Blog: December 2010

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The Internet, religion, and me

There has been some discussion in the Reform movement lately about social networking, affiliation levels, and the melding of the online and physical worlds. People in these conversations usually have a mental model of today's internet user -- 20-something, lives on Facebook and Twitter, considers email too slow, etc. I don't fit that profile, but I've been around and engaged online for a while (cough). So all this got me thinking about how the net and the physical world interacted on my religious path in particular. Read more…

Clueful packaging

Baldur has been on Methimazole (for hyperthyroidism) for about a year. We started him on the pills (which were good enough for the other cats), but he reacted poorly to them -- not the drug itself, apparently, but something else in the pill. So my vet switched him to the topical form and that's been fine.

The way this works is that there's a dispenser with a cream in it; you turn the dial the correct amount to dispense a small blob of cream and then smear it in the cat's ear. (Using the applicator; you don't get any of it on your hands.) This actually works fine; I distract him with food. Initially he was getting 2.5mg at a time, so we got dispensers that dispense that amount. More recently my vet increased some of the doses to 5mg -- you can do that with a 2.5mg dispenser, of course, but it's a little more hassle (and expense) that way. I was due for a refill, so I asked if she could get me a mix of 2.5mg and 5mg dispensers.

She asked if there was risk that I'd get confused and use the wrong one. I said I would mark the dispensers and she said ok.

The package came today, and in addition to the dosage text printed on the dispensers, they have helpfully made them different colors. That was, in fact, how I was planning to mark them. :-) (Colored tape or a bit of paint.) The boxes are also different colors; I keep the active dispenser in its box for easier storage. So thank you, Veterinary Pharmacies of America, for getting the packaging right so I don't have to. I have two active dispensers, obviously different from each other, and all is fine.

Saturday, December 25

This morning we read about the birth of our greatest prophet, who miraculously survived at a time when an evil king had ordered newborn children killed, and who grew up to become a great leader after many trials.

Yes, today was parshat Sh'mot, the first five chapters of the book of Exodus.

Visit to New Light

Last Friday I went to New Light, a small Conservative synagogue a block from my house. I've been there a few times and thought the people were friendly but the services didn't really speak to me. They hired a new rabbi a few months ago and I've heard good things about him, so I decided to satisfy my curiosity a little.

The service was more traditional than in the past, yet accessible. (A full-on Hebrew service like at YPS doesn't bother me, but if you don't know that most of your congregation is fluent, it might deter some.) They did all of the psalms in kabbalat shabbat, about half in English and half in Hebrew. The latter were all sung and I generally recognized the melodies and could join in. As in the past, the rabbi invited congregants (by name) to read parts in English. The rabbi spoke between kabbalat shabbat and ma'ariv about one of the psalms in kabbalat shabbat; I gather that he's spoken about most of the others (one at a time) on other nights. The talk was very interesting and I should really have made some notes sooner. Ma'ariv was pretty much what I'd expect anywhere on the traditional spectrum -- Hebrew, familiar melodies, individual amidah. I think they concluded with Adon Olam rather than Yigdal. They invited anybody who wanted to up onto the bima for kiddush (with individual cups of wine or juice).

I'd guess there were about 20-25 people there. They do a sit-down oneg after the service; somebody greeted me on the way into the room and invited me to sit with others, and the rabbi came and joined us. He was friendly and easy to talk with. We talked about his talk and ended up pulling out a tanach (bible) to look some things up. :-)

It was a positive experience. I would visit again.

What do we mean by "egalitarian"?

One of my ongoing frustrations with many Reform services (and prayer books) is what I think of as dumbing down the service to be accessible to all, in the process alienating some of the dedicated people who were already there. (There's a vicious cycle in there that leads to needing to do so because everyone else has fled.) I wondered a little whether I was being hyper-sensitive or something, because when I've brought it up in conversation I've mostly gotten surprised looks.

I recently came across rethinking egalitarianism and found myself emphatically saying "yes yes yes!" while reading. Excerpt:

Let's rethink what we mean by "egalitarianism." What if it meant "open to all who bother to make the effort"? What if synagogues distributed fliers that said: "Welcome! We are very glad you are here. Our service is somewhat traditional, because that traditional form works for us. You may be a little lost at first. So we warmly invite you to join our weekly Siddur 101 class, where you can learn the ropes." People who choose to accept the invitation obtain the rewards. Those who don't, don't. Not only would such an approach allow longtime participants to get more out of the prayer experience, but it would also suggest to newcomers that there's something worth working toward. Things that come cheap usually feel that way.

As I understand it, this is part of Rabbi Elie Kaunfer's argument in his recent book, "Empowered Judaism" (Jewish Lights Publishing). What the Jewish world needs, Kaunfer writes, is not more dumbing-down but more empowerment of individuals to opt in if they so desire. Before Kaunfer, this argument was Maimonides's: The best Judaism is really only for philosophers, but the opportunity to become a philosopher ought to be open to everybody.

American Jews have long prized education and knowledge. So why do we suddenly throw those values out the window when it comes to synagogue life? Is it really more inclusive to be patronized by a service aimed at the lowest common denominator?


In a followup, non-public post, I added: Read more…