Andy Fickman’s star as a director and producer has been rising steadily in Hollywood over the course of the last decade, but to hear him tell it, none of his screen success would have been possible without the experience he had as a youth member of the United Synagogue Youth (USY).
“I would not be directing movies with Channing Tatum. I would not be directing movies with ‘the Rock’ were I not in USY,” Fickman boasted to the crowd of 700 members assembled for the International Conference in New Orleans (IC NOLA). “Everything I learned in Hollywood, I learned in USY,” he acknowledged.
Fickman was given the USY’s Alumnus of the Year Award in brief ceremonies on Monday night, December 23, at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel.
The jovial and exuberant Fickman’s direction of movies include the box office hits “Parental Guidance,” “You Again,” “Race to Witch Mountain” and “The Game Plan” has also produced theater ventures including the Los Angeles original stage production of “Jewtopia” and the musical “Reefer Madness.” He has also directed a number of TV programs, many for the Disney Channel.
Fickman, who hailed from Midland, TX, was a member of SWUSY, the Southwest regional chapter of USY. He recalled attending his first USY International Conference. “As a kid from Texas who lived with 40 Jewish kids, a crowd of 800 or a thousand Jewish kids was amazing,” Fickman said.
The energetic director and producer gave words of wisdom to the crowd of eager onlookers. “When you are done with your time in USY, dont’ let it stop. Give back!” Fickman advised. “Give back!”
Fickman, who admitted he had not followed his own advice, said he was glad to be back for the first time with his fellow USYers. He continued with his words of counsel, stating the four things the USY members should do were to “swear, drink, steal and lie.”
“Swear to be the very best you can be and that everything you make up, you pay it forward to someone else,” Fickman elaborated.
“Drink from the ‘garden of kindness’ that is our heritage,” he continued. “Steal every moment while you can USY. It goes by quickly.”
Finally, he said: “Lie down in your bed every night and thank God you have an opportunity to meet such amazing people and to be part of this incredible organization.”
The evening presentations began with a short D’var Torah by Rabbi Steven Yermick, the executive vice-president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the ruling body of Conservative Judaism and the parent organization of USY.
Yermick told the crowd how very proud he was of their work at tikun olom (“repairing the world”) at various locations throughout the New Orleans area. USY members organized as “krewes” worked throughout the day helping to rebuilding homes, playing music for the elderly at a rest home, performing cleanup at public green spaces and fulfilling several other worthwhile projects.
Following Fickman’s presentation, outgoing USY president Michael Benjamin Sacks was invited to the podium by his sisters Ashley and Brittany, to make his final speech to the USY IC prior to the selection of a new executive board for the ensuing year.
Sacks thanked all the members of the international executive board (youth) and the international general board (adults) as well as the regional presidents for their assistance throughout the year. He also gave his thanks to his own Far West region and all of the regional youth directors scattered throughout the country.
“The memories I’ve made in USY will last a lifetime,” he said. “USY has changed me for the better. You have changed me for the better.
He congratulated the members of USY for building a kehillat kedushah, a holy community and compared them all to orleh olom or “lights to the world.”
“Let’s do something extraordinary together!” he concluded.