the decisions we make on a daily basis at PGAV Destinations shape places of wonder, create moments of unexpected thrill, and help to craft transformational experiences. So when events in my life happen the way that they happened during that week in March 2017, it gives me pause to consider even more intimately the need for places to share and celebrate.
We, as human beings, enjoy sharing special moments in our lives with other people. My parents used to travel the world together, because they loved sharing those experiences, and creating those memories, together. My dad doesn’t enjoy traveling for pleasure as much anymore, because my mom isn’t there to listen, and to gape in awe, and to remember those moments with him. But that’s why I love visiting the places that we design. Seeing families experience the thrill of coming face-to-face with a polar bear, scream their heads off together on a roller coaster, or uncover the stories behind man’s greatest scientific achievements, and knowing that those memories will live with them forever, is one of the ultimate rewards of this job.
I am not entirely sure if designing and building world-class destinations and attractions can actually change people’s lives, or affect them as deeply as those events from that week in March affected me. But I sure enjoy trying.