Friday, October 29, 2010

Sanctuary Ennui

My retired friend spends much of his unscheduled time in the library, sitting at publicly funded screen while searching cyberspace for items of interest to send along to friends who are not retired.  Sidestepping the issue of electronic clutter that this sometimes creates, he hit a home run this week with an op-ed piece from The Forward, America's principal Jewish weekly, regarding the experience of attending services in different locales.   In some ways I may be a modern day Hellenist willing to sacrifice some elements of tradition and letter of the law to enhance beauty or justice, and like most Americans have been acculturated to pluralism by the tenets of our basically irreligious Founding Fathers.  I think Judaism would be better if the law promoted gender equality.  I am less convinced that it is better by adapting the law to reflect that, as most Conservative synagogues have done, though they seem to have paid a very high price for the practice.  Perhaps parity would have been a better goal.  Yes, I am for gender equality and my activities outside AKSE reflect that.  I am also for having Kohanim and Levi'im precede me in Torah honors even if there is a measure of lunacy to having some shoeless Am-Ha-aretz mumbling a bracha that had to be transliterated for him so that he might function as a divine conduit to bless a congregation of lesser yichus but greater accomplishment.

To make the proceedings of the sanctuary less intimidating to the novice we introduce contrivances like responsive readings of inanely translated liturgy.  I think the sermons at AKSE rarely contain content that require anybody to be particularly literate to understand.  Whether the Rabbi intentionally dumbs it down or actually functions at that level of erudition himself can be debated in both directions, I suppose.  Berel Wein in his Tending the Vineyard, his memoirs on life as a congregational Rabbi, noted that each week he only has one real chance of about ten minutes to convey a real message of Judaism to the listeners that will have to sustain then to the next Shabbat morning.  It our effort to be inclusive and not leave people behind, we sometimes forget that the mission of Judaism is to elevate people to a higher standard than from the starting point.  Instead, we have changed the destination without really changing the people.  In the USCJ world, egalitarianism, for all its social merits, ran in parallel with congregational decisions to popularize attendance via expanding comfort zones when they should have been upgrading educational standards.  We elevate people to the mitzvah.  We do not diminish the mitzvah to facilitate compliance.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quest for Mediocrity

Sometimes the quest is a relentless one.  In both my medical world and my Jewish one this pursuit emreges in a variety of ways.

Having divested myself of all AKSE Committees except Education, last night I undertook my remaining contribution, which includes setting up a night of learning and arranging a visiting scholar, both works in progress.  The committee decided we wanted a woman, as we had never had one, and I decided that we would capitalize on that talent to advance our women who have already reached Mediocrity's Promised Land and share it with the Lotus Eaters who now aspire to nothing else.  I wanted our rising star in the learned observant Jewish world to worship with our women, if only to get them to elevate themselves for the purpose of having the guest think well of them.  The response of the chair was just the opposite, to shield our women from having to move themselves along for any reason.  It does not matter if I was able to bring cutting edge Orthodox Judaism to the Orthodox Pretenders, it disturbs the mission of stable mediocrity.  So does requiring that all programs, without exception, undergo scheduled periodic assessment to determine future upgrades.

Having the seat on the Board of  Governors reserved for laytzanos, I was equally disheartened by the Executive Committee report.  Not only do they think they can make membership grow by dumbing us down and finding the niche gimmicks that portend the destruction of United Synagogue Jewry within the next generation, but they take the erroneous view that advancement should not be forced upon people.  Friday night services are sparsely attended for a variety of reasons.  I find them strikingly unattractive and go elsewhere as a destination at the start of each shabbat.  But I they get ten men and can check the boxes that all prayers were recited, then there is no reason to make the service attractive to anyone else.  If they get nine, there is still no reason to make the service attractive to anyone else, just recruit a tenth and leave things be.

Sometimes the quest for mediocrity is indeed relentless.   

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Diverting My Contribution

Each year on Yom Kippur, the congregational president of AKSE makes an appeal for extra funds, which adds about 20K to the synagogue's treasury.  This is the largest fundraiser of each year.  It takes no committees and costs nothing other than the bookeeping and banking costs.  It has been my tradition to write a check for $100, no strings attatched, nothing conditional to the check.  Despite the long precedent, this year the contribution does not go to AKSE but to an organization called Women of the Wall, which our local reform congregation, Beth Emeth, has adopted as their recommended cause.  While I have the good fortune to enjoy sufficient prosperity to write two checks of $100 each, I feel very strongly that this contribution really needs to go from AKSE with me as the conduit.

One of the challenges of observant Judaism has been the ambivalence to what the optimal role for women ought to be.  When our Rabbi came aboard, my wife and I were optimistic that the role for women in the congregation would expand in a meaningful way.   Had the Rabbi opted to take the progress in stages, conduct some experiments and modify what needs to be modified, I would have jumped aboard.  Instead, he made some very trivial decisions that I think reflect a fundamentally limited intellect and marginal gift of Binah from HaShem, the closed the door on further modification citing the authority he has as mara d'atra.  That is not like me at all, where I round on patients every day and correct yesterday's errors as I go.  Judaism as I understand it takes a dim view of victimizing people without recourse.  Our women are doomed to mediocrity without prospect of reversal.  The Women of the Wall still have an upside.  That is where my money goes.  It cannot also go to support impropriety on my own home front.

While I think Derech Eretz would have me simply toss my AKSE pledge card into the recycling bin and write a check to Women of the Wall, my wife put a condition on the diversion.  I would also have to write to the congregational President and explain to him in Jewish terms why the Women of the Wall are of superior worthiness.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Physician Posting Sites

This summer I decided that I would no longer post comments on Medscape's Physician Connect, where I had been a regular for a couple of years, except at the Endocrinology division.  I tried replacing it with Sermo, where I found the physicians more congenial but for the most part these places do not really attract a lot of people whose goal is to be congenial.  Instead of finding it a place to exchange ideas, I found it a place to promote agendas, a place to express the desire for the gimmes whether that be removing the Israelis and any other Jews from Israel or removing the democrats from public positions or removing formularies from insurance so I can have my own way with no interference.  When somebody who a different view somebody will invariably respond that they are inferior in some way.  After maybe a year of this, doing my very best to be both erudite and polite, I found myself adapting to this environment more than I would like and offered myself a hiatus.

At first, I missed having a chance to express myself but that craving ran its course in a week or two.  A few days ago, I gave it another look, reviewing the political discussions on Medscape and the medical ones on Sermo.  I responded to Endocrinology on both but the political and practice of medicine subjects no longer held sufficient interest to open up the discussions to see what the medical discontents had to say about their never ending lists of real and perceived enemies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Weekend on Call

My first weekend on call at Mercy.  It was definitely a quieter place than Christiana, with four new consults and about eight others who needed some kind of personal attention.  There were not a lot of consultants or even ICU people or surgeons milling around by early afternoon, with the assigned hospitalists and a few residents assuming most of the patient care.  On Saturday afternoon, the hospital hosted a community health fair so I agreed to occupy the ASK A DOCTOR table for about 90 minutes.  A few folks came by including a couple of diabetics who needed some professional attention, but mostly folks with minor events that would not ordinarily incur a medical visit but as long as somebody is there to look at the rash or sore shoulder for free, why not.  A physician who charges nothing is worth nothing (Bava Kama 85a), though that comment comes in the context of just compensation for an injury which includes payment for medical care, which by Talmudic requirement has to be mainstream care.  I must say, I enjoyed being at the table, watching the people go by as I sipped on a Diet Coke.

Then Sunday I did real on call type of work, a slower pace that enabled me to think about what I was doing, instead of the Christiana burden of just getting through the enormous census and unending cell phone interruptions.  Definitely a more civilized experience, and I suspect a lot better for the patients to have a doctor who is thinking more about them than about the tasks that lie ahead.