Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Presidential Vacancy

Among the findings of the Pew Research report on American Judaism, there was a clear message that people regarded ideology more highly than the organizations that promote ideology.  Judaism has elements of religion and culture and ethnicity, all distributed in different proportions among the individuals who self-identify as Jewish.  As annoying as the institutions are, the civilization would collapse without them so there is a vested interest in keeping them afloat.  Everyone agrees that the decline occurred on some leader's watch and therefore more leadership is needed.  Not better leadership.  As the motto of the House of God attested, We're Not the Best but the Most.

When AKSE amended its bylaws a few years ago to eliminate term limits for all officers except President, I voted with the minority, predicting correctly they would take the path of least resistance and apply the Peter Principle to the executive function.  It's finally come home to roost with the Executive Committee functio0ning as a recycling center for willing people with functions of the officers taking the form of accounting of members or filling up schedules instead of the higher cognitive challenges of planning, creating better relations with congregants, making the sanctuary sparkle or more simply, making entry into the building for whatever purpose a form of K'doshah.  It's not happened.  Eventually the Bylaws mandated Presidential turnover takes effect and nobody from the executive board is really promotable.  While nearly all have been there five years, all have one year's experience repeated five times when they should have amassed five years experience.  And no takers at any level of talent or vision.

So if the Presidency remains vacant and the various VP's plod along in their usual way, will anyone be able to tell?  There are objective measures such as membership, attendance at events, maybe volume of programming if not its quality.  There are real intangibles, most importantly community reputation, which defies measurement but frames the attractiveness of the congregation as people shift from one place to another, or if the Pew study is accurate, pursue their own form of Jewish entropy.

While the Rabbi really cannot be burdened as CEO, and really is an entity separate from membership, he can be expected to promote Rabbi Schwarz' Megatrends suggestion that congregations need to create Chachma, Tzedek, Kehillah and K'doshah independent of how well or ineptly the governance supports those things, or even realizes what constitutes those things.  From a congregational standpoint, I've found the governance approach to congregational appeals for generosity from the constituents as more of solicitation that we owe AKSE more than AKSE has cemented relationships that merit special consideration.  And until that view changes at the leadership level, meaning a cadre of people with a different mode of thought doing the promotion, it will be very hard to reverse the rather predictable decline no matter who holds the title of President.

Friday, November 22, 2013


It's been a while since I was last the Wilmington Jewish Community Center.  Each year they hold a pre-Hanukkah exhibit with a popular Kosher cafe and commercial and organizational exhibits.  I usually purchase something like a kippah.  While I've not been there in about four years, I lost three staple kippot this past year so replacement provided an incentive to return, if only briefly.

While parking seemed at a premium, a childhood center building now occupied a previous parking area so the actual attendance probably lagged behind.  The sales floor, held on the basketball floor, seemed a mere shell of what I remembered.  None of the synagogue gift shops purchased sales tables as in years past.  Mr. Yosef from whom I purchased most of my stuff was gone.  The only table that had kippot for sale was from the day school, where the experience was so wretched that I've done my best to blot out their memory, sometimes regarding the people I encountered there as Amalekites from within.  While I arrived early, there were no crowds.  Chabad had a table, a camp had a table, the day school two, but most else were minor small craftsmen who made baubles with Jewish themes and probably traveled from exhibit to exhibit much like the Greek artisans attend Greek Festivals around the country to sell their creations.  I met a couple of people I know, engaged in a significant conversation with the Chabad representative about their Hebrew School but not with anyone else, and departed empty-handed on to my next destination for the morning.  I said hello to only two acquaintances, one a friend from shul, the other a local physician whose name I could not remember until later in the afternoon.  I did not venture toward the picture window overlooking the pool to see if the cars in the parking lot belonged to swimmers or into the gym to see if the parking crowd went there.  But for a signature event, there did not seem to be a lot of people present, especially on the basketball court which was once a bustling exhibit area.

For decades I maintained a membership, exercised in the gym on their rather good equipment, attended classes periodically, sent my children to their camp and to their after school care.  I never really looked upon membership as a consumer purchase, more as dues to keep the community viable. Utilization of the facilities would wax and wane from year to year, but I always had some personal or family driven attachment.  A few years ago, as my children were heading off to college, AKSE decided to raise a million dollar endowment for which we pledged $3000 to be paid over five years.  To come up with $600 painlessly, we judged the $750 JCC fee expendable as I rarely used the gym, went to the summer campus just a few times a year and the annual educational program petered out with the passing of its principal organizer.  Out of sight, of mind.  I never missed it.  In the meantime, they must have focused on serious fundraising as there is a new building for the childhood center, the main facility is named after a donor as is the health club and basketball court.  It's just the people that seem to be fewer, or at least that was my perception of a brief then and now, one that may not be accurate.  But then there is the Pew Research study whose results show more of the Jewish public remaining loyal to the core social tenets of religion but less committed to its institutional structure.  That is what I felt wandering around a large basketball court, once far more vibrant than I experienced it, yet not really impacted emotionally by its apparent depletion.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did Instead

This summer I gave some stuff up.  No Torah reading.  No Ba-al Tfiloh.  Agreed to two special occasion haftarot.  No committees. Ration shabbos morning at the synagogue to twice a month.  And for two weeks, I've not logged onto SERMO, the physicians' posting site.  I go to the hospital much less on Sundays than I used to, following the four consult rule of making the special trip if four new people need to be seen by mid-day Sunday.  That should leave me a lot of discretionary time but except for those Sundays it has really been the recapturing of odd moments rather than large blocks to pursue major projects.  Torah reading prep went mostly in half-hour sessions but it occurred in an organized way pretty much every day.  Haftarah, shorter times over a briefer span.  Ba-al Tfiloh hardly at all.  Committees occupy mostly one horrid evening two or three times a year, substantial time when it occurs, prime for replacement with specific projects but few enough of those times to enable transforming work.  Then more recently SERMO hiatus, extended for week.  Again, mostly odd moments more than sustained activity.

So what did I do instead with the odd moments or the brief but repetitive activities?  I really have not replaced them very well with the exception of the Torah practice which went to serious Jewish reading at nights.  More recently SERMO time diverted to other commentary, largely Jewish with posts on Jewish blogs similar in length and intricacy to what I would have put on a SERMO post.  I must say that SERMO has been a good deal more interactive, one of the strengths of SERMO.  Other doctors seem to function better as colleagues than do other Jews.  They certainly come across as more inquisitive and challenging.  I'll be back there next week.  While I could and should replace that shabbat time, I have not done that in a meaningful way.  There was a time when I would reserve one Saturday monthly for a day trip, taking me to places like Cape May or the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville or the Lehigh Valley.  I greatly enjoyed those trips but even though I now have at least one more shabbat a month devoted to my highest level of amusement, I've not taken advantage of it.  I do not use the computer on shabbos and for the most part have given up shopping but will go out to eat.  My platelet donation activity is perhaps slightly more frequent and I watch more TV but cannot say that I am either productive or restful most of the time.

It's an interesting self-reflection, as I thought I would do better than I really did.  So the future:  back on SERMO.  Restart my monthly day trips.  Set the four hours of weekend hospital work for either housework or writing.  Always have a Jewish book not quite read, as I started doing this week with Kohelet.  And maybe volunteer to do a meaningful AKSE project once a more compatible President takes over.

Monday, November 4, 2013


 Awake at approximately 3AM every night this week.  My internal clock must have some type of silent alarm.  I awaken slightly tired, too tired to begin my day for sure yet less tired than I will be at the intended sleep time a few hours hence despite my best non-chemical effort to return to sleep, which I usually do, if only briefly until the second arousal at about 6AM.  I try to be productive in a way, having read a NY Times article on insomnia that suggested just going along with what nature dictates.  So I have soothing sleep sounds of various types on my Nexus 7 and iPod devices.  I can listen to a shiur on or watch a video on Smithsonian channel, using one of the sets of ear buds kept next to the bed.  From the iPod I can listen to a symphony at any hour.  Sometimes I go downstairs and watch what is on.

I've never been so productive as to engage in things that have no time limit such as blogging or writing.  Even for the soothing sleep sounds I set a timer.  Eventually I return to snooze land, sometimes slightly more learned than the night before but usually not quite ready to pursue the days activities until the latest possible time.