Sunday, August 4, 2013
Easiest Person? Right Person?
For all the frustrations of my work place, I like going there and doing the things I do there. At the other pole, as attached as I am to Judaism and eager to engage in print and cyberspace, I do not particularly like attending services or other activities at my synagogue. Having just completed a wonderful collection of essays assembled in an extraordinary book called Jewish Megatrends, I've had a chance to tease out the difference. The various contributors to Jewish Megatrends have a few common themes which seem highly adaptable. The purpose of the book is to adapt elements of formal Judaism and innovative Judaism to young people who are first coming of age but never acquired a connection to the organizations that the main author, Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, refers to as tribal. This has its analog in medicine, of course, where the AMA and the regional medical societies are struggling to maintain membership. I allowed my American College of Physicians membership to expire this month, partly due to a financial request far in excess of its value but more directed to decisions the leadership of the organization has taken to move it away from what first attracted me to it. No, shabbos morning services are increasingly an obligation on my part to be at least a nominal member of the community. I think if the treasurer finds that the dues check clears the bank, the people in charge take that as a vote that contentment reigns. While attendance lags, I find it hard to believe that the people who used to be there have made themselves Jewishly idle, any more than the people who no longer pay dues to the AMA no longer engage enthusiastically in medical care. I do and they do. As the authors of the different essays recognize, the difference distills down to finding a measure of meaning in the things we do. Rabbi Schwarz identifies four elements: wisdom, righteousness, community and sanctity or their Hebrew chochma, tzedek, kehillah, and kedusha.
When I go to work, I am expected to be knowledgeable, do the right think for patients and residents who depend upon my skill, be a good citizen of the hospital that invited me in, and add to the holiness that befits the Catholic medical centers that trained me and where I now work. And they do a pretty good job of keeping the people there focused on the organizational mission. Jewishly I am expected to be knowledgeable, do right by people, contribute to the advancement of Judaism, and be the kind of person whose presence promotes sanctity. The Judaism of cyberspace has enabled this, the Judaism that I have encountered organizationally does not give these four elements the same value. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to absorb people into the community and insist that the people present function at the upper level of their skill.
My synagogue's baalebatim decided some time ago to go in the direction of expediency. We had volunteer Torah readers. Low hanging fruit required giving the holiday reader his usual section. There has not been a new reader in some time. The Haftarah pool has atrophied without replacement. It is easier for a nominating committee to recycle officers than to groom new ones. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to assemble the right team. And it's pretty easy to renew the Rabbi's contract with only a few changes on dollar amounts or vacation, maybe placate a few pet peeves on either side, but not the more critical performance upgrades that bring the kehillah to a destination that one could honestly call upgraded. The easiest team and by inference easiest decisions will get you by, maybe even deliver you to the Promised Land of Judaic mediocrity. But it will be a very restrictive view of what Judaism can be. Those who might like something a little more engaging can figure out pretty quickly that you can't fight City Hall but you can move someplace else.
So Easy Person? Enough of them around to fill the slots on a schedule. Right Person? There are enough of them around too. Harder to tap into but these are the people who ultimately promote the logo of Embracing/Engaging/Enriching.