Friday, December 20, 2013


Shabbat morning at my shul had a record low attendance for a shabbat morning, about 30 in the sanctuary, all adults, about 24 men and 6 women.  Icy weather in the forecast but not until after usual concluding time.  No doubt some of the usual people on vacation, as we were, having saved as much vacation as their companies permit and therefore taking part of December away but entire swaths of the sanctuary appeared vacant.  The service itself seemed no different with the exception of a guest speaker, the Federation's new Israeli representative, a nice young man still struggling with English but providing a meaningful Dvar Torah just the same.

My wife being more figuratively under the weather, I went alone, situating myself in the Men's Section at the far corner which gave me a view of a very sparsely populated sanctuary.  It was a Torah reading as usual, not too long but extended by those irritating Aliyah Sound Bites for six of the portions.  Short haftarah done by a pillar of the congregation who struggled with it, though it is always for the congregation's benefit to have people pushing the limits of their skill with new projects.  And the sermon and the liturgy and the announcements and the kiddush.  Hard to tell why it took as long as it did.  If I were the mystery shopper, would I return?  Would I extend my monthly commitment to two shabbatot at AKSE a month to expand this experience?  No.  Could I change the experience in a meaningful way to enhance its attractiveness?  I don't think so.  For the most part, the service is the service.  It has its expectations which are largely fulfilled each week.  It's content becomes relatively static, as does the community which partakes of it.  There has to be something in place other than the liturgy that causes people to be in shul instead of the mall or watching their flat screen.  Events always bring out people who want to go to the event, whether it be a Bar Mitzvah, Aufruf or visiting scholar but too many events look contrived and devalue the people who would ordinarily come for worship in favor of transients.  Some come out of obligation, but it is hard to create obligation short of inviting people to do things while they are there.  I suppose make work projects like ushering or advance Aliyah invitations would boost attendance slightly and temporarily.  Expanding the cohort of proficient Torah readers, ba-alei tfiloh, or haftarah readers would create a more ongoing sense of obligation.  And there is the weekly Rabbi's remarks which by now are what they are.

But is attendance the best metric?  If you have ten men do you really need an eleventh?  There are really only two centerpieces that most congregations have.  One is High Holy Days that portend the reality of dues payments and financial stability.  The other is shabbat morning that makes two statements, one about the synagogue as an institution and the other about its membership.  Educational programs, social service projects, governance and schmoozing all bring a congregation its unique character but if the worship never materializes that synagogue's purpose will never be fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Away from Work

I've been on vacation for a week now.  Normally I would take a week plus the two days of the previous weekend.   A few days beyond that this time, as I've accumulated as much vacation time as I can carry along to subsequent years.  Work becomes something of an identity badge.  I am the hormone maven, the dabbler in medical science.  When I am vacationing, that identity gets set aside though not replaced with anything else.  In  that sense it becomes a very brief prelude to retirement.  I took along various potential amusements:  my art supplies, my good harmonica, my cheap harmonica that I've kept in the car indefinitely, but have not taken out any of them.  Some activity of a recreational nature has continued.  I like museums.  I like craft beers.  I enjoy visiting wineries and sampling new variants of coffee.  Wrote briefly in my journal though at one time that was prime early morning vacation activity.  Now it's been replaced by my daily morning Facebook note, more for my benefit than anyone else's.  But the pageant that is professional medical care has been very good to me making me hesitant to set it aside, even for a brief escape from it.

I know retirement will arrive, maybe at the date I chose, maybe sooner from other circumstances beyond my control.  I see retirement in the people riding the shuttle bus with me at Colonial Williamsburg.  They go on tours, they eat at restaurants, but they don't seem quite as immersed as people who have to ration their discretionary time.

Back at work next week, probably no farther along in planning for my leisure years than I was at my last birthday when I took the first real step in that direction.

I definitely need to focus on my health a little more meticulously and define my Me Space a little better, but also get back into a few activities that I've set aside.  Work on my semi-annual projects during the rest of my vacation time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Annual Donations

When I told the Federation solicitor to put me on their Do Not Call list for cause in 1995, it was not my intent to separate myself from the community, only to redefine what the community obligations entail.  In the ensuing years, until last year, each month I would write a check to a component of the Jewish communal labyrinth with a note of appreciation for the efforts of their staff and volunteers on the importance of the work that they do.  I would never fall seriously behind on the donations until last year when I procrastinated this task until the fall.  This year I find myself having given bupkis as we enter December, neglecting both my need to be supportive and my need to express hakaras ha-tov for the good work all these people do.  While it is mandatory that I share my good fortune to assist with beneficial projects and remain within the Jewish communal undertone, I'm also a little more separated as the Pew Research study suggests.  As my fondness for my synagogue experience becomes more marginal, it takes other components of Jewish connection with it.  I read books, I make a concerted effort to study Torah and write about Jewish subjects and the Jewish experience, but as I transition from participant to observer I seem less driven to make this communal network, more than 100 years in creation, live on in perpetuity.

That said, these twelve monthly contributions and notes of appreciation plus a little extra for WashU Hillel and Mesorah Heritage Foundation will be in the mail by shabbos.