Thursday, March 29, 2012


AKSE accepted the report  of its nominating committee.  While the Rabbi has never taken a position on human cloning he may not have to since the President's relatively hand-picked governance assembly comes pretty close.  There has been negligible turnover in officers since a By-laws amendment a few years ago did away with term limits for all officers but the President.  Diversity of thought, or even creativity of uniform thought, has not been there in a while.  Membership reports, the lifeblood of the congregation not only financially but for future vibrancy, have become lists of who came and who departed when they should be opportunities to develop the people they have and plan expansion to the people they might like to have.  Financial reports again come across as lists rather than analysis of where to put the resources that we have and reallocate them for a purpose.  My lab sheets are also aggregates of numbers but they generated decisions.  The financial reports do not.  This is a variant of human cloning where everyone looks and thinks alike, where recessive genes or organizational incest take form as the norm.  I do not think a person or an organization can pursue excellence with that manner of uniformity.

Lest I be too harsh, AKSE is not the only place that defaults to mediocrity due to inability to engage the most capable baalebatim. presented a wonderful symposium recently on this reality that has pervaded many synagogues.

There are entrepreneurs and there are corporate system managers.  There are people who work with what is there and there are people whose talent is to pursue what might be.  All four are not only needed for a place to thrive but all four need to be valued to for what they bring to the composite.  That has not been the case at AKSE for some time.  There are only two entrepreneurial visionaries which may be what is needed but the most capable third got lopped off.  There is no outreach to legitimate talent that would prefer to stand outside the tent and pee in.  As annoying as they sometimes are, or maybe more accurately as we sometimes are, they protect you from a course of mediocrity misrepresented as pseudoexcellence.  Increasingly AKSE has not been a place that justifies the benefits of laytzanos.  Its results reflect that.  Nobody puts themselves out to read more than a shlish of Torah or a haftarah that was not their Bar Mitzvah portion.  It is dominated by functionaries who fill slots in schedules.  They get filled but nobody gets the satisfaction inherent in meeting a new challenge.

A dearth of baalebatim may have infused much of the Jewish world, one in which people increasingly seem rewarded more for their loyalty than their ability.  There really are people of ability around pursuing the things that challenge and satisfy them.  The Jewish organizational world, AKSE among them, has just accepted less than it could have had.  Unfortunately projects like the Nominating Committee functioning as a Telephone Tree for the President when it should be an analytical body assessing what different people can do to make AKSE a more attractive place reinforce the impression that other forums value talent, energy, and diversity more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pesach Prep

Pesach this year largely spans the weekend for Yom Tovim.  Sedarim are Friday and Saturday nights, the concluding days are Friday and Saturday.  Moreover, Good Friday precedes Seder to allow a more leisurely entry than most years.  I will still need to sneak in an afternoon of patient care somewhere during the three days. Friday before Seder may work best for me as I have my own Seder to arrange Saturday night but little to do in advance of the first Seder.

In my preference for Jewish Holidays, Pesach usually comes first.  I find it a form of separatism, some preparation that seems arduous in the process but satisfying as a form of accomplishment once the festival has begun.  It has been a time for a family to assemble in one place, at one time the gantza mishpacha on my mother's side going so far as to rent a space for cousins and second cousins to gather.  I've been to large Sedarim in college and some so limited in attendance to my wife and me.  I try to sneak in a little learning before the holiday and some during the holiday.  For an entire work week I do not have to go to the doctors lounge for coffee, yet I never feel deprived of not having any.

Services for the Yom Tovim have been a mixed bag.  As a Bachor, or first-born, I am expected to fast the day of the Seder but there is an exit strategy by attending minyan then finishing a section of Talmud.  On work days I usually just fast, but this year with the day off I will more likely attend the tziyum.  Among my fondest memories of this were the tziyumim at the JCC Spring Valley during my teen years where there was a real discussion of a real tractate followed by breakfast with authentic local bagels and a good deal of camaraderie among first-born friends and their first-born fathers.  That has not been duplicated in Wilmington though the occasion probably stands on its own.

Usually Daylight Savings Time has begun before Pesach arrives so the sedarim can be quite late, particularly the second which cannot begin until after the first day yom tov concludes.  Not having to go to work the next day helps but there are a lot of groggy looking folks in shul.

Dietary restrictions add to the sense of separation and for myself and generations before reflect a challenge in creating treats amid limited availability of raw materials.  there are classics like matzoh brei and cremslach and macaroons.  There are matzoh kugels that would be wonderful anytime but special this season.  And there are new recipes to try out.  Most years shabbos Pesach coincides with Good Friday which remains a semi-secular holiday for the local companies and medical enterprises and schools.  With a day off and Pesach usually under way, I try to have dinner guests that evening and make something special.  Even though this year is a little out of sync, I will try to do the same.

Pesach is food and people and pageantry and effort, all worth it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Two Days Off

Two vacation days to try out retirement.  That was not the initial purpose, which really included neglected chores like my finances, taxes, dental work, auto service, and drivers license renewal, all of which got done.  Most of it got done the first day, leaving me with some open ended time the second day.  I do not expect to last a whole lot longer at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital.  As much as I like being with the patients and meeting the residency program challenges, the time and effort involved have taken its toll on me personally.  I work at higher volume than what the people who run the place are used to and try not to be too demanding.  While I keep up with the work, the interest in removing the impediments which would enable me to do things that cannot be done when people are just tossed at you with little notice or planning just isn't there.  They are happy with having me as a Golden Goose and don 't realize that they will eventually slaughter it.

For me the question has been what would I do instead if I did not have to schlep off to work each day.  Might it drive me nuts?  So far it hasn't because I have other things that I might like to do instead.  I'd certainly like to get my house up to speed and have the funds to do it now.  My finances also need to be brought up to speed.  In both cases the rigors of my job have been real impediments.  I listened to a full lecture on for the first time in a while.  I used to listen to this a lot but I come home from a long day wanting nothing better than to be left alone while I see who posted what on Facebook.  I travel once a month as an escape.  I'd much prefer to travel as a destination without a clear deadline for getting back.  While getting my car serviced, I decided to write an essay that I've neglected for some time.  For an hour I had no place to go and no distractions.  I jotted down the thoughts though not having done this for a long time, I struggled with the actual composition.

A Facebook Friend recently allowed me to get reacquainted.  I knew he became an attorney and has what seems to be a solo practice, on only his name as the identity of his firm.  I also learned from his postings that he has become a ski enthusiast and a cycling enthusiast, spending a fair sum on each to say nothing of prioritizing them into his personal schedule.  Myra has her dogs.  Irene has Torah Portion Humor and Choral Music.  I never really developed an insatiable interest in anything, even though there are many things I like doing.  One probably does not really need that to retire successfully but there has to be some type of activity agenda.  I learned from my two days for myself that I can occupy my time in a productive way, both accomplishing a doable list of well-defined chores and absorbing time in a suitable way when it comes in a more amorphous fashion.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Visit to York

My monthly outing or semi-escape, this time a lovely journey to York, Pennsylvania.  I started with coffee at Sweeney's around the corner, finishing about half of it by the time I had gotten to the Perkins in Avondale for breakfast.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Perkins, the one in Springfield, OH being the midway point for me between St. Louis and the East when I drove alone as a medical student.  They made the best pancakes with the possible exception of Bickfords.  I've not been to either since the 1980's, though I did stop at this particular Perkins for lunch when I came to the area for job interviews as my residency was concluding.  It still stands, remains clean, more expensive but I get a discount for having survived past age 55.  Still like the pancakes.  My tape recorder battery was nearing depletion so I drove across the road to Acme, found some Antacid on sale which I got, batteries too expensive so I took my chances, eventually coming upon a Dollar General where I could get four alkalines for a buck, along with some snacks to much on later in the day.  This being the gateway to Amish country, there was a place in the parking lot for horse and buggy, so with the owner's consent I took a few photos, then continued on to the Central Market in downtown York.

This market resembled more of a food court than a traditional Farmers Market.  York has a culinary institute which probably keeps some of the alumni nearby.  Specialty food stalls abound.  After touring the offerings I settled on a wonderful vegetable curry pie, some specialty coffee and a scone of Irish Soda Bread, each obtained from a different vendor.  There were a few artisans as well so I picked up a porcelain cat for my wife and an Iggles apron for myself.  While the downtown is likely to be busy during the week, parking was kept rather loose on Saturday.  I left my car a few blocks away in what appeared to be a lot abandoned for the day, though unknown to me, the main lot across the street from the market does not charge on Saturday.  As I walked back to my car, I stopped in at a music store where they had harmonicas at a very reasonable price so I got one in the key of C to keep in my briefcase.

My destination for the day was a local event, the RV and Camper show at the York Expo Center.  The location reminded me of the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington and this place is used for a similar purpose, less the racetrack.  Vendors from the regional RV and campground sites put together quite a display.  I arrived as an amateur but left with more knowledge than when I arrived, along with an impression of the specialty industry.  Most campers could be had for about $20-25K plus the cost of a pickup truck to transport it.  There were models made by Chevy and Ford that included the vehicle but they cost about $80K, well above the additional price of a pickup.  I tried to assess who actually buys these things.  I get about a week's recreational time off a year so something like this would be a white elephant.  There are a lot of retirees who can spend time on the road.  That means there must be a substantial resale market as these people become incapacitated in some way and no longer able to travel, so there must be substatial discounting on pre-owned models.  The interiors reminded me a lot of a cruise ship cabin with the sleeping quarters very compact but functional and a small sitting and entertainment area.  Unlike a cruise ship, the units also had a galley type kitchen, probably too small for both milchig and fleishig, but with a reasonable amount of refrigeration.  Campgrounds provide the utilities for a price about half of what a hotel would cost for a night but I assume that the amenities of cooking, plumbing and TV would not be functional while in transit.

My monthly trips around the Mid-Atlantic would not be complete without two stops at regional wineries, this time Naylor and Allegro.  Both lie well off the beaten path, probably not reasonably accessible without the GPS that took me through some lovely country not far from the Maryland border.  This is farm country.  When I fly over the eastern half of Pennsylvania, I can see stripes of cultivation negotiating hills from above.  This time I saw the stripes up close.  I could not tell what is being grown so early in the season.  There were farm houses, one enclave of mansions which I presume were occupied by the senior brass of Harley-Davidson, the local dominant industry which did not offer Saturday tours in March, and little clusters of more typical housing where the local school teachers and business people who do not work the farms probably live.  I drove past York College which appeared a good deal larger than I expected.

The members of the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail got together to create an event.  In March for a fixed price, people could visit unlimited wineries every Saturday.  Both wineries had mostly participants in this project, each with their own special wine glass and ID tag.  I paid a la carte for my two tastings, both rather undistinguished but with pleasant and helpful servers.

Final stop before heading home, the Tanger Outlet Center in Lancaster where I could usually count on being able to find a discounted pair of shoes in my size.  To get there, the GPS directed me through more back roads, farmland of York County giving way to a mixture of suburban homes and road signs warning caution for horse an buggy as I crossed into Lancaster County.  This time I approached the shopping center from the back direction instead of the main highway.  I checked all the shoe stores for my size, a difficult one to find which is why I tend to buy what I can when I can.  Success at SAS, Rockport, Nike and Timberland, which had the best discount.  I really liked the last shoes that I got there so I purchased another pair of the same type in black to supplement the tan that I already had.  I thought about getting a leather brief case, even though I have one at home that I never use and an Eddie Bauer green canvas one that has served me well for many years.  There were a few at Wilson Leather and the Samsonite store that looked attractive, each discounted to about $120 but the Samsonite one looked bulky and I really did not need another one, as attractive as I found them.  And what would a visit there be without a stop at the Coach Outlet.  Many years ago I bought my wife a small muted red bag which she uses as her daily purse.  The only designation of Coach was a discrete leather tag appended to the strap.  Now the ladies seem to want to let everyone know their husband or boyfriend got them a Coach purse.  The leather ones now have a gold metallic logo attached to the bag itself with.  What's more garish are the cloth bags with leather trim that have a recognizable C in multiple squares all over the item, no doubt a result of corporate branding efforts.  And the store had no men's leather items at all.

Finally home, arriving about 13 hours after I had left.  I had driven about 200 miles on the trip odometer that I set at the beginning.  A warning light had come on to remind me that my Honda needs a change of oil in the next few weeks.  I still had half the soda bread to share with my wife, about one-third of the coffee I had gotten at Sweeney's before I departed and about half the coffee I had obtained at the Central Market.

York was a lovely town, bigger than I expected, hardly any litter on the streets, with nicely maintained town homes for about a mile radius from the Central area.  There were a lot of churches downtown, some quite impressive from the outside.  As I drove around the countryside, there were a fair number of churches scattered amid the farmland.  The people I encountered seemed to like having visitors.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Paperwork Days

Up early, partly due to insomnia, partly due to need to accomplish things like getting shabbos dinner into crock pot and finishing the fleishig dishes.  I'm not tired right now but will probably be before long.

My weekly morning free of office patients awaits me.  Last week I took all my papers:  day sheets with billing records, forms to renew medicines and the like and stuffed them all into my briefcase where they still sit.  I allot two hours each Friday morning to contact patients about their lab work.  And I am not going to the hospital this weekend unless there is a medical urgency so Sunday is also allocated to paper.  My DEA comes up for renewal.  My drivers license comes up for renewal, something the State of Delaware made non-trivial.  My bills are all up to date but I have a bunch of checks that may be mine from the old offices or may be the property of Mercy Philadelphia Hospital for people I saw there.  And taxes need to be organized, my father's estate has been procrastinated for two years.  I just do not particularly like sitting at my desk processing paper.  It is one of those things that needs doing but also needs overcoming excuses for not doing. This morning some, Sunday the rest, with shabbos for other things.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ready for Work

It's still early, my second cup of coffee dripping from the Mr. Coffee discounted Keurig brewer.  A Black Tiger Extra Bold K-Cup splashed with Cinnamon Dolce Cream International Delight creamer that has a longer refrigerator life than real milk.  My morning usually starts something like this.  The electric toothbrush has already done its work, other grooming and dressing for the pageant of the workplace will come shortly.

There is still about an hour before I actually have to turn on the ignition, put on KYW Newsradio 1060 to hear Traffic on the 2's so that I get to Mercy Philadelphia Hospital in advance of the first patient.  I sort of outline the day's tasks:

  1. Morning at the 52nd Street Satellite location
  2. Update the February Billing so I can submit it next week
  3. Assign a couple of consults to my Resident
  4. Maybe contact somebody from the Leonard Davis Institute about a Research Project
  5. See whoever comes into the office
  6. Round in the hospital
  7. The usual phone calls
  8. Maybe catch up on prescription faxes
Everything adds up.  There is stuff to do at home as well, particularly polishing this week's Torah reading project for which I left myself too little preparation time and decide how I want to spend my monthly outing the following weekend.  I used to plan all this every Sunday in my Franklin Planner but now that would be a hopeless task so I use some morning time to outline what I should be doing during each day.  Some interruption usually arises and my own dedication to schedule has never been faithful so what I intend in the morning rarely reaches completion by quitting time.  At least I start today reasonably rested, not irritated with anything or anybody, and generally ready if not enthused to tackle the various short term tasks and long term projects.