Thursday, June 21, 2018

Those Goofy CUFI'S

For a while the Rabbi had taken his seat among the Christian Right, most notably an organization called Christians United for Israel.  They would send emissaries to AKSE, our Rabbi would travel downstate to address them.  We both support Israel.  I like watching football on TV.  So did President Nixon.  We were not really allies.  I think you can find commonality in some form if you seek it out in most any pairing, some important as support for Israel, some relatively trivial like football.  These things express a value system but they are not the value system in themselves.  The real value system may be the agents that you choose to enable grander projects, some benevolent and some quite ugly.  CUFI in many ways is antithetical to the Judaism that I was taught in Hebrew School, Ramah, and what I have gleaned on my own many times over since then.

It's been a while since any of them sat in our sanctuary or chapel on a shabbos morning.  They get a comment of praise from the Rabbi when they come, as they should.  They made an effort to be with us, to share what commonality we might have, and in their perspective they think they are probably more of an ally than they really are.  And we have an obligation to welcome visitors and express Derech Eretz.  But there is also a reality, sometimes expressed and sometimes understood tacitly. 

Lenny Bruce used to do a shtick where he would list objects or concepts and label them Jewish or goyish.  Bagel-Jewish; ice hockey-goyish, etc.  AKSE-Jewish; CUFI-goyish.  They've not visited us in a while.  Wonder how many others have taken notice.  I do not miss them.

Image result for cufi

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tenured In

How would a university reach its potential if all faculty were tenured?  Careers last decades, new talent either would never arrive or be temporary.  Not good.  But that is what has become of my shul with some very negative consequences.

Being a democratic organization that has to vote as a congregation but has officers and a Board, a nominating committee arranges a slate and the congregants approve it at a pre-announced meeting.  Some years ago, the term limits for officers was repealed, though not for President.  Virtually the entire slate of VP's has remained unchanged since.  There is no incentive to move on so nobody takes on the role of President.  Last year the President took an extra year by default.  Since nobody is better than our President, the Nominating Committee apparently upgraded by selecting nobody.  Without the medical jokes of space occupying lesions, or whether these officers really have developed any expertise over their 10 years there or whether they have one's year's experience repeated 9 times, this does not bode well for the organization.  Talent depends on advancement, and I just do not see it here.

There are board appointments, mostly same old who have been around for decades, but with the officers tenured in, there really is no upward mobility for them, making it a dead end rubber stamp type of minimally contributory effort.  Four of the ten positions are vacant this year, three last year.  I do not know who the three person Nominating Committee of former Presidents asked but declined or who they excluded.  I must be on the C-list.  Ironically there are gatherings of the Congregation that bring out a lot of people, meetings related to the sale of the building, High Holy Days where somebody parcels out Ark openings to as many men as can be recruited.  There are lists of who donated money published each month in the newsletter.  I suspect that the Presidents just have a very restrictive inner circle, some tasks to do with some urgency to the omission of the important, not a lot of vision, and no incentive to tackle a real problem, which is what you end up with when you neglect to develop the people that you have and take the path of least resistance, reappointing the same slate year after year.  I wonder if anyone of the three Presidents actually went over an attendance list from a well attended meeting to get names, or whether they even looked at the High Holiday peticha participants to get more names, or the membership list.  Judging from the actually submitted slate, it is more likely that they depended on their own awareness, which would be the people they see in shul on shabbos.  That is a very small veneer of the potential talent, and the slate reflects that.   It is a very ominous sign that portends depletion if not addressed effectively.

Image result for tenured in

Sunday, June 3, 2018


Image result for departureOur congregational rolls have been having a net loss pretty much each year since my arrival twenty years back.  It is unlikely that I had anything to do with any of the megatrends of American Judaism, though I did move from the Conservative shul for cause and have not been as valuable to the larger Jewish community as my resources my have been were I treated better when I was there.  Those are trends that reflect on success and failure of the leadership class, which I am not.  Some are external forces that nobody really controls, deaths or nursing home transfers, retirements to Florida, new jobs in new locations.  We've had five these past few months, each with their own story and their own legacy while among us.

The first is a tragic relocation, a couple who dedicated themselves to our congregation as long-time officers, and more importantly, as parents whose children benefited from our shul to transfer their legacy to their next destination.  A protracted illness took its toll on the gentleman, leaving his widow with some decisions.  Her ties to the community were many but she also has observant children and now grandchildren about five hours away in a somewhat larger Jewish center.  Her decision to relocate near them seems most understandable.  While we are lesser for her absence, it seems more like a deserved retirement after an adult lifetime of effort.

The next two take a different track.  About once a quarter, I make an effort to attend shabbos morning at Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore, the yardstick of modern Orthodoxy that I would like my congregation to strive towards.  There are two Wilmington families that I see there. One is an elderly man who attended shabbos morning regularly.  I never knew his children.  His wife passed away.  Being less than fully independent, he move in with his son in Baltimore.  They attend Beth Tfiloh and I make a point of greeting them each shabbos.  We chat momentarily about our congregation and its progress or setbacks.  I'm not sure the senior fellow understands but his son has an appreciation of what his time there, many years ago, enabled for him today.  He attends shul.

The other Beth Tfiloh members are also AKSE alumni, among the most accomplished of the Hebrew school, modern Orthodox in their own right.  I ran into him at Kiddush recently, noting that I've not seen his folks in a while.  I assumed they retired and relocated, as they are my contemporaries and the big employer of the area divested itself of a lot of their scientists.  It turns out that after an adult lifetime at our shul, they defected to the USCJ affiliate.  Did not pursue why but asked him to give his parents our best wishes. 

The next two deplete our desperately scarce young people.  The member with most future promise worked as an Assistant Professor at the state university.  During his time with us he married and started a family.  He had dropped off the radar a while.  I knew he was up for tenure and trying to produce scholarly output which diverted him from other things, to say nothing of being the best dad he could to his infant son.  After not having seen him in a while, I asked about his family, underestimating the age of his son by about half.  Tenure did not come through and he would be departing to a major state university in the midwest, a household name during football season and a very respectable academic center.  It is not near a major city but as a mega university, there are enough Jewish faculty to maintain a congregation, one not that much smaller than ours.  They have acquired one of the Jewish gems, though at our expense.

Our final one took me by surprise, largely by its suddenness and mystery.  We have virtually no 40-somethings other than the Rabbi, and even he relocated his family to a more heavily Jewish area where there are functioning day schools.  But one fellow became ubiquitous.  He never missed a minyan or a shabbos.  When we served cholent at kiddush he made it.  When there was a gathering worthy of barbecue, he made the hot dogs and hamburgers.  After several years I never grasped what work he did or what brought him to our town.  He got his medical care at the VA so he was in the military, but he did not seem disabled.  He just seemed eager to do what he can for the congregation, driving our visiting cantor to catch his train after shabbos and parking his own Harley next to the Rabbi's space.  He would occasionally give the shabbos dvar Torah, always homespun with an Arkansas speech pattern, but always tied appropriately to the portion and enjoyable to listen to.  It came as a surprise yesterday when the Rabbi requested one of the men who would be coming for Havdalah take the Hazzan back to AMTRAK as his usual source of transportation relocated back to one of the Dixie states on short notice.  No advance notice, as he would have merited some type of recognition kiddush, just no longer here.  Our minyanim get less secure.  Other people can grill the food at the Annual meeting and the Hazzan will get home.

Some turnover is expected, some a puzzle, all a loss of varying degrees.  Unfortunately, the entering class has not materialized in a meaningful way for some time.