Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Biennial and H1N1

I had my pig flu inoculation yesterday. Now before any of you accuse me of queue jumping or inappropriate health care protocol, I would like to remind you that I am considered high risk due to my chronic asthma. Breathing may be a bodily function that most of us take for granted, but trust me, when it is something that becomes laboured, one truly realizes its importance. My arm is a bit sore, (nothing out of the ordinary from the seasonal flu vaccination that I am subjected to annually) and there is a bit of bruising around the injection site. Again, nothing that a couple of extra strength Tylenol can't address. I should also mention that while my doctor is fairly certain that I have already suffered through a bout with this miserable virus, there is always a chance for a recurrence and I refuse to play host for another pathogen party.

Contrary to the myriad of conflicting evidence about vaccinations on the internet, I prefer to take my medical advice from trained professionals; namely doctors and public health officials. (With sincere apologies to skeptics like Bill Maher, Glenn Beck, or Jenny McCarthy.) I will not profess to know everything or anything about the composition of said vaccines, or their potential effects on the body, (I will leave that up to the experts!) but I do know a bit about what it feels like to suffer through the swine flu. I do know that it can be devastating on the body and I do know that in the wrong person, the effects can be catastrophic. I do know that it is spreading like wildfire, (According to the Centre for Disease Control the flu is now widespread in 48 out of 50 states and Health Canada reports that it is now in all provinces and territories) and that it is easily spread through cursory contact. (Washing our hands and Purelling is all well and good, but I shudder at the thought of air travel this holiday season with all of the hackers, sneezers and drippers!) I believe that having the shot is a public health issue. If I get the vaccine, then that is one less person that is likely to be felled by this miserable virus. One less person clogging emergency rooms and doctors offices. One less person missing work or school. One less person spreading it around. I choose to stay healthy and I am helping my fellow citizens stay healthy as well. Obviously, vaccinations are a personal choice and I can do nothing to convince any of you to inoculate yourselves or your families. I am simply stating my personal preference.

The Biennial was a little like my swine flu inoculation. It has taken me a few days to decompress from the whirlwind that was the 70th Union For Reform Judaism Biennial. I wanted to breathe for a bit before I offered an assessment of the five and a half days that I spent in the heart of my hometown. Biennial conventions can be like camp. They are filled with great programming, phenomenal music, incredible ruach, (spirit) wonderful friends, and spiritual renewal. But, like camp the glow fades and reality takes over when faced with the truth. Biennials can do nothing to help the overall health of a congregation unless one is willing to take the shot. We must take all that we have gleaned from the convention to renew the health and well-being of our congregations. One cannot become inoculated by osmosis. One cannot simply expect others to do the hard work necessary to make our congregational communities relevant. In other words, many more need to make the commitment to full Biennial participation if the whole of the kehillah expects to remain healthy.

I learned a great deal over the last week at the Biennial. I took home some wonderful new music, some innovative service ideas, some programs that I think might translate well to my congregation and some new friendships. Mostly what was renewed in me was the sense that our congregations are all about relationships. We need to value our people and our programs will follow. We need to understand that our synagogues are not businesses in the traditional model, and that our members are not shareholders waiting for return on their investments. We rely heavily on our volunteers and they need to be made to feel as integral to our success as is the clergy. Simple letters of thanks aren't trite, they are essential. Youth programs aren't a drain on our resources, they are an investment in our future. Technology, websites, social networking and blogs like this one are the new media and we cannot get stuck in old and traditional models that no longer reach or meet the needs of our members. Rabbi Yoffie challenged all of us to update our technology in his Shabbat sermon, and we can no longer use the excuse of lack of time, knowledge, or money to block us in appropriately meeting the needs of our members. We are losing touch, and synagogues should be all about touch.

I will have a great deal more to say about synagogues and community outreach in upcoming posts. It has become a personal passion and I have come to the very real conclusion that in order to survive, synagogues and we synagogue leaders by natural extension, need to radically alter the model. The paradigm is simply outdated and needs a complete overall. If we hope to keep the synagogue at the centre of Jewish life, we need to wholly reexamine our goals, our direction, and our vision. At the top of this list should be to inoculate ourselves with the medication that is already available through participation in future Biennials. It might not be the panacea we crave, but it is a good start.

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