As CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger got ready for Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting of more than 20,000 shareholders, Rabbi Mendel and Shani Katzman prepared for an influx of guests of their own.

The Omaha couple, who direct Chabad-Lubavitch of Nebraska, welcomed 50 to their downtown Sabbath experience, an annual event that takes place alongside Berkshire’s popularly-known “Woodstock for Capitalists” at the Qwest Center. Held at the Hilton Garden Inn across the street from the conference location, the Katzmans offered a traditional Shabbat dinner and prayer services for Jewish investors from around the world.

“Prior to this Shabbat table, they don’t have anything in common other than that they’re participating in this event,” said Mendel Katzman.

But after a meal that lasts late into the night, they leave connected. Guests introduce themselves, say a few words, and over a multiple-course meal, get to know each other. This year, Mayor Jim Suttle came by to welcome the table full of visitors.

“He was very warm and friendly,” said the rabbi.

Prayer services began at 7:00 the next morning, drawing a group of about 15 men, including Berkshire Hathaway Secretary of the Board Forrest Krutter. A traditional lunch ushered in a revolving door of attendees going back and forth between the two locations.

Some guests come and end up skipping the official Berkshire Hathaway meeting entirely.

“Last year somebody came all the way from Australia,” Katzman recounted. “We celebrated Shabbat together Friday night [and] he ended up staying with us all day.”

Another guest, who has been coming all four years the Katzmans have offered the downtown program, arranges for separate group meetings Friday and then Sunday morning.

Jonathan Gerber, who attended the conference for the second time this year, said he was surprised by the number of familiar faces at the Katzmans’ event. He’s hoping to stay connected with some of the “regulars” throughout the year for various types of conversations.

“The weekend really gave us an opportunity to schmooze,” he said. “You think you’re going to go there and just talk business with people.”

Conference attendees participate in prayer services at the Hilton Garden Inn across the street from the Qwest Center.
Conference attendees participate in prayer services at the Hilton Garden Inn across the street from the Qwest Center.

Without the Chabad infrastructure in place, he probably wouldn’t have gone, despite a strong desire to hear what Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger had to say.

The Katzmans “make it possible,” he said. “We will go back next year, and spending Shabbat with the Katzmans and the friends we’ve built will of course be something to look forward to.”

Visitors also have the option of ordering kosher meals from the Chabad House, which are delivered at their hotels. Volunteers such as Harold Siporin, of Omaha, help get it there. He enjoys meeting new faces and was glad to have contributed to making the weekend a success.

“I learn from these people, I’m so proud of them and I respect them, they’re just the nicest people you’d ever want to meet,” he said. “I get more out of it than Chabad does. They do more for me than I do for them.”

David Yarus of Miami went for his fifth year with his uncle, who has been going for 15 years. He emphasized the importance of being able to “hone in on friends and family and the importance of marking Shabbat” during a weekend otherwise centered on business and money. Sabbath with the Katzmans enhances what would otherwise be a one-dimensional weekend, he said.

“This adds a whole other dimension,” explained Yarus, who participated in the dinner Friday night. “The food was great, the family is wonderful; it’s just all around a good thing.”

Gary Yarus, his uncle, said he’d like to see the crowd keep growing. He usually brings between five and 10 people with him to the conference, ranging from business friends to his nephews, brother and brother-in-law.

“It’s not a holiday, but it’s just an opportunity where we can together have some real good business content, enjoy Omaha and enjoy the Sabbath. What a win,” he said.

Spreading the word is tough but well worth it, he said, pointing to the hard work the family puts in to connecting with their guests and sharing a family experience amidst a large conference crowd.

“Rabbi Katzman is making a difference there and that is a good thing,” he said. “We should all ask two more people to come, and then more people will be positively benefitted by the Katzmans. How can it not make the conference experience more meaningful?”