Friday, September 10, 2004

A Moment for Some Market Research

My last two posts have been about shul politics. I haven't exhausted the topic - I'm hard at work, in fact, on a post about Democracy in the Shteeble - but I sense this subject doesn't really interest you.

Am I wrong? Would you like me to continue documenting the development of a Board of Trustees in our shteeble? Would you like to hear about the cunning plots and the sinister schemes as my RNs vie for power and influence? Or would you perfer I went back to wedding pictures?

Tell me, and I'll oblige. I belong to the people. You can cast your vote to the right. Or, in the comments, tell me the sort of post you like best.


Today, I'm again inspired by a post that appeared at the daily diatribe.

I've been to many shteebles and many agudah-style shuls, and though many of them are wonderful places to daven, not one was a good place for children.

My own RNs love their children, of course, but insist that children don't belong in shul. Though the shul tolerates not one, but two candymen, "a shul is not a baby sitting service" is their refrain.

As a result, perhaps, our kids are given nothing to do, and nowhere to sit. They're often in the corridors, or in the yards playing. Rarely, if ever, are they davening. Usually their behavior is disruptive.

I grew up in a shul that took a different approach. It provided activities that tought us how to daven and how to respect a shul. We learned how to daven for the amud, how to lain, and how to read a haftarah. Some might call it babysitting. I call it chinuch. Whatever you call it though, isn't it better than leaving the kids at home (where they learn nothing) or to their own devices in the yards and corridors (where they learn nothing and disturb?)

Why do the shteebles abdicate their responsibility to their kids? Why do we permit our kids to run wild? Why isn't chinuch a priority?

I've never been able to wrap my head around this dereliction. I've never understood why, for example, children are permitted at school to pray with a minyan geared specifically for them, but in shul they are expected to join the adult minyan or stay home. Why is a boy's minyan verboten in the shteeble?

If a board is ever installed, perhaps I'll ask them. If you know the answer, please tell me, and help me to anticipate the board's reply.

Note to Cookie: (added Monday 13 September)

I think your reply simplifies things.

Sure, it's fine (maybe, see below) for Mothers and Daughters to stay home together and snuggle on the couch, but what about the boys? Should they be home snuggling, too? When should boys begin coming to shul? And when they begin attending shul, what should they do there? Wouldn't it be best for them to daven together the way they daven in school, in a minyan geared specifically for them? Why are boys who are too old to stay home forced to choose among (a) sitting uncomfortably in the main minyan (b) staying home, which, at a certain age, is not approriate for boys or (c) hanging out in the hallways? Why won't a shteeble offer (d) a boys minyan, where the davaning and the drasha have been designed specifically for boys ages 7-11?

Also, woman (even women with small children) have an obligation to daven. They do not have an obligation to daven on time, or to daven with a minyan (of men), but if they can daven on time or with a minyan (of men) it's a kiyum ie: something desirable, but extra. Boys are encouraged and taught to perform kiyumin. Why not girls?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

A shteeble is not a great public institution like the Temple in Jerusalem. It isn't owned by the people and managed for the people. It's permitted to show a profit. A shteeble, as I said yesterday, is a pizza store. Instead of pies the Rabbi sells honor, with the best customers getting their names on golden plaques.

Honor in the shteeble is not cheap. The right to read maftir Yona - just once - can, in some wealthy places, go for 5 figures. The right to have your name on the wall in very large letters might cost more than 100,00. Even an aliya commands a price. (In our neighborhood, maftir Yona, the greatest privlage of them all, was auctioned last year for $4600. )

All of this money belongs to the Rabbi. No one disputes this. It is his salary and fee for the use of the building. In our neighborhood, this was never contested. Our trouble began when the Rabbi and his most trusted advisors, the small, informal circle he trusts, asked for more. By fiat. they decided to renovate and enlarge the room we use for services. A meeting was called, and with neither vote nor discussion the project was announced and donations were solicited. The old room was small and the people were crowded so they gave genrously. There were no contracts and no conversations. Just the signing of checks.

The Rabbi imagining the donations were a gift used part of the windfall to improve his own home. The people thought their donations were to be set aside for one thing and one thing only, the improvement of their shul. When they discovered that the house had also been improved they were infuriated. A rumor began. "The Rabbi can't make a living here," the people told themselves, "He wants to raise his children among other chasidim. He's going to move and sell his house and with it, the shul that we built with out own money."

They asked the Rabbi to sign a document promising that he would stay. The Rabbi refused. The tried to assert an ownership claim on the room we use for services. This was rebuffed. Left with no recourse, the people simmered. They complained about the Rabbi, about his customs and his accent and about the foreign elements he introduced to the service. They said things good people should not say.

Nonetheless, the people did not for a moment consider going to another shul. Despite their worries and their grumbling and their growing unhappiness they did not deign to enter the nearby Modern Shul; besides the expanded shteeble has been built with their money. Abandon our donations? Never! Pray with the near-infidels who won't wear hats? Never! Open a new shul? We can't! We've already paid for this one. So, instead they simmered and stewed and the rumors metastasized and spread.

The Rabbi could not leave and he could not stay silent. He answered the grumbles and complaints by establishing a board and putting the shteeble's finances into the hands of the board. Will this work? Of course not. The board are puppets. Quislings. They have no power, and no authority. They speak for no one, and exist only to do the Rabbi's bidding. This is no secret.

But has the Rabbi done anything wrong? As usual, I can argue both sides. I recognize the Rabbi's obligation to the people, but I also recognize his rights of ownership. He can do what he wants. He has his rights. But he also has brains, and smart people don't always exercise their rights.

Can the rabbi’s rights be reconciled with is obligations? Must they be reconciled?

At bottom, I believe problem is cultural, not ethical. The people and the rabbi had different expectations, and because the two sides did not communicate, trouble came to the door.

More tomorrow; and please, some feedback would be welcome. Your questions will be answered-AR

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Must... find.... time.... to... blog.

Boy, was it busy today. Not to blow my own horn (honk, honk) but I don't think I've missed blogging on a regular weekday since I began writing regularly, back on erev Tisha b'Av. The streak is intact, but barely.

The big news in our neighborhood, as hinted last week, is this: The shteeble is establishing a Board of Directors. This is something new under the sun. Shteebles don't have boards, not when the shteeble is right inside the Rabbi's house, as in our case. When the Rabbi owns the building he makes all the decisions, and keeps all the money. The model is something like a small business, with honor and seats being the primary products, except a Rabbi usually gets more respect than a shopkeeper.

Have you ever seen Do the Right Thing? The riot starts when Buggin' Out is offended that Sal has only photos of Italians in the wall of his pizzeria. He wonders why there isn't a black face up there. Sal tells him to open his own store and put up anyone he wants. One answer to Sal is that he's kept in business by the black people who buy his pizza. An answer to that is that we see no black-owned businesses on the street, and if it were not for Sal the residents would have no place to buy pizza. And around and around we go.

Our situation is not dissimilar. The Rabbi, for example, wants to say yotzros; the people, mostly, do not. The Rabbi wants to read from the Torah and the Megillah and serve as chazzan on holidays and special shabbatos; the people, mostly, dislike his voice and the way his Hasidic accents distorts the sound and sometimes the meaning of Hebrew words.

The people say, we pay the bills. The Rabbi says keep your money and go elsewhere. The people say we have no where else to go. (This, to be precise, is a lie. There is a nearby shul, and other places to pray in the next neighborhood. But none of those places daven sefard, and for these people Modern Orthodox shul is impossible.)

Some of the Rabbis close supporters think a board can make the peace. I doubt it. For us, complaining is sport. But we shall see.

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