Sunday, October 27, 2013


Why have the mainstream Jewish organizations spiraled downward during my adult lifetime?  That's been my exploration while I put my own principal organizational attachment, the synagogue to which I pay an exorbitant fee to belong, on the back burner for the second half of this calendar year.  I've now read pretty much what I plan to read on this and take Ron Wolfson's advice to tell my story.  We each have our story.  For every patient encounter I start by soliciting theirs, either verbally of by review of records or more typically a combination.  If I am successful as a physician, the ability and the obligation to connect with those multitudes of tales has enabled that.

So I'll start with two vignettes, same theme but fifty years apart.  The first took place as a camper at Ramah in Wingdale,NY the first year it was opened.  The grand poobah's of Conservative Judaism put a lot of effort into this, creating a living Jewish environment, deluding themselves into thinking our evolving language capacity will enable reasonable facility with conversational Hebrew, all to attract their most promising students, the people that their crystal balls told them would propel Conservative Judaism into the next generation as a vibrant and enduring branch of American Jewish ideology.  At the conclusion of the summer, the head counselor assembled all the campers to offer his final charge to the departing crew.  Few remarks remain with me for half a century but he indicated that the dozen or so kids who got homesick or did not have a good enough time to tough it out and left early were not real Ramah caliber campers.  They were inferior in some way, not the leaders that the camp sought to develop.  Well, it turns out that I did not have an Ace time there either but toughed it out partly for lack  of a better alternative and not wanting my parents to experience financial loss.  But I made it clear to them and to my Rabbi who was very much attached to the Ramah program, that I would not be going back.  Most of our congregational children had a similar experience and similar response.  While they tried to negotiate with me the option of waiving the camp's rules and allowing my attendance at a site other than the one determined by my home town, I would want no part of chancing that type of summer again.  And of course the assumption was that there is something wrong with me for not appreciating what was offered to me, irrespective of my assessment of the actual experience.

We fast forward to the most recent High Holiday where I encountered the same thought process transposed to a different situation.  Again, amid attrition threatening existence, the treasurer appealed to the congregation for voluntary supplement to dues, including in his remarks that the people who remained were the worthy members.  Anyone who preferred something else or even nothing had to be less worthy in some way.  Not, let's become more adaptive but let's get more money so we can do more of the same for the people who really deserve it.

In between, there have been no shortage of similar messages.  How can you snub a communal leader?   I found the experience with him or her vile, that's how.  How can you not give to Federation's SuperSunday campaign?  Like the other 18% who decline, I had an adverse experience with the leadership or the funded agencies.  There must be something inferior about me if I walk away from irritating Aliyah Sound Bites and find the congregational leadership too inbred.  It takes a while but eventually this Leadership Development Cloning Experiment yields its results.  They are left with worthy loyalists who tell each other how wonderful they all are while the human chaff floats around someplace else in the Jewish environment, adding to its entropy.

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