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.]


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?


The Age of a Congregation

This evening, we went to Shabbat/Purim services at our old congregation, Temple Beth Torah. It was odd visiting them again. The people were the same (but older)–this reflected the overall aging of the congregation. I was also struck by how many little things I started when I was there doing the newsletter or religious practices were still in place. But I think the biggest observation came in talking with the visiting Rabbi. He mentioned how it was nice being a visiting Rabbi, because he didn’t have to try to change the congregation to what he wanted it to be–he could come and go without the pressure.

It was then that it hit me. Not only were many of the congregants senior citizens, but the congregation itself was a senior citizen. I mean this in the sense that a senior gets set in their ways: they have their habits, likes, and dislikes. They know what has worked for them over the years, and they don’t want to change it. Change at their age is uncomfortable. This congregation has found their comfort zone. They don’t need someone to come in from outside to fix it. When I was there, that’s what we were trying to do: bring it into the modern era. But it didn’t want to go there–it was happy where it was. Now I understand what I didn’t understand then, and why our noble experiment didn’t work.

It was a nice visit, but I think we’ll stay where we are. Although we’re currently in a congregation that’s older in term of chronological age, the philosophical age of the congregation is much younger, for it recognizes it needs to move with the times to serve its congregants. That’s a good thing.


Rosh Hashanah Observations

No, this isn’t a theatre review. That comes tomorrow.

Last night and this morning, we attended services at Temple Beth Hillel for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The evening services were led by Rabbi Sarah. She was using a new prayerbook adapted from Mishkon Tefilah, and the service incorporated a lot more music (and featured the “Members of the Tribe” band). The sermon’s theme was “tradition”, and how important tradition is in our lives to preserving Judaism. To that end, they handed out a notebook to all families present to capture their family traditions, be it meals, recipes, games, service attendance, or whatever, in order to preserve the traditions for the future (and hopefully encourage the creation and preservation of new traditions). As is this temple’s tradition, they started exactly on time, and ran over… by 2 minutes… from the published end time.

This morning’s service used the slightly more traditional prayerbook editied by Rabbi Jim, who led the service. Thus, it was the normal morning Rosh Hashanah service, highlighted by three things:

  1. The Israeli Bonds appeal, which was a bit more emotional than usual, as Israel is in a bit more need, given the current war. Related to this, preceeding Sim Shalom (the prayer for peace), the Rabbi related how most of the world supported 1947 partition that created the state of Israel and space for the Palestinians… except for the Palestinians. Since then, they have never accepted the existance of Israel. This was highlighted by the most recent actions of Hamas, who is continuing to refuse to acknowledge the right of Israel to even exist, although it wants a cease-fire from the non-existant country. I do wish for peace in that region: the continued fighting helps no one.
  2. The Birthday Sermon, which celebrated 60 years of Temple Beth Hillel. I found this fascinating, as I love history. Back when we were with Temple Beth Torah, I wrote up quite a bit of history of congregations in the San Fernando Valley, including the following table:

    Year Congregation Notes

    1946 Temple Beth Hillel  
    1951 Temple Beth Torah Formed at suggestion of Temple Beth Hillel
    1952 Temple Judea Established by group from Temple Beth Hillel
    1959 Temple Solael Established by group from Temple Judea
    1960 Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf

    1962 North Valley Reform Congregation  
    1965 Temple Ahavat Shalom Merger of North Valley Reform and Temple Beth Torah
    1968 Temple Beth Torah Reestablished by group from Temple Ahavat Shalom

    1968 Temple Emet Established by group from Temple Solael
    1970s Shir Chadash Established by group from Temple Judea

    1986 Valley Outreach

    1993 Kol Tikvah Merger of Shir Chadash and Temple Emet

    2000 Temple Judea: Lindley & West Campus Merger of Temple Judea and Temple Solael

    As this table shows, Temple Beth Hillel was really the seminal Reform congregation in the San Fernando Valley, and I find it fascinating to learn its history. We also learned during the sermon that the congregation has purchased a parcel of land immediately behind the facility for additional parking, and will begin a remodeling of the facility soon. I’ll have to look at some of the oldest buildings before they do; the ECE building was evidently the original school and sanctuary, and dates back to 1955 (before then they were in a house). Really interesting sermon.

  3. Hundreds of Massed Shofars, for as this congregation does, they have lots of Shofar blowers for the shofar service. Yes, it was loud.

In short, it was a good service. Tomorrow they are doing their first 2nd day service at Zuma Beach… it sounds fun, but we probably won’t be going.

Next up: mailing a package to jumbach, working out at the Y, cleaning up the house, with the day culminating at the Pasadena Playhouse where we will be seeing Fences.


The Connection Is Gone

Last night, we went to Shabbat services at our old congregation to honor the 50th wedding anniversary of some friends of ours. I’ll note that since we last attended a service there, the Rabbi has left for a new congregation in Orangevale, we have transferred all of our volunteer responsibilities, and have joined a new congregation.

It was the oddest feeling. Although we were glad to see a number of individuals, I sat through the service feeling absolutely no emotional connection with the congregation as a whole or even to the service. I felt like the “mythical” fly-on-the-wall, just watching from above without being involved. It was the wierdest feeling.

We also had to spend some time comforting our daughter. The family we thought was moving to our new congregation with us (and whose daughters are best friends with my daughter) are instead moving to a different congregation that is closer to them. This left my daughter all upset, as she is all worried about making new friends in her new religious school. We’ll likely make a havurah of our own with that family, and other family we are close with, so that our girls can stay together.

I know that moving to the new congregation is the right thing to do. I’m looking forward to making new connections there (and not volunteering for a year, except perhaps to see if they want me to go to the regional biennial in February 2005). The connection is certainly gone from the old place.


A Bittersweet Passing of the Yad

Tonight, I met with the President and Administrator of our old Temple, and transferred the responsibilities for the website, newsletter, and my wife transferred the responsibility for the gift cart.

Although this relieves me of a significant volunteer responsibility, it is bittersweet. I put in a lot of effort for this place: creating a web presence for them, creating a new style newsletter for them. With another parent, we created a Tot Shabbat program from scratch and educated our children. I did publicity, flyers, and religious practices. I was involved in board meetings and intense negotiations.

That part of my life is now past me. We’ve reached a point where we must change congregations in order to ensure that my daughter has a proper education leading up to her Bat Mitzvah. I no longer feel that the religious school of the old congregation is adequate for that purpose (having gone below, what in my opinion, is critical mass).

As I’ve noted in a past message, I’m not one that takes to change lightly. So this is a bittersweet transition. I’ll be glad to have someone else doing the work… yet I’ll miss doing it (if that makes sense).

I wish our old congregation well, and I recommend it for folks looking for a small classicish Reform congregation. I hope we’re happy at our new congregation.


Its Too Quiet/Observations on the News 2004-06-23

Its Too Quiet

Now that Small and Feisty is out of the house, it’s too quiet. Normally, even when she it at her aunt’s, we can call and talk to her. She now has to write letters to us, and us to her, for the next 8 days. I’m looking forward to her first letter. Ah, old-fashioned communications.

On the upside, we were able to clean the house, and for a change, it will actually stay clean. Those of you with small children will understand :-). We plan to do more cleaning and decluttering as the week goes on. Bulky Item Pickup comes tomorrow to get rid of our old sofa, our old patio table, and misc. junk. Next will come the National Council of Jewish Women to pick-up and inventory our next donate load. Then we can start loading the garage with more junk.

We’re also working on eliminating another distraction in our life. The July Newsletter for our current congregation should be going in the mail tomorrow, and in it I publically indicate that I’ll stop doing the newsletter at the end of September. I’m done with my Religious Practices responsibilities; I’ve got a candidate for Newsletter Production and Website. We’ve picked up the paperwork for our new congregation, which is so much more warm and friendly than our old one. Although we’ll eventually volunteer there, we are making it clear we’re taking a year sabbatical from Temple volunteering. We like their two rabbis, and it looks like they will be doing the school right.

I’m at work today, actually getting some useful stuff done, with no headache. Woo Hoo. [Interesting note: Today for the FAQ, I got the question of the origin of the phrase “Hip, Hip, Hurray”. It was quite interesting.]

Observations on the News 2004-06-23

Authorization of Torture. Dubya’s administration released a legal brief that said “The federal torture statute will not be violated as long as any of the proposed strategies are not specifically intended to cause severe physical pain or suffering or prolonged mental harm”. There was a wide variety of techniques that were considered permissible and were designed to both create fear as well as skirt the legal letter of the law. These were later rescinded. Yet Bush said he has never ordered the torture of Iraqi or al Qaeda prisoners. This seem hypocritical to me. The original memos clearly created an environment that permitted such abuses, even if they were strictly ordered.

This is the same word-picking that everyone got upset about Clinton doing during his investigation (remember “it”). Yet we don’t investigate these abuses to the same level of scrutiny, even though these abuses have drastically reduced our authority on the international arena.

Dubya is not doing the job. Let’s send him a negative performance review in November!

Black Tea May Help Get Blood Circulating. Who needed a study to tell them this. I learn it every morning when I have my gigantic mug o’tea.


A Productive Saturday

Yesterday was a productive day. It started out with getting the bulk of the Temple newsletter done. Yes, with all of the mishegosh,  I’m still doing the Temple newsletter. It went pretty quick, partially because I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to do my Learning About Judaism page this month. I did put in the NL, however, that they’ve got until the end of September to find a new editor. We did have our one panic: it appears that the Rabbi they were thinking of for the HHD was written up in the Jewish Journal, and so the specifics regarding the rabbi were pulled from the NL until the matter is resolved.

After I got the NL out for proofing, it was time to turn to helping my daughter pack for camp. This is her first year following my footsteps and going to Camp Hess Kramer. So, we’ve had to go find a footlocker (not as easy as it once was), and start sewing name labels in everything! She leaves on Tuesday (we have to be at Wilshire Blvd Temple at 9:00 AM, the bus leaves at 10:00 AM&#151then we’re off to our likely new temple to discuss membership). We’ll be doing more packing this morning.

Then we went out for sushi with ellipticcurve. When everyone does a meme and indicates they haven’t had sushi in the last 30 days, but wants it, its time for a trip to Todai. That we did, and all came home happy.

So now I’m sitting here at my desk, Fathers Day morning, enjoying the peace and quiet whilst the family is asleep. My favorite time of the morning. Soon it is off to pay the bills (which I do every Sunday), but I wanted to get my LJ in first. This afternoon we’re off to my wife’s sister’s place in Laguna Niguel—I’m not crazy about the drive, but it makes it easier for my dad to get there. I know I’m getting some games for Fathers Day, so perhaps we’ll be able to do some gaming.

[This is also my first test of using the Semagic client to post, as opposed to just using the web interface. We’ll see how it works.]