Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My two cents in WH

I just wanted to share my thoughts, as I commented on another blog about a controversy I think has become a great embarrassment.

I don’t care to comment on my personal opinion regarding whether the shul’s announcer may be a woman (other than to applaud Sharon for stirring things up), but I would like to comment on Rabbi Schnaidman.

I’ve known him for four years. Not a lot, but significantly longer than many of the current mitpallelim/ot at our shul (I’m one of the geezers of the younger cohort). I’ve had many personal and private discussions with him over this time regarding life in general as well as nuanced halakhic issues pertaining both to bein adam l’chavero and laMakom (sometimes both at once). These were usually not black or white, yes/no, muttar/assur issues.

Sadly, many figures of religious authority I’ve encountered in the past have withdrawn from taking an unequivocal stance and accepting responsibility for their answers, or they have so diluted the matter with superficial hashkafic platitudes.

Rabbi Schnaidman never backed down from tough issues and sought, with great sensitivity and gravity, to find appropriate solutions that would maintain people’s dignity and rights, and especially his commitment to halakha. I have been repeated impressed by the creativity he draws upon to reach such solutions.

That many of you were not satisfied with his logic does not mean he is old-fashioned, inconsiderate, or obdurate. He recognizes the inherent challenges in leading a shul comprised of very different populations and has taken great pains to foster the spiritual & personal devlopment, comfort, and acceptance of each, though such effort has often been fraught with conflict.

He is not perfect, but he is sincere and sensitive to the individuals that comprise the kehillah. I know first-hand the angst he experiences when he feels that someone may have been slighted or excluded within the context of his shul (and the hospital to which he devotes so much of his energy).

My only disappointment with the recent influx of new members of this community (of which I am part) is that so many see him only as “the old guy who gives really long drashot and seems kinda out of touch with us” and don’t appreciate the opportunity they have to be part of his flock.

I know I probably got a little too worshipful of the good Rabbi, but I guess I had a point to emphasize. This incident has been very upsetting to me, and people don't seem to have any הכרת הטוב for what has been accomplished in this community, much of it with the support of Rabbi Schnaidman. Of course, before recognition, one must be aware of the good that was done.

How many of the מתלוננים were even in this community to remember when the young people had their own minyan in the basement, once a month? How many of them appreciate how far out on a limb the Rabbi went to make the eruv a reality, how much indignation from others in the community he will have to still absorb even after we've moved on in two or three years?

Someone commented to me cynically that these dissatisfied youth should seek a younger, more progressive Rabbi and go to the Bridge Shul. Of course, no one really goes there anymore because the shul was not willing to make the accomodations Mt. Sinai and its leader have made.

These events have reinforced for me how alienated by the younger community I feel here. T and I have been talking about moving for a while, but never got our act together. It's time to move on.

What life asks of us

As stressful as life can be, we usually have a good handle on what we're supposed to do. I know I have to pick up my dry-cleaning or I won't have anything to wear for Shabbos. I know I have to use a pot holder or I'll seriously burn myself. Some decisions may be nagging, but ultimately don't invoke much responsibility because their consequences are not significantly influential for our future. Should I order the pasta or the fish? (The pasta- I don't like fish.)

And then there are times where life asks more of us, times where our impotence to really control our destiny becomes painfully obvious. During January/February, I was applying for externship positions for next year. I sent out five applications and was called in for three interviews. Awesome.

The first interview was on a Wednesday with my last choice hospital site (my fall-back). I considered it a practice interview. At the end of the interview with the training director, she offered me a spot for next year and asked me to let her know my decision within a week. My other two interviews were the following Tuesday. I told each interviewer about my offer and the pressure for a decision and asked them if they could let me know, in a non-binding way, where I stand. They understood my predicament and explained their predicament, which was basically that they couldn't really tell me because they weren't finished interviewing and would contact me the following week. One advised me to go ahead and "make [my] decisions."

Tough situation, right? It was literally "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." So what do I do? Take the ho-hum sure thing and feel I didn't get the exciting, prestigious placement or hold out hope but risk ending up with nothing for next year? What would you do? This was one situation where I wished I could just know one relevant piece of information from the future. That would ease my decision and give me the serenity of certainty.

So many times we ask life for its meaning, what it expects of us. Viktor Frankl, in his seminal work, Man's Search for Meaning (an explication of his experiences during the Holocaust and how they contributed to his theories of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, which posit that our greatest drive is not towards pleasure (as per Freud) or power (as per Adler and Nietzsche), but toward meaning- buy and read this book!) informs that it's the other way around.

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible... [In the concentration camps] we needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual"
-Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
The responsibility is upon us to discover, define, and pursue our meaning. So, my friends, where does this leave us? Well, I'll tell you what I did.

I called the director of the first site on Wednesday and blubbered a request for more time to decide. I tried to frame it in a way that didn't convey that "I don't really want to go here, but you may be my only hope." It's like this- T. pointed out that people tend to respond more positively to requests based on a principle than just a סתם request because "I want/need it." I told her that I try to make my decisions with knowledge of all my options, that if I didn't want to go there, I would tell her, but I wanted to find the placement I would gain most from and could contribute most to. She very tactfully did not point out to me how full of it I was and graciously offered me a couple more days to decide, as they expected to fill all positions by Friday. She said she'd call me when they'd all been filled (not, of course, when there was one spot left I could still accept). That bought me more time, but not enough.

I let Friday come and go (along with the phone call that all positions had been filled) and hoped for the best the next week. Monday I received a call from one of the other two places, rejecting me. I should have seen it coming. The director told me that it wasn't becasue of any lack of qualification, but that they generally seek externs with more experience. As such, they usually interview applicants for 4th year externship poistions, a preference the director informed me of during the interview. I was applying for 3rd year externship. They called me in for an interview because they were impressed with my CV and wanted to see what I 'm about. In the end, they went with 4th years across the board. I should have put the pieces together earlier. 20/20 hindsight, right?

Later that day, I got a call from my last hope. The director asked if I'd accepted the other offer I told her about at the interview. I responded cooly and calmly that I hadn't and in fact preferred a placement at her site (READ: I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally want you to take me because I have nowhere else to go). She said she'd let me know their decision on Wednesday. On Wednesay, I got the good news. I'm really excited to extern next year on two MICA wards with ex-convicts and oodles of psychopathology. In addition to the experience, this institution's name on my CV will help take me places in the future.

Does this mean I made the right decision? Not necessarily. As much as I got the outcome I'd desired at the time, I still have no way of knowing what the consequences of my decision may ultimately be.

When I called the director to accept her offer, she told me that they were very impressed with me when we met (on Tuesday the week before), but that they had to finish all the other interviews [as a formality]. So it turns out that at the very time I was troubled by uncertainty and the decision required, the conclusion was already there (she could have saved me a lot of stress had she told me then!). Of course, I could have chosen the fall back.

I'm curious to hear your about your throughts and experiences.

Update 12/28/08:
At the end of the following year's application process, I was in a similar bind. I had an offer from one place I thought I'd have been very happy with, but still had another interview, with another place I also thought I'd be happy with. At the end of the interview, I frankly told the interviewer my dilemma and empathized with her position (having come to understand it from last year's process). This time around, she offered me a position on the spot! She didn't make me accept right away, but I did ultimately accept the position and am very happy there.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hey Al, your slip is showing

Injustice in the world? Al Sharpton to the rescue. Well, let me emend that.

Injustice for the black community? Al Sharpton to the rescue. Wait, wait- one more time.

Injustice or actual justice for the black community? Al Sharpton to the rescue.

If you couldn't already tell, he really irks me. He is an opportunistic, oratorical tornado of righteous indignation who touches down wherever something unfortunate happens to people of minority communities as a result of some action or inaction by the majority community or authority (two of the NYPD officers involved in the Sean Bell shooting case are black) that he perceives as unjust. He takes advantage of grieving families to further his own public exposure and political ambitions, claiming to represent their views and their furor, while often slipping into first person ("I will not tolerate..." vs. "they" or even "we").

What infuriates me more than this clown and his traveling circus is when he or others like him, when interviewed or holding a press conference before a verdict, hope or demand that "justice will be served." Now, correct me if I'm wrong (you can comment below), but the justice system generally performs justice whenever it gives a verdict (of course, I acknowledge exceptions).
What these people are really saying is, "I demand a judgment in my favor" and vesting this selfish, biased demand in the sheep's clothing of impartial, uniformly desired "justice."


Anyway, here's a clip of Rev. Sharpton (I will not refer to him as Dr., as he sometimes calls himself, because he never earned a doctorate or equivalent) recently speaking his true mind.

Monday, March 19, 2007

City Gripe #956

I suppose this one really doesn't have to do with living in the city, although alternate-side parking rules add to the anxiety. So it snowed over the weekend. Well first it rained, then it hailed, then it snowed, hail again, then back to rain. The long and short of it is that my car was blocked in by a foot of what used to be snow on Shabbos but later froze into one massive ice shelf.

It took me two hours using the shovel and ice plunger/breaker/thingamajig I borrowed from my super to get to a point I could pull the car out. Along the way, I discovered that it wasn't ice all the way down. If I cleared out the hard packed snow underneath, I could break the ice with less difficulty into chunks. I carried/threw/shoveled these chunks (the larger ones weighing 30-40 lbs) onto the sidewalk. It was long, arduous work, and I almost gave up a few times, but I stuck with it. As the sun began to fill our little valley of a street, it made the ice a littler easier to break.

As I was nearing the back of the car (after discovering and partially dismantling the solid ice shelf that also ran underneath my car, blocking the rear tires' path), a man came up to me. He said very politely and articulately that he wasn't going to take my time and beg, but would like to do some honest work for a few bucks, not even 5 or 10. So I let him finish the job and instruct me to take a breather. He made sure I could pull into the street and I gave him $8. I asked him where he lives, but he said he doesn't have a home. I told him to come say hello if he sees me around.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Laplap slurpslurp glubglub lub dub

So there was this really tall guy who bent down to drink from the water fountain in the hall just now. It struck me in a funny way and reminded me of something...

Actually, the giraffe's circulatory system is one of the
wonders of Creation intelligent design evolution whatever. Because its head (and the brain within) is so far above its heart, the giraffe must maintain a blood pressure much higher than other mammals (about 240/160), and has a very large (~24 lbs) and powerful heart to accomplish this.

Because of their hard-working hearts and high blood pressure, giraffes are very susceptible to heart attacks when frightened or experiencing prolonged exertion, so when catching a giraffe, be sure not to chase it too long. Zoo-keepers also blindfold giraffes sometimes to avoid stressing them too much.

And finally, a mystery solved:

"...researchers explain that most other mammals, including humans, elephants, and mice, have similar blood pressures, because all of them have a similarly proportional distance between the head and the heart. Because of its long neck, a giraffe's blood pressure is twice as high as a human's blood pressure, yet it doesn't suffer from blood pressure-related diseases or dizziness -- despite an extraordinary rush of blood from the head in the two seconds it takes to lift its head 15 feet from a drinking position to a standing one.

The model reveals nature's evolutionary solution, which prevents giraffes from becoming dizzy in their predator-studded environment. A muscular cuff, which acts much like the device used to constrict a human arm during blood-pressure tests, surrounds the jugular vein. It regulates blood flow while the giraffe lifts its head, until the animal's powerful heart can pump blood up its long neck to the brain."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Today I had to do something I feel is wrong.

In my clinical training, I perform psychological assessments. I was finishing up one such assessment process today, and met with the examinee for a feedback session to discuss the results. The assessment report can be very technical and difficult to interpret (or interpret correctly) for the lay-public (hence the feedback session to explain in everyday language).

Of course, at this point it's entirely appropriate to reference Simspons episode 9F09 (Homer's Triple Bypass):
Dr. Hibbert:
Homer, I'm afraid you'll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation.
Homer: Say it in English, Doc.
Hibbert: You're going to need open heart surgery.
Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo jumbo.
Hibbert: We're going to cut you open, and tinker with your ticker.
Homer: Could you dumb it down a shade?
For this reason, my supervisor does not like to give examinees their reports after testing and, when requested, sends the report to the proper audience (e.g. a school or other doctor). When asked for a report during a feedback session, he tells the examinee that it's not "his policy" to release the report. If they continue to ask for it, he gives it to them. After all, they have a right to it- he just doesn't like to give it to them. This is not a unversal practice (even within our clinic, other supervisors don't subscribe to this policy), but it's his, and I think it's pretty deceptive.

As his supervisee, I am expected to practice this habit. Today, after doing a good job explaining to my examinee what I'd found, she asked for the report. I told her, "It's our policy not to release the report." I told her we would send it wherever she needed it sent. She asked if there was any way to get the report for her records, to facilitate sending the report in the future, to have it for her records. All I could do was repeat, "It's out policy not to release the report."

It went on, but I feel dirty enough already. I need a shower.

Update (3/15/07): The clinic's policy is, in fact, to release reports to patients, but to make them jump through minor hurdles to get it (submitting a written request and signing consent to release their report to.. themselves- huh?). So, this examinee will get her report. I feel better now, but it's yet another strike against my supervisor, with whom we already have some major issues.
At times like this, it's important to remember advice my old alte-supervisor gave me when I left work before returning to school to start my graduate studies-
תזהר מחמור נושא ספרים" (Beware of donkeys carrying books)

Update to the update: My aforementioned alte-supervisor is a secular Israeli with contempt for the practice of religious Jews (a tradition in which he was raised; in his youth, he attended an elite yeshiva, possibly qualifying him as an authentic apikores. His advice to me suddenly takes on new meaning.

Monday, March 05, 2007

תפילה אחרי משחק ספורט

דחוף לקום בבוקר בשביל לראות משחק ספורט
תוכן השאלה: האם מותר לקום בבוקר מוקדם בשביל לצפות במשחק ספורט ולהתפלל אח``כ? מדובר במשחק של פעם בשנה. אם אני אקום לראות את המשחק ואתפלל אח``כ, זה יהיה הרבה יותר מוקדם מאשר זמן התפילה הרגיל שלי

So apparently there's this website about Judaism, where people ask questions, presumably for psak. This particular question was from January (click on the post title for the link) and seems to be referring to the Super Bowl. Those in Israel would have to get up pretty early to watch the game. This guy wants to know if it's ok to get up early, watch the game, and then daven (at a time that would be earlier than usual for him).

The response questions why a sports game can motivate this guy to wake up so early, but the Shulchan Arukh cannot. He goes on to hope that this fellow will begin the practice of arising early for the game, but make a habit of it for tefillah.

What do you think? Was this question serious or just baiting for a too frum response?