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Monthly Archives: November, 2015

Money & Marriage Maketh Man

November 25th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Try persuading today’s university students that making money is both dignified and moral. That’s what I did last week when I addressed 13,000 students at the Liberty University Convocation in Virginia. I not only told them that making money was a virtuous activity but I proved it. And they whooped, hollered and cheered. But remember, this was not Dartmouth, Yale or University of Missouri. There’s hope for America down there in Lynchburg.

My dear friend, the late Jerry Falwell, founded Liberty University in 1971. It is a beautiful campus populated by God-fearing young scholars who play as hard as they pray. Their Flames football team competes successfully in division 1 of the NCAA in the Big South Conference. (more…)

Guest Musing: A Word from Our President

November 25th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

This Musing may not be what you expect. Abraham Lincoln is my guest, but I am not reprinting his proclamation setting the precedent for a national observance of Thanksgiving. That proclamation is well worth reading, with its call, “…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…,” especially if your children have been taught that the day is meant to thank the Indians. However, that is not the guest Musing I have in mind for this Thanksgiving. 

Instead, this year, our family is planning to read a different proclamation of President Lincoln. Let’s face it: Thanksgiving is fun, with its huge meal, football game and preparation for shopping. Maybe we would be better off as a nation if in addition to Thanksgiving, another day that President Lincoln (and other American presidents) called for entered our national consciousness on an annual basis. I am speaking of his call for a day  for ‘National Prayer and Humiliation.’ While I think that the meaning of the word ‘humiliation’ has probably evolved to  ‘humility’ in our day, the call should ring stridently in our ears. 

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with gratitude, prayer, humility, family, friends, and yes, great food.

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A Different Syrian Immigrant

November 19th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

Some classmates at the Jewish elementary and high school I attended were the children of Syrian refugees. On Shabbat, my family ate gefilte fish while they ate kibbeh. I pronounced the Sabbath day ‘Shabbos’ while they said ‘Shabbath’. I was blonde and blue-eyed while their hair was black and their eyes brown. Some of our prayers and religious customs were different as were our cultural reference points. 

 

Most of the students in my class were the children or grandchildren of refugees. Almost all the refugee generation immigrated with little more than the clothing on their backs and horrific memories of lives destroyed. They did not speak English nor have skills that were in high demand. The families came mostly from Europe, but a not insubstantial number were expelled from Arab countries: Morocco, Egypt and most of all Syria. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a Daughter of the American Revolution among us. 

I am enormously grateful that there was an America for my grandparents (and for one side of my family, my great-great grandparents) and for the grandparents and parents of my friends to come to. Many who are descended from immigrants from other nationalities feel the same way. For this reason, so many Americans feel a deep sympathy for and a desire to welcome the current wave of Syrian refugees. 

There is, however, an enormous difficulty and I don’t mean the fear that this group of refugees will include terrorists.  When my Jewish ancestors arrived, an American culture greeted them. They embraced much of that culture with love and appreciation. They had the freedom to ignore other parts, such as the Christian nature of the land, missing out on job opportunities that required work on Saturday (during the Depression that sometimes meant going hungry), not attending school parties or graduations that took place on Friday night and staying strangers to cheeseburgers and oysters.  To them, America’s promise of religious freedom meant that, unlike Russia or Germany, they weren’t persecuted or killed for being Jews. They were equal under the law. Yet, they still reaped the benefits of an American culture that was deeply rooted in America’s unique Christian experience.  That culture no longer exists. Its demise is largely what makes immigration fraught with problems. 

Let me explain with an analogy. One of my infant grandsons is highly allergic. Nursing him means that his mother can’t eat gluten, corn, soy or dairy. Another grandson has a nut allergy. It’s important to our my husband and me to have our family eat at our home. However, with these allergies, menu planning has taken on a whole new dimension. This is something that I do with love, even if it is time consuming and at times exasperating. It means that some of our traditional, favorite recipes have been retired. Our children are appreciative and my husband and I benefit from the added warmth and zest that they bring to our lives. 

What would happen, however, if as time went on, our children, grandchildren and in the future great-grandchildren, began to see tailoring meals to suit them as an entitlement rather than an offering? One after another might find this or that odor offensive, remonstrate that eating meat is barbaric, or insist that only locally grown vegetables are moral to eat. They might demand food at times to suit their schedules, forget to be thankful and start insulting my husband and me for still wanting to eat the foods of our earlier years. Rather than offering to help cook, serve and clean up, they will treat our possessions with disdain, breaking plates, messily spilling crumbs and wasting our resources. As they devour our food, they will ridicule our belief that family is important. Perhaps they will find lawyers to prove that precedent insists that we still must feed them. Slowly and surely, the care that I used to lavish on cooking will be replaced with resentment reluctance to expend much effort and certainly a refusal to welcome their friends as we do now. The food will be less tasty, the surroundings less pleasant and the experience less fulfilling. Having broken the family/love/food system that existed, they will now deride me for being unfriendly, selfish and unfaithful to my beliefs.

I realize that my analogy is imperfect. Yet, I don’t think that it is completely far-fetched. It applies not only to immigrants but to multi-generation Americans as well. As the daughter of immigrants, my mother went to a public school that had a Christmas pageant—and gave her an outstanding education. My friends’ Syrian parents learned that the bribery and under the counter activity that was routine in the Arab shuk (marketplace)  would land them in jail here—but that they could prosper with hard work and by following the rules. My Catholic neighborhood friend’s Italian grandmother never learned English and her children were mocked by classmates for not knowing the language when they entered school—but their mother punished them for complaining and they quickly became fluent.

Was it pleasant for my mother to feel singled out when she wouldn’t observe Christmas? No. Was it easy for my friends’ fathers to learn how to work in an entirely different economic culture? No. Was if fun for Italian speaking children to go to school everyday where they didn’t understand the teachers or other children? No. Would more sensitivity on the part of established Americans have been kind? Yes. 

But the bottom line is that with all this discomfort, there actually was an American culture.  It promoted Christmas, English and an honest marketplace above other ideas. When no one was apologizing for American culture, immigrants could arrive and be assimilated into an existing, successful system. 

I can’t prove a direct line between Christmas creches in public squares and a flourishing educational system. There is no direct link that I know of between abortion becoming a constitutional right and a failing economy. I can’t point at studies showing that magnifying the rights provided to new immigrants instead of the responsibilities and obligations they must acquire makes them less rather than more successful. But I think that all of the above are, indeed, connected. 

When President Obama, after the terrorist activity in Paris, spoke of letting in thousands of Syrian refugees, he said, “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” The problem with that is that he and I share very few values. He believes that a suppressed American Christianity is what America needs; I believe it is a disaster for this country. He believes that redefining marriage is a step forward; I believe it is a step towards failure. He believes that individual wealth should be redistributed; I believe it should be respected. He believes in incessant pontification and carrying a stick of jello concerning foreign policy and I believe in Roosevelt’s idea of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. He believes that when Blacks or Moslems are in conflict with white people, especially Christians, that the latter are guilty until—and even when—proven innocent; I believe in blind justice. He believes in using the power of government to suppress speech with which he doesn’t agree while I believe in freedom of speech. He believes that America is not unique among nations and I believe that it is. He believes in picking through the bible to support his personal views and I believe in shaping my personal views by the same ancient Jewish wisdom about the Bible that guided my ancestors. When it come to values, there are almost no ‘our values’ of which the President and I can speak. 

Having become diffident, apologetic and afraid of what used to be the  American values of patriotism, individual responsibility, education (vs. the indoctrination on today’s campuses), hard work, a Judeo-Christian heritage, a non-fluid Constitution and a myriad of other ideas that have been destroyed and deprecated for the past fifty years, immigration is indeed a problem. Many immigrants would love and appreciate the America that greeted my ancestors, with all its lack of multicultural awareness. Other immigrants want an American of which they can take advantage or one that mimics their home country but where they, not others, are in power. Others want to destroy America. We no longer have cultural agreement on what we envision as America’s future and the president and I disagree on which types of immigrants should be welcomed. The land of freedom and opportunity into which my grandparents and my Syrian friends’ parents came doesn’t exist anymore. You don’t even need to add potential terrorists to the list to see that the ability to welcome ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ is another casualty of secularist liberalism gone amok. 

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Religious leaders gone bad…

November 19th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Sadly, we’ve all heard numerous accounts of pedophile priests, with some explaining away their sickness as being a result of forced celibacy and inability to “connect” with a loving wife.

But just today, the news from the east coast of a rabbi accused of filming young women, as they undressed for the mikvah (ritual bath) just rattled me. Not celibate, he has NO EXCUSE and is a “disgrace to his race”.

∼ Mrs M.

Answer:

Dear Mrs. M.,

We know of the 2014 incident you are referencing and like all Jews, we found it painful and disturbing. Clearly, the rabbi involved sinned greatly and he must be a troubled and sick man. His actions were certainly evil. It is very hard to deal with this and it rattles us as well. We expect more from someone in his position – or actually from all people.

(more…)

Get A Head

November 17th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

You know those Rube Goldberg complicated contraptions that employ a long chain of mechanical levers and other devices to do something mundane like striking a match? We love watching them, partially I think because so much in life tends to camouflage cause and effect. When we watch a three minute process of rolling balls, falling weights, revolving wheels and tumbling dominos, it’s not only fun but also a little bit reassuring. Hey, the world does make sense.

Well, on a far larger scale and in far more meaningful ways, the world does make sense. However, it is very worthwhile knowing and following the principles even before we understand the chain of cause and effect that explains the benefit. (more…)

Should Dr. Carson Become President Carson?

November 12th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

For a few years now, I have been dodging Ben Carson supporters at political conservative events. I’m talking about long before this primary season started—it seems that wherever I went there were perky young people encouraging me to join the, “Run, Ben, Run” movement. 

I wasn’t very interested. Not only did I really not want to start focusing on the next Presidential election immediately after the debacle of 2012, but while I valued Dr. Carson’s personal story immensely (who doesn’t?) I didn’t see why competence in the medical field, overcoming a disadvantaged childhood and even a willingness to speak out courageously  in front of President Obama, translated into presidential potential. 

Clearly, I was wrong. As both Carly Fiorina and Dr. Carson have shown, lack of political experience can be viewed as a plus this time around. The courage to buck political correctness is a basic necessity and after two terms of a president who encourages victim mentality it would do our country good to be led by someone who values individual ability and potential. 

At this point, the Republican candidates fall into a few categories in my mind. I might define them as those I could enthusiastically support, those who make me think less of the Republican Party even as I vote for them (but do not speak positively about them to my neighbors, put a bumper sticker on my car or do anything beyond that one action in the voting booth) and those for whom I won’t vote if they are on the ballot. My past record suggests that I represent a lot of people, much as a teacher knows that one student asking a question usually represents many more confused kids. My voting record is certainly as accurate as polling data. I was enthusiastic about Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, I voted for a third-party candidate when the senior President Bush ran for his second term, left the presidential spot blank when John McCain ran and dispiritedly voted for Bob Dole and Mitt Romney, expecting them to lose and feeling more annoyance and anger at the Republican machine than any desire to see either of those men win. I must make clear that in all these cases, I wasn’t commenting on the decency of these men—a world with more people of Bob Dole’s caliber, for example, would be a better place—but on their ability to be successfully elected and/or govern.

Recognizing that the election is still in the distance, Dr. Carson and Ted Cruz are the only two candidates in my ‘enthusiastic even if concerned’ column while a Jeb Bush candidacy could lead me to give up membership in the Republican Party. I want to like Marco Rubio but I worry that he is an establishment candidate in the making. I need reassurance about his principles and also that his eagerness to be liked and seen as a consensus candidate won’t lead him to betray things in which I believe. More than any other candidate, I want to know whether his wife is a staunch conservative thinker on both economic and social issues or if she will fall prey to the liberal social milieu in Washington and move him leftward so that she will fit in. Each time I begin considering Rubio in a positive light, he does something that pushes me away, most recently his talk of tax credits for family leave. Right now, I expect to be disappointed by him. I’d be delighted if he changes my mind. 

Donald Trump is the candidate about whom my feelings are most mixed. I would be embarrassed to have him represent my country and seeing him as the heir of George Washington makes me cringe. (I know that many of my readers are Trump or Rubio enthusiasts. I’d be disappointed if only people who agreed with me read what I wrote.) Yet, I’m not sure that Trump might not be an effective counter-measure to Hillary Clinton in a weird, almost ridiculous way. The American people overwhelmingly think that Hillary is deceptive, a liar and untrustworthy. Many of these people still plan to vote for her. Any new revelations about her tend to bounce off, because they simply confirm what people already know. Donald Trump has not betrayed the American people in the same way, but there is an assumption that he is a blowhard, prone to outrageous and sometimes contradictory statements with a less than exemplary life. Could he possibly be a good bet because of these things? No one expects him to be an upright statesman, conferring dignity on the proceedings. Yet, many people will vote for him anyway, some after great consideration, others because he’s a TV star and that’s the extent of their thought processes. Maybe he is the man who matches the moment as many think. Maybe he will be able to match the Clinton machine. Even so, I am hoping that whether or not to vote for him is a choice I will not have to make. 

I think that Carly Fiorina shines on the debate stage. For whatever reason, she isn’t gaining traction. Consequently, she and some of the other candidates, many of whom I admire, don’t seem to be formidable opponents to the Democratic Party. 

This brings me back to Dr. Carson and Ted Cruz. Ben Carson has not spent decades of his life immersed in political minutiae.  He has spent years in the real world, one where emotion, fact, money, success, failure and spirit intersect. He represents millions of Americans who want to get on with their lives but see the America they love crumbling. Dr. Carson is a throwback to the citizen-statesman, those men who after the Revolutionary War wanted nothing more than to go back to their lives but sacrificed that wish because a country needed them. That’s rather a different picture from a professional politician who has planned, schemed and lived his or her entire life with the ultimate goal of becoming president. 

I see Dr. Carson’s soft spoken manner as an asset rather than a liability. Parents and teachers often discover that screaming is less effective than whispering. The same child who tunes out your shrieks will lean in to hear what you have to say when you speak calmly and softly. Personally, I’m tired of being yelled at and of dialogue conducted in shouts and insults. I think many Americans will find Dr. Carson’s manner soothing especially compared to Hillary’s shrill and mean-spirited style.

I want to know who Dr. Carson sees as examples of the people with whom he wants to surround himself. It’s just fine with me if he does not know as much as someone who has jaunted around the world at taxpayer expense, as long as he assembles a team that shares his principles while being immersed in the necessary facts. I’d be fine if he answered a question about an area that he is not expert in by saying, “I am studying to learn more about this topic. As you know, I haven’t been in Washington for years where taxpayers paid me to do so. I was busy living life like my fellow Americans. I promise to work hard and learn whatever I need to know, including finding experts in whatever fields are necessary. What I bring is knowledge of how the real world works outside Washington and deep convictions about this country needing to regain her greatness. You asked a good question. Here is the principle behind my response but I commit to spending more time on the details. It would be inappropriate for me to answer it now before I have learned more.” 

Would you accept an answer like that? And yes, while I would no more vote for Dr. Carson because he is Black than I would vote for Hillary because she is female, I think his race would be a factor in confusing and demoralizing staunch Democrat voters who have been trained to equate racism and the Republican Party.  

I have appreciated Ted Cruz for years. What I want to see from him is the ability to turn people who think they know and dislike him, into supporters. He is undoubtedly principled and intelligent. Can he be charming and welcoming to those who think the Tea Party is made up of kooks but if given the chance to actually listen to concerns and ideas might start nodding in agreement? I appreciate his years of standing up for my values as a lonely voice, but at this point, I want less “red meat” and more sizzling steak wafting tempting aromas to those who think differently. I’d like to see how he expects principle to meet practical. 

Months before any voting starts, this is my thought process. I’d love to hear yours. 

 

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Are there Jews everywhere?

November 12th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

I understand that God warned in Deuteronomy 28 that He would disperse the Jews throughout the world “from one end of the earth to the other”. Did this happen?
Are Jews in every country; for example Chile? Iceland? Korea? South Africa? How far were they dispersed?

∼ Kate S.

Answer:

Dear Kate,

Chile – yes; Iceland -yes; Korea – yes; South Africa -yes. It is quite difficult to find a populated area that does not have resident Jews or where Jews haven’t historically been a presence. There are countries where Jews lived before being expelled (returning to some later, like England and Spain) and others, such as Syria, that Jews fled relatively recently because of persecution after thousands of years of maintaining an intact religious community.

(more…)

Failing Minimalism

November 4th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Our recent move from a huge home to an apartment seemed like a good time to embrace the ‘only keep what you need and love’ movement. The cynic in me is sure that once enough people have discarded their excess clothing and general stuff the culture will encourage a resurgence of the ‘you deserve a little extra’ movement, but the downsizing we needed to do did fit the current mood of the times. 

Truthfully, I enjoyed holding each book we own and donating the (very) few that I could part with; passing on our arts and crafts supplies to a friend with young children was fun; leaving behind some excessively well-used towels and other household goods was a relief. 

Problems did arise, however. I can’t say that dozens of new rolls of paper towels spark joy (to use a term from a popular decluttering book for those items you should keep), but not having a new roll available when needed sparks annoyance. In our old house there was always plenty of room for the Costco sized paper towel packages–as well as toilet paper, tissues, fabric softener and myriad other supplies.  The same extravagant storage area is conspicuously absent from our apartment. To be fair, with seven children grown and out of our home, we don’t plow through food or paper goods at anywhere near the same rate as we used to do. Whether or not we need to buy eight boxes of spaghetti at a time or 25 pounds of flour in one go avoids an important issue. While I may not love the item, I have been in love with Costco for years.

Almost without exception, everything I have bought at Costco over the past few decades has been good quality at a good price. Just as importantly, the stores in Issaquah and Kirkland, WA that I frequented were fun places. I invariably ran into friends, saw unusual offerings that made me smile, had pleasant interactions with staff and emerged grateful and appreciative of the abundance this country offers. Moving to the East coast diminished some of the enjoyment. Sadly, the stores near our new apartment were not as well run or as well stocked. With my need for bulk items reduced and the store not as much of an experience, I even downgraded my executive membership to an ordinary one with an eye to wondering whether we needed to belong anymore. 

This week, my enthusiasm was reignited. Maybe it was snagging the parking spot right near the entrance, maybe it was a warehouse stocked to the brim as Thanksgiving and Christmas near, maybe they have instituted better employee training for my local store, but this trip reached the old levels of fun. Along with the cranberries and shampoo from my shopping list, I came home with an irresistible present for a grandchild, priced almost absurdly low and sure to come in handy. 

                      Tummy rub
 Tummy rub 

                         Time for a drink
Spills
Beg
                               Learning to Beg

The grandchild gift has been appropriated. We certainly don’t need it, but my husband immediately reserved it for our Noddy room, aka our guest room and/or grandchild playroom. He thought it was too good to give to just one grandchild; this way it is available for all. In the meantime, he is having a grand time setting up photo shots and sending them to our children. My husband grew up with dogs and misses having one while my canine enthusiasm is well in check, so I’m delighted with this solution. 

I hope this blog doesn’t seem akin to the “I’m having tuna fish on whole wheat for lunch” posts sometimes seen on Facebook. For me, the shopping expedition and my husband’s joy in his fluffy new friend are a welcome respite from the serious issues of the day. Concerns for the future shouldn’t drown out pleasure in the present. I hope you find it a refreshing time-out as well. 

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Is smoking cigarettes a sin?

November 4th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Many years ago, you could go to church and might notice the large numbers of cigarette butts in the parking lots. Today, in most Christian circles, smoking and use of tobacco is said to be sin. 

I have searched the Bible for an answer and clarification to the question about tobacco use. Is there anything in the Old Testament to clarify the question, “Is tobacco use sin or is it just an unhealthy habit?”

 Thank you for your ever thoughtful answers and insight you share weekly. And may the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you.

∼ Linda O.

Answer:

Dear Linda,

Your observation about church parking lots is apt and your question is a good one for all Bible-believing religious people to ask; we know it is much discussed in Orthodox Jewish circles.   We’d like to start our answer by asking, “What is a sin?”

(more…)