JAMen Forum Announces 2016-17 Speakers Following Successful Inaugural Season
By Tonyia Cone
When Burt Kunik moved to Austin from Houston three years ago, he really missed a program called 100 Jewish Men, a dinner and speaker series at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, his longtime synagogue.
Then one evening, Kunik found himself sitting next to Shalom Austin CEO Jay Rubin at an event at the JCC. Kunik mentioned the 100 Jewish Men group in Houston and asked Rubin if he thought they could start a similar group here. The rest, as they say, is history.
Kunik committed to support the program financially and the two put together the Jewish Austin Men’s Dinner and Speakers Forum, or JAMen Forum for short.
The first dinner program took place last October and featured Jonathan Sandys, great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. Other highlights included Harvey Kronberg, Editor and Publisher of Quorum Report on Texas politics; Mark Yudof, former President of the University of California and Chancellor of the University of Texas on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities on campus; Rabbi Brian Strauss of Congregation Beth Yeshurun on Jewish beliefs in the afterlife; William Daroff, Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America, on navigating the Jewish agenda in an era of hyper-partisanship and gridlock and a panel of top area physicians discussing men’s health.
With over 100 paid-up sustaining and annual members in the first year since the launch, consistently strong attendance and very positive feedback, JAMen has quickly achieved many of the goals hoped for by Kunik and Rubin.
According to its mission statement, JAMen is “a group of Jewish men dedicated to improving themselves and each other as men, fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends and Jews. Through controversial thought-provoking speakers and small group discussions, JAMen explores what usually remains unspoken in men's lives at work and at home.”
Kunik explained that JAMen has been very good for Austin’s Jewish community.
Unlike in Houston, in Austin, JAMen members cross congregational and community boundaries. “In a synagogue, the same 20 percent of people show up for everything,’ Kunik explained, “whereas here we're seeing people come from all over,” including individuals unaffiliated with synagogues or any other Jewish organization. “It’s a different mix of people. They come from Georgetown, South Austin and wherever. We visit and network for business and social connections. It’s just a lot of men enjoying one another’s company from a Jewish perspective, which unfortunately has gotten harder for men to do these days.”
JAMen events are typically held bi-monthly on Wednesday evenings in the JCC Community Hall with delicious full course buffet dinners provided by John Sutton of CAA Kosher Catering.
“The commitment is to come at 6:00 p.m. or somewhere in that neighborhood, visit for a while, have a drink, sit down and have some dinner. The programs begin around 7:00 p.m. and are pretty much done by 8:15-8:30 p.m. People feel they’ve spent a couple of hours doing something really worthwhile and a priority for them,” said Kunik. Although most speakers explore subjects from a Jewish perspective, attorney and master educator Sandy Kress, a JAMen Founder, ensures Jewish content by presenting a short text study before each program.
Next year’s JAMen’s lineup begins on September 12, with Dr. Marty Klein, the Seattle-based author and certified sex therapist, discussing “Men’s Sexuality through the Lifecycle.”
On November 9, the day after the Election Day, Professor Jeremi Suri, who holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, will address “The Rise and Decline of the American Presidency.”
Other special guest speakers include Andrew Fastow, former CFO of Enron Corporation, who will discuss “The Road to Redemption;” Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, who will discuss “Growing as a Man in the Modern Jewish Family;” and top Austin area physicians, who will discuss the latest findings in their specialty areas impacting Jewish men’s health.
JAMen 2016-17 also will feature a special bonus event for couples in May entitled “An Evening with Elon Gold.” Comedian and actor Elon Gold has starred in FOX's “Stacked” and NBC's “In-Laws,” made ten appearances on “The Tonight Show” and recently completed a recurring role on the hit show, “Bones.” A writer and performer on ABC's “The Dana Carvey Show,” Gold also appeared on “Frasier,” “The Mentalist,” and “Chappelle's Show.” He has a new one hour stand up special out on Netflix and is developing sitcoms for NBC and CBS.
JAMen offers two levels of membership for each full season– sustaining and annual memberships.
Sustaining memberships are $150. Sustaining members can bring guests one time for $15 and are recognized in all publicity and invited to an end of season reception hosted by Kunik.
Annual memberships are $90. Annual members can bring guests one time for $30.
Both sustaining and annual members pay a $15 dinner covert.
Membership for the 2016-2017 JAMen season will close after the December 7 Forum.
“The way I judge success of this is what percentage of people who sign up come to our events,” Kunik explained, adding that around 80 people attended each JAMen event last season. It's strictly about how many people who sign up really show up because if it's as good as it's supposed to be, they ought to attend at least 80 percent of the events for the year.”
For Sandy Dochen, JAMen is “an innovative bonding opportunity for Jewish men in Austin. The speakers are fascinating, the kosher meal is delicious and the comradery with guys from multiple generations is great fun. We live in a stimulating and growing city. JAMen is helping us enjoy Jewish values, leadership and friendships.”
For membership information and event registration, visit www.shalomaustin.org/JAMen or contact Jackie Mintz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-735-8014.