Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Holidays

Hanukkah has come and gone, Christmas has come and gone, New Years as a denouement.  My son and wife got extended breaks from their usual activities, I got a brief but welcome reduction in my activities as well.  The office slowed down, leaving me with some catch-up opportunity, perhaps even a little get-ahead opportunity.  I did some cleaning and organizing at home.  My commitments to the synagogue still linger but most of that has been winding down.

I feel better than I did in the fall.  Better rested, less frazzled, perhaps a little impatient with people as I gave myself a two week prescription holiday.  My mind seems a little sharper, my posts on a little more thoughtfully constructed, particularly the non-medical comments.

With just a few days until the conclusion of the current calendar year, I've not fully outlined my intentions for the next six months but they seem to be taking shape.  There is a tension between thinking big and thinking realistically doable.  I do not know which is better.  Creation of Me Time each month with a day trip somewhere within 100 miles is doable.  Disseminating my blog to thousands is probably not, at least as a personal project.  Having a joint research project with U of Penn might fall somewhere in between.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Highest Level of Amusement

This weekend, or at least this shabbos, I took off.  Recreation on Saturday, mostly chores on Sunday though only the ones that evoke a measure of personal accomplishment.  The raw tally:  got my cell phone replaced and the new one accepts a charge, headed toward Lancaster at the suggestion of the Pennsylvania Wine Trail, starting with Twin Brook and ending with Kreutz Creek, which tasted mostly like medicine.  In between I had lunch in Strasburg and made the rounds at the Bird-in-Hand Farmer's Market.  Picked my son up at the Airport.  By then it was past sundown.  I tried to get a few office gifts at The Christmas Tree Shop and TJ Maxx but came home empty handed.  Concluded the day by gathering my laundry scattered around multiple rooms and transporting everything to one place so I could do the wash in its entirety on Sunday, which I ended up not doing.  For Sunday I bought and wrapped the office gifts and made some real headway with the kitchen, even washing one third of the floor and the entire Formica counter.  Seeing that the surfaces need replacement, I went to Lowe's where I looked at what it would take to cosmetically transform my kitchen.  I want to upgrade my office, so I looked at area rugs, eventually driving to Air Base Carpet Mart where I bought one.  Made progress on upcoming Torah and Haftarah readings.

How much of this is really the Highest Level of Amusement that I had intended?  I definitely like visiting wineries, rejecting out of hand the Rabbinic concept that American winemakers are idolaters who will draw me to evil other than skipping services on Saturday morning.  A number of my personal pleasures center around tasting:  coffee, microbrews, making dinner.  I've never taken great delight in eating out, though.  I do not particularly like people serving me, much preferring to take what I want from among what I am willing to eat at a buffet.  It has been ages since I've been to a good Sunday Brunch, something that I used to attend commonly when Rozzy was an infant.

I like shopping, or really looking at things more than buying things.  There is cookware that I do not need, clever implementation of ideas in the Seen in TV section, regional specialties when I travel, tchotchkes of any type from cheap pens with imprinted with names that I'd never saddle a kid with for his whole life, coffee mugs of endless design, funny greeting cards.  I do not find myself attracted to pretense.  Fifth Avenue and the like holds no allure for me at all.  I see places like that as repositories for unfortunate individuals whose self-esteem equates with what they are able to purchase that somebody else cannot.

There are few bodily pleasures that stand out.  Warm water, whether from a shower or Jacuzzi.  I like to exfoliate my forehead with facial scrub, then add a tingle from some type of atomic balm.  Irene once got me a massage certificate as part of a United Way silent auction.  Over the years, I've found myself waiting in line for mini chair massages that the Endocrine Society or similar medical organizations provide for those who attend the convention.  These are definitely relaxing at the end of a second or third day of conference.  But the real massage, which took a half hour and was of hand to skin format was not something I would seek out again.  I found it something of an invasion of my space.

My real quest best reaches fulfillment when I travel to a place I've not been before.  I love puttering around, not necessarily to the advertised attraction, but to some of the out of the way places that make the place I am visiting different from my home turf.  Museums are fine but I much prefer to drive through neighborhoods, walk on the sidewalks, maybe visit the local synagogue and chat with the people who live there.

I'm always a little uneasy getting pampered.  Because of my position people often seem more deferential to me than I think I merit, which may be part of the reason I like to escape to places where nobody knows me.  When they ask what I do professionally I tell them that I sign things.  Like many doctors, a sense of personal achievement comes mostly through what you do for yourself, for the effort that is put in starting with the every third night on call that has gone the way of the history book.  That is not to say do not delegate things but the need to pull one's weight and to reject offers of others to do what you should be doing yourself eventually becomes an ingrained part of personality.  A waitress does not have to bring me food that I can go to the buffet and get for myself..  A masseuse does not have to apply the soothing hands when my shower head has a setting that pulses hot water that I can direct where I want.  Having a waiter who spends more on his tie than I do, which is probably most waiters and for sure most medical residents, leaves me a little uneasy.

A predictable break from labor has been mandated for thousands of years.  Having somebody else convey to me a sense of self-importance that I really have not earned in the form of creature comfort or pampering is really not part of the divine directive.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shabbos Services

Uncertain what I want to do tomorrow morning.  I am haftarah reader for Chanukah next week and one of the Torah readers for New Years weekend.  Some of AKSE's talent has departed, not an extraordinary or disabling amount but enough to notice, making my participation more essential than it had been.  Yet if you think of Shabbat as Rabbi Heshcel's Island of Time, some weeks it is better not to have an AKSE Ferry.

The services on Saturday morning, my Jewish centerpiece since grade school, have morphed from an Orthodox experience with full content and fluency to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism model, with its rabbinic or lay leader contrivances that so many of us, including AKSE's core talent, escaped from.  The concluding time the last several months on Shabbat morning had extended a half hour.  Kids from the Hebrew School now do Ashrei , replacing a quick silent reading with brief Chatima with a small parade and old Hebrew school flashback.  I support learning and acquisition of experience as much as anyone else but this is tircha.  Instead of a central message from the Rabbi, which has improved immensely in content over the past year, we now have an interruption between each Aliyah in addition to an introduction to both Torah and Haftarah portions.  The Rabbinical Assembly has long taken the erroneous and destructive position that their congregants are Jewish ignoramuses who depend on them exclusively for every snippet of knowledge that they can impart.  That is unfortunately in the process of being transplanted to the AKSE shabbat morning experience as well.  Moreover, this is occurring at a time when the local Bulshitzer Rebbe has been siphoning off a measure of previous attendance.  His product differentiation started with a more pure form of gender separation.  He may be more successful with our help as we move to something more akin to a Beth Shalom experience while he starts later, moves through with minimal interruption and ends earlier.

It is possible to maintain a shabbat morning experience that has parity with what one might expect with a visit to any observant sanctuary around the world amid several formats.  Penn Hillel has both a conservative and an orthodox minyan conducting shabbat services simultaneously.  I have been to both and the content of worship is almost identical, the only difference being gender equality at one and a brief drash on Jewish Law at the end of the orthodox service.  At Beth Hillel-Beth El where my wedding took place, the Havurah minyan conducts the AKSE service with very minor variation based on the Siddur they use.  The only difference seems to be multiple Torah readers rather than a single hired reader and very capable female participation.  There is no schtick from singing of Hatikvah to showcasing Hebrew school kids, to moving lecterns.  The experience that their service conveys is judged my the fluency of the participants, a volunteer sermon that recognizes the audience as college graduates rather than Hebrew school graduates, and a concluding time that  does not infringe on other elements of Shabbat's break from the other six days of work.

There was an interesting podcast,_Conservative_and_Reform_Rabbi  which presented a forum sponsored by either a JCC or Federation in San Francisco where three rabbis from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations in the area discussed their ideologies and how they adapt it to their congregational realities.  The moderator tried to bait the Orthodox Rabbi in a friendly way by asking about the divergence between public values of gender equality and practices at his synagogue.  He did not bite with the expected defense as their practice being divine will.  Instead, he made a couple of insightful observations of life at his congregation.  First, the women at his shul were the best educated, most Jewishly involved women in the San Francisco Jewish community.  More importantly, for people really committed to Judaism, the formality of worship and legal restrictions needed to fulfill the requirements are really a very small part of what happens in his shul.  Almost no service other than shabbat morning takes more than an hour yet activities that make his congregation interactive to their members occur continuously.  There are no restrictions for women outside of formal worship.  They rise to the opportunity by making the educational and social programming attractive.  There is a quest for excellence on all things.

It is that quest for excellence that challenges AKSE.  The relative exile of its Talibans to the shteible of the Bulshitzer Rebbe should be an extraordinary opportunity for the mainstream that remain.  The Ritual Committee, having divested itself of its Taliban impediments and securing a top-notch chairman, should be discussing ways to elevate the people to excellence in worship, not diminishing the experience of worship to adapt to the limited capacity of its people.  I think it has been a shonda for my entire tenure there that the Women's Tefillah Group has been permitted by two Rabbis to continue to function as a form of Junior Congregation under AKSE's roof when their service should strive to be one that approaches parity with the main service with minor halachic adaptations in content.  One Rabbi who probably couldn't care less about what happens to female worship has been replaced by one who sincerely does, yet finds it expedient to diminish all worship in some way.  Making the AKSE sanctuary experience more like the Beth Shalom sanctuary experiences from contrivance to blue pencil editing of the sages' recommended content to enable more Rabbi commentary jeopardizes the very substance that has made AKSE unique in the community and attractive to its loyal participants.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Semi-Annual Projects

Two weeks to go into the calendar year and I've not really done much in the way of thinking about the next six months and what I would like to accomplish and why.  Traditionally I have six projects, all doable, but only the ones with firm deadlines generally reach fruition.  Same this time.  I finished my ABIM requirements largely because I did not have the option of not completing them.  For the other five projects:  my weight is the same, I did no estate planning, my bedroom sanctuary made some headway but it is a long way from a man cave, my skill with my iPod is the same and I blog less with no interaction.

This time I need to reassess projects in view of better stability where I am now and for some post-career time arising in the foreseeable future.  I do not want to put any projects at work on the list other than to enhance my office environment as well as make some revisions to my work space at home.   I would like to deal with clutter at home.  Usually there is a home project among the six.  Usually this involves a regional approach to the house, selecting one room for upgrade.  This time I would prefer a mixed regional/ systemic approach, decluttering the entire first floor which includes the living room, dining room, kitchen, family room and laundry as well as an entrance hall.  The barrier has always been dealing with paper and with an insatiable need for storage.  The secondary barrier is that the paper is not entirely mine so I cannot make decisions on tossing things into the recycling bin or shredder unilaterally.

What I can do unilaterally is allocate some recreation time on the weekend which I think I am going to do one weekend per month, setting it aside for a day trip or perhaps an overnight respite.  Retirement and beyond needs some attention.  Making more money comes at the expense of my discretionary time so I have neglected financial reviews, estate planning, Long Term Care insurance, settling my father's estate, living wills to say nothing of how I will devote large blocks of time when there are no appointments to keep or assigned tasks to perform.  Right now I have to designate Me Time.  Not that far into the future there is likely to be an overabundance of Me Time with no current provisions for taking advantage of this.

So for the next couple of weeks, the yellow pad will need a few notations, then the final six projects get put into writing to be worked on if not exactly brought to fruition.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pennsylvania Welcome Center

Not long ago, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania renovated its I-95 Welcome Center which appears as one departs Delaware.  I drive this route most days but had never stopped in.  I am usually with destination, as I was this time, but looking for excuses to delay getting to Mercy Philadelphia Hospital on a Sunday morning, I diverted my path off the highway for a few minutes.  It was impressive.  A spacious open area, immaculately clean, friendly lady at the desk, well lit and with walls of brochures regarding every imaginable place within the commonwealth that a visitor might want to spend money at.  The centerpiece was a vintage car, a convertible, filled with assorted vacation memorabilia.   Outside there was a picnic area, several tables painted red with mesh tops and seats as well as an overhang so those who divert from I-95 can eat while it rains.

Since the brochures were arranged regionally, I took several that announced attractions which  I could reasonably get to and back in a day's drive.

December marks a semi-annual branch point for me.  It is the month where I set projects for the next half-year.  I find my personal situation more stable, more predictable, than at any time within the last few years.  My kids are no longer in limbo on their professional paths. Dad's illness reached its unfortunate but expected conclusion.  My economically precarious office has been replaced by a job where they seem to be happy to have me there.  The ABIM requirements have been completed.  Other than some oppressive tuition and the purchase of Long Term Care Insurance, I have no big ticket items like cars or condos in Florida to seek out.

One of the projects, inspired by the Welcome Center, will need to be some better protection of my time and recreation.  For a number of years, I have successfully pursued a project of going to a new place every months, usually some place local like a new store but sometimes more afield like Bedford NY this month, San Juan last month and Cleveland in September.  After looking at the brochures, including one for steeply discounted motels throughout Pennsylvania, I think one of the projects will need to be a monthly day trip to a destination intended purely for recreation, which the visits to Cleveland and Bedford were not.  A 2.5 hour drive each way is very doable and places to visit abound, I just have to know what they are.  Maryland has a state brochure and a Welcome Center that I've not been to despite driving past it many times.  Atlantic City, Princeton and places in between are also well within my day trip capacity heading east.  Even Delaware has its places I've passed through but never stopped.  The important thing is that there be some dedicated recreation time, a planned and welcome respite from the clutter of my house and the unending not yet completed tasks at work.