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David Gilbert

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Emily Gilbert bat mitzvah.jpeg

David Gilbert enjoys a moment with his wife, Faith, and their daughter, Emily, before Emily’s bat mitzvah in 2010 at Park Synagogue Main in Cleveland Heights.

President and CEO, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland

As president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, David Gilbert heads an organization that is responsible for attracting, promoting and managing major amateur athletic events.

But Gilbert’s bar mitzvah, in March 1980 at the old Warrensville Center Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, was hardly a major event. He doesn’t recall how many people attended, only that about 20 of his friends were there.

“It was not as big as a lot of (bar mitzvahs) are today,” he says. “I do have very warm recollections of it being around friends and family.”

Gilbert, who grew up in South Euclid, says his family was not affiliated with a synagogue at the time, so he studied at Cleveland Hebrew Schools, which taught Hebrew to children who did not attend Jewish day schools. His bar mitzvah service was an Orthodox one at Warrensville Center Synagogue, from which Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue in Lyndhurst derived.

“We certainly were not Orthodox,” he says. “I guess you could say we were Reform.”

So the Orthodox service – with men and women seated separately – was not something Gilbert was used to, and it was a new experience for his friends as well.

“This was probably the first bar mitzvah of our group (of friends) at an Orthodox synagogue,” he says. “I don’t remember a whole lot about the service, but I do remember enjoying doing my Torah portion and thinking it went well.”

Gilbert says a couple people from the congregation came up to him after the service and said they enjoyed his chanting of the prayers.

“I did some theater in junior high and high school, and it was nice that some people came up and noticed and said they liked it,” he says.

Gilbert also remembers receiving a prayer book as a gift from the synagogue.

“To me that was very meaningful,” he says.

Two bar mitzvah parties followed the service. One was a luncheon, hosted by Gilbert’s parents, Nancy and Leonard Gilbert, with adult friends at Executive Caterers, then located on Chagrin Boulevard in Woodmere. A bowling party at the old bowling alley at Cedar Center in University Heights took place later the same day. 

“We had probably 20 kids there, just pizza and bowling,” Gilbert says. “It was far from the real fancy parties we see now, but to me, it was great. Just a very nice time with friends.”

Gilbert, 48, is also president and CEO of Destination Cleveland, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, and in April, he was named president and CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee for the Republican National Convention.

A 1985 graduate of Cleveland Heights High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from The Ohio State University in Columbus and an MBA from Cleveland State University.

Gilbert and his wife, Faith, live in Solon with their daughter, Emily, 18, and son, Bradley, 15. They are members of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike.

This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Bar•Bat Mitzvah.