Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'judaism'

Being a Role Model

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 12, 2013 @ 6:21 pm PDT

userpic=levysI’ve written recently about how I was given a number of books to read by the President of $mens_club at $current_congregation (in my role as a VP). In my last post, in particular, I wrote:

The book emphasized being better male role models — and that I can see as being beneficial. For many, our fathers were good role models, but for many others, the father wasn’t a role model or was absence. This is something we can teach.

That dovetails with my thoughts after reading “The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community” by Dr. Ron Wolfson. In this book, an outgrowth of the Synagogue 2000 (now 3000) work, he explores how to make a congregation a welcoming space, drawing lessons from all sorts of organizations such as Walt Disney, Chabad, and Pastor Rick Warren’s megachurch. I’ve heard mention of making the congregation more welcoming at various meetings at $current_congregation… but it hasn’t fully been working. They’ve been doing slow improvements, but I still see that visitors are turned off by the attitudes, and often the attitudes in the groups become insular and cliquish… which turns away newcomers. I also see that as they bemoan a declining membership, they aren’t doing activities that will draw in new members, or (at least to my eyes) make existing members more committed.

This is where $mens_club, I think, can make a difference. After reading this book, we should try to make $mens_club an example of a welcoming space in the congregation (and perhaps it can spread to $sisterhood as well). So if the congregation can’t get its act together, we should “man up” and show them how it is done. We need to be welcoming at our meetings, at our events, and at Shabbats.

The following are some of my specific thoughts after reading this book:

  1. We should build a profile database of our members, and in particular our supporting members. Find out what they are passionate about, so we can have activities that will play to those passions and get them more involved. The book also recommended building a “face book” in the original sense of the term — remember that Facebook started as an electronic place where you could put faces with the names. We should work to publish a roster of members where we not only have names and addresses, but faces so that people can be recognized.
  2. We need to revitalize the $mens_club Facebook group, and have all active $mens_club members be friends with each other. We should know what each other is doing, so that friendships can strengthen the intra-$mens_club relationships. We should also appoint a Social Media Chair (this might be a great job for a younger male) to nurture online contacts, encourage event participation, and rally support for members when necessary.
  3. One of the notions in the book was Community / Crowd / Congregation / Committed / Core as circles of membership. Community is the pool of “potentials” – the unaffiliated. In $mens_club terms, they would be the male members of the congregation. Crowd is the people who show up for the occasional service or program, but nothing more. Congregation would be the people who go so far as to join — that is, give financial support. Committed are the people that regularly come to meetings. The core would be the people that, essentially, go to everything. Not only do you need to draw people from the community into the crowd, you need to work to get them to move up the commitment ladder. Of course, as we do this, they will be getting more involved in $current_congregation, and quite likely the Committed / Core will become key members there. As we plan events and do the social media, we need to think how to move people up, and which people are in which category. This also raises the question of exactly who are the target members for $mens_club? Is it just the men of the congregation? Young males with families? We need to design the outreach to get the people we want… and who would want to associate with the current Committed / Core members. How can we, as a bunch of older men, come up with activities the younger men want?
  4. The book talked about the notion of creating relationships — essentially, figuring out how to get people to change from thinking about “the $mens_club” to “my $mens_club”.  This can then go to a problem that has existed of showing the value of $mens_club (and $sisterhood) to the larger core of the Board. The value of these auxiliaries is not just as another source for funds when $current_congregation needs them. It is to create deep relationships of members to the auxiliaries, and thence to the larger congregational community — essentially, we are moving them up the circles of membership. Being smaller groups, it is much easier for people to get to know each other and build these relationships. We need to emphasize this value to the Core … as well as advertising it to the existing membership as a way to “get started” in being welcomed. This might also be a way to utilize the left-over wine tasting glasses in a good way — for new paid members, have a $mens_club or $sisterhood member personally visit them and give them a set of glasses to personally welcome them and invite them to an upcoming $mens_club or $sisterhood meeting.
  5. Although not in the book, one other avenue of being this welcoming role model is to go after welcoming members when the congregation doesn’t. $mens_club (and hopefully $sisterhood) should be at the forefront of getting booths at community events where we can be out there welcoming people and inviting them to join us. If the megachurches can do this as a form of outreach, there’s no reason we can. We can talk about what we find passionate in $current_congregation and draw people in to try it.

As always, your thoughts are welcome on this.



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Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jul 30, 2013 @ 8:01 pm PDT

userpic=levysYesterday, I mentioned how I had received a number of books from our Men’s Club president for me to read — bounty from his recent forey into the wilds for Ft. Lauderdale for the 44th MRJ Biennial Convention. One of the books talks about the importance of Men’s Clubs and Fellowship, and doing various mens-only activities. This whole notion is, in many ways, foreign to me… and so I decided to blog about it.

Note that, in many ways, this isn’t a particularly Jewish issue. Most religious groups have auxiliary fellowship organizations — ladies auxiliary, etc. These groups served the community in various gender-stereotypical ways.  The sisterhood would put out the food at events. The men would grill the meats. The ladies would have sewing circles. The men would have a baseball league. The usual intent of such groups was to promote fellowship between members, do service for the congregation and the community, and raise supplemental funds to support various special congregational needs. As a by-product, the groups also built up a team of leaders-in-waiting, who would eventually serve congregation-at-large positions.  These groups, by the way, were very different than  the traditional congregational committee — the brotherhoods and sisterhoods were membership organizations open to any members (of that gender) in the congregation who contributed dues (or in some cases, time); they were financially independent with their own bank accounts and spending priorities; and they often worked towards multiple goals.

But times have changed — certainly in Judaism, and quite likely in other religions and communal groups as well. Whereas men traditionally had leadership roles, the power dynamic has shifted. More and more often, the leadership roles in congregations are held by women. Perhaps it is the opportunity, perhaps it is leadership skills, perhaps it is the fact that men are often more and more consumed by work at all hours. Whatever the reason, the role of men in congregational leadership has declined.

Additionally, the acceptance of same-sex organizations has declined. In today’s egalitarian society, why have brotherhoods and sisterhoods? Where is the benefit? If there is one, how do we repurpose these organizations to the needs of today? Can a brotherhood or sisterhood in the style of the 1950s-1970s still have a purpose today?

These are the questions the book I’m reading is raising… and these are things I don’t understand. In many ways, I’m not the stereotypical male. I’m not the type that likes to go out and drink beer (I prefer tea). I’m not the athletic type, and I’ve never been into watching or participating in sporting events (give me a good board game, or a night at the theatre). I’m not into gambling or poker. Further, looking back, I’ve never had close friendships with men in particular — I’ve never had a regular ‘bro, I’ve never gone out (or even felt the need to go out) with the boys. I guess I’m just not someone who fits the stereotype.

So, when I read this text about creating a sacred men’s fellowship, I’m confused. Sure, I want to have a “farm team” for men in congregational leadership, but what I really want is a meritocracy of leadership — having congregational leaders that are the best in terms of skill, independent of gender, and independent of their ability to contribute monetarily. I want leaders that can lead and inspire, not just pull out the checkbook or plastic. However, I can see a men’s club as a place to train that leadership, and just like you have multiple feeder teams, you can have multiple feeder organizations.

I can also see the men’s club as a viable service organization, funding those activities that it feels to be appropriate, providing activities that are fun for its members, and raising funds the best that it can.  But these are all traditional “brotherhood” activities. The question the book is asking is: How does one use a brotherhood to bring men back to congregational life? How can the organization go beyond the stereotypes and benefit men?

According to the book, one of the ways to do this is creating sacred men’s only spaces … by creating opportunities for men to talk to men, and lower the barriers that often prevent men from talking about issues. This makes me a little uncomfortable — if I’m uncomfortable talking about an issue, it doesn’t make a difference regarding the gender of who I’m talking to. Still, I can understand creating the spaces and how they might be useful. I’m guessing this is something I’ll need to explore — perhaps I should go to one of our “men’s only” groups when we get them started up again.

As for the other ways to get men back to congregational life, I think the answer is to go beyond the stereotypes. This is why I’m trying to do boardgaming within the men’s club group. This is why I’m trying to organize arts and theatre outings. This is why we need to go beyond the baseball, golf, poker, and barbeque. Perhaps this is where the men’s only groups might come in… Just working this out in my head, but I can easily see such groups as a way to reach the single father households, to reach the men who want to be better fathers. The book talked about emphasize being better male role models — and that I can see as being beneficial. For many, our fathers were good role models, but for many others, the father wasn’t a role model or was absence. This is something we can teach.

More importantly (and I know I’m rambling here, but this is my blog, and I can ramble if I want), we can be proper male role models to demonstrate proper ethical behavior. This is where we can teach that violence is unacceptable as a way to get what you want. This is where we can teach that harassment and bullying is wrong. Leadership in a men’s organization means teaching which masculine stereotypes are wrong. It is where we can use religious teachings to teach proper ways to behave to others in society — male or female. Perhaps in doing this, we can achieve the true purpose of a men’s club.

By now, you’re probably asking why I joined the men’s club in the first place and got active. The answer, actually, is relatively simple. At $current_congregation-2, I was over involved in Board activities, and burned out. It was a 70 family congregation, which was good in that you knew everyone, but bad in that you easily took on too much. At $current_congregation-1, I wasn’t involved at all. So at $current_congregation, a 500+ family congregation, I joined the men’s club because it was a smaller way to get to know people. Over time, I’m slowly accepting leadership positions again. I’m also, as a side effect, slowly building some friendships with men as men. This is something new, and none have reached the level of what you see on sitcoms.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this — as I said, I’m rambling to figure things out. I think the question is what do you think a brotherhood (although even that is an archaic term — it is now “Men of xxxx“) can uniquely bring to a congregation? What do you see as the benefit of promoting friendship and fellowship specifically between men? What can a men’s organization of the 21st century bring to the game that it couldn’t bring in the past?

Music: A Little Night Music (1973 Original Broadway Cast): “A Weekend in the Country”

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Where Is The Jewish Engineer?

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jul 29, 2013 @ 5:57 pm PDT

userpic=tallitA number of years ago, when we joined $current_congregation-1, we were invited to a new member welcome dinner at the rabbi’s house. At this dinner, they went around the room asking people to introduce themselves. The litany began: doctor, lawyer, entertainment industry executive, doctor, lawyer, sole practitioner business, doctor, lawyer. When they got to me, I tentatively raised my hand. Engineer.

Fast forward to $current_congregation. As I look around the congregation, what do I see. Doctors. Lawyers. People who have their own businesses. Teachers. People doing various social work. When I look at the programs and who volunteers, again it is the same thing — the lawyers, the real estate agents — people who are essentially their own bosses and have their own businesses. What don’t I see? The engineers. The “blue collar” workers who work for someone else, have the regular hours. I know they are in the congregation… but you don’t often see them.

This isn’t something new. Back in my camp days, I stood out being the person who was interested in the non-medical sciences. I was the person who had the footlocker lined in decoupaged program listings. I wasn’t the person who was pre-med, pre-law, or in the humanities.

I’m mentioning this — in the first of what is likely to be a series of posts of Jewish community* — because I think our congregation life is excluding a class of people. We talk about making our congregations be welcoming places… but welcoming for whom? They are welcoming for those who can contribute money due to their profession — top executives and business owners. They are welcoming for the parents of children, who are active in the schools. Are they welcoming to the blue collar worker? Are they welcoming to the employee who has regular hours and commutes, and perhaps cannot have all the time flexibility of others? Are they welcoming when the primary fundraisers are $200 a plate dinners, art auctions, and similar events.

$current_congregation-2 was a much smaller congregation, distinguished by the fact that there were few “big machers”. Fund raisers were regular dining out nights, where a percentage went to the temple. There was an ad book where the community placed ads, and there was a wide variety of ad prices so all could participate. We never felt “less than” at that community because we couldn’t make major contributions. Anyone could be active on the board without financial pushes.

We send a message about our welcoming nature — and our inclusiveness — not only with what we say, but with what we do. We can say we are welcoming to interfaith and all forms of relationships, but send economic messages that belie that inclusiveness. We have to have a congregation where people from all professions and all financial levels can feel welcome and be active.

*[And now the explanation on why you’re seeing this stuff. I’m a Vice-President of our Men’s Club at $current_congregation. Our president went to the recent MRJ (Men of Reform Judaism), and came back with a load of books on leadership development, making welcoming congregations, and such. As I work through them, I intend to capture my ideas in posts. I’m currently reading one on being a welcoming congregation, and that seemed to fit with this concern I’ve had for years on being the “odd man out” as an engineer in an environment of doctors and lawyers. Yes I know there are many famous Jewish scientist and engineers … but were they active in their congregations and in leadership positions? See what I mean? A future post rolling around in my head will go to the notion of Masculinity — these books for Brotherhood activities talk about getting men together to express their “Masculine” side, but what is that really? Is that getting together for beer, poker, and football? So expect a future post exploring Men’s Fellowship.]

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Saturday Links: Themes That Didn’t Quite Make It

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 15, 2013 @ 7:47 am PDT

userpic=cahwys-licenseToday’s clearin’ of the links is dedicated to So Cal Games Day 54, which I’ll be heading off to later. The links this week just didn’t want to theme, so posts never quite came together. Here’s what accumulated:

Music: SMASH – The Complete Season Two (Music From the TV Series) (Katharine McPhee, Jeremy Jordan): “Rewrite This Story”

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Feeding Your Body: News to Chew On

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 29, 2013 @ 11:40 am PDT

userpic=teaToday’s lunchtime news chum post has to do, quite appropriately, with food:

  • Tea is In? I’ll Believe It When I See It. All food fads come in cycles. Cupcakes are in, then they are out. FroYo is in, then out, then in. According to this article, coffee is on its way out and fancy tea is in. At least, that is, in the beverage industry. As a tea drinker, I’ll believe this one when I see it. I still see far too many coffee houses with only bagged tea, too many places that use concentrated iced tea, too many conferences that use coffee pots to make tea water, and too many places that don’t even bother to put out hot water for tea. I agree that tea is a better beverage — you can drink it hot or cold, and it doesn’t require any doctoring to drink. I still stand by my adage that coffee only belongs in ice cream or covered in dark chocolate.
  • Don’t Eat This. Alton Brown led me to this article, enumerating 7 foods a nutritionist will never eat. What’s on the list? Rice cakes, fat-free salad dressing, seitan, shark, refined and refortified grains, grits, sugar sweetened beverages. See that last one? That’s why I drink tea. No sugar required — it is perfect black. Try that with most coffees!
  • Book ‘Em. We’re seeing electronic books everywhere. One place electronic books shouldn’t be is the kitchen. Want to know why? This article explains the value of a printed cookbook quite well. I’ve always felt that anything electronic doesn’t belong in a place where there is water and heat, but the article gives a myriad of even more reasons to stick with print.
  • Date Conjunction. This last piece comes courtesy of mail.jewish. It appears that 2013 will be the first year in a long time — and it will be an even longer time until it occurs again — that Thanksgiving coincides with the first night of Chanukkah. Let’s see if my sister-in-law reads this — we’re going to need to figure out where to do things this year as we normally split T-day and C-day. Oh, and think of the menu: Turkey, latkes, mashed potatoes, donuts. Of course, this is the perfect year to try a deep-fried turkey!


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Remembering the Holocaust

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 09, 2013 @ 9:06 pm PDT

userpic=tombstonesThe other day, I wrote about the extremely moving holocaust memorial at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. As we have just observed Yom HaShoah, I have two additional holocaust related items to highlight.

The first is a series of photos from PopChassid that give a different view than the normal depressing stuff one sees about the holocaust. These photos are special because they show not the defeat but the optimism — the hope that survived even the worst of times.

The second is an article about Judaism in Germany today. Berlin’s Jewish Museum has a new exhibit called “The Whole Truth”. There are a number of exhibits that force Germans to consider their attitudes towards Jews. The most controversial is one where a Jewish man or woman sits inside a glass showcase and answers questions from visitors who approach. Is this the right way to bring Jews and Non-Jews together? Some German Jews are eager to participate. Other leaders demur. “For many, Jews are not friends or colleagues at work.  Jews are people from TV or from history books. So that places, automatically, Jewish individuals behind an exhibit glass in a museum in the heads of the German population.” Thoughts?

Music: Music Is Better Than Words (Seth MacFarlane): “You’re The Cream In My Coffee”

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Let Me Tell You The Story ‘Bout a Man Named Mo…

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 25, 2013 @ 4:05 pm PDT

userpic=tallitNow it is almost the time to tell the story I’ve hinted at in the last two posts. I’ve already done my ceremonial playing of the table setting song…

Starting from the left take the little fork, it’s the salad fork, then find the bigger fork place and place it to the right of that fork, then we take the plate, it’s a lovely plate, and you place the plate right next to them, line it up, mmmmm, that looks nice, aren’t you having the time of your life, and guess what comes next — you guessed it, the knife, ….

(if you haven’t heard the “Fork, Knife, Spoon” song from “Dear Edwina”, you should)

I’ve set the Seder Table, and I’m just waiting for it to be closer to put the final items on it:



Last year I printed the 6th edition of my Haggadah (let me know if you want a copy, but it is for personal use only as I haven’t done all the copyright clearances). So we should be all ready to go. All together now (to the tune of the “Theme from the Beverly Hillbillies”):

Come an’ listen to a story
’bout a man named Mo,
A Hebrew child raised
by the daughter of Pharaoh,
An’ then one day
an Egyptian beat a slave,
An’ Moses stepped in,
the Hebrew for to save…
(Struck the guard, killed him dead!)

Well, the next thing you know,
ol’ Mo is all a-feared.
The Hebrews said,
“Mo, run away from here!”
Mo decided Midian
was the place he oughtta be,
And there he stayed,
till he saw a burnin’ tree…
(God, that is… boomin’ voice, majesty.)

God told Moses
to go an’ tell Pharaoh,
“Time has come
to let my people go!”
Pharaoh just laughed, said,
“You tryin’ to pull my leg?”
So Mo raised his staff,
and God brought down the plagues…
(Blood, that is… frogs an’ lice, hailstones.)

Ten plagues in all,
and the last was really bad:
Slayin’ of the first-born,
and Pharaoh was a dad.
He said to the Hebrews,
“Go on! Get away from me!”
So they loaded up their matzah
and they headed toward the sea…
(Red, that is… mighty wide, no way across.)

Pharaoh got all crazy
and decided to attack.
Mo raised his staff,
and the waters, they drew back!
The Hebrews walked through,
just as dry as they could be,
And Pharaoh’s army chased ’em,
but were covered by the sea…
(Drowned, that is… chariots, riders, too)

The Mo’s sister Miriam,
she began to sing,
And the womenfolk danced
as she played the tambourine.
Once we were slaves,
but now we are free,
And in every generation
we recall our history…

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Sepulveda Pass Class #4

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 18, 2013 @ 5:07 am PDT

405-2Today was the fourth (and last) installment of my Sepulveda Pass class (#3,#2, #1). Today’s class focused on the Jewish people and institutions of the pass, and why they are there. One of the points being made was that the pass is the current Los Angeles center for “mainstream Judaism”, defined as Judaism that has aspects of social action, pluralism, and ethnic pluralism (as opposed to purely humanistic Judaism or Orthodox learning). Here’s what I remember:

  • Leo Baeck. The first person we talked about was Leo Baeck, the namesake of the congregation at the southern end of the pass, Leo Baeck Temple, which was originally Beth Aaron. We talked about how Baeck was representative of a form of German Judaism that attempted to reconcile German ideas of efficiency with Judaism.  He was a force within Progressive Judaism. I don’t recall any discussion of why Leo Baeck Temple located where they did, but they did provide an early home to the next institution of note.
  • Stephen S. Wise. Stephen S. Wise was the namesake of the next institution of note in the pass, Stephen S. Wise Temple. Wise was a leading Reform rabbi, an ardent Zionist when Zionism was not part of Reform, and a strong believer in social action. He was also a notable influence on Rabbi Isaiah Zelden, the founding rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple. It was Zelden who had the foresight to purchase the land at the top of the pass for his offshoot congregation from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. Supposedly, the land was purchased because of its accessibility to both the west side and the San Fernando Valley.  The construction of Stephen S. Wise Temple led directly to the next institution, and thus person, in the pass.
  • Mordechai Kaplan. Both of the previous two institutions were Reform-based. The next is not. In order to build Stephen S. Wise Temple, the engineers had to slice of the top of the mountain. This they used to fill the ravine next door, which became flat land used to construct what was then called the University of Judaism, now part of American Jewish University. The initial notion of  a University of Judiasm (UJ) was an attempt to fulfill a notion of Kaplan’s: That of a full-service university that integrated Jewish teaching with other secular disciplines. UJ never fulfilled that goal, becoming instead a west-coast version of the Jewish Theological Seminary — that is, the west coast center for the Conservative movement. I asked whether the mission had changed after the merger with Brandies-Bardin to form AJU, but didn’t get a strong answer. We talked for a bit about Kaplan’s conception of Judaism, and the nature of Jewish movements in America.
  • Jack Skirball. This led to our last notable person: Jack Skirball, namesake of the Skirball Cultural Center. Actually, we didn’t talk that much about Skirball’s history, other than the fact he was a Reform Rabbi turned filmmaker who donated to a number of institutions — notably HUC to establish the Skirball Museum on the original HUC campus in LA.

This led directly to our next speaker, Uri Herscher, President of the Skirball. Uri talked about the history of the Skirball, and how they were a very cramped museum with a large collection near USC. They needed more space, and looked at a lot of locations. One day while at an event at Wise, after having done a helicopter survey of the area, they settled on the location at the top of the pass, at the exit of the Sepulveda tunnel. This had been an informal dumping ground (he said when they started construction they had to remove 50′ of trash), on a narrow piece of land. They had to negotiate with three different landowners to acquire the property: Union Bank (representing someone who had gone backrupt), a Canadian company, and a local person. They eventually acquired the land for (IIRC) $3 million. They then worked with homeowner groups to build the present campus  into the available space. He indicated that one of the rationales for the location was easy access from the freeway. Ultimately, he said, the main reason they loved the space was that they weren’t alone: they were together with Wise and UJ, not an isolated Jewish institution. He also indicated that one of the changes when the Skirball moved was the transition from a simple museum to a larger cultural center, working with people from all cultures and celebrating all cultures. Uri felt that Jewish centers need to be more than just the holocaust and Israel. Thus… ethnic pluralism. It is also why the Skirball is more than just the main exhibit — it is classes, and childrens activities, and concerts, and programs, and school field trips.

Uri also related the story of how Rimerton Drive got renamed to Skirball Center. Rimerton was created as an artifact of the freeway construction. It turns out Jack Skirball was one of the people that gave Pete Wilson his start in politics as mayor of San Diego, so when the center, named after Skirball, wanted a sign for the center, Wilson helped grease the paperwork to get it done.

Uri also mentioned that after 18 years they may be revisiting the main exhibit. It appears that the current exhibit isn’t attracting as many people. Some in the class posited that was due to lack of interest in general Jewish museums. I felt it was more yet another negative impact of the Internet — younger people no longer feel the need to visit physical museums, when they can get their history over the Internet and from virtual visits. The implication of this is that museums must provide something that is not available over the network. Figure out what that is… and put it in.

All in all, this was a very interesting four week class. The instructor reminded us that there will be an exhibition coming up at the Autry on Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic. I think I’ll plan to go to that.

Music: Seussical The Musical (2007 Off-Broadway Cast): “Horton Hears A Who”

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