Sexual Shenanigans

Some thoughts on all the sexual harassment / abuse / shenanigans that have been in the news of late:

  • This is not a partisan issue. What all of those accused have in common is that they are men, typically of a certain era.
  • There are levels of abuse being lumped together, from the off-color jokes or outside the clothes gestures on the least end to true sexual harassment and abuse (i.e., abuse of power relationship), improprieties with those underage, predatory activities, and activities after consent was not given. There are also ranges from one-time incidents where the behavior was an anomaly, to repeated patterns of behavior with multiple accusers.
  • The concern should be less with the one-time minor cases and more with repeated patterns of abuse that have continued over multiple years.
  • The response to the accusations is also significant: there is a different between recognizing wrong behavior and apologizing for it, between admitting the behavior and indicating you viewed it as acceptable, and denying the behavior. On the correct end of the spectrum is recognition, apology, and acceptance of the apology, without a continuing pattern. On the wrong end of the spectrum is denial in the face of multiple accusations with evidence of continued behavior.
  • All cases are worthy of investigation and appropriate action. Just as it is proper for the Senate to investigate Sen. Franken’s behavior from before he was elected Senator, they should equally investigate the claims regarding the President’s behavior before he was elected, and similar claims against other sitting officials and those nominated or running for office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Roy Moore. Remember: What these folks have in common is that they are men — this is not a partisan issue where this behavior is acceptable when it is done by your party, but not when done by their party.
  • There is a tension, as I have noted before, between our notions of justice and presumed innocence, and wanting to believe those who have come forward with the claims because they deserve to be heard. Complicating this is the fact that many of these incidents are ages old, with little to no evidence other than he said/she said. We are far too aware of induced memory (such as the McMartin Pre-School case) or people making false claims for various less-than-honorable reasons. This is where looking for a continuing pattern of behavior and claims is important, and consideration of the nature of the behavior. I’m willing to give more benefit-of-the-doubt in the one time, less critical cases, and believe the accuser more when there is a pattern that emerges of more problematic behavior. This is independent of politics.
  • For many of these cases, there must be the recognition that much of this problem is “a product of those times”. Men in the 50s, 60s, and above were raised in a less enlightened era. This may explain (but does not excuse) certain comments and jokes and attitudes, although those behaviors must not be occurring today. The past cannot be changed. However, it does not excuse abuse of power relationships, true harassment and abuse, or predatory behaviors. Those were wrong then, and they are wrong now.*
  • In many cases, this new attitude will expose people who were once respected, and who now are off their pedestal. Bill Cosby is probably the best example of this — it is unclear how one views his humor and records today. Does his behavior make his stories any less funny? There are similar questions for folks like Woody Allen. How does one separate the art from the behavior of the artist? There are similar questions in the area of politics. How does one separate the political results and achievements of a politician (for example, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., John Kennedy) from their behavior? The answers will not be easy. As historians note: history is complicated, probably because it comes from humans. The founders of this country were often products of their time and owned slaves. Does that make their results any less admirable? We must recognize these people as men with strengths and weaknesses, not heroes like Superman.

Related: Actually, It’s Franken’s Monster. (The Nib)

*: In other words, at some points in time certain behaviors were acceptable, such as Rosemary pursuing her boss in How To Succeed In Business…, but are no longer acceptable today. Others, such as abuse of power relationship, predatory behavior towards minors, use of drugs to make people cooperative, non-consensual behavior — have always been wrong. In general, for those behaviors that were once accepted, our problems should be from the point of time something has been judged to be wrong in society, and there has been education that the old norms no longer are. In short, as they say with Kindergarten: “The first time you do it, it’s not a mistake.”. The corollary is: “Once you have been told it is wrong and to stop doing it, do it again and your ass is grass.”

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Essay Prompts: Correlation is not Causation

Here’s an interesting fact: Humans are stupid. I don’t mean to imply we don’t have intelligence (although some who claim to have a high IQ, well, let’s just say they get elected to public office on other qualities). Rather, we put our trust in things we shouldn’t (and not just politicians). We are horrible at judging risk. We often see things that just are not there. We often believe the most ridiculous nonsense about cooking, such as fresh ground salt is better.  Worst of all, we often confuse correlation with causation.

  • Correlation: a mutual relationship or connection between two or more things
  • Causation: the relationship between cause and effect; causality.

Here are two examples of this confusion I’ve seen in my news feeds and on FB:

One fellow wrote about a friend of his that got a good report from the doctor in a followup visit, stating: “He’s definitely living proof that God answers prayers.” No, he isn’t. It is wonderful that the friend is doing better, but there is no causality here. You can pray to God or a Saint and get better, but that is not proof that God or the Saint was *why* you got better, no matter what the Pope says. There is no proven or provable, testable, repeatable method of showing that one action causes the other.

Another fellow wrote about high tax states, citing a article that he believed said that “high state taxes cause people to leave those states, making it very difficult to actually increase tax revenue, no matter how high their tax rates get.” Again, there’s no causality here. Yes people leave high tax states, but they leave low tax states as well, for many many reasons. Taxes may be a reason, but typically it isn’t the precipitating reason. And in the absence of clear evidence that whereever taxes are higher, people leave, this is just correlation. There are many high tax states where people don’t leave (witness property values in California) and high tax countries where people don’t leave. Further, “people” is far too nebulous a category, for all people are not the same. Are you talking those with wealth? Those on fixed incomes? Retirees? People in particular industries? The issue is just too nebulous to attribute to causality.

Always remember storks and babies. I had a statistics professor explain it this way: You may think there is a causality between storks and babies, because whereever there are more babies, there are more storks. But that’s a spurious correlation: there are more babies where there are more storks because there are more babies in big cities, and big cities often have zoos, which have more storks. No causality there.

Keep this in mind as you read your papers.

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Too Soon?

I’ve written about this concern before (I was going to use the word “touched”, but that brings up such wrong images): reading all the news about sexual harassment claims against this politician or that actor or this entertainment executive or that comedian, I’m beginning to worry about when we are crossing into McMartin Preschool territory. Those not familiar with the reference should read the link given.

Basically, the concern is distinguishing real claims from misremembered claims: for those cases where someone is accused of sexual harrassment or impropriety, and does not admit to the charge. Certainly, if the person admits to the charge, then the community response is appropriate (in addition to any permissible legal claims). If they don’t admit, however, before we rush to the closet to get out the tar and feathers, we should investigate the claims to make sure they are valid. I’m not attempting to say those making accusations are all liars — far from it. Most are likely valid and remembering something. But there will be some who will misremember (often out of media hysteria (another word we need to replace)), and a few who will making the claims for other purposes. Much as it might be in our nature to assume the worst — so easy and schadenfreude-ish to believe they did it — our country is based on law and evidence. If there is no acceptance of guilt, there should be corroboration to substantiate the claim. [ETA: This could include, by the way, clear patterns of behavior over many years against multiple parties. I’m more worried about the onsie-twosie cases, with no clear pattern or history of behavior.]

It is so easy to assume everyone is evil, but students of history can point to many time where accusations were made — and people’s lives irreparably harmed — when there was no basis for the accusation. We owe it to all involved to investigate the claim as if it were true, but be willing to not act on the claim if that investigate cannot confirm anything. Yes, this means that some guilty people will get away with their past behavior.  I think — I hope — that we would rather have that happen occasionally than to be putting innocent people in prison and destroying their careers. Further, the accusation will often increase scrutiny, reducing the likelihood of that behavior happening again (or if it does, it being caught with evidence).

(Note that for a number of these accusations, the public can choose to take actions on their own. If studios don’t choose to stop the release of a movie, just don’t go to it. Don’t vote for the person. Don’t buy products that make them money. The public does have some power.)

(ETA a later thought: And, if you are accused and you did do something: admit exactly what you did, and take the consequences. We teach our children that actions have consequences for a reason and they must tell the truth, and you set a bad example when you think you are above what your parents taught you).

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A Different Way of Redlining

A week and a half ago, I wrote a review of an excellent play we saw about Los Angeles and gentrification (there are just a few performance left – you should go). This play looked at one plot of land in Watts, a community in South LA, as it transitioned from Gabrielano-Tongva ownership to Mexican to American (as a white suburb), and then transitioned with the 2nd wave of black westward migration into a black community, and then was transformed into a Hispanic community, and then — because houses were cheap — becoming a gentrified White community where the former owners were priced out. This is a pattern that has happened time and time again in Los Angeles: Look at how immigrants are being pushed out of Boyle and Lincoln Heights, and just ask my daughter about the changes occurring in West Adams, where she used to live.

So I was very interested when a friend posted an article titled: “Los Angeles is quickly becoming a place exclusively for the white and rich“, exploring how the black population of the city has been rapidly declining. The first two paragraphs are key:

L.A.’s Black population has declined by 100,000 since the 1980s, falling from 13% of the County population to 8% in just a few decades. Hollywood alone saw the displacement of 13,000 Latinos between 2000 and 2010, pushed out by rising rents to make way for upscale redevelopment. These are just two of the most eye-popping figures that illustrate a larger point: Los Angeles is increasingly becoming solely accessible to the rich, and the rich are disproportionately white. (“Black and Mexican households have one cent for every dollar of wealth held by the average white household,” according to The Color of Wealth in Los Angeles.)

We are witnessing the rapid creation of a new geography of segregation and exclusion in Los Angeles, as areas seen as desirable are being purged of those who cannot afford the sky-high rents that inevitably follow.

Los Angeles has a very segregated past that many people don’t know about. Minorities were kept in particular areas through the process of red-lining, which limited the ability to get loans and insurance. This led to many of LA’s problems with the East Side and South LA. There was White Flight that made the valley (there were only certain communities, such as Arleta, for minorities), and there was significant impact — present to this very day — on the LA Unified School District. Then again, there are all the racial tensions that exist with the LA Police Department and the LA Sheriff’s Department (who can forget Rodney King and other incidents).

What this article pointed out was that a different, more insideous, type of redlining is now occurring. The high housing prices in Los Angeles are combining with the depressed wages that minorities often earn to price minorities out of area. Downtown, which was once affordably prices for poor artists and minorities, is becoming gentrified and pushing out those that could once afford the area. An article about these rising rents noted:

Parker isn’t the only artist who faces a tenuous future in the Arts District. Named for the artists who made the neighborhood a creative hub in the 1970s and ’80s, the Arts District could soon find itself with few actual artists living within its borders — no small irony given its name and the fact that Mayor Eric Garcetti likes to regularly tout Los Angeles as an “arts capital” in statements and speeches.

At 800 Traction Ave., a warehouse building that began life as a coffee and spice factory in 1918, residents have received a 60-day quit notice. Just beyond the southern fringes of the Arts District, the Santa Fe Art Colony is expected to start charging market rates after operating for 30 years under a contract with the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency as a low- and moderate-income housing site; that contract is now expiring.

Mind you, this is probably not isolated to Los Angeles. Think about what is happening at the National level with income inequality, and the segregation of the wealthy — the haves — from the have nots. What do most of the “haves” have in common, in addition to wealth. Now look, at the National level, at the groups many of these folks are aligning with. Who needs Jim Crow and segregation when you have money and power and advantage.

Perhaps now “taking a knee” becomes better understood. There is not equal opportunity. Here’s another quote from that first article:

And it must be made clear that this is not a neutral process of neighborhood change. The winners are the real estate investors and developers who make hefty profits, and the wealthier incomers who get to live out their idealized urban life. The losers are the poorer residents that already live there, especially the majority that rent. Those that are displaced become homeless or are forced to move far away from their jobs, families, and communities. Those who remain must deal with rising rents, increased racialized policing, and the trauma of watching their community change for the benefit of outsiders. The negative health effects from the displacement and financial strain that come with gentrification are well documented.

Now consider the impact of former downtown and south-central residents only finding affordable housing long commutes away, and the impact not only on family life and childrearing, but on the employers.

The problem is clear. What can we do about it? Simple: We must work to have affordable housing everyone, and strive for a truly integrated and diverse city. We must fight the us/them divide, and learn to see people as persons, not stereotypes.

In the play I saw — which I strongly recommend — we learned that our cultures are not so different. We care about family, we care about place, we have similar foods with different names. If we just get to know each other instead of using wealth and property to separate us, our city can be even greater.

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Trust and Government / Trust in Government

Earlier today, I did a post on Facebook about the increase in the California Gas Tax (i.e., the per-gallon tax at the pump), linking to the Caltrans website on SB1. In the post, I noted: ” For all my friends who are concerned about the gas tax increase that goes into effect today (12c a gallon — c’mon folks — that’s perhaps $3 a tank — the cost of a burger at McDonalds! — you can afford that for better roads — esp. at a tank a week), here’s a great explanation of where that money is going, and how it is restricted. In particular, take a look at the list of projects being supported.”

Some of the reaction I got took me by surprise.

I don’t want to go into the specifics of the gas tax. There was a bunch of debate on how it would be spent, but that’s not the subject I want to address here. Let me repeat that for those that can’t hear: This is not a post specifically about the gas tax. Got it? Good.

What really took me by surprise was the level of distrust of Government. There was a clear and strong opinion from a segment that believed that the government would mismanage any funds that it was given, and therefore we shouldn’t let them have any. This is a position I’ve heard time and again from Conservatives and Libertarians these days. It is one reason why I believe people supported Trump — he was campaigning against the untrustworthy government. Never mind that he was equally untrustworthy and … pay no attention to that man behind the curtain … but I digress.

Now, when I was growing up, it was us Liberals that didn’t trust the government. But that’s because they were lying to us, not mispending our money.

I don’t expect anyone to change their position on trusting government from this post. Everyone can point to numerous examples where government has misused our trust. That’s not hard. Further, any parent will tell you that once trust is lost, it is very very hard to earn back. It takes time — but with government, we don’t even give it the time.

Rather, what I would like people to take away from this is as follows:

  • What is the better alternative? In many cases, these functions can’t be done privately or by individuals. Privatizing the process has not worked. We need to work to make Government better and trustworthy, not blow it up or write it off.
  • Government funding is complex. Incredibly complex. There are different pots of funds that can only be spent for specific purposes. There are rules and regulations that end up costing immense amount of money, put in place because people misused and did untrustworthy things before (one need look no further than acquisition regulations). What might seem simple and sensical to us is impossible at the government level because of regulations — and then ends up looking like waste.
  • In some cases, government behaves the way it does for the same reason you manage your house the way you do. You budget for a certain amount of money to come in based on some rosy assumptions (“Sure, I’ll get that raise.”), and then they don’t. At your house, what do you do? You defer repairing the roof or the air conditioner so you can pay your food bill. In government, you take money from transportation repair so you can pay your prison guards and highway patrol officers. Remember: It’s complicated.

Our government may be vastly imperfect and incredibly frustrating. It may do things that you don’t like. But it is still much much better than some of the alternatives out there. However, for it to work, we need to trust in it and let it work, not actively campaign to tear it down or blow it up (which, I believe, were Steve Bannon’s words, not mine).

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A Very Fine Line

One of the reasons I’ve really grown to like the new Fox series The Orville is that it does what Star Trek did originally: tell stories that are commentaries on society and its foibles in the context of Science Fiction (which is something that, to my understanding, Star Trek: Discovery is not doing). Last week’s episode was a great example of that: a parallel Earth where laws were replaced by the Court of Public Opinion. If the public thinks you have committed an offense, you are down-voted. Get enough, and you get cleansed, unless you can reverse public opinion. Sound familiar today? But we are a society of laws, and people are not guilty by public opinion alone. We depend on facts.

What brings this to mind are all the sexual harassment claims coming out these days. The ends of the spectrum, of course, are clear. Is there any question regarding the Harvey Weinsteins, the Bill Cosbys, or the Donald Trumps? There are clear patterns occurring over many many years. Even with cases like Anthony Rapp and Kevin Spacey, clear patterns are emerging. At the other end are the clear good guys, who have always shown respect and listened to “no”.

But in the middle, where we do draw the line? When do we turn from a fact-based society and the court of law to the court of public opinion. There was an image going around Facebook of Pepe LePew grabbing the cat and the cat resisting, and the caption was: How do you think we taught this behavior? If we go back and look at the media from much of the 20th century, there is much behavior there that wouldn’t be acceptable today. If people were following the mores of the time, how can we judge them by today’s mores?

[I’ll note this is a deep question that goes beyond sexual issues: Do we judge the founders of this country differently because they legally owned slaves? The people of biblical days different because they stoned gays? We can look back and note the behavior would be judged differently today, but that’s hindsight. It’s wrong to us; it wasn’t wrong to them. Times change and values change and we move forward. Think about this: After the Civil War was over and slaves were freed, were the Plantation Owners criminally charged for their antebellum actions? Criminal charges are different than acknowledgement, reparations, and changing behavior from what you did in the past.]

What got me thinking about this was some recent items in the news that were single incidents, such as Jeremy Piven and Dustin Hoffman. For some of these, the public is reacting and taking action against someone even before charges are investigated, just because of the climate of the times — and even when the charge is denied. There is the assumption that the person making the charge is always truthful — wait, since we’re talking about past instances, is always remembering accurately. Remember, when we’re talking about incidents in the past, “truth” is relative. Memory can be faulty, especially in times of media frenzy.  Look no further than the McMartin Preschool case, where there ended up being no criminal charges. Further, there is often a clear difference between what one means by an action, and how that action is interpreted by another. Just ask anyone who is married :-).

At a computer security talk I once went to, a speaker hypothesized that the best attack against someone was to go to a conference room computer, load child porn onto it, and then delete it, and then make an accusation. After all, the offending pictures were there and deleted — there must be a coverup. When could these sex abuse claims cross that line?

I’m not saying I know the answer. I can’t draw a clear demarcation line, even if I would like to. I can clearly see the edges — the clear patterns of abuse over a long time, the clear patterns of no abuse at all. But for the onsie-twosie cases with no patterns, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to trot out the Court of Public Opinion, unless their is an admission. There are also concerns about incidents seemingly not at the level of patterns of abuse resulting in oversize reactions. Perhaps we should let the case go to the court systems to find out the real evidence, or figure out some way to make things more fact-based, and reactions more commensurate, to live up to our constitutional protection that one is innocent until proven guilty by some sufficient standard of evidence.

P.S.: I’m not sure we’re there yet anyway, when I watch TV and CBS is touting the Victoria Secret Fashion Show.

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Essay Prompts: Weekend Edition

As I read Facebook this breezy Saturday morning, I kept running into posts from my conservative friends that so, so, so made me want to respond. But were I to respond on their forums, I know what would happen: arguments, with no changing of minds. So instead, they become essay prompts on my forum:

 📖🖋️📖 Prompt #1: Privilege 📖🖋️📖

One friend of mine shared the following, ostensibly from “American News”:

“PRIVILEGE is what Stupid People call the CONSEQUENCE of other people WORKING HARDER and MAKING BETTER CHOICES than them” — Kurt Schlichter.

If you’re not familiar with Schlichter, he is a conservative columnist recruited by Breitbart, which says quite a bit.

So where do I start with this statement? First, I’ll note the “Stupid” part. There are so many of these memes that bully and call people names, and the folks posting them think it is funny. It’s a mindset that is just wrong in this day and age, but bullying is often perceived to be the answer if you can’t make a real argument and convince people with facts. In fact, following this post, this person posted another meme that said, “If you need an answer, just find yourself a drink, sit back, and post the wrong answer on Facebook. Some asshole will correct you.”. Well, I’m just that asshole — and remember that without your asshole, you’d be even fuller of ….

But I digress. Let’s get to this assertion that privilege is really just people working harder and making better choices? Is that true?

I did a quick search to find some examples of White Privilege and Male Privilege (as those are the usual privileges of concern). Let’s see if this statement is true.

The following is from “Everyday Feminism”: 10 Examples of White Privilege:

  1. I Have the Privilege of (Generally) Having a Positive Relationship with the Police. So, white people being treated differently than black people by law enforcement. Walking through an affluent neighborhood: the scruffy black guy gets harassed more than the white guy. The whole “driving while black”. The whole issue of who goes to jail more, and who gets guns drawn at them more, and who get longer sentences. Is this just that the white folks worked harder and made better choices? Nah. Not when there are instances of well educated black people being hassled, and poor white folks being ignored. Working harder and making choices doesn’t help.
  2. I Have the Privilege of Being Favored by School Authorities. Here minority students are more likely to get suspended for offenses that for white students get a warning. Islamic students bringing in science projects that are viewed as terrorism; the same project from white folks getting a pass. Is that “working harder and making better choices”. Things being equal? Nope.
  3. I Have the Privilege of Attending Segregated Schools of Affluence. This is a lot of economic privilege, which could be viewed as parents making better choices — or growing up in an environment where white folks get better jobs and higher paying jobs. But certainly white segregated schools have greater resources than black segregated school. That’s not the product of the students working harder or making better choices.
  4. I Have the Privilege of Learning about My Race in School. History courses in America typically teach the White Christian view of history. Except for perhaps one week, the contributions of minorities are not discussed. How is what we teach an example of working harder and making better choices?
  5. I Have the Privilege of Finding Children’s Books that Overwhelmingly Represent My Race. Take a look at school books and much of popular literature. What is the color of the people in the stories? Look at our media, and the complexion of broadcast TV? How is this an example of working harder and making better choices?
  6. I Have the Privilege of Soaking in Media Blatantly Biased Toward My Race. I addressed this in the last item, but our media is predominately white. There is nothing about working harder and making better choices here. Even if you were to somehow argue that for news anchors, it doesn’t explain why scripted drama doesn’t reflect the complexion of the country. Further, think about this: look at the crime drama you see. What is the typical complexion of the criminal, and what is the complexion of law enforcement? Working harder and making better choices?
  7. I Have the Privilege of Escaping Violent Stereotypes Associated with My Race. Simple question: What makes you more nervous? A black guy with a visible gun or a white guy with a visible gun? How is your reaction “working harder and making better choices”? Same thing for the middle eastern guy buying the fertilizer and nails at the hardware store, vs. the white guy buying the same.
  8. I Have the Privilege of Playing the Colorblind Card, Wiping the Slate Clean of Centuries of Racism. This is attempting to ignore racism by not seeing color. In fact, the statement we’re examining is an attempt to be colorblind — to argue the issue isn’t racism, but something else. How is the ability to attempt to do that “working harder and making better choices”?
  9. I Have the Privilege of Being Insulated from the Daily Toll of Racism. Every day, minorities suffer little indignities: the nervous look, the lower pay, and so forth. How is that “working harder and making better choices”?
  10. I Have the Privilege of Living Ignorant of the Dire State of Racism Today. As a white person, you can easily go through your life not worrying about being hassled by law enforcement, confident that you can get in a door for an interview, that you’ll have the ability to get a loan and go to a college of your choice. All this because you’re the majority skin color, not because you work harder or make better choices.

When we look at male privilege, we can easily see differences. How does “working harder and make better choices” influence the fact that it costs more to dry-clean a woman’s shirt than a man’s shirt. That a woman doing the same job with the same education gets paid less. That opinions from a woman of equal training and knowledge to a man get discounted?

Privilege is not the result of working harder and making better choices. Privilege is having an easier life for no reason other than your pigment or gender.

 📖🖋️📖 Prompt #2: Racism 📖🖋️📖 

In the last day or two, I saw two statements that invoked the same reaction. Both were in response to pictures of the congresswoman who had been with the war widow when the President called. One shared a quote from @RealJamesWoods that said: “When #Democrats start wheeling out clowns dressed as saloon hookers, they are trying desperately to swerve away from the news.” The other said “How anyone takes seriously a person wearing a plastic cowboy hat is beyond me…”

As Steve Martin once said, “Excuuuuse me.”

Since when did we start judging the value of a person based on what they look like or what they are wearing?

Isn’t that just racism dressed up? Isn’t that just sexism? I judge Donald Trump not because of his ill fitting suits, how he looks on the golf course, his odd hair, or his ill-fitting tie. I judge him based on what he says or does.

Disagree with this congresswomen based on what she said, fine (even though her story has been verified). But don’t go down the path of discounting her because she wears a silly hat. Hell, you’d need to write off most of Texas if you were going to do that.

 

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What Makes a Congregation?

What makes a congregation? Is it the people in the community, and their relationships to one another? Is it the leader of the community, and his or her relationship to the people in the community?

Here’s why I’m asking. As background: Our congregation has had a bad fiscal year. Budget spreadsheet errors and other factors led to a greater than expected deficit (hint, Mr. President, budgets with large deficits are not a good idea, but I digress). At the same time the process was continuing of finally getting  the people side of the house in order: ensuring contracts were reviewed regularly, and getting processes in place for regular employee performance reviews and assessments. Two years ago as this process was gearing up the Cantor’s contract came up for review, and the decision was made by the board not to renew it. That upset some in the congregation (although the Cantor herself bounced back and found a job at another congregation in the area — together with our Cantor Emerita, I might add).

Yesterday, we received a letter from the President of our congregation. In it, it said: “… the Board of Trustees of [the congregation] has decided we need a new voice from the Bima and will begin the process to select a new Senior Rabbi effective immediately. Rabbi [name]’s contributions to [the congregation] over these many years have helped to make our congregation what it is today and his work will be honored and appreciated long into our future. We will be honoring Rabbi [name]’s service to the congregation at a later date and more information will be available as soon as possible.” (I’m intentionally keeping the congregation and rabbi’s name out of it, to focus the discussion on the broader question).

I wasn’t on the Board for this decision (although I was two years ago when then Cantor’s contract and performance were reviewed). I do know that the Rabbi’s contract was up for renewal this year and that the performance review process was now in place, and that if one is not renewing a contract, it must be announced by November to allow the timing of the search processes to work.  I am well aware that the Board cannot legally state the reasons behind their decision: this is covered by labor law and is there to protect the privacy of the employee.†  For those who understand Judaism, it is also covered by Jewish law on gossip. Much as the Congregation would want to hear those reasons, disclosing them would start the rumor and innuendo, and that would be completely inappropriate.

Of course, I have my thoughts as to some of the factors. They are my opinion, of course, and don’t relate to the question. I may put my thoughts as comments on the blog post, so you’ll have to go read them there.

After the announcement yesterday, the Rabbi posted (on FB) his personal email address for those that wished to contact him. That prompted a series of “how could this happen”, combined with the inevitables: (•) I’ll go with you where ever you end up; (•) I’m resigning my membership immediately; (•) after all these years of service, the board was destroying the congregation; (•) you’re the only reason, and I mean the only reason I go to [congregation];  (•) if this board thinks they can come in and wreck the institution overnight, well that’s what they’ll get; … and so forth.

Now I’ve been with many congregations — some of which seemed to change Rabbis every few years. I’ve seen people want to leave when a Rabbi left, and I’ve even explored creating a new congregation around a Rabbi when they left (it didn’t happen). I’ve come to realize that a congregation is not its leader — it is the people that make up the congregation and the relationships between those people. It is the friendships that form between families, the caring about one another. I care about Joe and Bob and Frank and Dave and Bill and Mike and Ron and … and their families, and hopefully, they return that care (those are representative names). If the only relationship that holds a congregation together is the one between a family and the clergy, then the congregation is weak indeed.

Yet in the responses I’ve seen on the Rabbi, that appears to be what is on the mind of a number of members. Saying “If the Rabbi goes, then I go” says to me that you have formed no close relationships with others in the congregation — that your view of the congregation is only what services you get and who gives them to you, not the other members. In many ways, that fits with the names I see: most are folks who haven’t been regularly and heavily involved; folks who may have a relationship with the Rabbi through the school or specific activities, but haven’t formed that larger bond with the congregation.

Hence, my opening question: What makes a congregation? Is it the relationships that form within and between the members — the community and family that is created? Is it the leader, such that when a leader leaves, everything falls apart because they were the only glue? I opine that it should be the former: that if a congregation is strong and has done its job right, then the community cares for each other and will move on. It will grieve for the transition of the leader, but the survival of the community is more important than one individual. The congregation exists to serve the community and keep the community alive, not to employ one person, no matter how good that person may be. It is the community that makes Judaism, not a specific charismatic leader.

[†: This is something I wrote in response to another post on FB: Under labor law, job performance and job review is confidential between the employer and the employee. So the specific reasons need to remain within the employment subcommittee — not only to protect the employer, but to protect the employee from gossip. I’m not on the board now (I was when I was MoTAS president 2 years ago), but that’s why we couldn’t say anything regarding the former cantor. Think about it this way: If you were let go from your employer for job performance reasons, would you want those reasons spread around to your fellow employees or to other employers? [That would also go against the Jewish prohibition of spreading gossip]. We simply have to trust that Board — with its variety of opinions — and all the past Presidents consulted — came to the right conclusion regarding what is best for the congregation.]

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