Saturday, January 30, 2021

1987's "Broadcast News" was a "canary in a coal mine." Who knew?

Here's a quick description by The Ringer:

"Broadcast News, the romantic comedy-drama released on December 16, 1987, is among the best movies ever made about journalism. Written, directed, and produced by Brooks, it’s the story of three people working for the Washington bureau of a major television evening news show. As senior producer, Jane Craig (Hunter) has an excellent working relationship and friendship with reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a man who has the same intense devotion (obsession) to work. Together they produce the kind of news they believe matters most: investigative, necessary, useful journalism. When Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a very handsome man with very few qualifications or even a basic understanding of the field, is hired by her network as an anchorman, Jane and Aaron are completely unnerved. He is, by all appearances, sincere, kind, perhaps a little too interested in his own insecurities; more importantly, he does not and never has understood the news he reports on. Jane is just as repulsed by Tom as she is into him, while Aaron, who is and perhaps always has been in love with Jane, wants to prove that his kind of news and his kind of love are both intellectually and morally superior."

To my mind, this is 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential election politics in a nutshell:  We voters ended up forced to choose between presidential nominees (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden) who were well-educated, well-informed, skilled, and principled, but not necessarily exciting, and a nominee who was not so well-educated, ill-informed, not particularly skilled, and totally without principle, but charismatic and persuasive.  And a large part of the U.S. population decided that they preferred a good show to actual accomplishments and honesty.

How are folks who are trying to be rational supposed to approach folks who are not necessarily interested in rationalism?  How are people who are trying to be allies of folks who may not be as fortunate as some of us are--due to poverty, prejudice, and/or other challenges--supposed to persuade those who may be a bit short on compassion to give issues of equity and social justice a second look?

The floor is open.

"Canary in a coal mine."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A classic case of "the tail wagging the dog," & other tales of virtual synagogue-hopping

Take one empty sanctuary that normally seats well over 500 people.  Add two clergypeople stationed at a considerable distance from one another and (don't!) mix.  Now you have two people who can take turns leading the prayers, sing harmony, and trade Torah talk with one another.

Wait two months or so, and add a third cleryperson who comes complete with a musical instrument.  Now there are three who can take turns leading prayers, there's three-part harmony, and one of the three is providing instrumental accompaniment.

Wait another few months, and add back the synagogue's musicians, safely distanced in another room but both audible (via wiring/cabling?) and visible (on their own camera).   On one hand, I'm certainly happy to see musicians employed.  On the other hand, I've always been under the impression that an accompanist is supposed to follow the singer, not the other way around; yet, in a classic case of "the tail wagging the dog," I got the distinct impression that the singers were singing at a slower pace to accommodate the accompanists.  Sorry, but I think Kabbalat Shabbat was livelier without the synagogue's musicians.  I still enjoy the occasional weekday morning minyan at that same synagogue, at least partly because that service is a cappella.

Then there was the service at which the rabbis spent so much time explaining the service that there wasn't enough time left for the actual service.  Said my husband, "No one can pray the Sh'ma that fast!"  At the other extreme, there was the clueless rabbi who was playing referee for three cantors but couldn't figure out how to connect the various solos of a "best-hits" version of Kabbalat Shabbat into a coherent service.  We left after I complained to my husband that I was there for a service, not a recital.  Or the cantor who ticked me off by nonchalantly announcing that they'd be cutting every part of the Yotzer Or b'rachah (blessing) that's specific to Shabbat (Sabbath)--what, no Kel Adon?!--and then added insult to injury by skipping the Musaf Amidah prayer.  We never prayed there on a Shabbat morning again.  (Of course, now we can't, since we and our cantor are now co-leading our own synagogue's Shabbat morning Zoom services.)

On the plus side, there's a wonderful independent minyan that we've now attended three times that meets monthly for a full Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv/Arvit (Evening Service)--the singing is delightful, and so is the conversation, and more singing, over dinner (shared on Zoom) and afterward.  Or the combo Kabbalat Shabbat service shared by a synagogue and a neighboring independent minyan in the synagogue's empty-except-for-the-leaders sanctuary--what a lively service it is as we watch the rabbi dance out the front door to welcome the Sabbath Bride at the end of L'cha Dodi!  We hope to get there in person someday, because that looks like a great service for folks who like to dance their way to G!d.  Or the synagogue where the rabbi who leads the service sounds like an independent-minyan leader, which they used to be--they've recruited congregants to sing harmony with them while safely socially-distanced in the sanctuary, to encourage the congregation, praying from home, to sing along on mute.  Or the synagogue whose singer/songwriter prayer leader makes no pretense of being a cantor or cantorial soloist, instead making folks feel as if they've been warmly welcomed into the singer's home for a kumsitz (sing-along) Kabbalat Shabbat.  Or the synagogue with plenty of singing and meaningful sermons, where we used to dance our way through Kabbalat Shabbat back in the good old days when we could go there in person.

Keep looking, because you never know where you'll find a service that works for you, be it locally, in another state, or in another country.  Zoom and live-streaming have opened up the world.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Midrash and me

I have mixed feelings about midrash.

Many midrashim have become so interwoven with the original texts that some folks tend to forget that these interpretations are not actually part of the original texts.  When I first began reading the weekly Torah readings (Parshat HaShavuah or Parashat HaShavuah?) on a regular basis in my early twenties, I was so surprised to discover that the story of Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) smashing his father's idols was not actually in the Torah (Bible).  The problem, as I see it, is that so many of us are taught Torah and midrash with no distinction made between them.  For many years, I found it annoying that so many people couldn't tell the difference between the actual text and the midrashim and/or insisted that both were equal in validity and/or importance.

That said, over the years, I've come to appreciate the midrashim as works of creativity and imagination on the part of the rabbis and others who wrote and continue to write them.  In all seriousness, what else can you do when the text has more holes in it than Swiss cheese but you can't admit that because you believe that G!d wrote it?  Midrashim are a work-around--we can't change the texts, so midrash writers "correct" or "clarify" them indirectly.  Maybe I'm just suffering from a dearth of imagination--maybe the rabbis, too, had to "lay it between the lines."

And while we're on the subject of traditional tales, consider this American one--Does it matter whether or not George Washington actually chopped down that cherry tree?

Friday, January 15, 2021

With new COVID-19 variants spreading, it’s probably time to stop going to the grocery store 🙁

 Our son referred us to this article. Ouch. 🙁 Looks like we're back on our son's Amazon Prime, other online grocery providers, and delivery from the local supermarket. So our only escape from our apartment will be going for a walk. 🙁 On the plus side, all three of us are still healthy (thus far). We can't wait to get poked in the arm, but heaven only knows when the vaccine will be available. In the meantime, stay safe and be well, everyone--keep those masks on, wash your hands frequently, and stay six feet apart so that you'll have a better chance of not ending up six feet under.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

From the Jewish macrocosm to a Jewish microcosm in a literal heartbeat :(

All of us who are dedicated synagogue-goers are aware of the problem--we see synagogues closing their doors or merging with other synagogues from coast to coast.  And we know why, too--in our own neighborhood, there are three synagogues (one Orthodox, one Conservative, and one Reform), and none of them has been able to attract and/or retain significant numbers of younger members.  (Our own synagogue--the Conservative one--has only two members under the age of 50.)  Younger Jews from our neighborhood--those who choose to identify as Jewish (and I don't know whether they're the majority)-- belong to Jewish social groups and/or Jewish parenting groups and/or Jewish social justice groups and/or, for the more religiously inclined, ye friendly local alternative Jewish prayer and study community.  Many younger Jews seem to prefer to focus on tikkun olam, mindfulness-style services, meditation, and/or Jewish study without Jewish practice.  Those interested in Jewish practice often tend to prefer rabbi-founded alternative communities or grassroots-based chavurot or synagogue-based or independent minyanim run by laypeople with no presiding clergy, rather than previously-established synagogues.

So when my husband clicked on a link on jewishLIVE and found himself listening to podcasts on the "parent" website, Judaism Unbound, discussing, if my memory of the terminology is correct, a "paradigm crash," he brought those podcasts to my attention.  Thus far, I've listened to only the first four podcasts, but let me see whether I can give a short synopsis of what I've heard:  Jewish history has recorded a major "crash" in a paradigm previously central to Judaism--the "crash" resulting from the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple in Jerusalem--and the creation, over time, of a successor paradigm--the synagogue and the prayer-book(s).  Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofeberg and guests are of the opinion that the synagogue paradigm has now "crashed" and that a new paradigm is currently "under construction."

There we were, a pair of older synagogue fans with limited means, trying to figure out what part we could play in helping to encourage the development of a flourishing Jewish future, when we were yanked back to a more nitty-gritty everyday reality--in the middle of a day spent glued to the television watching seditious rioters invade the United States capitol building, we got a telephone call from our synagogue office informing us that our shul's long-time president had died suddenly from medical problems decades old.  Instead of worrying about the future of the Jewish world, we now have the future of our small synagogue as our main concern.  Wish us luck.  

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

I may not be a "fashion influencer," but I can still have a "wardrobe malfunction" (of sorts) :)

I may love the color pink, but wearing various shades of pink tops every day got boring even for me.  So I did some "retail therapy"--I took advantage of a sale and bought one striped top and two print tops.  I was very pleased with my choices . . .

. . . until I noticed that I was just about the only woman wearing print tops on Zooms.

"It'll be your signature," said my oldest friend.  I thought that was a great idea . . .

. . . until I noticed that my print tops seemed to interact in an odd way with the lighting in our living-room and/or with a webcam or laptop camera and/or with Zoom--these tops seem to shimmer in the light, as if someone had spilled glitter on them.

I apologize for the distraction, but, apparently, I just can't hide my own light.  :)

Monday, January 04, 2021

40 blocks in 43-degree weather

That's how far we walked today.  Not bad for a pair of 70-somethings, if I do say so myself.  :)

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