The Korean War and Me - A Memoir
The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers - An Intimate Look into Clergy-Congregant Relations

Excerpts From a Recent Presentation
August 19th, 2013

Following are excerpts from a recent presentation I made about The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers.

Why did I decide to write a novel? The short answer: Fiction was the only way I could possibly convey the story I felt compelled to tell.

  • Has anyone here ever been involved in business-related, congregational, or domestic conflict? If so, please do not raise your hand or stand up. I just want to direct your attention.
    • As some of you know, for many years I was involved in conflict management between rabbis and congregational lay leaders. I spent 12 of those years as the lay-chairman of the NCRCR. That’s the National Commission on Rabbinic-Congregational Relations. During those years I accumulated well over a hundred files. These files contain a treasure chest of attention-grabbing but highly confidential case studies … many loaded with drama and suspense. If the essence of these cases were ever published it would serve as a lesson of what to do and what not to do in order to avoid distressing conflict.
    •  I emphasize distressing because not all types of conflict are bad.
    •  Let me digress for a moment to give a brief introduction to the anatomy of conflict. There are six levels: zero thru 5. You would think Zero would be good; but it is not. In Zero conflict the parties are complacent without being aware of the potential danger. They show no initiative … there is no resistance, no energy … no progress. Atrophy sets in. The organization withers.

Level One is good! That’s where the professional or the lay-leadership, proposes change in order to promote growth or to keep up with the times. Even though the other party may have philosophical differences with the proposal, the parties find a way to resolve the dispute … peacefully. They accomplish this through civil discourse and compromise using respectful language. This is fruitful, healthy conflict.

  • In Level Two there is deeper disagreement. There is a higher emotional content to the language. Each party wants to come out looking like a winner … a good time for mediation.
  • Level Three involves serious differences. It frequently begins with a precipitating event, such as inappropriate behavior or breach of contract.
  • Level Four is Fight or Flight — The major objective of the parties and their respective supporters is to break the relationship, either by leaving or getting the other to withdraw. Not a pretty picture. They desperately need outside intervention.
  • Level Five: The major objective here is to destroy the other. Since the ends are all important … any means justify them.
  • Heavy stuff, right? …
  • After I retired, the demons in me yelled, “Ted, write something about this collection of real-life struggles!” But, how could I do this without breaching confidentiality?
  • Let me tell you something about the 1500 or so Reform rabbis. They love to keep up with their colleagues. Really.  Don’t tell anyone, but ever since the internet, the rabbis have had an exclusive rabbinic network. When anything happens to any of their colleagues, good or bad, within seconds … they all know it. The lay-leaders are the same but not as well organized.

2.  Even if I sanitized the work, omitting names, it would be impossible for me to write any sort of factual account of those cases, without the actual parties being identified. The exposé would be ruinous for the rabbis, the lay leaders, their families, and the congregations involved; the parties would be so easily identified. The alternative would be a dull, text-book-like work that no one would read just for the fun of it.

a. I resorted to fiction: a novel entitled, The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers.  (I suspect the Affairs in thenovel are not what you’re thinking.)

I believe this novel accomplishes my goal without invading anyone’s privacy.

In my novel the rabbi, the location, the synagogue, the characters, even the branch of Judaism are all fictional, but they, the dynamics, and the principles involved are stereotypical … you’ll recognize them.

b. This fictional platform provided me  the opportunity to include classic situations that can and do arise in congregational life, or for that matter, in the life of any organization … where common disputes advance from level to level … where the parties lose control … where factions form within the leadership, and spread to the membership … where they no longer refer to fellow congregants by name or in polite terms, but as “those people” or “that bunch”… where there is even ugly name-calling … where the top professional or the top lay-person becomes persona-non-grata,  and is accused of causing all of their failings……

And we must recognize in organizational life male-female attractions do occur. Some of these are innocent and sibling-like … above suspicion. Some are friendlier and not so above suspicion. Some lead to happy, long-lasting relationships. Some lead to abuse, or trouble at home. These liaisons are driven by the biological instincts built into males & females. No doubt, these natural urges can be controlled, but it is not always easy to resist potent seductions.

I refer to The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers as a neo-realistic novel. The story is fictional but plausible. It incorporates many of the elements I just described. My goal was to achieve what I personally like when I read a novel: an entertaining story with some humor, one or more worthwhile themes or messages … something to think about. And, oh, being a novel, there is some adult language and some romance.

Briefly, the novel takes place during the mid-to-late 1970’s. The story centers on a handsome, young, rabbi named Conrad Flowers whose passion in life is to become a great rabbi. He was recently discharged from the navy and now seeks placement. After several rejections, he ends up in a congregation despite mixed opinions about his suitability. Once on the job, Rabbi Flowers realizes military service was easy compared to the ins and outs of a Jewish congregation.

Even within the temple environment; even with the guidance of God’s Law, people are still people. There are arguments, temptations, scandals, chicanery, relationships, and affairs of various types. Rabbi Flowers’s values are put to the test as he fights to keep his position and to bring peace to the congregation.

As a novel, I believe The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers has its entertainment value, but it also has its significance for anyone in, or who aspires to be in, a decision-making position … or to just read on the beach.

Thus far I have received generous compliments from those who have read the book. And I am very pleased with the personal feeling of perhaps having created something of lasting value.

Welcome to my Blog!
August 16th, 2013

Welcome. My name is Ted Pailet, author of The Korean War and Me and The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers. I’m so happy to have you as a visitor to my blog about The Korean War and Me as well as my new book, The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers. Both of these projects are very special to me, and I hope to share some of that excitement with you here.

I’ll be using this blog to interact with you about The Korean War and Me and about The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers, expanding on some of the topics in them, and posting on some of the ideas related to the two books. This is a great place to get to know me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you, too. What did you think of The Korean War and Me? What did you think of The Affairs of Rabbi Flowers?How did you relate to either or both?

I’ll be returning here frequently with new posts and responses to feedback from you. Until next time, please tell me a little about yourself.