Where Is The Jewish Engineer?

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.]


Silently Disappearing

A while back, I wrote about how I still follow the goings on at previous congregations. One of the things I’m interesting in is where the people go. I find it interesting how clergy sometimes silently disappears.

At our former congregation, Temple Beth Hillel, I noticed in their September newsletter that there was no mention of Cantor Alan Weiner. They were using substitute cantors for the high holidays, and he was off the clergy list for their website. He hasn’t resurfaced. I dropped them a note, and I was told he was on a leave of absence. I found out later through the grapevine that something happened to his voice, and he lost the ability to sing. It would have been nice to acknowledge the man, and not silently eliminate him.

I also follow Rabbi Sheryl Nosan-Blank, who is presently at Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale. I say “presently”, because I went to look at their site this month, and in their President’s message, it said, “The decision to let the Rabbi’s contract lapse has been an emotional time for everyone. The decision is behind us and now we must work toward the future. Rabbi Sheryl is committed to our community until next June.” So she’s leaving another congregation. She’s just a sweet person and caring, and to see something like this always bothers me.

I hope both Cantor Alan and Rabbi Sheryl well.


Being A Member of a Congregation

One of today’s la_observed items was about Wilshire Blvd Temple–specifically how a chunk of plaster had fallen from their main sanctuary, closing that part of the building. However, the original headline was that “Wilshire Blvd Temple Is Closed”, which prompted me to go out to their website, look for news, etc.

That got me thinking. I’m a dues paying member of Temple Ahavat Shalom right now. But I still get the Temple Beth Hillel e-Newsletter, and I still regularly read the Temple Beth Torah newsletter. Even though I don’t read the newsletter regularly, I still care about the folks at Wilshire Blvd Temple, and even the folks at Or Rishon, because I care about the Rabbi there. I still, in some sense, even have a spiritual connection to Temple Akiba in Culver City as it is the spiritual successor to my first congregtion, Temple Israel of Westcheter/Temple Jeremiah, and to Kol Tikvah, the spiritual successor to Temple Emet of Woodland Hills. Although I am only paying dues to one of these, I view myself (to varying degrees) as still a member of the community of my past congregations.

So here’s my question to you: What is your relationship to your past congregations (and churchs count as well, for you Christians out there). Once you leave a congregation, is it “good bye and good riddance”, or do you still view yourself as a distant family member, still caring about the people there even though you might never see them again?


How Not To Win Congregants and Influence People

Folks may remember how, a while back, I wrote that neither of the congregational rabbis would be available for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and thus we were having a long-time family rabbi work with us instead. Today (according to my wife), we just found out that the congregational cantor won’t be available either. Luckily, we were prepared for that, and we’re having one of nsshere’s teachers (who happens to be a cantor) fill in.

Her Bat Mitzvah will have a theatre theme. Yes, we are handing out slips that say “This morning, the role of Congregational Rabbi will be played by …, and the role of Congregational Cantor will be played by …”.

Given that we’re fighting them over the reception time, and they are pulling this stuff on us less than 5 months before the ceremony… we’re likely going to be looking for another congregation come next year. We already have an idea where (as long as they realize we’ve already paid our building fund commitment there during a previous membership with that congregation).


Building a Bridge Near Wilshire and Western

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article today on Wilshire Blvd. Temple. Now, I grew up at Wilshire, which is near the intersection of Wilshire and Western, in what is now Koreatown. According to the article, one day WBT got a call from Koreatown leaders wondering if the building was for sale. Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein responded “We can’t sell you the temple, but how about building a relationship?”. From there, dialogue between the communities started, leading to much better understanding. The Koreatown community received an invitation to use Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s facilities, which include an 1,800-seat sanctuary, a 600-seat auditorium and a 300-seat banquet hall, at member rates… and the two communities will also join forces to address issues affecting the Koreatown community, such as crime, poverty, the granting of multiple liquor licenses and the idea that growth should take place in a thoughtful way.

I think this is a wonderful thing. The WBT facility is a beautiful facility, and it is nice to see that (a) it is committeed to staying, and (b) committed to forging a relationship with the community. This is something that was never even discussed during the days of Rabbi Magnin… and I’m not even sure Rabbi Fields considered it. I think that interfaith activities are a remarkable way of building community (and it is one of the reasons I applaud Rabbi Jim at TBH for his work building relationships with the churches in Arleta).