Posts in Susan’s Musings

Avoidable Heartbreak

January 12th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

Most of the time, my daughter doesn’t share details of the overnight shifts that she spends as a nurse in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Sometimes the care that she and other medical professionals give allow their patients, with God’s grace, to graduate from the ICU on the road to recovery. Other times, she is honored to tend with dignity to those losing the battle for life. Many of her patients are not awake and communicative; she often doesn’t get to uncover the unique individual  hidden behind the person in her charge.

Last week she did share a story. While the natural human emotions of medical professionals need to be controlled for them to do their job, one patient’s plight pierced through my daughter’s defenses. It was not the first time she cared for a young man dying from sickle cell anemia, and his fate upended her equilibrium.

In an anguished voice, she asked me, “Why don’t people get tested so that their children won’t die?” I understood the history behind her question. As a high school student, my daughter along with all her classmates (and students in most religious Jewish schools) underwent a blood screening test to reveal if they were carriers for certain illnesses that are prevalent in the Jewish community. The organization that runs the screening emerged from the pain of a rabbi, Joseph Ekstein, who watched, devastated, as four of his young children died from Tay Sachs disease. Wanting to spare others similar sorrow, in the 1980s he began promoting widespread genetic testing. Since then the organization that carries out his mission has expanded to test for an increasing number of fatal and debilitating recessive genetic diseases to which Jews are disproportionally disposed.

How does it work? The concept of testing high school students presupposes certain social norms. For this reason, religious high schools provide a natural platform. For the most part, these students belong to a culture that frowns on social dating. Down the road, many of them will meet their spouses through introductions by family and friends or through matchmakers. Even if they do meet someone at a social gathering or other venue, the expectation is that any incipient relationship hinges on getting to know one another with marriage as the aim. Furthermore, physical contact leading to out of wedlock pregnancies is not the norm; marriage and children go together.

Once tested, the students are not given any genetic information. Instead, they are given an identifying number. When they begin to court for marriage, ideally before ever even going out on a first date, they, or their parents, call a designated phone number with their own identifying code as well as the number of the person they are meeting. If neither or only one of the individuals is a carrier for one of the serious genetic diseases, the caller is blessed with wishes that the courtship goes well. If both individuals are carriers, the caller is advised not to pursue the meeting. Even if the couple has already met, calling at an early stage in the process means that while relinquishing the relationship may be disappointing, it is a small price to pay compared to the potential tragedy that could ensue.

Why am I writing about this? Sickle cell anemia is prevalent in both the African American and Hispanic communities. I read that the trait for it is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States. I know that among my Musings’ readers there are pastors whose congregations include many Hispanic and African American families, as well as individuals from those communities. These churches often promote courtship rather than dating. Perhaps genetic testing is already encouraged; I don’t know. I do know that in the observant Jewish community it has become rare to hear about a baby being born with Tay Sachs. The testing has been wildly successful in eradicating this particular affliction. I write in the hope that sharing an experience from my community can help eliminate heartbreak for other groups.

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If you are the parent of young children thinking more about play dates than dating for your kids, this is precisely the time to formulate your views on how you wish to convey information about male-female relationships to them. I strongly recommend reading Gila Manolson’s book Hands Off! This May Be Love as you begin thinking proactively about issues that you will face sooner than you realize.

The Bigger and Not Always Better Picture

January 5th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

For the past few months I’ve been driving to a class a few times a week. Rather than listening to the radio, I’ve immersed myself in a podcast, Presidential. Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post began hosting this weekly broadcast 44 weeks before the recent election.  She intended November’s historical event to coincide with her final episode which, I believe, turned out to be quite a surprise to her.

I am only up to Dwight Eisenhower, though I admit that I cheated and jumped ahead to hear the episode on Donald Trump. What have I learned? I’ve certainly learned about presidents like Chester Arthur who existed only on the periphery of my historical knowledge. I’ve learned interesting factoids on better known presidents like Abraham Lincoln. I’ve gotten a view of the sweep of American history through the eyes of the executive branch. Mostly what I’ve learned though, is how many hills and valleys, tragedies and triumphs, twists and turns have dotted our past.  Personal tragedy, illness and assassination along with national and international events and well or poorly chosen appointees helped frequently to make presidents’ achievements differ greatly from the expectations that existed prior to their elections.

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Great News! Donations to Liberal Organization are Soaring

December 29th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

This might strike you as strange, but I think the fact that individual donations to liberal organizations, including Planned Parenthood, are increasing is great news. Not because I support these organizations and want them to have funds to carry out their objectives; I don’t. However, the increase in donations reflects a fear that government funds (a.k.a as money confiscated from taxpayers) will be less available under a Trump administration. I hope those fears are justified.

On this issue, I lean libertarian. I don’t want to see funds moved from liberal organizations to conservative ones. I want to see funding in general cut back. I  resent the National Endowment for the Arts using tax money to promote artwork that ridicules and insults Christianity such as the monstrosity known as Piss Christ, but I have no desire for the government to fund pro-Christian art or art that denigrates atheists. How about leaving funding to private individuals or, if they choose, local governments?

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Searching for an Honest Woman

December 22nd, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

The ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes, famously carried a lantern as he looked futilely for an honest man. We’re talking over 2,000 years ago, so maybe we can put the current media hysteria about fake news in perspective.

However, the reality is that many of us today see reporters, TV hosts, bloggers and columnists as partisan propagandists. We view media outlets as centers of distortion, censorship and hypocrisy. Our conclusions are not without reason.

In the days when debate was actually a clearly defined skill, people recognized that being able to see your opponent’s point of view was necessary to argue your own case well. At the time of America’s founding, while there was propaganda and misinformation, there was even more learned debate and published material arguing for various perspectives. How amazing that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense or the Federalist Papers were read and discussed by everyday citizens (or citizens to be) not by obscure academics!

These observations led me to spend an hour listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with First Lady Michelle Obama. I had been struck by the contrast between highly negative articles including quotes from the interview and glowing reports of the interview on platforms from opposite sides of the political aisle. Not surprisingly, the comments under each article mostly shared the opinions expressed. I didn’t see anyone mentioning a few good points and a few troubling one. Everything I saw presented an analysis that was black or white as well as predictably in line with the author’s political views. I wanted to make up my own mind rather than have it made up for me.

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Soft Skills

December 15th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

My husband and I spend a fair amount of time filming our TV show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom on the TCT network. We used to work on our set in Marion, IL, but recently we started taping in the Akron, OH studio.

Every time we have been there, we interact with a large number of station employees. Some make up the camera crew, some direct the show, while others are involved with administration or post-production work. The employees span the spectrum of age, race and gender. To be honest, we are not an easy couple to host. Anytime we spend the day there, TCT asks someone to drive half an hour to pick up and bring kosher food to us.

Here is what I have noticed. Every person we meet is unfailingly competent, cheerful and willing to go the extra mile to do their own job as well as any other task that is needed. We are very often there from early in the morning until late afternoon. Many days when we leave the building, staff that has been there with us from the morning is setting up for an evening event. Yet, the hard-working professionalism and downright niceness never flag.

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Update: From Bibs to Boardrooms

December 8th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

My husband and I love hearing comments on all our posts, be they Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi, or my Musings. This week’s Ask the Rabbi question focused on whether retirement meant something different to women and men. One response came from Claire, who started her comment with these words:

Thank you for validating stay at home mothers, especially homeschooling ones. I passed the CPA exam 8 years ago and was just getting ready to return to work (part-time) while my children were in school. I learned more about the Common Core and decided against it. I actually think the way things were being “taught” was part of the reason why my son was confused. I knew he was capable of much more so I decided, once again, to focus on my family first. I began homeschooling him and have been very thankful for that decision ever since. I would say the only difficult “thing” for me is that, at times, I feel uncertain of my future once my children grow…

Claire’s concern resonated with me as I’m sure it did with others. It also reminded me of a very early Musing I wrote almost ten years ago. I thought that some of you might not have all my Musings memorized (just kidding!) and that this piece might deserve reposting. Enjoy.

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Murder in Tennessee

December 1st, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 39 comments

I was heartbroken, as indeed every decent person should be, at the murder of six Tennessee schoolchildren last week. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of heartbreaking news and this quickly disappeared off the national news headlines. This specific incident, though, haunted me. I was also angered at how little attention it received.

Here are the basics. A speeding Chattanooga school bus was driven off its designated route; it overturned and slammed into a tree. So far six children have died with many others injured. Going back months, there are numerous records of parents and students lodging complaints against the driver, Johnthony Walker, for reckless driving as well as for cursing and threatening the students on his bus. The school’s principal also brought her concerns to the attention of school officials. Walker, too, made numerous complaints, clearly showing himself to be unhappy with his work.

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If You Give a Homeschooler Some Salt

November 23rd, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

If you have avoided children for the past thirty years, you may not be familiar with the classic book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This popular tale, written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond, reveals a probable chain of events familiar to us all. If you give a mouse a cookie he might want a glass of milk; the glass of milk might lead to a request for a straw and so on and so forth until the mouse’s desires loop back to requesting another cookie. We’ve all been there, whether with mice, children or ourselves. How many of us have upgraded an outfit, room or website only to discover that the new and improved look compels us to upgrade another and then another item?

This just happened to me. I decided to clean out my pantry and discovered a ridiculous amount of salt. I know how this came about – I don’t cook with salt very much yet I buy new boxes of both table and kosher salt (which describes the size of the crystals, not its kosher status) for Passover each year. Since we never finish these containers, they pile up.

These days, salt is not an expensive item. Even so, I was reluctant to simply throw it away. I texted my two daughters asking if they wanted salt to make relief maps with their children who are in a homeschool geography club. I should have known better. I got an immediate response saying what a wonderful idea it would be if I would make relief maps with the girls. That of course led to searching for videos on how to actually make the salt dough and finding printable maps of Washington and Maryland, the girls’ respective assignments. I needed to pull out paint and scissors and run to the store for flour as well. Since two of my darling granddaughters were already coming over, they might as well stay for supper so I put up a batch of macaroni and cheese which, incidentally, called for a pinch of salt.

I may not be crazy about mice, but if you give a retired homeschooling mother some salt, she will think of an educational project which will lead to enjoying her blessings. Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving with your loved ones.

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Boos in Boston

November 14th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 57 comments

I think it would be pretty easy for most of us to make a list of ten things that all decent Americans agree on. We might differ on tactics in how to reach a goal, but there aren’t many people who would suggest that ending child abuse or improving education is a bad idea. I feel safe saying that everyone would like to eradicate cancer and help families dealing with cancer.

Yet the audience at a fund-raiser for exactly that cause erupted in boos last weekend in Boston. Why that happened sheds light on Donald Trump’s amazing election victory. For twenty-two years, comedians have performed in an evening that produces publicity and funds for the Cam Neely Foundation, a group dedicated to providing ‘comfort, support and hope to cancer patients and their families.’ The organization’s Comic Come Home fund-raiser is billed as an evening where “every year the audience laughs hard enough to shake the roof!” This year, anger and disgust replaced some of the laughter.

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A New Chance

November 10th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Thousands of words are being written about Donald Trump’s victory, but I feel compelled to add my own. I am immensely proud that this election reinforced a proper American rejection of corruption, demanding that our country recommit to the principle that no one is above the law. It upheld the idea that the IRS, Justice Department and other institutions of government must be apolitical rather than instruments of revenge or favoritism. Voters recognized that with Supreme Court nominations hanging in the balance, they wished to opt for Justices who would respect our country’s foundations rather than make a country in their own image.

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