Friday, September 14, 2012

A Dinner Dance

The clock ran out on my term on the AKSE board last July.  I deleted myself from the automated emails a couple of years ago.  As a consequence, I derive very little personally from exorbitant annual dues which could purchase a good deal of upper tier Jewish advancement for myself with plenty left over to donate on behalf of others.  About half the time I make an appearance shabbos morning, increasingly out of a sense of obligation to set time aside for worship and Torah more than a destination in its own right.  I strongly suspect I am not alone in this view, with many fragments of evidence to support this, though without the smoking gun to wave in front of the Rabbi and President, both of whom have valid agendas and work diligently to bring those plans about.  But if you follow the wrong map, you can never get to the desired place, irrespective of good intentions and yeoman's effort.

An email came my way announcing a Board intent to have a fundraising Dinner Dance next spring, soliciting suggestions for who would make the kind of honoree that the well-heeled of our congregation and elsewhere would come out in droves to offer a handshake and hear a speech of wisdom.  Ads would be sold to local businesses and other well-wishers, the way these events become financially profitable.  Despite my current affluence and willingness to share some of it for communal advancement, including my synagogue's, plunking down a large sum when much of it goes to underwrite my own transient entertainment runs against some very ingrained values ingrained from a time when that affluence was not there.  While I occasionally seek a measure of personal pleasure or respite, opulence has never been an attractive pursuit for me personally.  But lest I diverge too much, the purpose of the event is to raise needed funds and the mechanism has a prospect for doing that.

What is missing, though, is a destination for the funds that enable implementation of the newly minted Embracing/Engaging/Enriching logo.  That's the core business.  I've not found the experience of sitting there on shabbos morning any of those things.  I did not find my time as a Board Member any of those things.  Not only that, but there was virtually no discussion of implementation to bring those things about.

Success literature over centuries has taken two genres that have very little overlap.  One is an ethical one in which principles are established, goals are set based on the principles and a diligent effort is made to meet them.  That presupposes that the path being pursued is the correct one.  Much Biblical and Rabbinical literature approaches success that way as do many thinkers of more modern times from the Founding Fathers to Horatio Alger to the late Stephen Covey.  The other genre has to do with technique as dominant.  We can derive wealth or power or whatever else we might desire if we implement a technique that brings it about.  There are plenty of historical examples of this as well, from Machiavelli to Dale Carnegie and to certain forms of Islam.  Judaism never really takes a view that the ends justify the means.

What I saw as a Board member which sensitizes me to the little that comes my way now is an emphasis on those techniques.  It may be Bingo, Dinner Dance, A-lists, corruption of the intent of Nominating Committees, all of which have a legitimate defense were they purposeful in bringing about a more laudable Embracing/Engaging/Enriching ethos.  Unfortunately these techniques acquire a life of their own to the neglect of core business of bringing all participants from the level of Judaism they have on arrival to a loftier one from one Rosh Hashana to the next.  Discussions of that element never seem to happen.  People get left behind when these things are not addressed.  We see those people then assigning a financial value to the dues request and finding that their investment may be better realized in a different community.

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