Yearly Archives: 2006

Environmental Fundamentalism is a Religion

December 19th, 2006 Posted by On Our Mind 5 comments

With little attention, Television Week and Variety, the Hollywood trade magazine, recently announced something that simply fascinates me here: Sundance Channel, which is a joint venture of actor Robert Redford, NBC Universal, and Viacom’s Showtime Networks will soon launch Sundance Channel Green, a weekly show on environmental topics. I wasn’t shocked to read that Sundance Channel claims to be the first network with regular programming dedicated entirely to the environment. And, in my view, “dedicated” is exactly the right word because it sounds religious. And religious is exactly what we’re talking about here.

You see, it is my firm conviction that much of the environmental project is almost an inevitable pantheistic response to a post-Christian culture. Created as we are with a deep instinctive psychological drive to give of ourselves, I see western elites happily preaching self-deprivation as modern secularism’s expression of the animal sacrifices of Biblical times. Turn down the thermostat; ditch your SUV in favor of a silly little electric car that resembles a flashlight on wheels; hobble American industry by means of vague ‘international’ protocols and all the other many examples are really little more than chest-beating displays of moral virtue. Of course every ostentatious exhibition of virtue requires sacrifice in order to resonate with authenticity.

All of this environmental hysteria has another enormous advantage from the point of view of its high priests—it requires action from other than the individual. By contrast, Judeo-Christian traditions require devotion and dedication from the individual but Environmental Fundamentalism demands action from government, or better yet, a federation of governments, say, the United Nations. With the possible exception of the sacred sacrament of secularism—recycling—environmentalism demands little of the individual, which makes it a rather comfortable and seductive faith. Whereas devotees of the Biblical faiths see redemption from the big ‘G’ of God, Environmental Fundamentalism sees redemption coming from the little ‘g’ of government. It interests me that, knowing this full well, Environmental Fundamentalism has recently recognized the compelling need to locate some figureheads with conventional religious credentials to come aboard.

Each morning I give thanks to God for His gift of Scripture and his requirement that I serve Him and sacrifice in accordance with His wishes only. This saves me from feeling a lot of unnecessary guilt and making a whole lot of sacrifices of dubious utility.

Northwest Storm

December 18th, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

I am trying to count my blessings. We’re all in good health; we have warm clothing to wear, a gas stove which lets us have hot food, and a house that wasn’t damaged. The temperature hasn’t dipped too low and we have friends with whom we’ve been sharing food and companionship.

But while I’m aware of all those things, I am also beginning to feel tired of being cold, of having to find a Starbucks or Tullys in order to work, and simply of life being disrupted from its normal flow. Instead of breakfast taking the one minute and twenty-eight seconds to prepare as it usually does in the microwave – during which time I bring in the Wall Street Journal and start unloading the dishwasher – I’ve been spending half an hour cooking grilled cheese sandwiches and omelets on the stove. (The fact that we can still use our eggs and cheese gives you some idea of the temperature in the house) Reading for a few minutes before falling asleep has turned into a chore with trying to balance a flashlight and turn pages without taking my hand out from beneath the blanket. Getting dressed in the morning has become less a matter of dressing to suit a mood and the day’s activities, and more of trying to figure out how many shirts and sweaters will fit under my coat. And not being able to do laundry has less the feel of a vacation and more of a punishment. While I’m grateful for my friend Julie’s invitation to shower at her (powered) apartment, and I took her up on her offer, it meant that taking a shower became an afternoon’s activity.

I’m ready for a return to normal after our storm. And vividly aware of how fortunate we are to live in a time and place where the normal condition of life is safe and warm, and where even when a relatively major disruption takes place, as it did for us last Thursday, our community is filled with honest, caring people who band together to make an unpleasant situation less so.

Treeless in Seattle

December 11th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

Jews Strive to Restore Sea-Tac Airport’s Christmas Trees

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Well here we go again. It is so utterly predictable. Like clockwork. It’s December and time for another skirmish in the annual battle against Christmas. What compels me to comment is that this time it’s not the usual secular fanatic who’s responsible for doing things that evict Christianity from the culture. No, on this sad and alarming occasion it’s a deeply religious, well-intentioned rabbi who has unwittingly stumbled into a situation that will place his denomination (and mine)—Orthodox Judaism—in a terrible, negative light.

For at least ten years, Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle has displayed several large, beautifully decorated Christmas trees each December. With lawyer in tow, a local rabbi recently threatened to sue the Port of Seattle if the airport didn’t add a Chanukah menorah to the holiday display.

Yielding to the ultimatum was not an option for airport management, skittish at the best of times since 9-11. Understandably, they interpreted the rabbi’s threat as only the first. It would not be hard to imagine Seattle’s Islamic community stepping forward with their own lawyer to demand a Moslem symbol be included as well.

With deft turn of phrase, Sea-Tac public affairs manager Terri-Ann Betancourt explained that at the busiest travel time of the year, while Sea-Tac was focused on getting passengers through the airport, she and her staff didn’t have time “to play cultural anthropologists.”

Threatening a lawsuit, I feel, violates the Jewish principle known in Hebrew as Kiddush HaShem, interpreted in the Talmud, part of ancient Jewish wisdom, as an action that encourages people to admire Jews. One need only read the comments on the Internet following the news accounts of the tree removal, to know that most people are feeling indignant and hurt. They certainly are not feeling more warmly toward Jews as a result of this mess.

Here I disclose that I know the rabbi involved, am friendly with him, and am sure that he didn’t intend this outcome. I like him, which makes it painful for me to point out that when one throws a punch (which is what bringing a lawyer and threatening to sue is equivalent to) and one gets decked in return, one cannot plead that one didn’t intend that outcome.

The outcome, whether intended or not, is that now vast numbers of passengers, most of whom are probably Christian, will be deprived of the cheerful holiday sight of pretty Christmas trees. What is more, they will know that their deprivation was caused by a Jewish rabbi. The rabbi’s lawyer told a television reporter, “There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch.”

No, Mr. Lawyer, it is not that Jews will be “portrayed” as the grinch. Sadly, now we are the grinch. You made us the grinch.

Now what is to be done? I have three requests:

I am asking every reader of this column to sign a petition on the Toward Tradition website beseeching Sea-Tac management to restore the Christmas trees.

I am asking every reader of this column to forward it to others who might be willing to sign this petition.

I am asking Jews in the Puget Sound region to join national radio host, Michael Medved, and me in offering our volunteer labor to Sea-Tac. We hope they will allow us to provide the labor necessary for replacing the trees so that airport staff need not be deflected from their important duties.

Why am I, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, so concerned about a few Christmas trees? Not for a moment do I believe that American Christians will react to this insult with a flurry of anti-Semitic activity. But I do feel certain that perhaps in some small way, expelling Christmas symbolism from the airport makes it just a little harder to protect America’s Christian nature.

For centuries, we Jews suffered in a Europe governed by ecclesiastical authority. We suffered no less under the secular tyrannies of communism. Now, in post-Christian Europe, where both government and population are increasingly secular, anti-Semitism is dramatically on the rise. In short, we have never thrived under religious government or within secular cultures.

During the past two thousand years of Jewish history Jews have never enjoyed a more hospitable home than we enjoy here in the United States of America.

This is because we have a religiously neutral government and a largely religious Christian population. Most American Christians love Jews and support Israel unconditionally because of their commitment to the Bible and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Evidence from across the Atlantic persuades me that our lot will deteriorate if America’s population gradually becomes secularized and removing the Christmas trees makes that disturbing likelihood, over time, more probable. Yes, public symbols are very important.

Years ago we Jews advocated for full equality. Today, with thirteen Jewish United States senators, over thirty Jewish congressmen, two Jews on the Supreme Court, and disproportionate Jewish representation in media and entertainment, one could reasonably say we have achieved it. But back then, the only culture in America was Christian. Today, however, America is home to many faiths, not all of them friendly towards Judaism.

Today, agitating for Jewish religious representation in the culture inevitably results not in equating Judaism with Christianity but the removal of both Judaism and Christianity. In other words, pushing for the menorah means removal of the Christmas tree and the triumph of secularism. Europe, both past and present, teaches us that if America becomes secularized, Jews suffer.

For fifteen years I have insisted that for Jews to oppose Christianity in America is a mistake. The world today is populated by millions who harbor festering hatred for Jews. There remains one group of people who love and support us and they are America’s Evangelical Christians. What possible sense does it make to fight your friends by stripping their symbols from sight?

When the Moslems invaded Spain, one of their first actions was the removal of all Christian symbols from public view. Secularism’s invasion of America is attempting exactly the same strategy. I implore American Jews not to ally themselves with this ill-fated campaign.

We are less than a week from the Jewish holiday of Chanukah during which our most important religious observance revolves around the blessings we say over the Menorah. In doing so, we oppose the still prevalent and ever more dangerous force of secularism.

When times change, unlike dinosaurs, wise organisms adapt. We should recognize that we all have a stake in protecting Christian symbolism in the village square (or the airport). The only alternative will be no religious symbolism at all and make no mistake, secularism’s rise is Judaism’s decline.

I spoke to the rabbi involved today and he is genuinely unhappy with the decision of Sea-Tac airport. I invited him to join the Toward Tradition petition and I hope he will do so. I urge you also to do whatever you can to help bring back Sea-Tac Airport’s Christmas trees. Let us all show that we care.

Exactly thirteen years ago, a brick was thrown through a Jewish home’s window in Billings, Montana because inside that window was displayed a menorah. Within days, over six thousand Christian homes in Billings protested that anti-religious bigotry by displaying menorahs in their windows.

I am not suggesting that Jews express their support by displaying Christmas trees in their windows but I am suggesting that Jews fulfill the spirit of Chanukah by supporting public expressions of the other Biblical faith. I don’t think that the airport was guilty of anti-religious bigotry but a weakening o
f Christianity in America could become a huge threat. For a start, let us try to restore Sea-Tac Airport’s Christmas trees.

Sign Petition: www.towardtradition.org/restorechristmas

No snow; no school

December 7th, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Our city’s schools had two snow days last week but there were no red cheeked children outside building snowmen, no peals of laughter as sleds raced downhill and no snowballs hurtling through the air. Why not? Well, there was no snow – or nothing more than a dusting on bushes and roofs.

I’m not criticizing the decision to close. Many of the classroom teachers come from a distance, and the areas around us truly were snowed in and roads were treacherous. The school board had no choice but to act as it did. But I couldn’t help recalling a passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, These Happy Golden Years, in which she describes a dilemma she faced as a young teacher. When two half-frozen students came three minutes (!!!) late to class after laboriously breaking a path through newly fallen snow, Miss Wilder could see how they had struggled on their mile long hike. But, after all; that didn’t change the fact that they were late! Should she or should she not mark them as tardy?

The very fact that such a question could be asked rings alien to modern ears. Yet that teacher from over a century ago not only asked the question, but answered it by seeing no choice but to truthfully mark the record, while at the same time inviting them to sit close to the stove.

As a mother and grandmother I have no desire to return to the days when a difficult trek to school was not unusual or when classroom heating in the winter was insufficient. But it is a human characteristic to not appreciate what we too easily obtain. And when education was not easily or universally available and sacrifices were demanded of families and children in order to access that education, learning was valued in a way that simply isn’t often found today. In all the (in my opinion) ridiculous discussions of how little we spend on education perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone. Let’s dismiss all custodial staff and have the students mop the floors, clean the bathrooms and take out the trash. We can save dollars and instill appreciation at the same time.

The fact that no one – even I- thinks that this proposal stands a chance of being considered is one piece in a complicated puzzle that explain why most eighth grade graduates of Laura Ingalls Wilders’ days had greater knowledge of history and civics and more developed English and math skills, not to mention greater moral development, than too many college students of today.

I Warned You that Ancient Jewish Wisdom Discouraged Investing in Sirius Satellite Radio

December 5th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 3 comments

Don’t you just hate it when people proudly proclaim-“I told you so!” Don’t you hate it even more when they were right? Well, I told you so! Two years ago I said Howard Stern’s move from free radio to subscription-based satellite radio was going to bomb for Sirius which paid Stern about half a billion dollars to get him to move his show to Sirius.

Let’s go back to the beginning. When it came out last year, I wrote a review of Streisand’s movie, “Meet the Fockers.” In my review which I called “Our Worst Enemy,” I indicated that indeed, the worst enemy of the Jews is the Jews. It was the second time I wrote about Stern.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

It is not only in movies that Jews besmirch Jews as sexualizing the culture. Ruth Westheimer told The New York Times of her love for Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people. Meanwhile, as Dr. Ruth, with her grandmotherly appearance and her high-pitched Jewish accent, she titillates her audiences with shockingly explicit sexual advice.

Radio shock-jock Howard Stern intersperses his displays of dehumanizing depravity with a constant stream of “Oy veys” as if subconsciously compelled to highlight his Jewish ethnicity.

Jerry Springer, widely known as the Jewish former mayor of Cincinnati, normalizes depravity by projecting a deviant sub-culture and its cheering hooligans right into America’s living room.

A few years ago, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal gushingly profiled a Jewish pornographer whose stage name is Ron Jeremy. The piece praised the huge sums he’s been paid to “bed more gorgeous women than James Bond.” Jeremy, who proudly admits to have acted in or directed over 1,500 porn videos, cited the preponderance of Jewish men in porn and explained, “Jewish families tend to be more liberal than Christian ones, they aren’t obsessed by the fear of the devil or going to hell.” As if to eliminate any lingering doubt about Ron Jeremy’s Jewishness, the Jewish Journal breathlessly assures us that Ron Jeremy plans to marry in a synagogue.

The first time I wrote about Stern was when I predicted that Sirius would take a financial hit for paying so much for Stern’s notoriously raunchy radio show. Now the reports are in.

On his syndicated radio show Stern used to enjoy a daily audience of about 12 million Americans. On satellite he probably has fewer than 2 million listeners. On November 27th Forbes Magazine reported that after having become disconnected from most of his vast audience, Stern’s media mentions in 2005 were down 23% from 2004.

Since signing Stern, Sirius shares are down 44% though Stern probably did help Sirius gain new subscribers. Those subscribers number a little over 5 million right now but, and it is a great big, gigantic, monumental BUT, many of them do not listen to the Howard Stern Radio Show.

Reason: Simple. On good old fashioned free radio, Howard had an ally—the Federal Communications Commission. They gave Stern so much free publicity. They also granted him a unique niche in radio. For many in his demographic (adolescents of all ages) Stern was an irresistible attraction. Howard was willing to push the limits of drooling concupiscence beyond the point that all other radio hosts gave up. His show constantly earned the ire of the good commissioners and stations running his show were often fined for indecency. Howard didn’t mind. Those were his friends. They kept away the competition that lacked the stomach for confrontation with the government that Howard relished. Fans tuned in to each day to hear Stern escalate the scatology.

But there is one big problem with hosting shock radio. No matter what you do, each day you are only upping the ante for the next. Shock your audience today with breathtaking prurience, and tomorrow they expect better. Under the watchful eye of the FCC, Stern pushed the limit like nobody else. On satellite radio, there is no FCC. There are no limits and Howard enjoys no unique niche. There are plenty of hosts on the hundreds of channels who are selling shock and who are willing and eager to escalate it each day. But without the FCC, it’s just no fun. That is why so few of Sirius subscribers listen to Stern. On free radio they listened to him taunt the FCC like nobody else could or would. On satellite there is no shortage of shock jocks. Many are younger and edgier than Stern and they grab audience share.

It was not a hard call to predict that once Stern was out of reach
of the FCC his competitive edge would erode. It would be like a circus tight rope walker who suddenly lowered his rope walking act to three feet off the ground. Without the risk there is no thrill. There is no risk for Stern on satellite and there certainly is no thrill. And to tell you the truth, if there is one less Jew out there purveying filth, I am happy. And I am happy I told you.

I may be Rabbi Daniel Lapin, but this post gets signed—

Ayatolah Youso.

On the occasion of the 15th anniversary (Yarhzeit) of the passing away of my late father, Rabbi A. H. Lapin

November 20th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 3 comments

Dear Father,

It is exactly fifteen years since that unforgettably nightmarish moment when I answered the phone at my home in Los Angeles to hear Mom’s trembling voice. Her first six words told me all I didn’t want to know. “I have some very bad news, Daniel….” The obvious effort she was making trying to say the words without breaking down broke my heart. I needed to be by her side in San Jose.

Losing a father is a shattering moment that thrusts the utter loneliness of the universe coldly into the depths of every man’s soul. I tore a long gash in the left lapel of my suit jacket as the Torah describes and with eyes that seemed to have an inexhaustible reservoir of tears, flew to San Jose. Losing a husband must be every bit as bad as losing a father since the Torah routinely talks of widows and orphans.

As ancient Jewish tradition dictates, your funeral, Dad, followed very quickly. Before I could even begin to relate to my new fatherless reality we were laying your body to rest in Jerusalem. For the next week, in a small Jerusalem apartment, your widow and children sat Shiva together from morning to night.

It was a gentle healing time. There was no hysteria and no moments of uncontrollable grief. It was a week of bitter sweet memories and of profound discovery. We laughed quite a lot and discovered many things about you, Dad, that we never knew. During that week friends and relatives from all over the world came to pay their respects and stayed to talk of the remarkable man they remembered.

For instance, I discovered that early in your rabbinic career, soon after World War II, you established for the South African Jewish community, an office of Jewish-Christian relations. Only six months before you moved to the World of Truth, I laid out for you my plans for an American organization for Jews and Christians to jointly restore traditional values. I think I know why you never mentioned to me that this eerily echoed something you had done forty years earlier. I think I’ll keep that to myself.

I discovered the truth behind something you had once taught me. You had said that contrary to what one might expect, someone who had a wonderful marriage finds it a little easier to bear the loss of a spouse. One might think that when a person is delivered from a dreadful marriage by the death of a spouse, the bereavement is particularly easy to endure. The truth is quite the opposite.

For the survivor of a horrible marriage, there is nothing but desolate isolation. Since there never was much of a spiritual bond in that marriage to begin with, the physical departure of one spouse leaves the remaining partner with absolutely nothing.

However, in the case of a marvelous marriage, the spiritual connection is so strong that it even out shadows the physical. Thus when the physical bond is broken by death, the remaining spiritual bond still embraces the survivor. I saw this in the case of your marriage to Mom.

Dad, you must have known how your face lit up each time Mom walked into the room. I never tired of noting the change in your mood and expression whenever Mom returned to your presence. You went from solemn and introverted to effervescent and joyful. It was a wonder to behold and gave proof to that spiritual bond.

Susan often mentions that she spotted the same thing the first time she met you both and it powerfully reassured her in her decision to cast her lot in with me, so thanks for that.

The reason that Mom was able to function after you rejoined our Father in Heaven was that in many important ways, you were still with her. I am quite sure that she continued speaking to you because even I did that. The only difference is that I know Mom heard your responses each time she spoke whereas I only heard them on the important communal issues that I continued to discuss with you.

In the tractate of Berachot, ancient Jewish wisdom declares that the truly righteous, even after their physical death, are regarded as living. I now understood that. Had the entire essence of our relationship been tossing around a basketball each weekend, your absence would have been intolerable. However the essence of our relationship was you teaching me how the world really works. It was you introducing me to every subtle nuance of our covenant with God. It was you drilling me in meticulous review of hundreds, if not thousands of pages of Torah both oral and written. Well, none of that has ended. You’re almost as present in my life as you were fifteen years and a day ago. Something is of course different but it is the less important part of our relationship.

We weren’t much for tossing around the basketball, but we did love our
regular family visits to the Kruger National Park.
In those days…no blacktop roads, hot and cold running water, or accommodation with indoor plumbing. No, it was pretty rustic and you liked it that way. We cooked out of doors each evening during those game seeking expeditions. And during the days, we explored the veldt searching for elusive big game—the elephants, the lions, the giraffes and rhinoceros. You had an uncanny ability to find them.

Today they toss around the phrase ‘renaissance man.’ I don’t even know what it means any more. But you were moved by the music of Bach and Beethoven. The principal violinist of the South African Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra considered herself your friend. Shakespeare spoke to you and the rolling cadences of Winston Churchill’s speeches thrilled you as they did when you first heard him live in London during World War II. You knew Freud and you loved your 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. You kept up with all scientific and medical advances and you found time to remain closely informed of political developments both at home and abroad. I still have you but the Jewish world today could really use you.

I am so grateful that all my children knew you. I grew up in your home. My children only have the second-hand benefit of growing up in the home of someone who grew up in your home, but they did know you and do remember you. They don’t remember you well enough to know how like you I have become. Many sons dread the moment they discover they are becoming their fathers. I longed for that moment.

Remember the time I damaged that fine British car you owned and loved? I was fourteen years-old and strictly speaking, shouldn’t really have been driving it in the first place. But then fortunately, you were always more concerned about my soul than about my body, letting me take physical risks but never spiritual ones. When I wrapped the fender around a telephone pole I don’t know whether I feared your anger or your sadness more. You exhibited neither. In total and perfect control of your emotions, you made me get behind the wheel and drive all that day with you alongside of me in the front passenger seat. It was quite a day.

You know what I am most nostalgic about? Today people feel a need to ostentatiously parade their piety with obtrusive displays of religious rigor. The permanently stern and unsmiling countenances; making sure all know of one’s absurdly restrictive rules; pompous renunciation of life’s pleasures; dark and gloomy theological theories; and yes, endless belittling of all one considers so very inferior. Your relationship with God was bright and beautiful. It made you respect everyone and it somehow made everyone love you. You were tough on yourself but easy and loving towards others. Most rabbis today are the opposite. They are remarkably easy on themselves and perhaps love themselves altogether too well. At the same time they ride roughly over the ordinary folks they encounter.

Just two recollections: I needed your help to carry the Torah teaching load in the Los Angeles Jewish community that I had established with my partner and friend and your student, Michael Medved. You flew from your home in San Jose to Los Angeles every two weeks to spend two days teaching. For years you flew a now defunct airline called PSA. Each time I took you to the airport and carried your bag to check in and each time I went to the airport to pick you up I witnessed PSA Airline staff express genuine friendship toward you. They actually knew you. What is more, they actually liked you.

In 1957 you took the entire family on sabbatical to the United Kingdom. We traveled from Cape Town to Southampton, as most did in those days, by a steamship of the Union Castle Line. The first Friday night we were on board we sat down at our kosher-catered table in the ship’s saloon and you prepared to recite the Kiddush—the weekly blessing over wine that welcomes the Sabbath and announces our conviction that in six days God made heaven and earth and on the seventh day He rested.

I don’t mind telling you that as a young boy, I was kind of hoping you’d whisper it quietly. My goodness, there must have been seven hundred people in that dining saloon and we were pretty much the only Jews. I suspected that you were going to say the Kiddush as loudly as you did at home and I quaked. I mean, did we really need to draw attention to ourselves?

You stood up straight and my eyes were glued to your erect figure. Mom sat next to you and the rest of us kids were arrayed around the table. You started the evocative phrases softly. So softly that with the noisy dining room hubbub of serving waiters, crockery clashing, and talking passengers, I could hardly hear you.

Then a strange thing happened. The waiters slowly stopped their serv
ing.
The tables fell silent and seven hundred people rose to their feet and gazed respectfully in our direction. Your voice rose slightly as you brought the benediction to a conclusion. The family responded Amen which was immediately echoed softly by hundreds of lips around the room. Your warmth and dignity radiated through the dining room and from then onwards for the remaining two weeks of the voyage, you seemed to have seven hundred best friends on board ship.

Times are changing. Fifteen years have gone by. You used to tell me that there is no way I could comprehend the greatness of your teachers in pre-World War II Europe. Now I tell my students that there is no way they can fully comprehend the human greatness of the teachers I was privileged to have. Among them all, nobody stands taller than you. I do hope that you are as proud of being my father as I am of being your son.

Love

Daniel

How funny is Borat?

November 14th, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

Unlike vast numbers of Americans, I didn’t go see Borat this week. Neither is it on my schedule for the future. Now, considering that theatres would be out of business if they relied on my patronage, not going might seem to be a simple decision. But it wasn’t. People whose views I trust told me that they have never, ever laughed as hard as they did while watching this movie. And after a vicious election season and surrounded as we are in the Northwest by grey skies, escaping into laughter would be welcome indeed.
So, why didn’t I go? It seemed that everyone felt that they had to add an explanatory note to their laughter:
“You’ll love it. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.”
“My stomach hurt from laughing.”
was inevitably followed by:
“Of course, I had to cover my eyes at some points because it was so vulgar.” And
“It was way over the top sometimes.”
So, why did I decide not to go? Aside from the fact that I am highly intolerant of bad language, which in itself might have me cringing as much as laughing, I mostly didn’t go out of fear that I too would find myself laughing uncontrollably. The opening sentence of the very first Psalm in King David’s book starts with the words, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” continues with “nor stands in the way of sinners” and concludes with “nor sits in the seat of scorners.” There is clearly a progression here. In increasing order of involvement we have walking with –an almost casual connection, moving on to standing –stopping and paying attention, and then the most serious involvement – sitting down with someone. And who is the person whom we have to fear sitting with? In Hebrew, the word translated as scorner is “laytz”, from which comes the word “laytzan”, meaning a clown. King David is warning us that humor can be incredibly dangerous. Skilled people can get us to laugh at things we truly value and by laughing, we diminish those things. If we value purity of language, or our country, or relationships between men and women, or people treating a stranger hospitably, but are moved to laughter when they are abused or mocked, then we have tarnished those things.
So I’m not going to see Borat; not so much out of a fear that I won’t find it funny, but more out of a fear that I will.

On Time? It Depends.

November 7th, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

My husband and I didn’t know each other during our school days. But it seems that we took very different approaches to our studies. When I was assigned a paper that was due, let’s say, in six weeks, I immediately gave myself a slightly earlier artificial due date in case of unexpected impediments, and then working backwards, put in intermediary deadlines. And I met all my deadlines, ideally with the final work ready a few days early or at worst, on time.

Not so my husband. From what I hear it seems that his methodology was quite different. To begin with, he pretty much ignored the assignment figuring that if it was important it would get mentioned again. If it began to seem pressing he would mentally make a list of all the reasons it might not be necessary to actually do it. After all, teachers have been known to get sick, schools to burn down and epidemics to break out. It would certainly be a shame to put in all that work and find out that after all, the deadline was cancelled. If, the night before the due date nothing cataclysmic had occurred and he had used up his quota of feigned illnesses, then there was nothing to do but work through the night and hand in as much of the work as could be done at the last minute. (Guess whose school stories our children had more fun listening to?)

Since we weren’t in class together and never had to deal with a team academic project, these differing work methods didn’t seem to form a barrier to a successful marriage. And over the years, while we discussed and helped each other with everything we did whether it was preparing lectures, homeschooling our children, writing books or paying bills, each activity fell mainly into one of our domains. Everything worked fine until we technically became empty nesters last year. (I say technically because there still seem to be a lot of people running around our house, but I digress). At that point we decided to launch a new endeavor to vastly increase production of books and audio material. With my homeschooling years behind me, I theoretically had endless newly freed hours to devote to this project as well as to our organization, Toward Tradition. We could work as a team on a joint venture.

Well, over the past year, we have each learned many new things. I have come to see that even with the best of intentions, running a business entails lots of variables that aren’t always within one’s control. Sometimes, deadlines need to be flexible. And my husband has learned that when he tells me that something will be ready by Monday, I actually enter that on my calendar and count on having it. Most of all, we’ve confirmed that we’d rather work with each other than with anyone else. We are pleased to announce that our web-site is finally up and our store is open. We have one new product of which we are immensely proud and others in the pipeline. Most of all, we’re glad to have you along for the ride.

Food Memories

September 19th, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Cookbooks are spread out all over the table signaling the approach of Rosh HaShana (the beginning of the Jewish year 5767) and heralding the many holidays which trail in Rosh HaShana’s wake. Even though on one of those holidays we abstain from food and drink for 25 hours, the month following the first day of the new year is chock full of feasting. Throw in some children wending their way home for the holidays along with guests for each festive meal and the cooking adds up. Despite that, the cookbooks are actually more for window dressing than for practicality.

That is because each holiday has its own traditional foods and I have no intention of breaking rank this year. Some of those foods, like apples dipped in honey to welcome in a sweet year, will be found universally at Jewish tables. Others, like Pears Helene, have become our own family’s traditions, to the point that a Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) without that dessert would feel lacking. So, while I might add one new side dish or replace the honey cake that my husband tells me he loves but never eats more than one slice from, with a new pastry, for the most part all I do is look at my menus going back to the first year I was married, and make exactly the same things one more time.

I’ve already baked my mandlen otherwise known as soup nuts. (Warning – these bear absolutely no resemblance to items sold under the same name in the local supermarket) I needed to make these soup accompaniments early in order to be able to mail them out to the children who won’t be home for Rosh HaShana. Sending them gives the long distance children a taste of home and a tangible sign that I’m thinking of them and missing them. But there’s way more in the package. Not only are the mandlen concrete evidence of my love, they are also meant to serve as reminders. The recipe I use was handed down to me by my mother and grandmother and when my mother-in-law shared a few of her favorite recipes with me, it was in that treasure trove as well. So the mandlen are meant to remind my children of their origins. They are meant to force the recipients to answer the question of whether these women, and the women from whom they got the recipes so on and so forth, would be proud to claim them as descendants. Whether their actions reflect well on those who came before them, or whether they diminish them.

Another name for Rosh HaShana is The Day of Remembrance. It is a day for Jews to remember from where we come and to hope that our actions reflect well on Him. It is a day for asking God to remember us with mercy rather than with harsh judgment. It is a good day and the beginning of a good month in which to eat foods that link us to our past, because staying true to that past is one of the surest ways to propel ourselves into a good future.

Preschool angst

August 31st, 2006 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

Let me get this straight. According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal, America’s preschoolers’ emotional health is being threatened by the high turnover of the staff at their schools. In other words, mothers who aren’t willing to sacrifice their own time and ambitions in order to raise their own children are dismayed that employees who are paid an average of $10 an hour won’t make endless sacrifices and totally commit to those same children.

Having decided as a society that it is o.k. for parents to walk out of full time participation in a child’s life through the medium of divorce, having decided as a society that giving birth to a child should in no way pressure a mother to stay home with that child, we are now aghast that low paid babysitters (which is what they are despite our calling them educators in order to assuage our guilt) feel no commitment to their charges even if their leaving leaves a hole in the child’s heart.

The article urges parents to try and spend more time with the child when a beloved teacher leaves so that the child will feel secure. That is of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a teacher stay around long enough to be beloved. Had parents spent more time with the child in the first place they wouldn’t have needed to pretend that a three year old was better off in “school” than in the home. Children are incredibly adaptable. All sorts of people can and do waltz in and out of their lives– grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, babysitters, – as long as their parents are an unmovable constant and present nucleus. Pretending that quality time beats quantity time or that spending a week’s vacation together can replace the hours of loving attention a child needs is a myth. Making believe that the immense amount of knowledge a two year old can absorb is best transmitted in a formal setting by a staff member is a fable. Transferring the core relationship of motherhood to a preschool employee and then feeling betrayed when that person walks away from the job, might suggest that the entire enterprise was founded on a misguided notion. Anyone fooling themselves into believing that a preschool that advertises a “loving environment” can equal the love that should be found in the home should appreciate the dose of reality supplied by the marketplace.

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