Sunday, April 20, 2014


Somebody needed to say Kaddish and I have a male phenotype.  Seemed like a good match, particularly with a personal invitation asking me if I could attend, so I went to minyan for the transition of Yom Tov Pesach into chol hamoed.  Pesach can often leave me tired, between the preparation, lateness of Sedarim, and patient obligations during the daylight hours which can be considerable, though on yontiff I try to limit this activity to immediate patient care and maybe some scholarship that I might not otherwise accomplish, leaving the more marginal tasks of billing and charting for another time.  I had not eaten since the second Seder, other than some coffee with breakfast and a bissel more in a travel mug that I use for Pesach.  Mincha would take place at 7:30 which would leave a twenty minute break before Maariv and Havdalah.  Duriing that interlude, I wandered the hall which contained a copy of The Jewish Voice, the newsprint periodical of our Federation and its constituent agencies, which I read, or at least passed over the large print headlines, for the first time in several years.

Now, I've been on the Do Not Call list for nearly two decades, according to their own statistics leaving me among the 18% of those solicited who do not pledge a donation.  My tzedakah checks are many times greater than they were when I first walked away, but they are given directly to all sorts of agencies, about twelve a year with a note thanking the participants of each agency for their part of the Jewish mission of Tikkun Olam.  I am engaged in that, but very much put off by the Beautiful People who always seemed more interested in acquiring a share of my possessions than they were of generating a sense of purpose from my outlook on Judaism and the world.  It had a leadership of fundamentally decent people who failed part 2 of the University Honor Code.  Part 1: engage in proper conduct, pretty easy.  Part 2: Do not tolerate improper conduct, a little harder when you have to confront similarly protege Beautiful People engaging in misconduct and taking it upon themselves to sacrifice outliers in the name of Kehillah.  Not real hard to tell the phone solicitor to deactivate my phone number from her list, but in a polite way.  From the attrition that accrued, there were probably quite a lot of Me offshoots with similar adverse experience.

And for a while I was hostile, writing in my journal pages of actual experience.  But they never disconnected me from the mailing list to receive their newspaper every two weeks until a few years back when they decided to move to an online format.  The Voice would arrive before shabbos about twice a month.  I would read it selectively, mostly Obits and Nachas Nook where the other life cycle events would be announced.  Most of the time I new somebody named there.  But there was still a clear contempt for them who done me wrong or underperformed though their own herd mentality, though never publicly expressed.  Some things I would not read, generated mostly by my personal contempt for its author.  But each edition had the pages turned, shared with my wife, discussed minimally if at all, then placed in a bag for recycling.

For good reason, print gives way to words on screens, searchable formats which enable further exploration.  While I'm hardly a Luddite, having given up my slide rule and illegibly written paper medical charts with little protest, I'm still a sucker for the printed page.  My New England Journal comes every week in print and screen, but I read the print.  I wouldn't skip the Orthodox Union's Jewish Action and read the USCJ's CJ Voices, both in their print edition.  Most of the recipes I use to make special dinners still come from cookbooks.  But I'm engaged in medicine, cooking and Jewish ideas so I keep myself in the loop, which still means lying on the couch reading.  I'm not engaged in Federation, functioning quite well as an expatriate who has moved on to other variations of Kehillah and Mitzvot more in step with what I aspire to.

So here on a visible shelf in AKSE's hall, I encounter The Jewish Voice, not seen at all for a few years, which I open and glance at the large print.  No hostility or irritation this time.  Mostly indifference.  It had no emotional impact, not something that would induce me to resume participation nor anything that would resurrect adverse experience that I had long since escaped.  Articles of basically trivial people telling each other how wonderful they all are.  Synagogue advertising from congregations who had seen better days, soliciting those hungry for Kehillah to get out their checkbooks in anticipation of wonderful experiences that I did not really have when I was at those synagogues.  And Obits.  No emotional reaction one way or the other but a sense that what I was reading had a spin that misrepresented the reality that moved me along.  Indifference to what I was reading, which may bode less well than hostility.

indifference Indifference

Friday, April 18, 2014


While my usual comments analyze the vagaries of Jewish life or the world of a doctor paddling the medical streams, there are times for some political comments, which by their very nature are not always well received.  In the Facebook discourse, an old acquaintance with a very consistent left-leaning bent took offense to my backhand assessment of President Carter as an inducement to vote Republican, which I did for one of the very few times in 1980.  This individual no longer appeared on my news screen or chat presence over the next few days and disappeared from my friends list at about the same time.  A modern day expression of what I think much of organized Judaism has been doing for some time.  There are opinions that fit in and those that do not.  Hillel International hastily Unfriended some very bright, inquisitive students at Swarthmore College for a political position on Israeli foreign relations, even though neither Hillel or Swarthmore has any standing in creating Israeli foreign policy.  In my own era, not having a decent enough time at Ramah one summer to justify a return there next summer got me Unfriended by the our Rabbi where the view was there must be something amiss about me for what the Freudians would call a negative transeference reaction.  Ironically the Conservative organizations, for all the efforts that their dedicated honchos put into development, paid very dearly for this view of people as the insidious attrition figures over a generation would suggest.

Attempts to disconnect people, other than those who really mean you harm, has a way of backfiring.  Many a small USY clique reassembled at Hillel a few years later, with those external to the clique never really becoming part of Hillel in college and often not part of Judaism beyond college.  In a more contemporary expression, we have Facebook Friends, for me high school friends, most not particularly close at the time,  assembling decades later in a way that pays back a fundamentally good experience when no payback was ever anticipated or solicited.  Some have passions about their guns, which I find abhorrent.  Some would expand Romney's 47% to 100% Pirke Avot style with Mine is Yours and Yours is Mine--Am HaAretz [5:13].  Most have developed a passion for something.  It might be their work, or you might not be able to figure out what their work is.  It might be their memories of good times.  It might be their dogs.  Their enjoyment should be part of my enjoyment.  A real bond, formed on valid common ground, should be able to withstand the temptation of a click of the mouse on the Unfriend option.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No Shir HaShirim

My two monthly shabbatot for April at my home congregation include Shabbat Pesach, where I agreed to serve as ba-al shacharit.  It can be a long service, extended further by a very pretty but lengthy chanting of Song of Songs which many congregations do on that day.  The Torah portion is brief by shabbos standards so the morning has some reasonable though late conclusion while the Rabbi should have the saichel to keep his remarks brief to allow for this.  For AKSE, this event has been contentious, a dispute over whether women may chant part of it in public, complete with some activity that I would classify as dishonest on the part of some to get what they wanted on this issue and one in which my respect for the Rabbi as mara d'atra took a hit.  But it got read.  The string ends this year, in a way that probably illustrates AKSE's soft underbelly as well as any other happening in the last couple of years, though it would surprise me if any of the many Somebodies would care to address the fundamental weakness which has other expressions that infiltrate what will probably be the congregation's closing chapters.

It's easy to to identify the core business of my hospital, which is usually given pretty high priority.  We take care of patients.  The money and the loyalty ultimately derive from how well we do that, though at times it may seem that financial or process concerns dominate the management mindset, only to return to the core activity for which the medical center exists.  The core business of the synagogue, its central mission, may be more elusive.  It needs to be a Beit Tfilah, a Beit Knesset, a Beit Midrash.  It also needs to be self-perpetuating and highly dependent on volunteers, unlike the hospital that hires the people they need to fulfill the various tasks.

So how might Shir HaShirim or BINGO or Board Meeting or fundraiser fit the congregation's mission?  They really don't.  They are expressions of the mission, but not the mission itself.  The goal should be to create a kehillah of people dedicated to doing these things and acquiring the learning needed to advance one's participation in Judaism.  The sad reality is that virtually none of the current Bimah participants learned their skills at AKSE.  A few kids did, most now departed, but only one that I can think of who acquired a level of proficiency to that would make him a peer with the skilled people AKSE once imported but no longer does.  People did make the effort to run a BINGO program.  The Board, and in particular the officers, are highly inbred with the recessive genes that come with institutional incest.  If your mission is really to advance people Jewishly and create community while you do it, which is what I think I would put on a yellow pad if asked to outline why a synagogue exists, you need to put people in place with the skills and vision to do this.  There need to be mavens, salesmen, visionaries, explorers.  You need a few Marco Polo's who've been elsewhere who can disrupt the Not The AKSE way.  And you need a few people to look at outcome devoid of the emotional attachment to rationalize as OK what really is not OK.

So when will Shir HaShirim be chanted from AKSE's Bimah again?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Doing Shacharit

Back on bimah, having been ba-al shacharit for the first time in at least six months last month and accepting an invitation to repeat at shabbos Pesach.  I have divided opinions about this.  Our congregation has a desperate need to expand its participants in most everything from worship to governance to education.  People need to be challenged and people need to rise to the occasion, which at times they do, as in the BINGO effort z"l.  It is too easy to slouch into mediocrity. Needing to review the sounds of Hallel adds a needed dimension to the effort.

There are a number of portions with variable tunes, mainly Mimkomcha from the Kedusha and sim shalom from the end of the Amidah so I try to use one that has not been used in a while to perhaps add interest and keep my mind more agile.  Will attendance justify the effort?  I think the effort remains justified even in the absence of attendance.

This is the type of learning that can be expanded easily with the availability of cyberspace audio.  People just have to be assertive about taking advantage of what already exists.