Temple Sinai’s maintenance crew will enter its catering facility on April 16 and roll away the moveable wall separating the main ballroom from the cocktail party lounge.
They will set up seats, a lectern, and ready the temple’s sound system, all in preparation for the arrival of more than 1,700 guests awaiting that latest in Sinai’s “Distinguished Lecture” series: former President Bill Clinton.
Clinton, who in his time since leaving office has helped build the William J. Clinton Foundation to combat various global crises, will deliver a lecture on the topic of “Embracing Our Common Humanity.”
“We believe we have a social action mission to the world, to Roslyn and to Long Island,” Temple Sinai President David Schwartz said in a phone interview with Blank Slate Media. “Having Bill Clinton speak at our temple fulfills our mission to be a beacon in this community.”
Former speakers in the “Distinguished Lecture” series include author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Israeli President Shimon Peres and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, but Schwartz said Clinton is Sinai’s most prestigious speaker yet, as well as one of the toughest to land.
“There is an application process and a vetting process that is substantial,” Schwartz said. “You put your request in along with your potential dates, and it took awhile, but we had a very persistent committee.”
After nearly five years since the temple’s last “Distinguished Lecture,” Schwartz and Sinai’s trustees organized a committee, led by Toni Wiener and Amy Handwerker, to resurrect the program.
The committee put Clinton at the top of its list, and after a great deal of time, hard work and perseverance, Schwartz said, the temple landed its man.
“To give the community the gift of the 42nd President of the United States coming to Roslyn is just tremendous,” Schwartz said. “We’re just so happy that the rest of the community seems to agree that this is a terrific event.”
Efforts to reach Wiener and Handwerker were unavailing.
In the interest of safety, Schwartz said, he could not detail specific security measures the temple will undertake to accommodate Clinton, nor could he talk about any correspondence between Sinai and Clinton’s entourage.
“With any event like that, there’s tremendous crowd control, and we have volunteers and ushers and we’re going to have to close the building down at some point,” he said. “There’s a myriad of things we have to do to prepare for an event like this. The undertaking is tremendous.”
Schwartz said the temple staggered its ticket sales, giving its members and their families first priority to purchase, and a limit of two per household, before opening it to the public.
“The first day tickets were available, there were lines,” Schwartz said. “People took a number, almost like at the DMV. They waited in the sanctuary until they were called.”
Had Sinai made all the tickets available at once, Schwartz said, “It would have been like a concert. It would have been an absolute free-for-all.”
Schwartz said Sinai had to make arrangements for buses to drop people off at the temple for the event, and had to get a permit to allow guests to park in front of the temple and along Roslyn Road. Off-site parking will also be available.
Even though the temple is expecting a turnout comparable only during major holidays, Schwartz said, Sinai will continue to book distinguished speakers for as long as the community is interested in listening to them.
“We’re fighting for everyone’s time,” Schwartz said. “It’s hard to get people’s attention with the events we have, but down the line, everyone’s going to have a story about seeing Bill Clinton speak for the rest of their lives.”