Monday, December 31, 2012

Year's Conclusion

While it is not entirely rational, the transition of one calendar year to another has become a traditional demarcation point, a time to reassess last year and think ahead.  Having aspired to nothing in particular last year, there is no real disappointment at having acquired nothing.  My health seems good, though I could do better at taking my medicines, shedding some weight and dedicating some exercise time.  My candidate, to whose campaign I became a small donor, prevailed among the voters, though I suppose my own life would not have been materially different had there been an opposite outcome.  My family members seem to be on track for what they aspire to.   I have enough money and and for the most part take satisfaction in the tasks that earn it.  Not on a quest for more of anything.  I have learned to take a measure of delight in my portion.  More of a calendar transition ahead than a personal one.  Never saw the Mummers live.  Maybe this time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Recovering from two desperately needed weeks of vacation, about half of it on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The whole place constitutes one of the wonders of nature and what people are capable of doing with it.  While the geology and geography intrigued me, so did the history.  These natives were isolated for centuries but they set up their own form of royalty and religion, making the public subservient to both.  They created litmus tests such as places of refuge to absolve their inhabitants of misconduct, irrespective of what the misconduct might have been.  Life and talent did not seem to have a very high intrinsic value nor did what we think of as rational assessments of theology and justice.  While it was a schlep for us to get there with modern jet service, whalers and coffee farmers and entrepreneurial ranchers managed to get there as a specific destination in the mid 19th century.  People limited to that environment of natural and social fragility must have acquired early in their lives the coping mechanism of IT IS WHAT IT IS.  Prospects for challenging either volcanoes, daily rainfall, or a social system that did not regard intellect highly were futile.

We do a little better than they did.  Short of libel, I can express pretty much what I want with little fear of serious adverse consequence.  My house keeps me sheltered in inclement weather.  We still have natural disasters best handled with insurance to mitigate risk.  With all that, there is still a place for IT IS WHAT IT IS.

While on vacation I exercised most days, ate breakfast all days except one while away, immersed myself in new experience from different microbrews to scenery that exists nowhere else.  I was not the slave of the clock, though there were a few time dependent items like scheduled tours or local events.  Eventually the days on the calendar move along, customary routines return and IT IS WHAT IT IS takes a different perspective, particularly in December as we transition to a new calendar year and I create my semi-annual list of projects that I might like to tackle in the ensuing months.  In the week since I departed the Big Island, I've not exercised at all, got up too late to enjoy my weekly large breakfast on Saturday, acclimated myself to the usual irritations of the lens of my new glasses popping out and the cell phone failing, taking with it some of my Hawaii photos.  IT IS WHAT IT IS  Not that there is any real barrier to exercise, breakfast, special coffee or microbrews.  But there are also obligations to show up at work, take the best care of the people entrusted to me that I can, grumble about the schedule the management put in place, attend services on shabbos morning most of the time, do the dishes, keep the clutter manageable.  Theoretically I could retire, could become secular, could hire a household organizer but then I would lose much of whatever accomplishment I have, unless I replace these things with other things that I'd like to do more.  But with my house paid for and my kids on the path that any parent would like them to be on IT IS WHAT IT IS seems a good place to be even if I might like some other things to be different than they are now.

This past week I received a Facebook message that a high school classmate who I did not know well but certainly remembered had been killed on the same Connecticut Highway that I used to drive along.  She drove responsibly only to be struck head on by another car driving the wrong way on the interstate.  I knew where she lived and that she was a pediatric nurse.  Knowing that some medical classmates had settled in the area, both radiologists, I checked to see if either of them were at the hospital where the ambulance transferred her.  It was not to be, but it did prompt me to do searches on a number of my classmates, now all with decades of medical experience.  We all come up on Google in some way as various rate a physician sites keep a list of all licensed practitioners, solicit patient feedback and try to sell that to consumers.  It has never reality caught on.  In addition, most hospitals have staff listings with physician pictures such that a search engine can not only find them but show the effect of thirty years on appearance.  Once I did these two I just kept going, looking for classmates who made a splash in med school and those more obscure.  Most just ended up on the rating sites and sometimes staff sites.  A few did exceptional things, a few roamed from place to place, a few got promoted either within their medical center or at a new one.  Some accomplished much in early to mid-career only to find that their bibliography's last entry was twenty years back.  Some went the other direction, working for a while, then getting an MBA or new fellowship.  My own search may be one of the few where people can make an assessment of me as a person.

I feel a little envious in a way of people who latched onto universities and NIH, advancing as they matured within their organizations.  I might have like to have done that but I also don't see anything on those searches about those classmates having family lives or acquiring prominence in the community.  IT IS WHAT IT IS  People will make their marks in their own way.  We are not all destined for the professional limelight.  "and all the stars that never were are parking cars and pumping gas."

Then again, IT AIN'T OVER TILL IT'S OVER either.  As the calendar year and my last set of semi-annual projects draw to a close, most did not get done but most got worked on intermittently.  Who is rich?  One who derives pleasure from his portion?  Avot 4:1  My friendships, blog followers, and professional aspirations may not have reached goal, and they may not have been destined to, but the effort generates its own measure of satisfaction.  I have the friends currently available, my blog has its share of hits, and a certain accomplishment accrues from my work, even if less than I hoped.  And there is another six months ahead to work some more on these things and a few new items.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Being more prosperous this year than in the past, I opted to increase the amount of my monthly Jewish donations by about a third each.  Prosperity comes at a price, meaning work, fatigue, and some lack of control over my schedule so as we approach the end of the calendar year, what used to be a monthly contribution to some worthy organization had atrophied to two checks written to unique institutions that are on my perennial list.  On returning from vacation, I took out my checkbook and some note cards sent to my by organizations that thought they might get a contribution in return and started began consolidating a very fulfilling project spread over the year into two days.

Of all my private accomplishments, restructuring my approach to Tzedakah gives me the most satisfaction.  My current mechanism now approaches nineteen years but its origins trace to my early days in Delaware, some thirty years, or half my life.  There is no question that Judaism requires generosity, sharing a portion of what is earned or even not earned, as the mandatory half-shekel per person was still required of the poorest among the population.  As an intern, I was subpoenaed to court as an expert witness by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for having taken care of a star witness in murder trial.  As a surprise, the court gave me a $25 check for my testimony, which I tried to give back since my hospital contract specified no outside income for my first year.  The chief recommended I have a nice dinner for my legal ordeal.  Instead I deposited the check and wrote another to the Hillel Foundation of St. Louis which now receives my single largest contribution each year.  Hakaras HaTov remains a core value as well.

While Jewish agencies do valuable work and the people who dedicate themselves to it merit a measure of credit, organizationally they often do not comport themselves in the best way, and for many probably should not have Jewish as the first word in their banner.  It did not take long for the local Federation to get my telephone number and ask for money.  The first solicitation was from a friend, perfectly dignified and honest.  When we spoke about amount, it was far in excess of what I was prepared to give so I offered what seemed more within my means.  He thanked me, did not bargain over amount, and I sent a check for my pledge.  The following year, a new Executive Director arrived, setting up a Young Leadership division to which my wife and I were invited.  It did not take more than a couple of orientation meetings and presentations to realize that the people were much more interested in my professional title and the income it would be expected to bring over time than they were in the intellect that brought it about or any ideas and talents of Judaism that my wife and I or anyone else in the program might possess.  And the machers there were the machers of my synagogue who before long would swoop down and run a Rabbi who I admired out of town.  As part of the program the participants were expected to man the telephones on SuperSunday, the day volunteers go to the phone banks and ask members of the community who are not prima fascie megadonors for their annual pledge.  As novices we were given a card with what they gave last year, a script to read that asked for considerably more than they gave last year, and how to bargain for something in the middle if they balked at the suggested amount.  I put the script aside, following instead the format of the friend who had solicited me the year before.  I knew these people would give something, usually about what they usually give.  I said thank you immediately and made no suggestion of amounts.  When another member of the program called me, the solicitor read from the script.  I found it just as offensive to hear as I would have expected from reading it, told him so and asked him to send me my pledge card, something the trainers said to make every effort to resist.

First impressions count and these guys did not endear themselves to me.  They separated husband and wife, asking each independently for pledges rather than as a family, even though finances are often bundled, including in the script why each has to give as an individual rather than a family if anyone being solicited desired a single family pledge.  As a physician, I got invited to non-kosher brunches with no kosher option at McMansions where en route the police track my car as one not belonging in that neighborhood.  Certificates were distributed to physicians whose only serious connection to Judaism was their income, though I suppose in a religion where one's actions take priority over what one thinks, their generosity is to be properly acknowledged irrespective of background or motivation.  So this remained my own forum for tzedakah, along with they synagogue for fourteen years.  I received a call each year, declined to pledge a specific amount over the phone but promised to send a check after I receive my pledge card which I did promptly.  Some took exception at not knowing the amount but I stood firm.  They can record it as zero if they really needed to know for planning purposes, then when the check arrives they will have a little extra.  While I did not particularly like this organization, its Executive Director became a personal friend from synagogue.  He meant well and eventually insisted that the solicitation be less of a shakedown of small donors.  The real money comes from the machers.  The good will of the public should not be jeopardized over attempts to get another $50 a year from people who already thought they were being fair to the community.  While I long since divested myself of Young Leadership, where attrition was expectedly high, and I often held the movers & shakers in private contempt, I also knew that social agencies needed support, there has to be an Jewish educational system in the community, there are many overseas needs in Israel and the former Soviet Union.  All these are best addressed as pooled funds which are then distributed by grants to individual agencies that carry out the actual work.  The people doing this were annoying but not evil. Over those fourteen years, as my income increased my pledge rose as well.  When my income declined as I went from staff physician to Endocrine Fellow to new solo practitioner, I kept the higher contribution.   But the loyalty never jelled.  Once an identifiable malignant Federation type accruing public honors arrived on the scene and affected me personally, the perspective would change forever.

There is an entry in my personal journal from October 1994 that I would not give to Federation in the future. Apparently by the Jewish Federations of North America analysis, the figure of those solicited who rebuff the solicitation is about 15% nationally.  At the time I was irate over adverse experience.  I shared my thoughts with my wife and we maintained a united front on this.  The pledge call came to my wife and I separately as scheduled in January, requested by a personal friend who I greatly admire.  We politely dropped out for cause, asked to be put on their Do Not Call list which did not happen for another year, declining to elaborate on why when asked so as not to attack a community leader.  The Executive Director, who attended our synagogue as well, came over to me one shabbos shortly thereafter acknowledging our desire to drop out, not challenging it in any way, though I suspect that acceptance would be different if our contribution had another zero or two appended to what we actually give.

So now I have a rather large sum of money to distribute as a religious obligation and no agent to do it for me.  I also have a somewhat hateful, contemptuous view of the Jewish leadership to dispel.  Like most things, it is less the bad apples themselves but the tolerance of the bad apples by the good oranges.  Much the reverse of Sodom which was destroyed not because of evil but because of the paucity of good.  But it was time to move on.  I took my annual pledge, added a little to it, and decided I would distribute one sixth of it every other month.  Included in each contribution would be a note of Jewish values explaining why I found that agency's projects an essential component of Jewish life.  My first contribution went to an organization called the Round Lake Camp.  They had taken out a small ad in the NY Times Magazine inviting Jewish campers who were felt unsuitable for the Ramahs and Galils of the Jewish world.  In a Jewish world that often regarded you as convenient or inconvenient instead of intrinsically important in one's own right, here was an agency that reached out to parents like us who found themselves rejected and isolated.  I sent them a check and a brief note.  They sent me a personal thanks penned to the IRS acknowledgement and later a video tape of their campers having a blast.  Two months later my secretary asked me to take a call from the president of the Jewish aging home.  He had received my note and appreciated the thanks that was conveyed to their staff and volunteers who get a lot more complaints than praise.  And so it went for most of the contributions and accompanying thank you notes.  Agencies big and small.  Camping, Family Service, disaster relief, education.  Since I have a local obligation before world obligations I left the Kutz Home and Family Services as annual constants, including some Biblical, Talmudic or liturgical reference as to why these projects are vital.  Later I added another constant, an organization called Footsteps that serve Haredi young people who wish to partake of other aspects of Hashem's social offerings.  These people through no fault of their own never got the education or earning skills that were made readily available to me.  They are often shunned by their own community when one of the core Judaic principles may be to accept people as you find them and help them develop in their own way.  I have been a permanent beneficiary of two Hillel Foundations that functioned by this principle.  Over the years, influenced by positive feedback from the agencies, my bimonthly donations became monthly donations scheduled on the 20th of each month just as I would pay any other periodic financial obligation.  Sometimes I was late but until this year, never had to bundle contributions to meet an IRS calendar benefit.

Since only three annual donations recur, this project over eighteen years has taken me to every imaginable activity that Jews do for each other and for the world.  Money is gathered to alleviate disasters.  There is an agency called American Jewish World Service that sends emissaries, my daughter among them, to volunteer for basic living development in poverty areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Israeli professors get Nobel Prizes for lifetime efforts.  The Universities that sponsor their work depend on Friends of Technion, Weizmann Institute et. al.  For the Israel Defense Forces to have a form of  USO, they also depend on American Friends.  We have Hillel Foundations and Chabad that allow people not yet absorbed into our culture to enter.  We have a history, a collective memory, that endures through its museums.  And we have members of our community, too bothersome for those who are destined to "make it" and therefore left extrinsic to it, who are served by people of special sensitivity who advocate on their behalf.   There is an extraordinary organization known now as JACS which serves the chemically dependent.  It was intended to be a synagogue branch of Alcoholics Anonymous but rejected by several congregations whose officers and clergy did not want shikkers in their building.  It's prime motivator, Rabbi Twerski, a chasid with a medical degree who is one of the world's pioneers of addiction therapy, has a series of books on self-help and non-medical Jewish thought published primarily by an organization called Artscroll, whose parent organization, the Mesorah Heritage Foundation, frequently gets one of my contributions for translating primary sacred sources so that English speakers can read them.  And there is even a place for some benevolent Tochacha.  From time to time I send a check directly to the Jewish Federations of North America with a brief note of why it goes there rather than to the local agency and a recommendation that they use the resentment that the machers often produce to provide other suitable outlets that keep the victims engaged after they vote with their checkbooks and feet.  There is no end to the good that can be found if you seek it out nor any way that the brief notes of thanks that each receives from me adequately compensates their efforts.  It does compensate me in a very large fashion.  My approach to what Judaism stands for has never been the same.

This year's list:  The Kutz Home, Jewish Family Service of Delaware, Footsteps, American Jewish University in Los Angeles,  Friends of the IDF, American Jewish Committee if I can find their street address which they have conspicuously omitted form their web site to mail the check, Chabad of DelawareAmerican Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel which sponsors Israeli physicians to receive training at American and Canadian Universities, American Friends of The Israel Museum, Masorti Foundation which promotes a Conservative Jewish presence and Jewish pluralism in Israel, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,  and the American Jewish World Service.  And outside the list comes two other substantial contributions:  The Mesorah Heritage Foundation based on its importance and the Hillel Foundation of St. Louis whose Rabbi  left a permanent imprint on what I should be aspiring towards.

Next year's list will undoubtedly differ but the principles will not.  With some effort I will be able to remedy the lapse in timeliness.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hanukkah in Hawaii

Once in a while I need some down time when I am no longer the doctor with the beeper.  To get away from it all I drilled a hole through a Dollar Store globe, using my home and the center of the earth as the two reference points.  Where the nail emerges on the other side is the farthest place from my home.  It is in the southern hemisphere in the Pacific.  We settled for Hawaii's Big Island as a suitable surrogate.  It's taken about half the week but I no longer feel compelled to help out at the hospital, as much as my work challenges me and creates a substantial fraction of my identity.

When we transferred from the airport to the hotel, my wife commented on a large Hanukkah menorah set up on the side of the road.  Yesterday while walking in search of breakfast and to get my bearings I got to see it up close.  Later in the day, again to get my bearings, I walked along the coastal road, a series of emporia where you can purchase genuine Kona coffee and T-shirts and any other imaginable tchotchke to bring home from the cruise, as the ships have a scheduled stop nearby.  Sitting amid the shops and restaurants was a unique one called Falafels.  It was marked Kosher.  Chabad has a presence on the Big Island.  I spoke for a while to the Sheliach who has been here a few months, trying to make a go of it with his brother.  The island's Jewish population peaks during Pesach, they get about 200 for Seder.  Shabbat services are not yet ready to materialize.  I doubt if they have a Torah but didn't ask.  Restaurants post their menus, either by custom or law, so I read through this one.  Simple Middle Eastern fare, shwarma and falafel at reasonable prices that cruise passengers would be willing to pay for lunch on a day trip before they return to the pre-paid gluttony of their vessel.

So with the help of the Rebbe z"l, Judaism has a presence most anywhere.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Congregational Achilles Heels

After a couple of years focused on the financial stability of the congregation, which is important, the poobah's decided it may be time to poll the congregants for their thoughts on arresting declining membership and participation.  It may sound grass roots but it's one more top-down transformation where people of an opinionated nature submit thoughts to a central authority without the invitation to comment themselves on the diversity of thoughts presented.  That will be done by AKSE's politbureau.  A giant trough will then be created to be filled with some form of slop into which members and I assume the non-paying public as well can immerse their snouts when they are hungry for Judaism, or at least need to be Embraced/Engaged/Enriched.  To be fair, much of the governance has been devoted to technique:  Bingo, branding, dinner dances.  Too little has been invested in the things that count more: the experience of sitting in the sanctuary, college level Jewish advancement, establishing a unique communal presence.  Maybe now it its time to recapture what has been neglected and pay real attention to the sources of attrition.  My comments unedited.  Submitted ones in orange, Kept to myself in green.

Irene brought home an announcement of a Congregational Meeting which will be taking place as we leave for vacation.  While the format that I read in the notice may not be the best one to accomplish what is intended, at least there is sensitivity to what a diverse constituency might think, something that has not often been conveyed well during my recent years at AKSE though was probably always there conceptually.  This being a forum for the opinionated analytical minds, I’ll take a rather large bite.

Being socialized into the world of medicine for a very long time, I tend to think in this context.  History and examination matter, then you choose solutions.  It always starts with background knowledge.  Yes, there is a background literature and publicly available resources on congregational growth, some very specific to orthodox synagogues, others more general to other synagogues and generic worship institutions.  While I am a long way from an expert on this, I’ve certainly encountered some of these assessments and real case success stories in The Forward and and even the Wall Street Journal.  The URJ and USCJ web sites have extensive offerings on congregational development and the USCJ even has its public announcements of Schechter Awards that go to member congregations for implementing these types of activities.  Given the importance of this, it would be my expectation that the Membership officials of AKSE not run their activities as an accounting exercise of who came and who went, but function in more professional way of exploring modes of membership enhancement, both in attracting people and keeping a better pulse on those already here to enhance satisfaction and retention.  And that means some effort to read, study and understand, ironically, the real underpinning of most things Jewish.

The indispensible theme of these, or at least those which I am familiar, is that the basic Orthodox congregational growth comes from attracting people who are not themselves Orthodox but appreciate things done well.  These are generally parents of young families, people who despised Hebrew school and got little out of it but took a liking to the Judaism of college.  They are indifferent to modes of worship but function at the upper tier of their professions and appreciate Judaism being presented to them at a level that stimulates thought and interactive study.  Aliyah Sound Bites don’t stand a chance in this population.  The development of loyalty amongst this population, which has an income capable of dues and a need to educate children either in day or congregational schools, seems to be entirely driven by the scholarly capacity and personable nature of the Rabbi.  And the growth can be quite dramatic, the place in Columbus being thoroughly revived and Rabbi Brander, who I often listen to expanding his Boca Congregation several fold over fourteen years before retuning to NY to become director of the Center for the Jewish Future.  Much of the effort requires meeting these people where they are, which is someplace other than the synagogue.  All these efforts and outcomes are publicly available for review with some basic computer and research skills.

With the recent election setting a new perspective, I am beginning to wonder if AKSE finds itself where it is for parallel reasons that Republicans find themselves where they are.  Republicans and AKSE have to divest a certain amount of baggage before a constituency not already in place will find the affiliation attractive.  AKSE has elephants in the room that either nobody talks about or that insiders rationalize while outsiders cast their votes elsewhere.  My last Board Term seemed like an endless array of A-List Beautiful people who were asked to do things and B-list people who were marginalized. The concept of the President thinking and expressing at a Board Meeting that the purpose of the Nominating Committee was to telephone the people the president appoints is a) offensive, b) not what my reading of the By-Laws infers, and c) creates the type of organizational incest that eventually expresses recessive genes.  It also perpetuates A-lists.  I have divested myself of all my committees because a recycle leadership caste checks boxes on agendas as a surrogate for innovation.  AKSE has created a recycling center for VP’s and Haftarah readers, much as the Republicans recycle their own platforms, incapable of understanding why a broader constituency rejects it.  Lying dormant is the ill-fated report of the original consultant whose comments and solutions were replete with suggestions for making governance and committees more responsive to a general public.  IMHO, AKSE did this to itself a while ago when it undid a bylaws provision that set term limits on officers.

The other obvious elephants are the female ones.  As I go to orthodox and observant conservative congregations in my periodic escapes and correspond with others of my mindset, it is obvious that female participation in classic orthodox Judaism is thriving nationally, but the places in which it is thriving have a clergy and lay leadership that understand that the red line of what women, converts, and non-Jews can do in their congregations within the bounds of Halacha is changing, as it always has.  The bias has been to expand participation and then see to it that the permitted expansion is in fact implemented.  Next year marks the Centennial of the Bais Yaacov movement around the world.  Sarah Schenirer who conceived of this in Cracow had a mixture of support and opposition, but once the Gerer rebbe gave his approval, he also used his resources to drive its success.  In my own time, in my native Monsey, the Gaon Reb Yaakov ruled that his women could teach at the afternoon non-Orthodox congregational schools that were growing around Rockland County at the time.  He set some limits but made sure that what he found acceptable was in fact implemented as best he could.  Josh Strulowitz, an orthodox Rav from a congregation in the San Francisco area made a very telling observation on this.  He was participating in a multiRabbi forum sponsored by the local JCC or Federation which was recorded.  In the Q&A session at the end, he was challenged about the role of women in his congregation.  He responded that Halacha indeed limits what his women are permitted to do ritually.  It limits virtually nothing else.  Worship in his congregation comprises about an hour a day, a little more on shabbos.  The rest of the time there is equality.  The women of his congregation are the best educated in the SF Community.  There is no squaw work in his shul where women who function professionally at the upper tier most of their lives have to settle for setting up Kiddush.  They teach, they govern, they command respect when they represent his congregation to the greater community.  None of this is the case at AKSE, where even women’s participation that the Rabbi permits languishes in the second tier.  If you want a Women’s Tefilah Group that brings Kavod to the congregation, you have to insist that it have parity to other services in its quality and you have to divest of contrivances like banning talesim on men and having men seated as spectators while women stand and worship.  That is the changing Red Line.  If having women read the prayer for the Government or do Kiddush is acceptable to the Rabbi, which he already indicated it is, then you need to have a mixture of men and women doing those things.  To do less leaves you with squaw work which any outsider will judge to be inferior, as would a fair number of insiders, myself among them.  And then there are people for whom even this is not good enough.  Rabbi Brander had an interesting comment about how he handled this.  He acknowledged the validity of what those women or their families wanted, helped them move along to their next destination if that was the right thing to do, but delivered them there with the best Jewish background that he could provide for them so that some of the light of the Boca Raton congregation was exported to the other place.  To do less leaves AKSE with the same baggage that the Republicans have, not only unacceptable policies but the justifiable image of insensitivity to what is most important to the other people.

While there is no shortage of what to address, and I’m confident that if enough people respond, many more significant opportunities to address the current situation will emerge, I remark on one more that I will call Dropped Balls.  To the Leadership’s credit, Bingo was thoroughly researched, risks assessed, an implementation champion identified and the project brought to successful fruition.  Cantor Search had a little bit more of an A-list participant feel to it, but candidates were identified and pursued in a diligent and successful way.  All sorts of other projects languish.  The ideas of the first consultant are as valid today as when they were submitted.  There was an Implementation Committee.  A decision was made to mentor younger members.  Despite its importance and good intent, it never happened.  Our gabbaim have their own A-list that they neither expand nor provide novices the time they need to grow into bimah participants.  Despite the congregation’s attempt to expand committee participation, it is always the more visible of a couple that gets invited, never the spouse.  I try to put teens on the Education Committee and I am dismissed out of hand by chairman and VP’s with some kind of lame rationalization that their homework will deteriorate as the excuse for why not.  While there is a sincere desire to have a broadly participatory congregation, the kind that not only succeeds from within but surreptitiously carries the enthusiasm to others, there is no means of accountability.  Over time your talent that could read Haftarah or design a great evening program, make a morning with Women’s Tefilah sparkle or even connect to other families LinkedIn style remains on the sidelines for either never having been asked or feeling like a member of the B-list when they are.  There are a lot of those dropped balls bouncing around AKSE’s hardwood.  You could upgrade the individual AKSE experience immensely without changing a single internal policy just by recognizing this form of systemic error and putting somebody in charge to create the checklists that fix it.

That concludes the comments about AKSE.  Not for formal presentation but some suggestions on gathering information in a better way.  When we teach medical students physical diagnosis, we start by bringing them to the bedside where they are instructed to look, observe but not touch or talk.  The observation of AKSE, looking only, is that attendance is down from where it was in many respects.  I only come about half the Shabbat mornings and not at all any other times.  I’ve not been to a Mens Club program or a class in ages.  At 10:00 AM on a Shabbat morning, there are virtually no women in the sanctuary and many less men than there used to be.  The Board has a fixed population but committees do not.  I am part of committee attrition as are others, mostly driven by some type of adverse experience, or the tacit message that the purpose of a committee is not to create but to process through.  There are people who have changed their allegiance.  There are people who have begun to look at synagogue membership as a consumer purchase that is overvalued.  The issue of the meeting, as I read the proposal brought home from the Board Meeting really has to do more with attrition than with individual policies passed along from the governance.  It is the financial consequence that catches attention of the Executive Board, though I assume participatory attrition would catch the attention of the clergy.  A much better way of assessing the problem would be to target comments from people who have reduced their activity in some significant way, which is generally for cause.  There is no shortage of people who used to be a more significant presence in the congregation than they are now.  It is unlikely that the Leadership has forgotten who they are.  Those are the people whose private candor is needed most and whose perspectives offer a much better prospect for change in direction than a random broadcast with feedback from those most energetic or articulate to provide it.

Wishing you well with this difficult but vital congregational analysis.

Richard M. Plotzker, MD
Mercy Philadelphia Hospital

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Approaching Vacation

Despite having nominally ample time for R&R, sometimes reality has me working more like a draft animal.  While it has been my custom for thirty years to assign one recreation time each calendar year, usually one week but for a long trip two, there have also been mini-excursions of 3-4 days incorporated into holiday weekends.  Those have disappeared for me in the absence of specialty coverage so I really only have the one stretch.  There was a time when I had to coordinate the time around my children's school and camp schedule but once they headed off to college the timing got more flexible, though not entirely arbitrary.  Thus I find myself on the verge of packing maybe about two months later than I should.  

I can tell when this time has gotten overdue by a certain irritability that emerges.  While my work challenges me and I think I remain attentive to patient care's difficulties, I often just want to get through what I am doing and move along to something else.  I come home exhausted, I arrive at work less exhausted and even a two day weekend fails to restore me by Monday.  Moreover, by December I look back at my semi-annual projects and see that most will not reach completion.

So I am now down to 1.5 office sessions until vacation.  I will wear a tie today and for shabbos morning.  Need to wrap gifts tonight:  Hanukkah for family, token for office staff.  Finish warm water wash tonight, setting aside what I might like to take with me as I remove it from the drier.  Finish my relicensure requirements before shabbos.  Then on vacation.