Our holiest day came and went. Kol Nidre was not particularly well attended. The sanctuary seemed more completely occupied the following day, keeping in mind that the portion devoted to seating has been reduced every few years. We were asked for money a lot. Mostly noble causes like keeping the synagogue solvent or supporting the infrastructure of Israel. The reason for buying Israel Bonds was a lot more obvious than the reason for keeping the synagogue solvent. One of the salient features that keeps AKSE different from Chabad is that AKSE has to adapt to its constituents while Chabad does not. Keeping it solvent for the sake of keeping it solvent without keeping it attractive and vibrant as a consequence of keeping it financially viable might be a hard sell. And there was a pitch for pet projects: AIPAC,CUFI, multicongregational Israeli trip which seems unduly expensive, parsha class. None of this really grabs me, though I do plan to study the parsha each week on yutorah.org, something I've not done in a few years. Maybe Israel has become the new Holocaust, a purpose for existence beaten into a cliche by Hebrew School or Rabbis who want to turn their congregations into Hebrew School. Of course it has its place, but so does the Parsha and so does the reality that CUFI while friendly to Israel also carries the banner of some very un-Jewish ideology that gets hidden, perhaps even a form of genevas da-as. But throughout the YK observance, somebody on the bimah was trying to sell us something. It all registered neutral, which is better than registering negative.
In my capacity as observer, there were some encouraging parts of the experience. People of great talent occupied those seats, most of them capable of doing a lot more to enhance the congregation than they currently do. Perhaps they would if anyone solicited their participation but for the most part nobody has. If there is any legacy to the outgoing President, who has really worked hard on the congregation's behalf, I think it is that he surrounded himself with a small group of insiders that he knew he could work at the expense of creating a grass roots. The role of committees has contracted, contrary to the advice of the consultant a few years back. Appointments for key initiatives comes from an ever contracting pool. The Nominating Committee has been thoroughly corrupted from a means of evaluating and expanding talent to a telephone squad for the President to decide who he wants to surround himself with. That form of thinking has some very negative consequences for an organization that has thrived on its openness, some of which seem to be playing out.
And finally, the break the fast presentation was superb. In addition to an outstanding display of food, they took advantage of a diminishing attendance to create a space with tables behind the sanctuary where people could help themselves to food and enjoy each other. The people really are capable of excellence but sometimes you have to insist that excellence be consistent in all activities.