Friday, October 26, 2012

Senses of Autumn

Fall has arrived.  Elections soon, some uncertainty of outcome this time, at least nationally thought state and local races fairly predictable.  Have gotten used to school buses on the local streets.  I look at whether the Mizzou game will be on TV each weekend.  Made a half-hearted attempt to put summer clothing into plastic bags which can be reduced in size with a vacuum cleaner though the chill has not yet arrived for taking out anything warmer than a sports coat.  On a drive to Baltimore last weekend, multicolored leaves lined I-95.  The brews of Oktoberfest can be had by the twelve-pack at the Total Wine store.  This past weekend I started menu design for Thanksgiving weekend which includes the holiday, shabbat the next day and wife's birthday a few days beyond, all of which merit some special kitchen effort. The Holy Days have come and gone, setting the caricature of synagogue in storage for another year while the real experience of shabbat takes precedence.

In many ways fall has become work time, preparation for winter, ridding the garage of clutter so that the cars can be sheltered, raking leaves, for my kids studying for exams.  But there are opportunities for down time with some special sensations.  Every coffee place has its version of pumpkin spice and every brewer has some seasonal recipe not available the rest of the year.  Soon the clocks will revert to standard time, making it dark both on arising and returning home each day.

All five senses.  Sight of color.  Sounds of cheerleaders.  Touch of fleece in the gloves.  Aroma of leaves that the neighbors decided to incinerate.  And the taste of some Pumpkin Spice coffee made in the coffee press while waiting for the sun to rise.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shabbos Dinner

While we've not yet set the clocks back for return to Standard Time, shabbos usually commences before I arrive home.  As a consequence, dinner must be prepared early before work and reheatable, so I get up early each Friday morning to make it happen.  This may be my longest continuous personal tradition, going through a number of minor revisions over the years.  In college, there was a communal meal at U of Penn  Hillel.  In med school a very private but special meal, usually prepared at home but sometimes eaten out at a vegetarian restaurant within walking distance of my apartment.  I always had kiddish though not always challah.  As a resident and newlywed, I could not always get home on time or sometimes at home at all.  Other than that, shabbos dinner has been the family constant from the early days of marriage, through raising our kids to now.

The meal is usually simple:  mostly chicken though in my younger years we had beef more often than we do now.  Chicken has been compared by many professional chefs to a blank canvas that allows creativity.  Plain chicken breasts work well early in the morning but sometimes a whole chicken roasted the night before, butterflied whole chicken roasted in the morning or on sale chicken parts slow cooked in the crock pot adds variety.  There is almost always a starch, typically couscous from a box or rice or a baked white potato or sweet potato.  Occasionally some fancier form of kugel or latkes during Hanukkah adds a measure of festivity though at some added effort.  Usually some vegetable, which I try to make fresh but sometimes have to settle for frozen in the interest of time.  We used to have gefilte fish more than we do now.  Rarely have dessert.  Soda or beer to wash everything down.

The important element may be that it is different from the rest of the week.  Planned in advance. Prepared in advance.  Introduced by the ceremonies of kiddush and challah.  It becomes the intended point of separation that continues until the following night.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Work days can be long with many necessary tasks, some immediate, some not, filling the allotted time and spilling over most days.  Immediate stuff like patient care and phone calls get done faithfully.  Less urgent stuff like signing charts or billing eventually gets done, though not always in the timely way that it should.  And then there are things that I should do that lack negative consequences if I don't so too often I don't.  And amid this task clutter lurk things that I want to do so badly that I will assign specific time.

One of them approaches this shabbat, my periodic outing to worship at Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore, partaking of Rabbi Wohlberg's comments in person, though tend to keep up with the transcripts of his sermons on the web.  Something about being in that particular sanctuary engages me.  Part of it is my intellect but a substantial part transcends that.  They have separate seating for men and women with a discrete transparent mechitza which I accept readily, even though my own tradition is to sit with my family, to get something else in return.  What I get in return may be immersion with a few hundred other people who also want to be there when they could have been doing something else.  I get a sense of sitting among experts who chant well, reason well, and show sensitivity to women when others of that OU stripe are often callous.  Is it the friendliest place I have been?  No.  Do they have macher swoops as part of their governance?  Haven't a clue but I suspect that the Rabbi has sufficient authority and temperament to resist it if they did.  Yet a morning there captures the AKSE logo of Embracing/Engaging/Enriching more that most experiences that I have.

The week after, I have an appointment to donate platelets.  That is another destination for me, an experience that I will seek out.  While I function as an individual donor there, anonymous to the other donors and to the platelet recipients, being part of that project keeps me in a community even if I never interact with other members of the community.  Since breakfast is mandatory before donating, I have a large leisurely meal.  For two hours I have peace and quiet with the beeper turned off and nothing else to do but watch Create TV while whole blood flows from one antecubital vein into a machine, then returned minus a few components into the other arm.  Usually there are some perioral paresthesias from the calcium chelating agent causing me to have transient hypocalcemia which reminds me that I am doing something to benefit somebody else.  Eventually the session concludes, they offer me a souvenir which adds to my sense of community, and I have some Keurig coffee before proceeding to my next destination, which is usually an appropriate expression that this is part of my personal leisure time.

I agreed to do a long Torah portion Thanksgiving weekend.  While I do not generally regard a two hour block in my own sanctuary as particularly inspirational, the challenge of learning a new and difficult piece of Torah usually is.  It takes preparation which in itself forces a respite for a half-hour or so every night for a few weeks when TV or Facebook or other usual activities get set aside for this special activity.  In order to do this well, I also have to review what the portion is about, so I learn a little more Torah than I otherwise might as a byproduct of the effort.  And it is usually performed well in the end, so people who attend more out of obligation than desire derive some benefit with enhancement of their usual shabbat morning experience.

And finally I have my work.  Much of it is work but infused among the tasks are challenges and interactions with people who rise to the occasion, whether they be patients who return to the office better than they were, patients in the hospital whose lab work looks a lot better on day 3 than on arrival, residents who thought a problem through before seeking the answer from me, collaboration with other experts.  I do not often recognize this as inspirational while I am doing it, but on reflection it often is.

So amid much of the ordinary of the waking hours comes a few moments of mostly planned investment in time that generates psychic dollars of ample return.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dysfunctional Alliances

This shabbat we had visitors to AKSE, four Pastors somewhere in the Protestant spectrum, disciples in some way of a prominent megachurch minister Rev. John Hagee, who established an organization known as Christians United for Israel.  One of them spoke rather eloquently of what his organization has done to influence members of Congress on behalf of Israel and create a presence on campus that is needed to retort increasing anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric which has taken hold on many.  Which raises the question of whether all friends of Israel are good to have.  Some time back I outlined in my longest post the six contributions I made to AKSE's well-being.  Were there a seventh, it would be an effort on my part to rid the table at the sanctuary entrance of inflammatory literature, most notably a good deal of  "in your face" pamphlets from the Zionist Organization of America which I thought would send the wrong impression of what the dignified citizens of AKSE are like.

We approach a contentious presidential election where I am sometimes reminded that there really were guys who voted for George Wallace in 1968 who survive and vote to this day.  The republican candidate is probably a pretty decent fellow personally but his circumstances require him to throw some red meat to the surviving voters who have to repackage some very odious thinking in a form that people will not find threatening.  The butchers of that red meat seem to comprise the governing board of Christians United for Israel.  When they meet with members of Congress, most of whom vote on Israel's behalf most of the time without any prompting, I cannot but wonder how much of that panim el panim time goes to other parts of the agenda, many diverting far from any concept of Judaism that I might have.

While listening to a course on the Book of Isaiah this month, I learned that the most repeated mitzvah in Torah, mentioned 36 times, mandates the dignified treatment of Gerim, people who are not like us.  America may be the first place that implemented this idea effectively but it has some opposition.  The pastors and former government officials who occupy CUFI's Board are that opposition, spewing various forms of genevas da-as trying to get people to think that unemployment problems and some natural disasters result from public policies on abortion or gay rights.  That is not totally foreign to Jewish thought, by the way, with much of the prophetic literature assigning temple destruction or foreign invasions to systematized Jewish misconduct, whether that be avodah zarah, sinat chinam, or mistreatment of vulnerable people.  While the lessons of avoiding idol worship and treating people respectfully have become part of the culture, we have long since abandoned the theory that our woes are internally generated divine retribution.  Attempts at inquisition, pogroms, delegitimization of Israel and genocide really originate from evil external forces that we need to resist, with no preconceived notion that our conduct generated any of these things.

רבי שמעון אומר:
שלושה כתרים הם: כתר תורה וכתר כהונה וכתר מלכות. וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן.

"Rabbi Shimon said: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. And the crown of a good name is superior to them all (lit., 'goes up above them')."  Avot 4:13

This type of alliance jeopardizes a Shem Tov,  AKSE's for sure, Israel's perhaps.