Posts in Susan’s Musings

Why not Israel?

July 19th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

I love puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, acrostics, Sudoku, logic puzzles…a book full of puzzles even keeps me somewhat content on a cross-country flight. I am telling you this to put into perspective my answer to a question that came to our Ask the Rabbi column.

Matt asked, “I’m always wondering why your family never moved to Israel?” 

While my husband and I always answer the Ask the Rabbi questions as a team, I’m going to make an exception for this one and let my husband answer in that venue while presenting my own answer here. You see, my husband and I received very different upbringings with regard to the modern State of Israel. While the land of Israel is unquestionably precious and special to all Jews and has been since the days of Abraham, how love for the land translates into action is a different matter.

I was brought up in a Zionist home and attended a Zionist school. We opened each day in elementary school saluting the American flag while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and we also faced the Israeli flag and sang HaTikva, the Israeli national anthem. Through high school we learned American and world history, math, literature and science in English for half the day and an equal amount of time was allotted to Jewish studies. Bible, Prophets, Hebrew literature and Jewish history and philosophy were taught completely in Hebrew with test, papers and classroom conversation taking place entirely in that language. (I was an adult before it dawned on me that my elementary school Hebrew studies teachers probably did understand and even -gasp- speak English.)

Had you asked me when I was in my teens where I would be living as an adult, I would have answered, Israel. That is exactly where about a third of my class now lives. Indeed, being able to get to Israel so easily and to live there in freedom is something that generations of my ancestors could only dream about. While, since the days of Joshua, there has always been a Jewish presence in the land, the community was often maltreated, impoverished and small. Today’s comfortable and thriving presence truly is a miracle.

What does this have to do with puzzles? The pleasure I get from puzzles is directly tied to the challenge. I would have little enjoyment doing the book of crossword puzzles that delights my six-year-old granddaughter, nor would I appreciate a book of puzzles that endlessly frustrated me because it was too hard. That is a metaphor for life. Attempting to live in accordance with God’s wishes is challenging. It isn’t easy, any more than being married, raising children, being a good friend, building a business, acquiring knowledge, staying fit or developing any skill is easy. Invigorating, inspiring, joyous, yes; easy, no.

While an evening of relaxation is wonderful, anyone who finds their entire life easy isn’t living it to the fullest. Each time we achieve a measure of growth we need to look for the next level. To do otherwise would be to stick with the easily solved Sudoku level; it would quickly become boring and demoralizing.

This week, Jews are in the middle of a period of mourning that culminates on Sunday. While our synagogues are usually centers of social activity, (although chatter ideally stops during prayers) this Saturday night and Sunday we will gather but not greet each other.  Lights will be dimmed and we will sit low to the floor, exactly as a mourner does during the week following the funeral of an immediate family member. For that is what we are – mourners recounting the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem along with our exile from the land of Israel. That exile entailed losing a certain level of closeness with the Almighty that was only reachable when the Temple stood.

The establishment of the modern state of Israel changes nothing about this annual period of mourning. It is observed in Jerusalem just as it is in Brazil or Boston. As wondrous a gift as the State of Israel is, we are still in the period following the destruction over 2,000 years ago. Although current attacks on the state of Israel by left-wing media, organizations and universities are a barely disguised form of hatred against the entire Jewish people, there is a core truth that the the modern State of Israel is not equivalent with the Jewish people.

While living in the land of Israel is generally accepted as one of the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, obligatory on Jews, it is one of 613. No single Jew has 613 obligations; some laws fall only on men, others only on women; some only on those from the tribe of Levi, others only on those who are not Levites; some only when the Temple is standing, others only when there is a Jewish king ruling the land. Suffice it to say that there are enough challenges in any place and time to keep any Jew thriving spiritually. Not infrequently, in real life, two commandments conflict with one another. Very real issues that people grapple with, for example, include whether honoring elderly parents by living and taking care of them outside the land of Israel takes precedence over living in the land. What if one wants to move to Israel and one’s spouse refuses? Is it a greater affront to God to be non-Sabbath observant in Israel than in any other country? If you are struggling with a terrible habit of gossiping is it better to stay in another country until you get it under control rather than gossiping in Israel where God observes you more closely? As you can see, living in Israel is a tremendous privilege that is amazingly doable in our days, but that still entails a personal assessment.

My husband’s life-mission, which became mine when we married, is making ancient Jewish wisdom accessible to everyone. Whether that was through classes in the synagogue community he founded in California or whether it is teaching both Jews and Christians as he does today, for a variety of reasons it is work best accomplished by living in America. That is one of many reasons that we remain in the United States though we do feel a tug at our hearts every time we return to Israel. Is that calculation correct or is God shaking His head at our not taking advantage of the opportunity we have been given to move back to His land? We can only do the puzzles we are given to the best of our abilities.

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Whether to follow Nimrod or Abraham is a challenge faced in and out of Israel.
If you don’t understand it, you may not realize how real it is.
Nine verses from Genesis that will change how you look at the news.





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Don’t Clone Your Senator

July 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

Rather than being a science-fiction fantasy (or horror) scenario, cloning of animals seems to be reality. When Barbra Streisand mentioned in an interview a few months ago that she had cloned her dog, it brought the subject to the forefront of people’s minds. When I read a bit about it, it reminded me of my husband’s joke that living with a clone of yourself would be terrible because every time you started to tell a joke your clone would yawn and say, “I know that one.”

Donald Trump’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court reminded me of one of the advantages of having 50 disparate states with their 100 varied Senators. I have written a number of times in these Musings about my frustration with Republican leadership, a dissatisfaction that many shared with me as evidenced by Donald Trump’s election. However, the other side of the coin deserves to be voiced as well.

Having specifically mentioned Mitch McConnell in a less than flattering light in some Musings, I was remiss not to laud his steadfastness in preventing President Obama from appointing a third Supreme Court Justice. Senator McConnell’s unwavering stance paved the way for Justice Gorsuch.

This week, eyes turn once again to the Senator and I pray that he lives up to the praise he is being given in advance for knowing how to shepherd a nominee through a contentious process. The opposition to President Trump’s choice, while having little to do with the proper role of the Senate in confirmation hearings, is loud, powerful and nasty. Somehow, a soft-spoken, meek-looking, and gentlemanly man needs to face the storm.  There are many Senators whose active words and demeanors I prefer, and I still think those traits are necessary to regain the culture, but this case reminds me of the importance of knowing the ropes and working behind the scenes.

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Perplexed by Precedent

July 5th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

I am perplexed. The response on the Left to Anthony Kennedy’s resignation and the resulting open seat on the Supreme Court has been utterly predictable. I expected their  hysteria and fear-mongering. The response on the Right is what has me puzzled.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican (though I wouldn’t call her a conservative), said, “I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law. It’s clearly precedent, and I always look for judges who respect precedent.”

But she is not alone. Conservative sources that I respect  are suggesting that it is too late to overturn Roe v. Wade or to reverse the 2015 Obergefell decision that legalized homosexual marriage. They are citing a respect for precedent and the danger of rulings that would disrupt huge numbers of lives. Now, that confuses me.

Firstly, while I don’t have legal training and am not an ardent Court follower, I don’t think it is that uncommon for the Supreme Court to rule in ways that make earlier decisions obsolete. Certainly, both Sonia Sotomayer and Elana Kagan were confirmed in spite of (or perhaps because) both looked to establish new ideas and social norms rather than relying on the Founders’ intentions. Isn’t the whole rallying cry of many liberal judges not to be tethered to the past?

In the great moral issues of the day, specifically slavery, I can’t imagine any Senator explaining that noted civil rights cases like Plessy v. Ferguson needed to be upheld because of precedent and the great disruption that would come if they were overturned. In 1954, the 1896 decision confirming that “separate but equal” was constitutional, was unanimously reversed by the Warren Court in Brown v. the Board of Education.  Fifty-eight years of precedent and huge societal impact didn’t stop the Court undoing a grave wrong a previous Court had affirmed. Abortion on demand is another such great moral issue. Perhaps precedent demands that great issues that cause egregious damage need to be corrected.

If precedent was as important as is being claimed, neither Roe v. Wade nor the Obergefell decision would be law. Roe v. Wade found a right in the Constitution that had never been there to the point that many legal scholars, including those who favor abortion, admit that it was terrible law.  Obergefell undid over 2,000 years of precedent that established marriage as between a man and a woman.  As for affecting society, both caused and continue to cause immense challenges to the millions of Americans whose First Amendment religious freedom rights conflict with these rulings.

Politicians and pundits are notorious for speaking out of both sides of their mouths. With straight faces and without a hint of embarrassment Democrats will tell you that you must vote for a candidate because of her female body parts unless she is a Republican in which case her biology is irrelevant. So, to hear people who have advocated splintering established norms and establishing a brave, new world discover that precedent is their current favorite word isn’t a surprise. However, I am truly puzzled by conservatives, including those who disagreed with convention-shattering Supreme Court decisions, shrugging their shoulders and saying that it’s too late to return to saner jurisprudence. What am I missing? 

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We’ve Come a Wrong Way, Baby

June 27th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 72 comments

Are we happy yet? A few years ago, in Dallas, my husband and I gave a ‘Money and Marriage’ seminar. I spoke about the brilliant Virginia Slims cigarette ads of the late 1960s. Using the advertising slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” the ads contrasted sepia-tinted cheerless, oppressed-looking women from earlier decades with modern Virginia Slims women – bold, happy, often wearing colorful pants suits and liberated by, among other things, their ability to smoke openly. My point was that these ads actually gave an unspoken anti-feminist message. Women could only come a long way by behaving like men, in other words, by smoking.

With that in mind, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at last month’s report from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Not only have young women achieved parity with men in getting lung cancer, they are actually getting ahead of men

What a triumph for feminism!


Et tu, America?

June 21st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 40 comments

I recently ordered something from Nordstrom and checked the box to pick it up at my local store. After arranging my schedule to make time to go get it in person, driving over, parking and waiting in line, the saleswoman couldn’t find my order. “We think it will be delivered. Here’s the number to call if you don’t get it. You’ll get a busy signal but keep dialing over and over and eventually you’ll get through.”

Well, that’s exactly what happened. Except, it didn’t happen with Nordstrom.  Had it been Nordstrom that iconic store most likely would not have messed up in the first place. Had there been an error they would not have put the onus on me to track down the missing item. There also would have been a heartfelt apology along with some compensation—perhaps a refund or a complimentary gift.

However, the above story didn’t happen with a private business such as Nordstrom. It took place at the United States Post Office.


Horrified or Amused?

June 14th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

While some people may be concerned about N. Korea or Iran, in the really important news of the week, Netflix banned employees from looking at each other for more than five seconds. Asking a co-worker out more than once is similarly discouraged and, after having been turned down, every effort should be made to avoid that colleague. At about the same time, the National Health Service in England is preparing to diagnose a teenager with its first case of internet addiction and studies show an unprecedented number of U.S. college students are seeking mental health counseling.

While all this was going on, one of our daughters went to enroll her young son in a new school. To her amusement and horror, most of the forms she was asked to fill out overwhelmingly asked about her child’s therapies and special needs. She felt like apologizing for his being a rather uncomplicated kid.

When did normal human interaction and run-of-the-mill childhood become unconventional?  Have we seriously become incapable of differentiating between discomfort and true harassment or of taking responsibility for creating many of the problems we then turn to government and officialdom to solve?


Needlessly Offensive?

June 7th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 41 comments

I got called on the carpet—very politely and graciously—but called on the carpet nonetheless. The challenge came from a viewer of our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. I’m not sure when the particular episode aired so I haven’t found it yet, but I must have spoken critically about substituting pets for people. I imagine that I might have mentioned a pet food ad that irks me which shows a cat saying, “Mom, please get me….”

In her letter, our viewer said, “Susan, my animals are my family. They’re all I have. I think the old “walk a mile in my shoes” before you are so critical. My pets are there when I go to bed and when I get up in the morning. I know I’m not their Mother but they are probably the closest living thing to me.” She is making a perfectly valid point and I imagine that my words cut her, for which I am sorry. Yet, I don’t think I can leave it with just an apology.

One of the dilemmas for society is how to deal with unique individuals and their specific circumstances while at the same time maintaining public policies and social norms. At one and the same time, we want to be accepting and helpful to all, but in doing so we run the risk of normalizing things that we don’t want to encourage.


Our Palestinian Angel

May 31st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

I have a story to tell you. I have been thinking about this for a week and would love to hear your reaction as well. But first, as Sgt. Friday used to say on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Two and a half years ago, one of our daughters had a pregnancy complication. With God’s grace, she and her husband welcomed a small but healthy son a few weeks early and via an emergency C-section. As grateful as we are for the conclusion, it was scary and traumatic.

Because of her history, our daughter’s second pregnancy was automatically classified as high-risk. Along the way, the doctor repeatedly told her of serious problems she was potentially seeing on the ultrasounds. God answered our prayers and each ominous warning faded away. Eventually, when the baby was almost two weeks past due date, labor started.

Our daughter was adamant about doing whatever was necessary to have a natural delivery rather than another C-section. Being a nurse, as she is,  comes with advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side her insurance is incredible. The down side is that she needs to use whatever doctor is on call and even today many doctors are not fans of VBACs (vaginal delivery after Caesarian).



May 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 23 comments

Even as I wrote it, I was disturbed by my last week’s Musing. The Musing’s premise was that we shouldn’t be surprised by hypocrisy in our politicians. I think, sadly, that this is true.  When many citizens demand that elected officials sanctimoniously parrot standardized phrases and then vote on the basis of those politically correct formulations we shouldn’t be surprised that the words of those running for office don’t match their personal actions.

This is not confined to politicians, of course. Our society keeps on pushing people to say one thing and think, believe and do another. For example, for many years now students taking a variety of exams, have been forced to choose between marking what they know to be the officially correct answer or responding with the truth according to their beliefs and, often, according to science. Recently, the MCATs, taken by aspiring doctors, added ideological questions that compel religious Christians and Jews to make exactly that deeply disturbing choice.

However writing about Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after allegations of disturbing personal conduct were made, troubled me. This resignation follows a pattern in a continuing series of stories that fling private matters into the public realm.


I’m Shocked. Shocked!

May 10th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

One of cinema’s greatest moments is the scene in which Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe in the 1942 movie Casablanca, saying,  “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”  Just then, an employee approaches and hands the Captain his winnings. The fact that it makes us smile does not mean that we also smile when our own politicians fling their hypocrisy in our faces.

Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after a number of women made allegations of disgusting behavior against him, may or may not be guilty of the charges. That doesn’t change the fact that a long list of pompous and self-righteous hypocrites who allied themselves with the Me Too! movement, make Donald Trump look like a particularly virtuous choir boy.

Piously and publicly proclaiming a cause while privately acting very differently is hardly a new phenomenon. While human failing is at the root of such actions, those shrilly touting their causes may have something to learn as well.


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