Sunday, May 8, 2011

AKSE Comfort Zones

At heart, I am probably a Jewish Hellenist time shifted to the contemporary era but thinking in a parallel manner to our ancestors who discovered that not all beauty had to be internally generated and not all rules remain functional forever. Moreover, I'm a sucker for talent and things done well. To some extent, I find a measure of friendly conflict energizing, something characteristic of my subclinical ADHD self.  The Cantorial replacement committee brought a nice, talented young man for an audition this past shabbos.  He is a fine musician, a pleasure to listen to though not necessarily a delight to worship with.  I suspect his limitations as a reliable Torah reader will conclude his candidacy.  Personally I found myself passively taking in the Musaf Symphony but more personally engaged in the concluding prayers conducted very competently by one of the rare teens in attendance.

AKSE has a legacy of taking the easy way out, staying within the comfort zone of what was done before and paying a rather large and inexorable price for doing this.  There really is no reason to hire a ba-al tfiliah, though we do need a Torah reader of skill and reliability.  The young man concluding the prayers demonstrated this quite well.  His vocal skills more than met threshold, he certainly engaged me in the proceedings and his capacity to fulfill his Bimah assignment was more than ample.  Moreover, he developed this skill as a component of his Jewish growth at AKSE, which is what I think the core mission of the synagogue really ought to be.  We have capable members but very few of them enhanced their skills from the time they first arrived.  It is more comfortable to let the women set up Kiddush and gather for Junior Congregation worship than to push for parity, acknowledging that true equality must be denied them.  It is easier for Cafe Tamar to move outside its mission of showcasing AKSE people, opting instead to entertain them with semi-professionals, some probably not even Jewish, as its own talented people opt to take in that imported entertainment rather than endure rehearsal.  Last year's dinner made some money but it struck me as the Ghost of AKSE Past, survivors of the 1980's glory days occupying the tables, celebrating what once was and not really grappling much then or beyond with what might be.  On a more practical measure, most Torah aliyot I am invited to do are from the recycling bin of what I have done before.  I assume that the same principle goes for the other readers.  There is no incentive, indeed no expectation, that growth in skill needs to occur.  And then there is the coup d'grace, a Bylaws amendment indicating that rotation of officers no longer needed to occur, and it hasn't.  Committees from the Ritual Talibans to my Education Committee to a most inbred recessive-gene expressing Cantorial Transition Team, have the same people doing the maintenance of the core functions of the congregation but without the vitality that creates a vibrant future, which can only be had by moving past those comfort zones.  All of this is comfortable but it comes at the price of progress that can only be attained by challenging people to do some things that they can do but have not done yet.

I certainly do not run my exam room or my teaching rounds that way.  There is an expectation that patients will monitor their sugars, give themselves insulin and take responsibility for their care, even it they'd rather not.  My residents are exposed to science behind what they encounter clinically, even if they've rejected any interest in basic science.  And what I like most about Mercy has been the challenge to my intellect, ingenuity and energy needed to manage some very difficult medical problems that had previously languished.  That his how people really move themselves and others ahead.

No comments: