Monday, March 30, 2009

Why I Didn't Write a Random Musing Last Week

Wow-I really thought, now that I am semi-unemployed, having lost some of my teaching and family/teen programming work at one synagogue, I'd have more time on my hands-especially to do things like write, blog, etc.

As I have discovered before (and therefore should not have been surprised) is that the work that needs to be done always seems to manage to expand to fill the available time (and then some.) Seems there is always too much to do and not enough time to do it. The question I'm always asking is, does it happen to us, or do we do it to ourselves?

Many management gurus suggest that it's all a matter of things like delegating, organizing, prioritizing. Yet, as the expression goes, Humans plan, and G"d laughs.

Nevertheless, it is a cop-out to just give up on attempting any type of planning. The best planning tries to allow for as many possibilities as it can. That's certainly what I was taught when learning to be a good Stage Manager. A good "performance plan" includes plans for when things don't go according to plan.

Yet, at some point, doesn't this become a cat chasing it's tail, or a tail wagging the dog? The scientific side of me wants to assert that "random" means "random" but the more spiritual side of me suggests that sometimes, the more we strive against the randomness, the harder it pushes back. No wonder so many cultures developed dialectical deities representing good and evil.

It helps, of course, to have a deity on your side. Like we sing at Purim "utsu eitza v'tufar dabro davar v'lo yakum ki imanu El." We taunt, almost dare our enemies to plan their plans, make their evil plots, for they will come to naught because G"d is with us. Yet I don;t recall anywhere in the megillah where it says that G"d pre-disposed King Ahashverosh to be receptive to Esther's please (or for that matter, no reference to G"d hardening, er, that is, raising Ahashverosh's golden scepter.)

So why no musing last week? Life interfered, I could say. Frankly, I just ran out of time, didn't want to rush out a half-baked job, and I've grown weary of simply falling back on re-cycling old musings. Still, I did get a good Shabbat meal on the table in time for the family and our Shabbat guests (and a vegetarian meal at that, for 8-year-old Abigail has decided to go vegetarian for now - mostly because most of her friends at school are-how's that for a picture of Amherst-peer pressure vegetarianism! I even managed to create a vegetarian meal that I would eat.) So everything wasn't a total waste, or completely out of control.

OK, I've done my self-flagellation now. Seems like it should be enough. Still, there's more to explore here. Wonder how I can work this into this week's musing on parashat Tsav?

Adrian (aka Migdalor Guy)

Write-In Candidate for Amherst Town Meeting (Precinct 3)

Adrian A. Durlester, Write-In Candidate for Amherst Town Meeting

Be sure to vote on Tuesday, March 31, 2009!

Statement of Adrian A. Durlester, Write-in candidate for Amherst Town Meeting Precinct 3.

Though a newcomer to Amherst I believe strongly in one’s civic responsibilities to the community. As a member of Town meeting, I would diligently research and study the issues that come before us, and solicit the input of community members. Amherst is a unique community with a proud heritage, a diverse population, and strong, inclusive social values. I will work to keep Amherst consistent with those values, while being open to progressive ideas and the new realities of the 21st century. I will work to insure that our children continue to have the benefit of small, supportive, and diverse neighborhood elementary schools.

If you have questions, email me at:, call me at 314-230-3260, or just stop by my home at 23 Valley Lane to chat. More information can also be found at

Background and Education

Profession: Renaissance man – Jewish Educator; Musician/Music Educator; Theatrical production generalist; Author; Editor; Consultant


  • Master of Theological Studies, Vanderbilt University Divinity School (2000)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatrical Design and Production, North Carolina School of the Arts (1977)
  • Graduate (with honor) of the Bronx High School of Science (1973)
  • Musical training at The Juilliard School of Music Preparatory Division (1961-1969) and the Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Division (1969-1973)

Resident of Amherst: since August 2008

I endorse MEGAN ROSA, Candidate for School Committee

More about my candidacy

A relative newcomer to Amherst since last August, I am keenly interested in fulfilling my civic responsibilities to the community. When I see Town Meeting vacancies going unfilled from my precinct, I feel it is my duty and obligation to offer to fill one of those vacancies, so that the voters of the precinct can be the ones who choose as many of their representatives as possible, rather than having them appointed on their behalf. It is for this reason that I am a write-in candidate for Town meeting from Precinct 3.

As a member of Town meeting, I will diligently research and study the issues that come before us, and solicit the input of community members and my constituents.

One current issue that is presently of great importance to me is the future status of Mark's Meadow Elementary School. I believe it is essential for the Amherst School Committee to fully explore all the options, possibilities, and ramifications of any elementary/middle school restructuring, as well as regionalization, and to fully involve the incoming superintendent in this process, before making any major decisions that would have such a significant impact on the community as the closing of a high-functioning, successful school, particularly when such action is in direct contradiction to the accumulated and consensus wisdom of the school principals and acting (both prior and current) superintendents. As a member of Town Meeting, I would work to insure the School Committee follows such a process before Town meeting approves any budget proposed by the School Committee.

It is clear to me that the present district boundaries for the elementary schools creates a situation that is discriminatory, unfair, and not impartial. Redistricting to insure equity in school districting for all who attend Amherst elementary schools is long past overdue. The realities do not coincide with the stated moral, ethical, and social values of the community. Redistricting should be a top priority, but it should not be accomplished as a side-effect closing a school in the midst of a financial panic.

Amherst is a unique community with a proud heritage. I will work to preserve that heritage, and to keep it consistent with the values of the community, while being open to new ideas, new information, and the new  realities of the 21st century.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me at or call me at 314-230-3260.

You can learn more about me on my person website

Friday, March 20, 2009

Random Musing before Shabbat - Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself

I'll admit it - I'm not the best when it comes to delegating. Oh, to be like Moshe Rabbeinu, and have at my disposal  talented craftspeople and artisans upon whom I can always depend. Often, I have people to help at my disposal, though, as is often the case with volunteers, one often has to invest a great deal of time in providing instructions and assistance to them. That's not a bad thing at all. Many theaters and synagogues where I have worked are truly dependent on volunteer assistance, sweat equity, etc. I am always grateful for their help, regardless of the effort it sometimes takes on my part to fully utilize and engage volunteers, and allowing them to have a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Anyone who works regularly with volunteers knows that they can disappoint. Often, people mean well and offer assistance, but never show up, or have last-minute conflicts. Sometimes they have some experience or understanding of what they are being asked to to, and other times, they have little or none.

Thus, there are those times when I'd rather have Moshe's initial problem, as brought to him by Betzalel - that the people were being too generous with their contributions. To be crude about it, sometimes having more generous giving can mean less dependence on volunteers, and I'd be dissembling to say that there are times I;d find the preferable.

There are tools and techniques for working with volunteers. I suspect there is much that can be learned from our double parashiyot about that, though not all of them are applicable all the time. G"d has given rather specific instructions for the construction of the mishkan on the one hand. One the other hand, even those detailed instructions require some interpretation and expertise in fabricating them into reality. This seems quite useful, as it works for those who need to be given very explicit directions as well as those who need some room to have some ownership of their work and creativity in the process.

In the end, though many volunteers have helped to create the parts for the mishkan, the task of setting it up for the first time is left to only one person-Moshe. Yet Moshe appears in this case to be just a "doer," an automaton, assembling the pieces. Seems hardly fitting for the assembly of such a sacred thing. However (and you knew this was coming) I sometimes envy Moshe that reality - all he had to do was exactly what he had been told. Put tab A into slot A1. Place the table here, the lamp there. I imagine stage crews or props crews diligently going about changing the scene between acts. I've done that work myself, and though it can be incredibly mundane, there can also be a certain excitement all around (though even that can wear thing over a long run.)

Yet there is a lesson I learned from these parashiyot long ago-though I don't think I realized then what the source was. It started with my work in the theater, when I would do things like completely walk through by myself scene changes, or set decoration placement-sometimes virtually in the process of designing/planning, sometimes during a trail setup in a shop, sometimes as the show is being set up the first time on stage, and later on, each day of the run of a show - even though at that point I totally trusted in those who had done, or were going to be doing. I did it for a number of reasons. I wanted to be sure the instructions were clear. I wanted to be sure it worked and it was right for the show. I wanted to be sure there was logic and efficiency (and sometimes a little artistry) in how the work was done, sequenced, etc. And yes, I admit it, sometimes just to be sure for myself, because trust is an often tenuous thing to maintain. (I can also tell you this is true in volunteer/amateur and professional settings.)

It's no different for me in other work I have learned to do - including Jewish Education. I like to try things myself, to work through the things I may be asking others to do. That is why it can be so frustrating to be in situations where time constraints don't always offer the luxury of sufficient planning, preparation, etc - especially when it involves volunteers. I need the freedom that Moshe had to step by step go through the assembly and setup of the mishkan.
We can assign all sort of deeper meanings to this work by Moshe, and the commentators have not shied away from this. However, on a simple pshat, practical level, I can see Moshe doing this for the same sort of reasons-to be sure those who would be responsible for assembling and transporting the mishkan would be able to do it as conceived. Now, had this been Moshe's idea alone, one might perceive it as a certain lack of faith or mistrust-for either the work of the craftspeople, or (warning-danger Wil Robinson) for G"d's exact plans.

Setting aside for a moment the idea that the mishkan, and all the attached ritual, are really for humanity's sake and not for G"d, I find myself wondering if G"d might not have chosen to do what was asked of Moshe? They were G"d's plans, after all. I'd rarely be absolutely certain my plans would all work out perfectly. G"d by then had had enough experience with human beings to know that even G"d's plans don't always work out perfectly.

I can just see the movie version now, of this alternate history, in which the Israelites create all the pieces for the mishkan, and then G"d does the assembling. To we mere humans, it appears magical. How it appears to G"d we can only speculate.
Perhaps G"d was showing great trust in Moshe and the Israelites, or perhaps G"d didn't know any better and was naively trusting that the plans were executed within tolerances. Being somewhat the control freak I am, I think I know which way I'd lean. How foolish of me. Perhaps (though I'm not sure) G"d knows better, that when you give the things you create or control free will, you have to be prepared for the consequences. There's that popular 12-step saying "let go and let G"d." Can we ask or expect G"d to do the same, to "let go, and let us?" Something to ponder this Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom,
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, March 6, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat -Tetzaveh 5769 -Something Still Doesn't Smell Quite Right

Tetzaveh is a very rich portion, and over the years, I've mined it for many interesting musings. I;ve written about the "Do clothes make the man?" question regarding the priestly vestments. I've expounded on G"d's promise to "dwell among us." I've tried to answer the question "where's Moshe in this parasha?" I've gotten a little wacky with the "Urim and Thummim" show. There's also one of my personal favorites, "Aharon's Bells" in which I ponder the reasons why there were bells skirting the high priest's vestments. Eleven years ago, I wondered about the incense. I thought it time to revisit this. In 5768 I wrote:

I asked myself, what's all this incense stuff about? (Exodus 30:1-10)

The altar for burnt offerings was located in the other half of the mishkan, away from the Holy of Holies. But the incense altar was to be placed immediately before the Holy of Holies. Well, perhaps there are some practical considerations here. Burnt offerings are gonna make a lot of smoke - better that it not fog up the Holy of Holies.

But what is it that G"d is really telling us here? I have a thought. What is it in our culture that creates burnt offerings? Well, we certainly cook lots of meat. To do so means killing animals. Now G"d did ask us to sacrifice animals - but by placing the altar apart from the Ark, perhaps G"d was telling us that while it may be a necessity, it is not quite holy enough to be so near to G"d. And not something we should necessarily enjoy. So we may find it necessary to have "burnt offerings" in our lives, but G"d wants us to keep our distance with them.

What about the needless sacrifice of human lives to war? They are burnt offerings, though I know not to which G"d. Bombs, napalm, radiation poisoning, chemical weapons, air burst devices, etc. These things surely are not pleasing to G"d, but G"d knows they do happen. We turn human beings into charred sacrifices. Perhaps G"d is reminding us to keep our "burnt offerings" away from the holy. That killing, that war cannot truly be "holy" even if being fought in God's name? That anything that involves killing, be it animal or human being doesn't "quite smell right" and should be kept apart from that which is truly holy.

Then what is the incense all about? Is it a superficial dress-up? A way to let G"d think that everyone smells sweet when in reality we are stinking up the place with our actions? Or is it a way that G"d is allowing us to practice that deception on ourselves when we enter G"d's presence? Well, on that last point, that isn't necessarily all bad. When we enter the Holy of Holies (or, in contemporary terms, to enter God's presence or do holy work) we should feel good about ourselves. Sweet incense might very well help us to lift our spirit and improve our attitude.

The sweetness of the incense serves to remind us of the sweetness of G"d's presence and G"d's covenant. And how better to get an attitude adjustment. In instructing Aaron to light incense every morning and every evening, God is perhaps telling us to try and find some sweetness in every day, and at all times.

Like pressed flower petals that serve to remind us of the sweetness of the flower they came from, and the sweetness of the memory that accompanies those petals, the incense is a reminder of the sweetness of God's presence in our lives. The trick is to carry the remembrance of the sweet smell of the incense when we come out of the holy space and into the stench of the burning sacrifices of daily life.

I realized as I was reading this that there was more to say about it. So here goes.

We are a funny species. We have certainly adapted to a lifestyle that is as odor sweet as we can make it. We fill our restrooms, our homes, our businesses with timed automatic odor-covering sprays, spray disinfectants and other modern forms of incense. We even have air-filtering devices. Food, drinks, winers and all sorts of other products have their odors tailored for our sensibilities. Magazines drop scratch and sniff samples. We laden ourselves with perfumes, colognes and scented soaps.

Is this all an attempt to divorce us from the everyday odors and smells of life? If so, is it wise? Most of us no longer raise our own food, so we have that distance which enables us to alleviate our guilt. Our connection with our planet grows ever more distant. Maybe if we allowed ourselves to smell the normal odors of life we could regain our connection? Moreover, the unpleasant odors would surely work their way with us. If we couldn't mask the smell of slaughterhouses, of death on the battlefield, of noxious gases, perhaps we'd work harder to eliminate some of these things.

Life these days is truly filled with the stench of burning sacrifices. We've offered up our planet on the altar of greed. Our financial system is certainly starting to smell like a rotting corpse. There are all sorts of odors in the air-greed, despair, lust, fear. Our natural instinct seems to be to want to cover them up. As I suggested 11 years ago, the incense, the sweetness of worship, of being in a holy space and encountering the G"d of our understanding-we can carry the remembrance with us to make the stench of everyday life bearable. Well folks, it's getting really smelly out there. Instead of trying to cover it up, maybe we should allow them to be, and finds ways to

carry the remembrance of the sweet smell of the incense when we come out of the holy space and into the stench of the burning sacrifices of daily life.

And so I say again:

May your Shabbat be filled with only sweetness, and may you carry it with you into the week

Shabbat Shalom, and have a joyous Purim,


©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why Are We So Far Behind the Technology Curve?

In this day and age, even the poorest and smallest of public and private schools seems to have, at a minimum, one computer in a  classroom. Many schools are well beyond that minimal level. While some of the technology is paid for out of regular budgetary funds, very often I notice that parent organizations, community funds, or charitable foundations have enabled the acquisition of classroom computers.

So I have little understanding of why the typical synagogue religious school doesn't have all its classrooms at least at a basic level of one computer per classroom. Where are the parents and community foundations to support such an effort?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that there is merit to the argument that places where we teach Judaism need not be, and, in point of fact ought to be, by deliberate choice, different environments from those in which students learn their secular subjects. It's good to be a little counter-cultural.

However, ultimately, this is an unrealistic fantasy. The very nature of technology is changing the way people learn in fundamental ways. Parts of the technology are becoming integral to the process. So as we try to rationalize or argue ourselves out of the need for technology in the supplemental Jewish religious school, we move further away from the changing learning modalities of our students. Our tried and true methods have evolved over the centuries. They must keep evolving-we must not let nostalgia cloud our judgment.

It's not a black and white issue. There's no "slippery slope" of which we must be wary. The technology has the potential for being good and beneficial, and also for being dangerous and detrimental. which way it goes is in our hands. Technology is a tool, and we must be in the driver's seat, if we are to use it effectively. It is not too difficult to understand. It is not up in heaven that we should send someone there to get it for us and impart it to us. Nor is it across the sea that we should send someone to get it for us and impart it to us. What it isn't, quite yet, is in our hearts and souls-and, to some degree, I hope it never fully is. Yet we must take it to heart and find ways to embrace it, co-opt it, use it in service to Judaism.

I've been doing that in my schools and classrooms as much as I can for well over a decade. Even today, it still often requires me to bring my own equipment to make it happen. I know that I've been spent a lot of time at the very front of the wave of technology, so I realize my perspective can be skewed. Yet as I look around in my life, I see most aspects of life and society are rapidly catching up with the early adopters and techno-nerds. I see it almost everywhere. My greatest disappointment is where I don't see it catching up-in supplemental Jewish education.  If not now, when?