Trouble with the word

After my recent post about the western region gala fundraiser for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), I got an unhappy email from one of the organizers.

In my original post “Low-key FIDF fundraiser still rakes in the dough,” I described the Oct. 22 event as “uncharacteristically tame.”

The organizer wrote that the word tame is defined as “lacking spirit or interest,” a description that did not fit an event that every year is quite meaningful and emotional — and as I personally noted, “one of the most energizing and inspiring of the year’s Jewish lot.” (That is high-praise from someone who attends more than her share of Jewish fundraising events each year.)

I used the word “tame” because, according to my dictionary, it is defined as “not exciting, adventurous, or controversial,” as in the example sentence: network TV on Saturday night is a pretty tame affair.

That does not mean that network TV on Saturday night is not valuable or important. It just means it’s not Prime Time. It’s not A1 or Page Six. But it’s still worthy.

So let me clear: the FIDF gala chaired yearly by Haim and Cheryl Saban is deeply important. It raises tons of money for our Israeli brothers and sisters in the Israel Defense Forces who risk their lives defending the sacred Jewish homeland and preserving the values of the State of Israel. My comment was of the event itself, not the organization or what it does.

The reason I used the word “tame,” as defined above, is because it was decidedly less “exciting and controversial” than last year, when, apparently caving to outside pressure, event headliner Stevie Wonder canceled his scheduled performance — a week before the event. Speculation over the how and why saturated last year’s event with an electrified charge; a national media blitz ensued, and the event quite literally became the talk of the town.

Because many supposed that Wonder’s cancelation most likely stemmed from the anti-Israel movement known as BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions), the fundraiser doubled as a passionate pro-Israel rally. That night, every pro-Israel pronouncement, every declaration of love and honor took on an added, urgent resonance.    

Reporting on the same events year after year can be tedious and a little humdrum. How many different ways can you describe events that are not wildly creative parties, but fundamentally formulaic and routine? You can’t; but the ritualized aspect of these events makes it all the more clear when something veers from the script, and as a reporter, it’s my job to report.

All things considered, this year’s FIDF event was no less emotional or meaningful than any year prior. In fact, as I noted in my post, it focused more on the soldiers and their stories than any attendant glitz or gossip. And more importantly, it still raised a ton of money — a record, in fact — totaling $20 million, after Saban himself conducted a live auction-style fundraiser from the stage.

And it had Simon Cowell. And Lionel Richie.

Something I’ve learned over the course of six years in community journalism is that sometimes cold, hard reporting has to be moderated by a larger sense of mission.

Tame described a party, not what the party was all about.