Sunday, July 7, 2013

Silent Partners

I'm now on observer status at AKSE.  One of my friends at Kiddush asked if my wife who took over my main project there had reviewed the meeting she conducted with her and her husband to maintain it.  It never occurred to me that she should.  If I wanted to continue the project myself I would have.  AKSE Academy has been mostly a successful evening of learning but imprinted with my quirks.  It would be interesting to see how it gets assembled by an A-list of insiders who are fundamentally averse to controversy and ideological risk.  In any case, it is not my project and I am simply a potential consumer of whatever evening they assemble.  Moreover I was there myself that morning.  It is equally likely that either my wife or I will be there alone as it is we will be worshipping side by side at AKSE on a shabbos morning.  I find the Aliyah Sound Bites sufficiently irritating and the experience of being there largely sufficiently beneath my concept of what I might like my ideal shabbos morning to be like to make plans to be elsewhere about half the time.  My wife has less irritation but makes an effort once a month or so to seek out an setting more to her preference.  And we do not seem to be alone.

While taking attendance is something they do in Hebrew School or Grand Rounds but very few educational forums in-between, I looked around the sanctuary making a brief note more of who was not there than who was.  People who routinely came as a couple were nearly all above age 70.  Two former Presidents and the current President invariably come with their wives while a third former President may or may not come with his wife, though he only attends about half the time.  His wife holds one of the vice-presidential positions so she remains a participant though not a highly visible one.

Both our Gabbaim come alone.  Each has a wife highly devoted to Judaism and each has raised a most admirable collection of Jewish kids, yet each never appears in shul on a shabbos morning.  Our Ritual Chairman, the most accomplished Torah reader and sheliach tzibbur comes with his boys but almost never his wife.  Our most accomplished secular member comes alone, even on the High Holy Days.  I sat next to a woman with a physical disability.  It is something of a project to get to AKSE round trip but her husband enables this virtually every week.  Despite them having one of the most classical visibly Jewish homes I've ever visited, he serves as chauffeur rather than worshipper.  The man who I think is best qualified to be President almost never comes but his wife often does.  I cannot think of the last time they came together.  Our U of Delaware professor would come alone most of the time.  When his fiancee relocated to the area they sometimes came as a couple, sometimes he came alone.  I do not think she has come on a shabbos morning since their wedding.  And we have two more physicians, one an accomplished Torah reader, both with wives who have raised fine Jewish offspring and community ties outside the synagogue but almost no visibility at AKSE.

So that's the observation.  I have great confidence in its accuracy.  So now some speculation on why an unusually high number of people go stag.  First, I've never asked anybody.  It might be an important area of exploration for the Membership VP or the Rabbi, since knowing that the halves not present are nearly all individuals who have a measure of fondness for their Jewishness and have accomplishments beyond AKSE.  Most of their children went to Hebrew school there.  To say that they have not experienced worship at AKSE is probably not accurate either, as all attend on High Holy Days or particular shabbat events.  To say it derives from AKSE's gender policies has some merit, since the most striking absences are the wives of the Bimah stalwarts.  However there are enough men who don't accompany their wives to services to cast some question on this.  I also think the absent halves are not exactly voting with their feet on how the Rabbi conducts services, since these spouses were not highly present in the past either.  There are certainly no shortage of people whose presence has dwindled, myself among them.  Presumably a lot are in response to the current reality of what a shabbos morning is like relative to other alternatives for using those three hours but that does not explain half-couples on a chronic basis.

Since the people above age 70 tend to come as partners on shabbos morning, the spousal separation may be a reflection of how Judaism in general and the synagogue in particular has been evolving this past generation. Our baalebatim pretty much all came of age in the 1970's, products of Hillel for sure, USY and Ramah for some.  We had similar educations at the insipid United Synagogue Hebrew Schools of the 1960's which we imposed on our own kids when their turn came, along with the more rewarding experiences of camp or community involvement.  From my generation onward, Judaism became something of a menu that offered selections.  Husbands and wives eat a common meal in their kitchens and hopefully raise the children together.  But at the restaurant everyone selects pretty much what they like without any requirement that the partner have a similar preference.  If Aliyah Sound Bites irritate me enough, I can escape them and use those hours of my time in a more satisfying way, whether with a different shabbos morning experience of some way totally unrelated to shabbos morning.  While the Sages realized there was an element of Sodom when Mine is Mine and Yours is Yours [Pirke Avot 5:10], our time and how we use it is among our important possessions and does not always have to be shared.

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