Thursday, July 22, 2010


For the most part, my level of observance seems to seems to trend in much the manner of our financial markets.  Over time, measured in decades, there has been an increasing level of approach toward frumkeit.  The setbacks, however, like those of the stock market, are both dramatic and rationalized.  The first occurred as a teenager when the Rabbi invited his wife to be guest speaker at a teen luncheon he was promoting.  At a public forum, he tried to take attendance in advance.  When I announced myself as intending to be absent, he asked why.  I told him the rules were attendance is voluntary.  He then took my private comments to him of dissatisfaction with the Hebrew school and made them public.  The people in the carpool could easily tell I was seething.  I do not know if anybody reminded him what confidentiality is about.  I figured that out long before I became a physician.  The next day I was a Hebrew school drop-out, and within a month the car pool pretty much disbanded with two other kids depleting the enrollment as well.  I did not go to shul again, except to attend an event for the next two years, but took an interesting and prolonged liking to his successor. 

The second downward blip was a more transient one.  There was a teen shabbat congregation, for which the congregation took great pride.  Like any teen group it had its cliques and I was external to it.  Unfortunately, the adult volunteer, an uncle of one of the participants and neighbor of another, had a way of playing favorites, one of whom accused falsely of some of some minor infraction like pulling the top off a cupcake before they said kiddush. Without giving me a chance to state my innocence he had a tizzy fit calling me unworthy of kiddush.  The next meeting, a couple of weeks later, they were trying to assemble a minyan so he went over to me at the main service to get me to come downstairs.  I politely called him a blight on Judaism and exercised my right as a post-Bar Mitzvah Jewish male to remain part of the main minyan.  Difficult to provoke but difficult to pacify = his loss offsets his gain (me), Easily provoked but easily pacified = his gain offsets his loss (him) as the sages of Pirke Avot accurately observed.  Of course there was a complaint to the Rabbi who concurred with me that freedom of worship exists within his congregation.  I never attended the teen service again.  By the time I completed high school I attended the main service regularly, became the most observant teen in his congregation, easily the most accomplished Jewish scholar and sufficiently skilled and committed to absorb easily into the Orthodox world of my university Hillel.

My next setback was a more innocent one.  I received only one medical school acceptance, that of my beloved St. Louis University, a Jesuit institution which afforded me more regard for my religious practice than any institution with which I have been affiliated before or since, including all of my synagogues.  Unfortunately there were no shul's in South St. Louis. It was easy for Kashrut to slide somewhat as my schedule often necessitated some grab n' go and Supermarkets were not open on Sundays.  My eating out standards have gotten reasonably tight in the ensuing decades.  I also opted to take my exams on Saturday morning with the rest of my class, rather than arrive at 6 AM on Friday mornings like the three kipah wearing classmates did.  But I made good on my pledge to myself that when I got a car in my third year, I will attend Hillel on Shabbos if not on call and shop at Schnuck's Supermarket in the middle of the Jewish area, which I did.

For each of these lapses, I always intended that they be temporary to adapt to current circumstances, and they always were until the current one.  Tune in.

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