IT'S DIFFICULT to start another week with no place to go. My wife Judy and I have a 8 a.m. tennis date, but that just emphasizes the events and circumstances that have changed my life. Until December 1973, a rabbi serving congregations for 17 years, then a mid-career change as a Schedule C appointee in HEW, catastrophic illnesses, the unemployment line after Jimmy Carter's election and now a slow return to financial psychological and physical equilibrium.
Spend the afternoon working on projects for my new employer, a minority-owned New York small business. Devote much more time than the two days a week I am paid for; however, the potential and the challenge is there. We're planning the construction of a poultry processing plant in a rural Alabama county. My role: develop the financial package necessary to encourage farmers in that area to construct poultry houses. The key: minimum investment by the farmers and maximum investment by the feds and private lenders. Am on the phone with contacts in Agriculture, the SBA and Commerce. They provide leads about how and where to get the funds.
Talk with my mother late in the day. She can't quite understand why and what a rabbi is doing "building chicken coops." Remind her that the outcome of all of this effort may be chicken soup and chicken soup is "Jewish penicillin." She sees no point to the story and continues to wonder out loud about what I am doing although I explain again that all the advice provided by the Ford administration to political appointees by executive recruiters and all the hand holding by the rabbinical placement director and others had not turned up a job for a 50-plus-year-old former HEW deputy commissioner for youth development and rabbi.
Dinner and then counseling sessions with couples whom I will marry. These are intermarriages (or properly mixed marriages) for one partner is not Jewish. I have been counseling intermarrying couples for more than 15 years and I admire most of them. These two couples are no exception. They must wrestle with problems about in-laws, children, home life, acceptance that couples of the same faith are not concerned about. The non-Jewish partners often make good Jews with or without conversion. Tuesday
This is the morning to read the week's accumulation of the Commerce Business Daily. My employer is looking for foreign trade leads, offerings from AID and requests for expert and consultant services. Recently submitted first response to a request for proposals from the Employment and Training Administration at Labor. Check the mail daily for ETA's response. Can't buy the cynical Washington attitude that contracts go to friends or at least contractors with strong relevant collective experience. If we don't get to negotiations, I certainly will ask for a debriefing to better prepare for the contract wars.
The afternoon is spent in a precarious balancing act with the checkbook. Since termination at HEW, Judy and I have learned the rules necessary to fight inflation. Wear blinders in the supermarket and don't charge what you can't pay for in 30 days. Most recently: Pay cash for gasoline. It cuts down on unnecessary trips.
Tried my hand at cooking for the first time in a long while. Tex-Mex chili turned out great! Used cubed meat instead of hamburger and a cautious application of spices including cumin. Wednesday
Due at the University of Maryland Hosptial in Baltimore at 9 a.m. and that requires planning. Everything from clothes to medication must be out the night before if I am to be on time.
Was diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease more than five years ago. However, the intensive problems are more recent. I've found the right neurologist and recently the right psychiatrist. Our Wednesday sessions have helped me handle depression and my doctors have convinced me that Parkinson's does not impair the mind, the facility to think and reason. However, the disease's impact on my legs and hands often makes it difficult to walk and to write.
The first was Parkinson's, the second was leukemia. The family doctor urged a biopsy of enlarged lymph nodes. The final diagnosis was a type of leukemia. Am being seen by physicians at the NIH Cancer Institute. All the doctors can do is follow my case for there is no treatment or cure for this type of cancer. I have mixed feelings about the whole experience because the doctors have told me that this type of cancer would probably have not been identified without diagnostic techniques which did not exist five or 10 years ago.
Often ask myself if I can be helped by the spiritual insights to illness that Judaism offers and that I have tried to give others. The answer: often, yes; sometimes, no!
Back from Baltimore around 2 and just in time for a trip to the supermarket with Judy. We do more things together now and it seems my lifestyle is very contemporary.
At 8 and 9, I see couples whom I will marry in the next several weeks. Thursday
Spent most of the morning preparing a sermon for the small congregation I serve on a parttime basis in Winchester, Va. Spend two weekends a month and the High Holy Days there. Was offered the position soon as I moved to Washington and am glad that I accepted. After 17 years it's part of my life to officiate at holiday and life cycle ceremonies. My place is in the pulpit, not in the pew.
For this sermon I looked at what I said in 1967 when I first opposed the draft and America's role in Vietnam. Some was still relevant and although it is a conceit to quote oneself, I did just that. Opposed registration, the resumption of the draft and questioned the United States' need to extend its borders to the Persian Gulf. Send a copy to my son David at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. At age 20, he is affected and involved in a crisis not of his making.
In the p.m. "visited" on the telephone with a pillar of the synagogue. She had fallen down the stairs at home and miraculously escaped with only bruises. Made a note to visit on Saturday. More phoning for my employer. Found the right offices very quickly. This is when bureaucratic expertise pays off. Can find anything in Washington if you look hard enough. Checked in with my favorite AA on the Hill. Did some reading. Friday
This morning is spent practicing my sermon, reviewing the Torah portion and reading the prayer book out loud. Practice is always important. It is a necessity now. Parkinson's takes its toll in different ways. I have begun to speak too fast to be understood and it is a constant effort to slow down and speak clearly. Parkinson's forces you to relearn motor and vocal activities that once were automatic. Spontaneity disappears.
The afternoon is spend driving to Winchester. At the motel, the clerk automatically hands me the key to room 150. Perhaps someday they will place a plaque in the room indicating that the rabbi slept here, similar to the several plaques in Winchester proclaiming that G. Washington slept there.
Services at 8 p.m. Attendance is poor; it is a very cold night. The sermon voices my opposition to the draft. I'm satisfied. At the social the conversation is animated and prolonged. No one is anxious to plunge into the frigid out-of-doors. Saturday
Meet with our lone Bar Mitzvah boy. At 11 a.m. the adult education class meets; topic Martin Buber. Over coffee and cake it is all very palatable and I am pleased by the mental acuity of my students.
The afternoon includes a home and hospital visit and an excursion to the Loudoun Street Mall. Judy and I enjoy window shopping there -- away from the wall-to-wall shoppers in Chevy Chase. Sunday
This is one of the two Sundays in the month when everything seems all right. Our handful of children arrive for Sunday school and the tiny synagogue hums with activity. The 100-seat sanctuary in Winchester is a far cry from the 1,800-seat sanctuary in Detroit's Beth El where I served for nine years. Somehow Winchester is more important for Jewish survival. I admire the 38 families who struggled to maintain their temple and their Jewish identity against overwhelming odds.
School is over at noon. Pick up Judy at the motel and head home on U.S. 50. Still enjoy the ride after hundreds of trips. The Virginia countryside is beautiful in each season; today glistening hard white.
Evening: Dress for a wedding at the Hay-Adams. Remember my robe. Practice the names of the bride and groom. Have never made a mistake and would like to avoid the embarrassment. Sign the license after the ceremony and politely excuse myself from the reception.
I'm tired, stiff and sluggish, dragging my right side and aching to be home.
Also, there is tennis at 8 a.m. Monday. Maybe I will dream about a strategy to win a set or two from Judy.