Ran into a synagogue acquaintance at Shop-Rite this weekend, wanted to pose a question to him but we ran in different directions in our quests for nutrition and bargains so it did not materialize. I thought about telephoning my question to him later in the week, looked up his phone number and still might, but decided to save it until I see him on shabbos morning at Chabad, which will probably occur soon. This fellow does one critically important project for AKSE, almost entirely on his own, the relatively thankless job of arranging our High Holy Day proceedings, contacting large numbers of men to honor with Ark openings and making sure the Rabbi has an accurate list to announce from the Bimah. He does this exceptionally well and with an attention to detail that eludes most of the AKSE participants. During the year he will take his turn as haftarah chanter, maybe two or three times, and show up a handful of shabbatot beyond that, but for the most part he can be found at Chabad near his home on shabbos morning. At the moment I can only speculate why. Similar reaction to the experience of sitting in our sanctuary on Saturday morning? Being more absorbed into the Chabad community? Having meaningful things to do at Chabad that occur more than once a year? Just have to ask him.
In anticipation of his soon to be released series of essays on Continuing Education for Rabbis, Rabbi Hayim Herring has presented a series of You Tube interviews on the subject. One explores the difference between broadcast and social media. For a broadcast, you partake of what you are given but you are on your own to accept, reject or pursue what is given to you. Social media is more interactive, more personalized, as is blogging. My disappointing shabbos morning experience can be traced back about three years through my blog. In one respect it is what it is, a presentation to me of shabbos, take it or leave it. That's not very hard to deal with. I find it much more irritating to try to express what I encounter, its negative consequences which diminish community, only to have multiple layers of baalebatim never even acknowledge the comments. That is no more community than a bunch of fans watching the home team as an aggregate of individuals at a stadium, at least until they express themselves by booing as a group. Yes, shabbos morning at AKSE is less than it once was, it is less than it once was for cause, and those doing something else instead, myself among them, could be a kehillah in its own right if we had a way to interact other than disappearing into the woodwork as individuals.
There is also the illusion of community. Shabbos dinner and kiddush do not make a kehillah unless discourse occurs there. Being responsible for each other, being sensitive to each other, enabling talent to emerge without suppression, that creates community. By that definition, which I think is accurate, the grand American community may be in decline in parallel with AKSE's shabbos morning.
So what are my kehillot at the moment? Primarily work and Sermo. I'm a contributor to both. People tolerate my mind, people at both do not hold a grudge when that mind becomes an irritant. Nobody at work has invited me to dinner or any other social activity outside of work. I've only met a handful of the grand collection of fellow physicians on Sermo. Yet both are forms of pageantry that welcome whoever comes by, irrespective of what they think. Nobody gets marginalized at either. There are some basic rules of Derech Eretz, but not a lot of them, and nobody can say they are ignored because of what they think. That's a functional kehillah, one that I do not think the leadership of my congregation is really prepared to pursue. The Rabbi probably might if he understood it better. But for now, it seems the right circumstances to join my congregational amigo at Chabad for a while.