Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clean Up

Don't know which poses a more formidable Pesach preparation, getting rid of unsuitable food and offering the refrigerator its annual scrubbing or divesting our many surfaces of paper which impedes that component of cleansing.  Paper everywhere, stuff everywhere, usable empty containers everywhere worth filling.  Clear plastic peanut jars have made ideal receptacles for my many pens.  Peanut butter jars are shorter and therefore less versatile.  Can put a few small things into the leftover prescription bottles, particularly the transparent amber ones that allow you see what they contain.  Corrugated boxes of various types are also potentially useful, but most would be better served in a recycling bin.  Pesach means decluttering, one of the lasting benefits of the Festival.  It separates me from being a true hoarder.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Pesach Prep

Pesach remains my favorite holiday, even though it requires the most effort, or perhaps because it requires the most effort.  While the origins are communal, the celebration comes across as more family, gathering for Seder at the beginning and reciting Yizkor at the end.  Refrigerator purges of the inedible that should have been done some time ago.  Even cleaning the car and cutting my scalp and facial hair in anticipation of unchallenged growth between Seder and Lag B'Omer.  Good Friday has been a day off from work so I make an elegant shabbos Pesach feast, usually with guests.  Menus are semi-creative, merging seamlessly with the more prescribed components of ritual.  It always offers me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of separation from the rest of the year.   It also requires a measure of restraint to keep from becoming a fanatic, to maintain perspective.  So preparation has started, two weeks in advance.  The kitchen counters have been sorted if not fullh harvested.  Some things like the two beer growlers can go downstairs today.  Fleishig goop purged from refrigerator and their containers have been washed.  Kitchen cart next.

Seder coincides with my Good Friday off so I will be preparing the food, some traditional, some new, some dependent on what might be on sale.  Have not bought new clothing, and probably won't. Shul plans uncertain, Yizkor probably at AKSE.  Maybe one of the other Yom Tovim too.  Usually do not have many of those irritating Torah interruptions on Yom Tovim.  Since it comes on a three day weekend workwise, I will also have to see patients, probably at the mid-point.

Menu in general:  Plate:

  1. ZRoah
  2. Maror
  3. Charoset
  4. Baytzah
  5. Carpas
  6. Chazeret
  7. Orange
Salt Water
Hard Boiled Eggs
Appetizer of some type
Home made chicken soup with Matzoh Balls
Salad of some type
Poultry, type depending on the price of turkey
Matzoh kugel
Cabbage with apples
Some type of dessert
Tea, Soda

Worth the effort
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Monday, March 9, 2015

When Shabbos is No Longer the Centerpiece

As a child, Mr. Zeisel, my Orthodox friend Howie's father took me aside one Rosh Hashana and suggested I return one shabbos to see what his synagogue is really like.  I did.  From then onward, more than half a century later, shabbos has been the centerpiece of my Jewish observance and the experience through which I judge the synagogue experience.  High Holy Days could be absolutely wretched, a performance in processing people through Judaism to subsidize fifty other weeks in which the Jewish pageant really plays out.  People go to the Beach Outlets to make themselves memorable for Rosh Hashana.  But there is a subset of us that have no need to feel memorable but to isolate some time each week to put away the studies and courses of college and medical school, seeing people as friends who share the college journey and not as competitors for the next professional destination.  After graduating, I no longer had the same people at my side all week, leaving shabbos as the time to reacquaint with people I missed during the work week.  Shabbos took on more of separation of time.  I attended shul because I wanted to attend shul.  There were the formalities of the worship, the type of ritual or formality that encourages a mixture of community and respect.  Torah got read, tunes chanted, kiddush made, sometimes lunch eaten, then off to a quiet afternoon, usually alone, sometimes with recreation not available to me at other times.  The shabbos morning destination only failed me once before, I relocated its venue, restoring it to what I had come to expect.

Unfortunately, it has been failing again.  I can assign blame if I want, and until recently that was what I wanted.  But not now.  It really isn't anybody's fault that I show up ever less frequently, rationing my shabbos mornings at my own congregation to twice monthly and now to when I have an invitation to do something useful to somebody else while I am there.  I'm not indifferent, I'm actively disappointed with the experience, would replace it once again if it were as easy as last time.  I have been going to AKSE out of my perception of obligation more than any desire to worship there on shabbos or renew acquaintances with anyone I've not seen in a week.  I sit and stand, stare into space, no desire to interact or challenge myself.  I've almost returned to Hebrew school when I am there.  Rabbi's vision of what he wants to impart to us and my vision of what I might like to receive just don't mesh.  I can protest but the baalebatim seem deaf to any opposition,  perceiving probably correctly that they have pretty much already lost as many members as they are likely to lose.  Yes, the concept of shabbos is the same everywhere, but I guess I am not the same everywhere.  There is salvage at Chabad and Beth Tfiloh but not really replacement of the experience that once made me an AKSE shabbos advocate and more eager participant than I have been in recent years.

Only a relatively small subset of our Board attends with any regularity on shabbos morning.  They pay dues, rather large sums at that, so there must be some attractions to survive when the shabbos experience implodes.  And there is that experience of Temple Square, where as a non-believer, I am formally excluded from entry into their building of worship, yet remain in awe of the parts to which I have access and in admiration of the people who enabled this.  Even within an American synagogue mindset, the baalebatim of fifty years ago probably appreciated that worship may not be their sustainable centerpiece, designing their buildings with sanctuaries that took up only a small amount of floor space, improvising for the few occasions when large crowds came for worship, but expanding the activities of the shul to be more of a club, a House of Assembly.  As worship deteriorates for me at AKSE, there are elements that seem to be going well when they have a champion to make it go well.  Kiddush and other food presentation have become more attractive.  Money seems to be handled in a more responsible way.  The Sisterhood events seem stable.  So maybe there are participatory surrogates to compensate for a deteriorating worship experience.  These can never be the centerpiece but they can you by, at least for a while.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chronicling Decline

Image result for declineSometimes our nevi'im were not appreciated.  In contemporary times we have a few people who can figure out in advance that Woolworth's is going to disappear if the people running it don't fix it.  Some even understand what it takes to make the survival revisions but ultimately there is a Keter Malchut that must either take some initiative at reversal or rationalize staying the course amid evidence that there are wiser paths.

Whether those nevi'im really cared if the history that they predicted could dodge the inevitable might be open to conjecture.  They probably would have like to live to see vulnerable people treated a little better, but in the absence of that happening, a certain amount of calamity might fall into the category of justice.  But taken over a very long time trajectory, declines and revivals and reassemblies have always been part of the landscape, as they no doubt are now.  In my own lifetime, I have witnessed some of that realignment with unparalleled public acceptance, opportunities for prosperity, solid religious and social institutions, some too secure for their own good.  My childhood congregation once sponsored two Bar Mitzvahs each shabbos through the school year with an educational system sufficient to provide basic literacy to every one of those boys.  The girls did not fare as well but in my lifetime, much of the access has either become equal with increasing sensitivity to the religious desires of the women even in those sects that maintain gender separation.  There are homes for seniors, recreational facilities, schools, synagogues, social service advocates, and a measure of public prosperity and responsibility to assure funding into the foreseeable future.  Yet there has been something of a less than a welcome experience for some, a few who I might go so far as to classify as victims of an entrenched leadership, people excluded for participation for one reason or another at the time they needed it the most.  Those people are not coming back.  Neither are the witnesses of heavy handed leadership.

To a very large extent the decline in formal Jewish institutions, for which I might be the Pew Study Poster Child, have a certain amount of Leadership Generated Attrition built into them. As these institutions mature and move from entrepreneurial to mature, the people who run them become less receptive to challenges and as I can personally attest from a very severe adverse experience some 20 years back, very insensitive to people that a person of title might actually victimize. I've not been to my own shul in 2015 because I find some of the experience distasteful and need of change but when I convey the thoughts I am not important enough to merit an email response from the baalebatim I've tried to contact. Now if the baalebatim are going to treat people in a way that would be conceptually foreign to me as a physician responsible for the entire cross section of the population, at least target me because I have ample compensatory options to replace adverse experience. To do that to vulnerable people, and diminishes what Judaism is about and probably deserve the institutional decline that many of these staid bastions of Judaism are trying to reverse now.

We also recite at the closing portion of our services, "al tikrah bawnayich ela bonayich" or read the word (which has no vowels) not as sons but as builders.  There is a value to at least being in the game, to the extent possible, advancing what you find in place on arrival.  I'm less convinced that we need to tilt at windmills, though.   We have an entire segment of Nevi'im who are studied today because they pointed out faults that were in there Sphere of Concern with adverse consequences also in their Sphere of Concern but not within their Sphere of Influence to correct. That belonged to the Keter Malchut, a little less to the Keter Torah of that era, and to those very baalebatim who Amos accused of selling vulnerable people down the river for a pair of shoes. We also have a tradition of making the needed corrections with a cycle of Tochacha-T'shuvah-Selicha-Mechila. Much like the baseball diamond, you cannot expect to get to home plate of mechilah without getting to first base of tochacha first. And you are more likely to get stranded on base than to score. But you still have to try, and it always starts with Tochacha. However, if you get stymied enough or abused like Jeremiah was in his process, you can expect people to take their gloves and checkbooks back to the car and head home. In that regard, I think there's been an abject Jewish leadership failure, much of it probably the way the generation before my tried to create leadership clones out of mine and writing off talent that resisted or judging people who posed an element of skepticism as threats rather than resources, or perhaps even worse, as inferior. I don't expect it to improve, I cannot honestly say that my knowledge and candor has been welcome by my baalebatim any more than Jeremiah's was at his. So like the observers of the past, I salvage my measure of Jewish satisfaction more as an astute chronicler than as a welcome participant. And there are a lot of us, enough to be be transforming.