Friday, August 20, 2004

Continued from yesterday

Two stubborn men, each defending their own culture, and me in the middle: A baynonim moment if ever there was one.

To my right: the GT, the shteeble's gabbai tzeddaka, or administrator of the charity accounts a man whose ample stomach is surpassed only by his enormous heart. "I can't tell you the man's name." he says, "It's not proper. It's not discreet. And anyway, the highest form of charity is between two people who don't know each other."

To my left: the shul president, a good lawyer and a good friend, "I have a fiduciary responsibility to our members and to the institution,"he says,"Our building expansion depends on cooperation from the County and The State. I won't put that at risk. I can't involve the shul unless I'm given personal knowledge of the facts."

And in the middle: me. To the GT I say: "If you take the shul president into your confidence, we can raise much more money for our neighbor." To the president I say:"If you accept the GTs word, together we can do a wonderful act of kindness."

No dice.

Both men are sympathetic. Both men are apologetic. But both men are stubborn.

And perhaps something larger is at stake

"This is how Jews do things." says the GT as he rings off, "Informally. Discreetly. Privately. Its worked for 2000 years."

"There's a big picture here." concludes the shul president, as our conversation ends. "The shul's reputation. The expansion project. The trust of the membership. I can't jeopardize those things. I have an obligation to the shul. What if the GT himself has been deceived? Why won't the GT just tell me the man's name? I am an officer of the court. I'll be discreet. I just need to know the facts."

The last thing I say to both men is: "Ask your rabbi, please, and let me know." If I don't hear from them within the week, I'll circulate the GT's email under my own name. It won't be as well received as an official message from the shul, carrying the president's signature, but at least its something.

Readers, what is your view? Is either man on the side of angels? Or do we say a pox on them both?

FIN

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Continued from yesterday

OMJs treasure order. It's cultural. For example:

1 - In the shteeble you can be sitting at your table thinking your thoughts, and dreaming your dreams when - surprise! - you're suddenly called up for maftir. There's no warning, not even a perfunctory, "Heads up, you're about to get maftir." The shul, on the other hand, telephones on Monday to offer the honor, and again, on Friday, to confirm.

2 - In shul, the people wait until davening is done before hauling out the kugle and single malt. In the shteeble, people look to fres the moment the mussaf kedusha ends. In some shteebles the food is actually served the moment the mussaf kedusha ends.

3 - The cultural differences stretch to baseball. When I play with the shul guys, we have a set batting order, and though no one yells about errors, you're still expected to know the fundamentals. The shteeble guys just bat whenever they feel like it, and believe that fundamentals are for the anal-retentive.

Still, I could not believe the shul would insist on playing by the book when a neighbor is in trouble. I was determined to see for myself.

I call on the shul president, and tell him about the GT's email. "Would you be willing to send it out under your own name," I ask.

"Well, the bylaws won't allow for appeals," he says. (This is true. There is not even a yizkor appeal.) "But if you want, you could distribute the email as a private citizen."

"I could," I answer, "but the shul's endorsement would give it some weight."

The shul president is a good man, and a good lawyer. He smiles. "We can't endorse this solicitation without speaking to the beneficiary first. Ask him to come to us. We'll see what we can do."

"I can't ask him to speak to you. I don't know who it is myself."

"Oh." He smiles again. "So how can you endorse him yourself? Are you willing to put your name on the line if it turns out to be an exaggeration, or worse, a fraud?"

Good point. So, now it is back to the GT, for some facts. And yes, I am beginning to feel like a ping-pong ball.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Protocols interlude

If you're visiting because of the link Luke Ford has kindly provided, welcome. We're in the middle of a story, today on baynonim. The story began on August 16. I suggest you scroll down and read it first, so you can get the story's flow.

Some of the posts people like can be found here, and here. If you like arguments, weigh in here. This post tells you what baynonim is all about.

Occasionally, we run challenges. The blogger Velvel took the first one, and has been ceaselessly promoted, ever since.

Thanks very much for visiting. Feel free to comment, and come again soon.

Regular readers: Our story continues tomorrow.

continued from yesterday

The big pediatrician stands 5"6 and weighs perhaps 150 pounds. We call him the big pediatrician because he's so important. Sometimes, we even do the little hand motion and intone our voices like Mel Brooks: The beeeg peediah-trish-an, accent on the trish, trill on the "tr."

He kenned at once the reason for L's puzzling behavior

"Modern shuls won't answer an appeal like that," he said referring to the email the shteeble's GT had circulated,"L knew you'd go medieval on him for bad-mouthing the shul if he tried to explain that to you."

So instead I went medieval on the BP.

"Are you joking? Are you flat out of your mind? Nobody gives more money to shuls and schools than the OMJs. For starters, they have more money because, most of the time, they have fewer kids, and better jobs..."

The BP cut me off. "All true. But they won't answer an informal email appeal. They'll give to an established organization, or to a collector carrying a certification issued by their rabbi. The GT's sloppy email? That they will ignore."

"But this collection is on behalf of a neighbor," I said.

"Says, you" the BP replied. "First, he doesn't daven in their shul, so he's not their neighbor. Second, only the GT knows who he is. There's no way to prove he's actually a neighbor. The OMJs will worry about those details"

"You're ridiculous. " I answered, "And I am going to prove it."

(to be continued)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Continued from yesterday.

Having been rebuffed by the GT, I went to L, via blackberry. I typed out the details of my query, and sent it off, fully expecting a quick, and comprehensive response.

But no. Instead, L though I was picking a fight. Typical, I suppose, but unexpected here.

Via blackberry

L: I know exactly where you are going with this and I will not be taken there. Nice try :-)

Me: It's an innocent question. What is wrong with you? Where do you think I am taking you?

L: If it's so innocent why not ask yourself?

Me: I did. The GT went pale. And now you’re acting funny, too. What do the two of you think I am really asking?

L: No way José.

Me: No clue what you’re thinking. Really puzzled here.

L: Too bad

Me: Come on: what strange idea is growing in your paranoid mind?

L: I'm not answering. Ask the big pediatrician. He'll explain.

What is wrong with these people? What have I blundered into? Why can’t they answer a simple question?

Tomorrow: I find out.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Another email, another story.

Yersterday, an email went around courtesy of the gabbai tzedaka, the administrator of the shteeble's charity accounts. The email asked for donations to help a neighbor who has fallen on hard times.

It was a sad story. Lots of kids. Loss of job. A medical condition. A household emergency, and so on and so forth. It's a measure of the GT's compassion and skill, I suppose, that he aroused my sympathy so completely, without revealing the subject. I prepared a check at once.

Regular readers will remember that our neighborhood has two places to daven, a shul and a shteeble. Later, when I saw the GT at maariv, I suggested sending the solicitation email to the shul members, too.

He blushed.

"I don't think that's a good idea," the GT stammered.

"Why not?"

"Let's not go there," he replied

So rather than going there, I went to L, my native guide and solver of all puzzles. Yes, L is a fake, a phony and a fraud, but that's probably why he has all the answers.

(to be cont.)

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I don't mean to pick, but...

Forte pronounced fort is a thing a person does particularly well; forte pronounced for-tay is a musical term meaning "loud."

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