Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting Up Early

My internal clock may be malfunctioning.  Early to bed, early to rise has altered my schedule without contributing a whole lot to health, wealth or wisdom the past few weeks.  As the clock moves toward 5:30, I've been up an hour, did some milchig dishes, made the crust for a Bookbinders Apple Walnut Pie that I've been meaning to make a gentleman who helped Irene out when her car malfunctioned last month but have not yet embarked on the planning for the upcoming week and month that was supposed to have been done two days ago.

Everything seems quiet with the sun not yet risen and no audios turned on.  A day of opportunities to do things, both to set goals and pursue them, has hardly started.  Coffee goes well this time of day, its attraction today being its pleasant but slightly bitter taste more than the need to perk up more than I am right now.  For a brief time, at least, I do not perceive myself as overwhelmed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


While my tendency is to be a kvetch, as tochacha is always the first step to improving most things or most people as the Sages suggest, there are times to break from this pattern.  My American and Jewish cultures set some time on the calendar to enable this.  The American one, Thanksgiving, arrives tomorrow and one of the Jewish ones, Chanukah, comes next week.  Tal Ben-Shahar, in his PBS Special, suggested keeping a daily log of Hakaras HaTov, five good things that took place each day.  I keep my log in a grade school composition book obtained in the back to school sale.  It is very sporadic in entry dates, though I am fortunate that I am never at a loss to come up with all five.  These entries are always a look back, though, never anticipation of the good that might come my way tomorrow.  As the wise character Alfred Doolittle noted, "the Lord is throwing goodness at you but with a little bit of luck a man can duck."

Since I cover Xmas each year, I can always expect Thanksgiving as a day off, though this year only the one day.  The menu has been planned, the kids arriving from NY at some point, and a marathon of enjoyable meal prep and eating awaits.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dad's First Yahrtzeit

Dad's first yahrtzeit came and went, uneventfully.  I said Kaddish last shabbat, though the actual observance with candle began the Wednesday night before.  AKSE never put it on their calendar, so no notice went out.

For my mother's observance, which will reach forty years this winter, I have received a notice from the JCC of Spring Valley or its current incarnation every year, at least since residency and maybe as far back as medical school.  I send them a check each year, a small one, but enough to maintain me on the notification list, even though I've not been a member in decades.  Then again, she has a memorial plaque there.  At Beth Shalom, I received a reminder each year of my membership there and same for AKSE.

But AKSE has no organized mechanism for entering new data.  Presence of mind would probably suffice as Dad's passing was announced from the Bimah on the day of death and they held two shiva minyanim at my home.  But nobody had the presence of mind to enter it on their computer data base which meant nobody had the awareness to request a donation or ask me if I needed assistance in assembling a minyan.  In the absence of thought, automated procedures become a reasonable surrogate.  This apparently does not exist.  My kids never have their birthdays announced in the Shofar, nor do anyone else's kids, even though a number of namings and bris ceremonies have taken place there, to say nothing of Bnai Mitzvot that where dates are assigned years in advance.

The consultant a few years back commented in his official report that many of the procedural aspects of AKSE's operation seem random when they should be consistently predictable.  Entering dates may be one of them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

AKSE's 125th Anniversary Celebration

The preparation and event have come and gone.  I think people enjoyed the evening.  I've not had prime rib in ages but I can see why its popularity has declined relative to Kosher chicken breast.  But food and wine and a dance floor do not create history nor they portend a future.  For all the attention on bringing young people into our sanctuary and Hebrew School, attendance and ad book advertising came from the old Adas Kodesch.  It was an expensive evening, perhaps a couple hundred smackeroos for two dinners, an ad, some new clothing perhaps, a trip to the hairdresser, a baby sitter.  This may have detered a lot of the younger ones.   I saw the ghost of AKSE's past but not much of its future.  It that sense, it may have been an error to revel in the past alone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Physician Posting Sites

My colleagues have opinions, as do I.  We tend to be semipublic figures whose verdict means something, whether or not it is welcome.  Most of us are also dependent upon the good will of our patrons.  The need to enable candor while minimizing unfavorable retaliation for the opinions that we carry has led to a number of web sites that only allow physicians access, to express opinions to each other or ask for medical guidance that can be moved to patient care without formal consultation.  I subscribe to two, Medscape's Physicians Connect and Sermo.  Both are subsidized by some form of advertising, which is good since they would probably collapse if a fee were imposed on the users.  I post on both, but have greatly curtailed my use of Physicians Connect which I think needs to eliminate anonymous posting and obtain a moderator.  For an educated crowd, the physicians can be rather hateful, particularly those raised on revenge in the Middle East.  I do not think a lot of them would want that level of candor identified with them and conveyed to their patients.

Politically, the most dedicated come across as libertarian:  "Mine is mine and yours is yours, Average, though some say this is Sodom"  as the sages of Pirke Avot observed.  Sermo people have pseudonyms of their own choosing but not outright anonymity.  Politeness is valued a good deal more on Sermo than at Physician Connect and remarks belittling another poster are rare, even on the political discussions, at the former though common enough at the latter that I took my intellect elsewhere.

People can also run medical dilemmas and opinions by specialists.  While both contain a few medical loonies promoting their fringe agendas, the regular medical posters on each seem a reasoned bunch.  Still, I get the sense that people who fundamentally like being doctors opt for Sermo, the kvetchers congregate at Physicians Connect.

Veterans Day

South Florida Veterans Cemetery
Dad's Final Resting Place

Monday, November 8, 2010

Beth Tfiloh

There are some destination synagogues for me.  While saying kaddish, I took a liking to the experience and clergy at Beth Emeth, our local Reform congregation.  While initially attracted by the security of a minyan and the convenient time for Kabbalat Shabbat services, it did not take long for me to admire the Hazzan's musical skills and the Rabbi's intellect.  My own religious preferences aside, I always return to my car after a cup of soda at the oneg, about the only thing there I can consume after a fleishig shabbat dinner, thinking I have been to a place of kedusha.  My own congregation does not seem to put holiness among its aspirations.

About once or twice a year, my destination congregation is Beth Tfiloh, a nominally Orthodox gathering in the northern suburbs of Baltimore.  If I leave Wilmington at 8AM I can generally arrive at the end of Shacharit, and have never been disappointed.  Each visit has a Bar Mitzvah, which I utterly loathe at all of the Wilmington congregations, where the boy effectively pre-empts shabbos.  I make a point  not to go those weekends, substituting some Pikuach Nefesh activity like being on call or donating platelets, which is what I was supposed to due yesterday until I botched the prep by taking aspirin from my pill case within 72 hours of the scheduled donation.  So I went to Beth Tfiloh instead.

Beth Tfiloh has a mechitza, which my wife loathes. It is only about four feet high, made of plexiglass with an unobtrusive design. From my seat yesterday, not far from where I usually sit, I did not notice the physical barrier right away, just a lot of women on one side of the sanctuary and a lot of men on my side.

Each time I've been there, they have a Bar Mitzvah.  I'd expect that from a congregation of over a thousand members.  Yet the Bar Mitzvah never seems to intrude on the service.  Twice they had invited guest speakers, Ruth Messinger of the American Jewish World Service last spring and Martin Fletcher the Middle East correspondent for NBC News yesterday.  It would be unthinkable at AKSE or Beth Shalom to ask a Bar Mitzvah family to share their assigned day.  Rabbi Wohlberg always has a presence, even if it is only to introduce the guest.  Who is honored? One who honors others.  Avot 4:1.  The rabbi has had a word of tribute for all he mentions, from the Bar Mitzvah to the woman observing her 100th birthday in absentia.  For an orthodox congregation, he finds a suitable role for women.  I would not be surprised that if in private he is apologetic for not being able to offer more.  This being machar chodesh, the women have a role of gathering for t'hillim or Psalms.  He mentioned a women's tfilah group in passing.  Attendance of 45% women by my estimate speaks for itself.

And there was no amateur hour.  All participants came across as suitably skilled, even the Bar Mitzvah bachur who did a more limited amount of worship than some of the others.  A morning's delight.  Worth the shlep each time I go there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

shabbat prep

Every Friday morning I arise early, or at least on time, to begin shabbat preparation that usually starts   Wednesday by defrosting the meat I plan to cook, defrosting two minichallot on Thursday and preparing the dinner Friday morning.  Chicken breasts work well since they cook easily but beef cubes can be put in a crock pot with vegetables and are ready by sundown.  I usually make a starch, occasionally a vegetable, almost never a dessert.

Gas gets put in the car on Thursday night or Friday morning if there is less than half a tank.  I stop at the cash machine if I have less than $50, though I rarely spend money on shabbos, other than my weekly cup of coffee to help support Sweeney's Bakery around the corner.  When I get to the office, I put half my coins of each value into the pushka on the window sill. 

This year I find myself less observant than last year, something that has cycled over decades.  Sometimes the lapse involves circumstances or choices largely imposed upon me like call schedules or moving to St. Louis to attend medical school.  Sometimes, including now, the reversal makes a statement of my disdain for people promoting their own observance agendas.

I attend synagogue less than I used to on shabbos morning, more on Friday night.  On shabbos afternoon, when I used to rest or read, if not on call, I now schedule an appointment with myself to go out.  I've been to a few arboreta, a nature preserve, some state parks, the beach, and maybe this weekend a college football game.  I think these are the down times from the work week, just as much as steering clear of the cell phone and computer and stores, which I still do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

When I started, I had intended a forum for irritated physicians and synagogue members, of which there is no shortage.  I have been ambivalent about whether the intent was to act or to vent.  Polling suggests that dissatisfaction with our social environment extends to many parts of our grand experience.  The voters today, and increasingly by absentee the last few weeks, intend to act.