Thursday, February 23, 2012


Each day I trudge off to Mercy Philadelphia Hospital to take care of whoever somebody asks me to see.  Insurance companies pay them for what I do.  In exchange a deposit of a larger sum than I've ever earned before finds its way to my account at PNC Bank biweekly which then accumulates until the Washington University tuition payment becomes due.  When I take $60-100 from the cash machine every couple of weeks for my own expenses, the balance on the receipt seems to grow most of the time.

Yet I do not live differently or even have these proceeds earmarked for anything in particular other than those relatively finite tuition payments.  Prosperity has both a reality and a mindset.  "Who is rich?  One who finds pleasure in his portion." [Pirke Avot 4:1]  There is a challenge to earn that income, a satisfaction inherent in acquiring skill and applying it for a purpose that has value.  Accumulating money, though, should never be an end in its own right.  There are funds for personal maintenance, investments in the future, protection for the might happen, some for generosity to others, and some for indulgences that bring their own pleasure but are of low priority.

Earning this comes at the expense of time and energy.  The day usually starts while still dark outside and ends while darkness has reappeared.  Much of the time is spend with patients and junior colleagues, which may be a form of indulgence in itself, considering what most other people do for their livelihood.  For all the strains and periodic pressures, I am hard pressed to think of anything else I would rather be doing from one day to the next.  Maybe having a little more protected time to write or to do a research project without patients coming at me randomly in some form.  But for the most part the means of earning income has its own personal satisfaction so spending those proceeds on my own hedonism is probably less of a goal for me than for others who accumulate their extra funds in a more onerous way from which they have a greater need of escape.

As I approach a year and a half of salaried employment, I find myself less generous rather than more in my tzedakah.  I still give the same amount, allocated each month with a note of appreciation to every recipient.  But the donations no longer occur on time, instead getting clustered into a few at a time.  I've not given to United Way or my alma mater or even the WashU Hillel, not because of any reduction in fondness for them but because of competing strains on more limited discretionary time.  I've made an effort to schedule some time with myself, usually to go out for breakfast on either a Saturday or Sunday morning.  This may be a concession to more money, since in the past I would go to Sweeney's Bakery around the corner on Saturday morning for a $1 coffee and on Sunday to Einstein Bagels with my 99 cent refill mug and my Franklin Planner to look over the week.  Now the breakfast is only one day but more ample.  It has been my custom for a couple of years to go to a place I've not been before once a month.  Usually it is someplace local like a new store but now I travel a little farther on a day trip once a month with a budget of about $100, maybe a little more if I start doing overnight excursions this coming spring. And if I get a performance bonus I would like to replace the ordinary tub in the main bathroom with a jacuzzi.  My concession to creature comfort that I would not have otherwise afforded myself.

Yes, prosperity is a mind-set.  Frugality a beneficial habit that has served me well and is unlikely to undergo drastic revision by a larger savings account.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Orthodoxy on Hold

Notice of suspension of shabbos services at the Brandywine Hills Minyan arrived second-hand, as I had unsubscribed from their list-serve after a few initial notices that I found offensive.  The first notice indicated that on the advice of one of the Gedolim HaDor of Philadelphia shabbos services would be suspended to avoid adverse consequences to an unnamed individual.  The followup note indicated that services would resume monthly on the shabbos preceding Rosh Chodesh.  I suppose the Grand Rebbe of Philadelphia approved victimizing somebody in a more limited way, using a waning moon instead of a full moon, allowing three weeks for the victim to lick his wounds before the next assault, and inviting him to Kiddush lunch on the week of his ignominy.

For some time I have been an individual member of the Orthodox Union, reading their quarterly magazine, learning some weekly Torah in cyberspace from their Executive Director Emeritus, looking for the U in a circle on the products I purchase.  They have a problem that a mainstream orthodox community in Wilmington could help remedy.  Hard financial times have hit their community in the big metropolitan areas, including New York.  It has created a new class of poor, people who were used to having stable ample incomes but no longer do.  In the meantime, two of the central New York means of employment, the banks and the law firms have created important niches in Delaware with a certain amount of stability and prosperity.  The challenge would be to develop Jewish institutions here, which already exist in a Philadelphia commuting distance, so that these people displaced in New York can comfortably relocate their families here.  For millenia Jews have relocated to take advantage of economic opportunities, from the traders who found their way to central Asia and India to the oldest Jewish community in continuous existence in Rome to our current vibrant and prosperous populations in America's largest cities.  The economic opportunity inspired pioneers, the needed institutions followed.  That same process continues now.  The President and Executive Director of the OU have each written in their Jewish Action Magazine and spoken in public platforms how they have traveled across America to small communities that maintain a loyal commitment to Orthodox mainstream practice amid its local challenges, though not engaging in one-upmanship with what they find around them.

But instead of real orthodoxy, we had a therapeutic trial of the trappings of orthodoxy without its essence.  A self-appointed Bulshitzer Rebbe who not only had the hat with the biggest brim, but the biggest head to fit inside, as its champion.  Its banner was never how we can enable people but how we can rid ourselves of the inferiors at AKSE whose rabbi made decisions we did not like.  Anyone who has ever been immersed in real orthodox Judaism would pick this out as selective nursing of grudges more than creation of the something sufficiently inviting to become a destination in its own right.  Derech Eretz Kadmah L'Torah.

Maybe there will be a place for OU style Judaism beyond the Chabad Shaliach who has advanced Judaism in my area in the proper way.  there is certainly a public benefit to be derived, whether through modification of what exists now at AKSE, Shop-Rite, Federation and Einstein or creation of a more separate form of loyal opposition that maintains a level of Derech Eretz far ahead of what came across from the current communications.  I think the OU has a stake in supporting the real thing and will when begun in the proper spirit.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Me Time

Yesterday I redefined shabbos as a break from what I usually do, whether that be the six days of labor or the seventh day of avoiding activities which occupy the other six days.  I took a day off dedicated to myself and my inner spirit.  This included a certain amount of Avot Melacha, and maybe stuff that I could have done today instead but yesterday was the better time for it.  Kohl's opened for pre-Valentines Day at 7AM so they were about the only place open when I started.   They were clearing out their winter duds so I picked up two winter hats, a new pair of leather gloves and a scarf made something that resembled wool but wasn't.  I really do not need any of these, having always lived in a place that has four seasons which enabled these acquisitions over time.  Moreover, I almost never have to go outside, my day beginning with a few meters walk from the front door to the driveway, followed by a parking space in the hospital's covered garage, then the reverse order home.  Even on shabbos, it is not far from the AKSE parking lot to the front door.  But this was a day of indulgence so for less than $16 for all the stuff I could not go wrong.

Next stop the new Panera Bread Company for a Mediterranean Breakfast Egg White sandwich which I ate there while wearing my new gray driving cap with the ear flaps tucked under and a large dark coffee which I nursed in the car's cup holder all the way to my next destination, Historic Cape May off season.  My GPS has  a bias for the Interstates but the official State of New Jersey Transit Map that I picked up a couple of years ago at a state highway rest stop had more inviting routes that I planned out the night before though I still got snookered off course by the GPS.  Since I had no other destination and both routes took me places that I had never traveled before, it did not matter much which road I drove on, keeping the map open next to me in the passenger seat which allowed me to reconstruct my preferred route as I traversed the width of South Jersey.  Like many of my previous day trips, the path there creates more interest than the final destination.  I think of the New Jersey of my youth, populated by cousins who failed to follow the rest of the family east to Long Island, a connection between Rockland County where I lived and Manhattan where I wanted to go.  Even now when I live literally minutes from the bridge that give me access, it is still a barrier to crossing the border at the other end to get where I want to go in New York.  It is rarely a destination for its own merits.  This time, though, as Route 49 took me through Salem, then Bridgeton, then Millville, finally making the rest of the ride along Route 47 which has its eastern terminus in the resort town of Wildwood with little else in-between, there was real farmland, a huge state prison without a lot of citizens nearby to object to its presence and as the shore loomed, some places that people might like to retire to.

Once nearby I again needed the GPS to find my way to the Emlen Physick House at 1048 Washington Street, the town's main attraction.  Cape May runs a year-round tourism project with a guided tour by trolley around town, which has been designated an historic site due to its abundance of Victorian style houses, some in lurid colors.  Over the years I've become familiar with old mansions, paying admission to acquire inspiration for what I would like to do with my house but haven't.  One of the observations that has always intrigued me but seems fairly constant from place to place is that the country squires who own them never really keep pace with the technical advances that develop while they reside there.  Despite the unquestionably prosperous Physick family staying until 1935, there was no telephone service, lighting was still done by gas, and there was no radio.  To maintain the many houses in town would take a lot of artisans but no body quite knows where they or their shops are.   There is a second mansion that I could have toured as well but opted to walk around town on my own.  Most of the places were closed but they have a pedestrian mall where some of the shops stay open on weekends so I bought a bag of Kosher-certified salt water taffy and had it placed in a box that resembled one of the town's Victorian structures.

By early afternoon I was a little hungry.  There was a sandwich shop near the lot where I placed my car, so I purchased by customary tuna hoagie, eating half there then half to be stored on the front seat for later.  Next stop, the Hawk Haven Winery nearby.  Finding it did not go easily as my GPS did not include any of the Cape May County wineries in its directory.  The girl at the Wawa who I expected to know a major regional destination was underage but one of the customer was not, so he pointed me in the right direction but it was still not easy to find, the vines being on one side of the street with the tasting room discretely placed on the other.  They hosted an advertised event of wine and chocolate pairing which made this the most crowded winery I've ever visited since the Bar Mitzvah class took their phony ID's to the Manischewitz plant.  The owner just brought his first newborn home from the hospital the day before so Grandpa and an employee held the fort.  Despite the crowd, it went well, though I think I liked the various types of chocolate squares better than the wine.  Next stop, en route home, the Natali Vineyard which also had a special event, a local vendor selling baked goods and a local artisan displaying and selling valentines candles.  The lady at the tasting room did not use a measuring pourer and had a generous hand.  The final two liquid specimens, intended for dessert included 15.7% alcohol versions of banana wine and port.  Upon departing, I took the second half of lunch from its wrapper and finished it before moving on the Route 47 for the non-stop return home.

Did I achieve my highest level of amusement?  Probably not yet.  I did learn a little more about me than I realized before.  First, I like visiting old mansions.  My house, built in 1967 and occupied by me since 1981 may have done a little better in some ways than the owners of the homes in Hyde Park, Winterthur, or the Emlen Physick house.  My house gets advanced.  A visitor to my place would find things in it that did not exist at construction time in 1967.  We have modern central air conditioning.  The antenna attached to the chimney came down with the last roof revision, to be replaced by cable transmission.  We have appliances that did not exist when we first moved in.  Somebody touring our house would find a flat screen TV of recent vintage, a small TV in the bedroom purchased around the time my daughter was born in 1983 and on my desk a 1960's black and white portable TV.  There are electric typewriters now obsolete.  There is a stereo with turntable and cassette deck.  But my house is not a museum.  As better devices come along, they find their way into how I actually live.

I also appreciate my time a little better.  As one of my six semiannual projects, I designate one day a month for a day trip to a place I have not been before.  Sometimes my time has to be truly mine, not a lot of it, but some.  It does not belong entirely to the patients and housestaff of Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, not to my family, not to the synagogue, or since that time may be allocated on shabbos, not even to HaKodesh Barachu.    Some measure of defined time has to belong to me alone, to be separated from other things that fall into have to do categories.  Yesterday defined one of those necessary dedicated blocs of  me time.