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.

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