Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shavuot Approaching

Nearing the completion of the Omer, a little rocky to remember the first week but accomplished, much easier since, even with recent travel where I took a small Omer card.  While the upward counting of the Omer implies an ascent to from Exodus to Torah, I think of Pesach as the crest of the calendar year with high grade ritual and Shavuot as a  denouement, a festival much less celebrated and largely devoid of imaging.  It coincides with Memorial Day this year, enabling me the days away from the office, though I will need to pass through the hospital at the midpoint.  It coincides by season with graduations, waning days of the public school calendar, planting the gardens, all which add to the seasonal elements of the Festival itself. I am one of the Torah readers for Bamidbar the day before.  Even Torah moves on to its next phase.

While the Yontiff has little formality, dairy meals pose a pleasurable challenge.  Not elaborate meals like Seder, no major restrictions of content or recipe, but something a little different just the same.  Sometimes new preparation, but more typically the blintzes and kugel and quiche.  Horn & Hardardt Macaroni and Cheese, one of my favorites this year.  I have apples so apple walnut pie.

Never got enthused about overnight studying the night before, would much rather rest up for the Festival.  But if any ritual has emerged in recent years it has been the rising popularity of people who are otherwise passive in their learning, partaking of whatever the Rabbi feeds them in his Aliyah Sound Bites, going out of their way at an inconvenient time to add to their Jewish knowledge.
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But still a few more days of Omer to go.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


An invitation from the local Jewish National Fund branch arrived in the mail inviting me to attend a breakfast with the Governor and an author on international politics.  From the planning committee composition, a bunch of local attorneys got together, arranged the event and in effect build a trough for the interested public to insert their snouts if they wished but were not really invited to be part of the event's creation or logistic.  They became consumers when with a little sensitivity they could have been participants.

So we have a leadership that originates with themselves to create a menu for the rest.  I could say the same of my shul's Nominating Committee which once again recycled its officers who will once again each proceed to the podium and tell those in attendance how wonderful they all are while I think there is not a whole lot of subtlety to its being a form of Peter Principle.  The trough will be built, the programs announced, nearly all recycled from the past just as the people are, and a mixture of invitations or pleas to partake will go out.
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And that is my summary of where institutional Judaism has allowed itself to be taken.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So, How'd We Do?

Image result for outcomeI was reading some stuff on congregational development, not that I am involved in it or that anyone at the AKSE Officer Recycling Center has a clue that they need to change direction.  You need goals first.  There is a literature on this from a number of sources.  USCJ runs a course for representatives of their member congregations, though I feel justifiably skeptical of their experts who have managed to steer the decline of their constituency fairly steadily for about a generation.  But at least they have a plan and a curriculum that anyone with access to cyberspace can read.  Nothing outlandish about it at all, except when you get to the end which fails to include any means of assessment by the congregational representatives of what succeeded and what did not.  I could say the same of their Framework for Excellence that their honcho's assembled to upgrade congregational education at a time we were trying to merge the AKSE Hebrew School with theirs.  Again, lots of things to engage in but no means of measuring outcome.  A decade into this, I'm underwhelmed by the Hebrew literacy of the congregational alumni, though the sample is rather small.

Ultimately there are metrics imposed on the organizations, things like dues collections from a declining membership that may or may not change with the strategic planning effort, how many Bar Mitzvahs the congregation sponsors and whether the kids are more proficient at worship or at their Mitzvah projects.  But I think it would be better if the assessment of success were decided in advance of the effort.  Baalebatim, though, do not seem to want to incur that risk.