Thursday, April 30, 2015

No Bar Mitzvah

Got to see Beth Tfiloh sans Bar Mitzvah for the first time in about eight visits.  No guest speaker either, just their shabbos morning as they assemble it.  Attendance was about 2/3 of what I have encountered before, which is still a lot of worshippers.  I am probably in the younger half, or maybe about the median in age.  I got there earlier than usual.  Like AKSE, attendance is relatively sparse at shacharit, so much so that the Assistant Rabbi was able to recognize me as an unfamiliar person sitting alone and come over to greet me shortly before he headed to the Bimah to chant a double portion flawlessly.  The Hazzan led both shacharit and musaf.  He has an engaging style, some chazzanut, some more lyrical.  No Torah interruptions, one of the premier attractions.  Simple but elegant DVar Torah from another Assistant Rabbi on Yom Ha-atzmaut.  Haftarah done well by a man celebrating his 70th birthday.  Some Yom Ha-atzmaut participation from their kids.  Younger kids came up with a flag, got their treat from Rabbi Wohlberg, then headed off.  The teens came up at the end, boys proceeding on the men's side of the mechitza, the girls on their side, then meeting in the middle as they ascended the Bimah together, performing two songs.  Simple Kiddush with middle eastern food to put into pita, noodle and potato kugels and a pastry table.  Then home.

I go partly as a spectator, partly as a participant in worship.  The experience probably is what it is for them, it enhances me, enough to justify the effort of getting there and back.  A good shabbos experience goes into memory storage.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

An Afternoon's Optimism

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Been under the weather for about a week, bronchitis or some other upper respiratory symptoms, enough to get me to the doctor.  In a recovery mode now.  When I planned my six months in December 2014 I put into the tasks a series of three museum visits in different cities.  I had been to the Landis Museum during the winter and decided to check out the University of Delaware Mineralogical Museum this weekend.  No inclination to attend shabbos services at my home congregation, not enough inclination to return me to Chabad, so I worshiped no place but kept the day as protected time, having breakfast, getting a latte, then a soda.  The museums open at noon so around then I headed off to U of D.

Even though I've been to the University many times, driving through most of it at one time or another and walking the length of Main Street where businesses interface with campus, I've never explored the classroom and residence portions.  It turns out that this weekend, the University set aside the day for accepted students and their parents to visit as they decide where to matriculate.  Parking rules suspended.  Everyone seemed so enthusiastic and helpful.  I parked near the Mineralogical Museum in the Geology Building which itself lied amid a science and engineering complex with the Student Union just a few buildings beyond that.  It was a small but pleasant display, samples of the stuff they tried to teach us with marginal success in 9th Grade NY Regents Earth Science.  Not sure who donated the several significant looking gold nuggets.  No diamwww.chabadde.comonds, rubies or sapphires, some relatively crude emeralds but mostly the stuff that constitutes the middle segments of Moh's hardness scale, yet specimens of natural beauty and crystal formation.

This did not take very long.  UD has three museums, one a photography exhibit on pre-civil rights African American experience and achievement, the other at the original College Hall a small painting and drawing exhibit, both small, both manned by very pleasant students who could answer a few questions about the display and seemed genuinely pleased that a visitor took enough interest to ask about it.

To get from the science complex to the building where I assume the deans hang out I had to traverse a good part of the campus, the college green hidden from traffic but with abundantly filled bicycle racks, a few students lolling on the green with a book, aware that finals could not be far off.  There were activities announced on bulletin boards, visiting prospective students on guided tours, scatting young ladies with blue Ask Me t-shirts.   It's a place where you can immerse yourself in the world's future, if only for about two hours.

But I did not take a comparable amount of time to worship that shabbos morning.  I don't know if any of the kids on campus did either.  What I can say, though, is that the future that I wandered through at the University would not be duplicated any shabbos morning at my synagogue or even Chabad.  Eventually these kids will have to fill in schedules and meet deadlines just like they do at my synagogue but doing these things is part of the process of their advancement.  For us, whether at shul or at work, filling the schedule has become the end point, devoid of any future growth.  At UD the museums reflect a small element of memory or knowledge.  Work at the hospital where residents expand their skills while patients recover also reflects a future.  Shul though, even on shabbos morning, is the museum.  People seem to have lost the ability to tell the difference.  Optimism seems much more limited in that environment.  But as long as optimism exists elsewhere, it can be captured elsewhere, as I experienced yesterday.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Being Interactive

Image result for rabbi discussionWent to Chabad again for second day Pesach.  The Rabbi greeted me in the corridor as I was entering.  He asked me about my Seder the night before, a small family gathering that took effort on my part.  I returned the question, learning that their community Seder was attended by seventy.  The number surprised me, since it did not include college students who have their own center on the University of Delaware campus and were off that week for spring break.  So the conversation moved to how he identified 70 people who might be in need of a Seder, mostly people who lived alone that he knew about and invited.  Now for a long time, I've wanted AKSE data organized to enable that sort of thing, looking at individuals to invite to participate, but there seems no incentive beyond calculating membership by household billing statements.  He assured me that in the computer age, what he did successfully to enable people to attend a traditional Seder was not that difficult but you have to want to think about people who you can serve for their benefit rather than yours, another lesson not quite grasped by medical organization either.

Worship proceeded.  After Torah reading, the Rabbi cited a misheberach for the sick.  Two of my electronic friends, both women, had undergone intricate surgery for potentially life threatening diseases.  They had provided me their names so I went to give it to the rabbi.  He stopped me, indicating that the prayer was for men, then signalled me back for their names when he gave the healing prayer for women.  After the service I asked him if when he visits the hospital he sees all the men on his list first, then backtracks to the women.  Of course not, he told me.  The separation of men and women in the prayer, which is done in all congregations but I had never seen divided before, was done out of respect for the women in his tradition.  It had to do with the grammar inherent in the prayer.  The prayer is recited in a generic masculine grammatical format.  Chabad believes the women are entitled to their prayer modified grammatically in a feminine format so it is repeated with a separate list but the prayer itself having wording targeted to the people on the list.  When he visits the sick, it is done geographically by hospital floor with backtracking if somebody is not available for the visit when he first stops by.  Not men first, then women.

If there is anything at AKSE that I think has disappeared, it is those discussions, the random moments of inquiry and exploration, those teaching moments that crop up every day in hospital rounds when you encounter something that engages your mind and use that opportunity to connect with somebody else's mind.  It keeps SERMO vibrant, a forum where a physician can post a comment, clinical, political, or some other element as life as a doctor, and dozens of others will pick up on the presentation and write back.  The AKSE kiddush experience of Nice Shirt, Nice Tie, Nice Kippah out of Dale Carnegie to neglect of what was said in the sermon and its implications or more substantive discussions of what is really a diminishing experience that is losing the diversity needed to keep it attractive poses a real future problem, not just an overlooked opportunity.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm 64?"  We'll find out.  First time I've been sick on my birthday, at least in recent memory.  Coming off what is now a five day illness, slight relapse this evening after two days of recovery.  Thought I'd treat myself to lunch but got sicker half way through.  Went to tea and knew within minutes that I would not be staying long.

Usually my birthday is a closely guarded secret, it does not invite FB greetings or appear on the master calendar at work.  It does in the synagogue monthly bulletin but that gets no serious traffic.  Usually a call from my kids and from my in-laws, a nice dinner which today I am too ill to eat properly.  Sometimes it falls on Pesach, sometimes not.  Usually a private milestone as it is this year.

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