Thursday, July 26, 2012

Approaching Tisha B'Av

This year Tisha B'Av coincides with Shabbat.  That delays the fast and the mourning rituals until the sun sets on Saturday night into Sunday.  As I did last year, I plan a private observance with my MP3 player instead of a more formal attendance at synagogue where Eicha is chanted, Kinot are read and men delay their t'fillin until the following day.  While non-observant Judaism has been on the decline, recognition of Tisha B'Av as an integral part of heritage has gained increasing recognition.  Just as constructing sukkot in the back yard or studying on shavuot night have captured a wider audience, so has some recognition of destruction.  Sinat Chinam and Avodah Zarah which brought the dire situation about probably continue as they always did and as I wonder if these enhanced observances reflect more on ethnicity than religiosity there is something to be said for setting aside one's daily amusement to engage in a measure of Judaism.

Tisha B'Av as a communal event never captured my personal interest.  There is something contrived about sitting on benches or the floor, the sincerity of belief that we bring about misfortune through our own misconduct has not been there for centuries.  We are victimized because the external forces are evil, not because we dissed the Rabbi or voted for Goldwater or refused to accept patients on Medicaid.

So when the sun sets on Shabbos, private electronic introspection commences.  Yeshiva University and the Orthodox Union offer podcasts of a quality that the local sanctuaries cannot duplicate.  I do not yet know what the subjects of the Rabbis will be but that is the destination for me again this year.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Survived my long Torah reading.  So did the other seven participants, all volunteers who capably got us through all parts of shabbat morning from Psuekei D'Zimrah to the concluding prayers.  I much prefer it that way as an individual experience, which is the usual occurrence of most Orthodox congregations and by default an increasing number of Conservative and Transdenominational ones whose declining revenues have caused them to eliminate the cantorial position.  To do this, we had to take out most of our A-team, which means this is not sustainable weekly.  My guess is that we could more than get by but actually thrive with only a Torah reader and a High Holiday cantor, as the capability exists within the congregation to conduct all other services.  We would need about a half dozen guys for shacharit, which we have, about four for Musaf, where we are cutting it a little close, maybe eight experienced Haftarah readers which we have.  In this day of Virtual Cantor, we could have an experienced person learn Tal and Geshem and pretty much anything else that occurs infrequently if given sufficient notice.

There are professional sports and there are pick-up games.  Both have their place.  Both generate different expectations from the people who attend.  Both have the capacity to engage the people who attend, though in different ways.  People watching the Phillies or the Olympics admire virtuosity.  People playing AKSE softball want the ball to come to them once in a while.

I do not have a good sense of what the occupants of the Berlin Chapel or Gewirtz Sanctuary expect of their experience on a shabbat morning and whether those expectations get fulfilled.  It would be hard to ascertain something like that accurately, though not impossible.  Good project for the Membership Committee or Ritual Committee, as it impacts on AKSE's most important weekly assembly.  My vote goes for grass roots.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bimah Me Up

With the departure of our Cantor and a relative paucity of liturgical talent amongst the regular participants, I agreed to take up some of the slots for when our hired part-time Cantor is unavailable.  Filling the schedule can be a thankless job.  The two current Gabaim have skills themselves so I assume each time they do something it is by default for not being able to secure a volunteer , or like many things it is often easier to do something yourself than to get somebody else to do it.

I did shacharit last shabbat and a long Torah reading next shabbat.   Each time I try to do something new though the effort probably goes unnoticed to the listeners.  At Kiddush I treat myself to a taste of schnapps each time I perform but that is the extent of reward and certainly not the motivation to challenge myself a little each time.  I am not sure what the motivation is.  Probably to help AKSE out when they need it and to do a part to keep it a place where people are inspired to do a little more Jewishly than they did before.

As the Rabbi does things to make it more of a Conservative shabbat worship experience with a mini-drash before each Aliyah which I think disrupts the cadence of the Torah reading and eliminates a few siddur items in the interest of boosting attendance by ending earlier, I think doing my part to make the experience more like a Hillel where participants from different places importing their own tunes and variations of trop becomes increasingly important to AKSE's shabbat morning experience.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Glorious Fourth

Getting a mid-week break does not come often.  The last few weeks I've been to Houston for the Endocrine Society's Annual Meeting.  I had a resident on elective who was finishing up and now inherited onhttp://www.endo-society.orge who is just beginning his final year.  My WebMD blog, Hormone Happenings, is in its infancy.  I have a long Torah reading to prepare and probably should add a new tune to my shabbat morning shacharit repertoire to accommodate the Rabbi's desire to have more variation of the liturgy and thereby create more interest.  Last weekend was allocated to down time, and shabbos was, with some light at home activity on Sunday.  The holiday as designated some relaxation and some productivity.  I got most of my clothing put away and paid the few office related bills that had accumulated.

As the day closes, I feel a little more rested, able to get on with the second half of the work week.  July also marks the beginning of my semiannual projects which take a measure of enthusiasm to pursue.  This time the list has twelve items, double the number that I usually carry.  All are doable, none have deadlines that either guarantee completion or will arrive even if not completed.  The synagogue is not on the list at all.  Work is on the list in a way that does not involve patient care.  My home environment, my finances, and my mind all need some real attention in the ensuing half year.  And it started with one small step today.