This weekend, an estimated 35,000 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, their representatives and family members will descend on Omaha, Neb., for three days of meetings, fine dining, and the chance to hear Warren Buffett, the investment conglomerate’s owner, deliver his musings on the economy and current events. But for the Jewish professionals and investors who make the trip, prayer services, Torah classes and kosher food will also be at easy reach.
For the second year, Rabbi Mendel and Shani Katzman, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nebraska, will be running Shabbat and other programming along with local community volunteers from a rented conference room in the Hilton Gardens Hotel across the street from the annual meeting’s home in the Qwest Center. About 100 people stopped by through the course of last year’s conference, and the rabbi expects more this year. He plans on delivering kosher food to people’s hotel rooms, as well.
“Many Jews wonder what they will do about Shabbat when they come to the meeting,” said Katzman, who is in no way affiliated with the Berkshire Hathaway conference. “This allows them to have choices, to know that they don’t have to forgo Shabbat in order to attend. Last year, some even came to prayer services, and skipped their meetings afterward.”
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Gary J. Yarus, a 60-year-old investment manager from Florida who prayed with the rabbi a year ago, intends to see Katzman again this year. He said he’s even bringing his family along.
“[Chabad] increases the spirituality at the conference so that you’re more than just another faceless person in the crowd,” said Yarus. “Rabbi Katzman creates a home away from home for the Jews, he brings the synagogue to the people. The energy he creates is something I’ll always remember.”
Katzman, whose Chabad center celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, will address topics relevant to the meeting in a class he titles “The Divinity of the Dollar.” The class will examine how the ubiquitous statement “In G-d We Trust” on American currency teaches how even the nation’s founders recognized that there is more to life than material existence and that, ultimately, G-d is in control.
A Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical student assists a Jewish attendee of last year’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ conference lay tefillin.
“In a conference that is really about getting fiscal guidance, we hope to help people see things from a more spiritual perspective, to see the morality and spirituality in finance, and the need to be concerned about others as opposed to just the ‘bottom line,’ ” said Katzman. “When things aren’t as good financially, it reminds us to look a little closer at our materialism, and we begin to realize that there is a master plan, and we see the Divine Providence in everything.”
In addition to events in the hotel conference room, Katzman will park a specially-outfitted recreational vehicle – essentially a mobile Chabad House – outside the meeting. People can visit it for kosher refreshments and a chance to pray, learn Torah, or even put on tefillin. On Friday and Sunday, the “Mitzvah Mobile” will also cruise through the downtown district to greet visitors and invite them inside.
Said Katzman: “Over the weekend, we’re giving people the opportunity to talk about things that are on their minds and hearts, and about things that they wouldn’t necessarily think about on a regular basis.”