Monthly Archives: November, 2010

Who Cares about North Korea?

November 30th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

I have no opinion about North Korea’s aggressive actions. Ditto for the Wikileaks’ scandal.  My lack of engagement is not because either of these is unimportant, but rather because they don’t rank as urgent in my daily life.

 If I don’t pick up my new granddaughter when she cries, I get immediate and loud feedback that I am neglecting a vital job. If I don’t take care of the countless details involved in posting our new audio CD (Prosperity Power) on our store site, it will clearly affect my husband and my endeavors. My husband, other children and grandchildren, friends, as well as routine items like laundry give me vocal, olfactory or visual proof of neglect if I ignore them for too long. In contrast, if I don’t take the time to read, analyze and react to national or international events I can pretend that there are no consequences.

I have, at times, been immensely frustrated when coming across people who disengage from politics. They don’t vote or even worse they vote casually, trusting a comedy show or a YouTube video to shape their views. They shrug their shoulders and their eyes glaze over if you raise a topic such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities or tax policy.

I have – temporarily at least – become one of them. This has brought me face to face with one of the unintended and unfortunate consequences of our 24/7 world. Especially if you are going through life without a partner or are in a marriage where both spouses are juggling a home life along with an external career life, how in the world are you supposed to find the time to for responsible citizenship? Even that phrase sounds archaic now.

The excitement on the left about Barack Obama’s candidacy a few years back and the recent excitement on the right about the Tea Party were anomalies. When people get very upset they get involved. For a short window of time people become aware that politics has a real and crucial effect on their lives. However, unless a crisis such as a war or financial emergency results, intense feelings quickly subside. Even the opening of a local restaurant or the release of a new movie seems more pressing, let alone the numerous responsibilities inherent in managing a successful life.

I am immensely grateful for my time with our children and grandchildren. I am enormously grateful for the exciting things happening in our work as well. It is easy to believe that I cannot affect world or national affairs. And that may be largely true. But it is equally true that enough “me’s” adding responsible citizenship to our daily task list can actually change the course of history.

Can’t Live Without It? – originally posted Nov. 20, 2008

November 28th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

We parents have an annoying habit. There might be a few lone parental souls who don’t do this but I certainly do and so do all the mothers and fathers that I personally know. We tend to repeat certain phrases.

This is not an unconscious habit like a nervous tic. It is deliberate. After all, if I have something worthwhile to say to my children, they might not catch it the first 1,072 times I say it. But if I repeat it more frequently, then I can hope that at a moment when they need this particular piece of advice, it will pop bidden or unbidden into their minds.

One of my personal favorites is the line, “You need oxygen, you need water, you need food and shelter. You do not need cookies, a ride or (fill in the blank) – you would like it.”

This pithy gem usually comes in response to sentences starting with the words, “I need.”

So it was with some amusement that I looked at an advertising catalog this morning for – of all things – computers. The cover proclaimed, “Computing ideas from XXX you can’t live without.”

Now, I actually use my laptop a great deal. It makes my work ever so much easier than it would be without it. But, I have no question that I could survive without it. And I can certainly manage with a less glitzy computer than the ones that were being offered.

What made this piece of mail particularly ironic was that I saw this advertisement while going through a pile of accumulated mail. My husband and I had spent most of the week with Dave and Sharon Ramsey. The company has a mission which is to help people get out of debt if they’re in it, stay out of debt, and control their money rather than being controlled by it. Somehow, I think that the millions of people who follow their advice don’t fall for this type of advertising, and are happier for that.

As we head into the holidays we can expect to be bombarded with advertisements. Experience tells me that over the next few weeks, we consumers will be told of hundreds of products and services we can’t live without. Clothing, toys, jewelry – you name it and we will hear that we need it. I only hope that when my children see these tempting ads the ghost of lectures past comes forward to haunt them, and they laugh rather than reaching for their wallets.

No Thank-you

November 23rd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

My wife and I love receiving the thank-you notes a friend sends whenever she is a guest at one of our Shabbat meals. Unlike typical thank-you cards, hers detail the experiences at our table.  She mentions the delicious food, the scintillating conversation, and the stimulating company.  (I am quoting from a recent note she sent!)

My late father, the great rabbi, A. H. Lapin often said that saying, “thank-you for everything,” really means thank-you for nothing.  What he was getting at was that merely mouthing the words ‘thank-you’ is an inadequate response to the good we have received.  As the beneficiaries of good we ought to reciprocate with something more substantive than just disturbing a few air molecules as we vibrate our vocal chords into projecting two routine syllables.

A small gift or hand-written card is wonderful. At the very least, we ought to detail the precise benefits we derived and for which we are expressing appreciation.

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out something rather remarkable.  In the entire Torah, nobody says thank-you.  Adam doesn’t thank God for Eve; Abraham never thanks God for his son, Isaac, and Noah neglects to thank God for saving him from the flood. While the Israelites do sing a song of praise to God after their deliverance from Egypt, they never actually say the words, ‘thank-you’.

The word used in modern Israeli Hebrew for thank-you, todah, does not appear in the five books of Moses other than as the name of a specific gratitude offering:

And when you offer a Thank-you offering to the Lord…
(Leviticus 22:29)

This constitutes a valuable clue in our attempt to unravel the deeper meaning of thank-you.  It turns out that merely mouthing ‘thank-you’ is not part of God’s Biblical blueprint.  It is preferable to do an action reflecting your gratitude.

Or, at the very least, specify the details about which you are grateful, as we see demonstrated in Psalm 136.  King David says thank you to God but he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on for 26 verses specifying what acts of God he so deeply appreciates. Here are some of the verses.

Give thanks to God; for he is good;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 1)

To Him who with wisdom made the heavens;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 5)

To Him who made great lights;
for His loving kindness endures forever… (Verse 7)

The Jewish holyday most associated with giving thanks is Chanukah for which the liturgy explicitly prescribes expressions of gratitude to God.  I don’t consider it a coincidence that Chanukah and Thanksgiving often fall out within days from each other, as they do this year.

Appreciating the people around us is one way of appreciating God as well. After all, imagine the terrible loneliness if God didn’t provide us with a world full of potential friends, partners and companions.

This Thanksgiving, let’s not only give thanks to God but also to our family and friends, to our spouses and siblings.  Maybe even to our employers and fellow workers who all help to make it possible for us to live abundantly. What a marvelous time to practice King David’s lesson by joyfully specifying the benefits we derive from these relationships. Let’s give thanks for those things we easily take for granted and only notice when they are missing.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by people’s reactions.  You’ll be even more surprised to discover how uplifting it feels to appropriately deliver appreciation.


Graternity Leave: Take Two

November 23rd, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

The past few weeks have been a true period of blessing for our family. Just over a week ago our daughter, Rachelle, and her husband, Zev, presented us with an enchanting granddaughter.

While my husband and I dislike being apart, for the second time in less than a month we are miles from each other (see previous entries, Graternity Leave, and Eat, Pray, Eat, Love, Eat.). I am helping with a newborn in New Jersey while my husband is at home, focused on our work.

Jewish girls get named when their fathers are called up in public during the reading of the Torah. Giving a child a name is one of the first responsibilities parents have, and our children took that responsibility most seriously.

This past Shabbat, the baby was given the name, Aliza Malya. Aliza means ‘joyous’ in Hebrew and carries the meaning of Zev’s grandmother’s name. Zev knew his grandmother well and in naming their daughter after her, he and Rachelle want to bestow on her the delighted way her namesake approached life.  Malya was my husband’s mother, and Rachelle was gifted with years of knowing her grandmother as well. My mother-in-law was a woman with qualities of strength, leadership and faith – along with a marvelous sense of humor.

Bearing the names of these two women is a weighty legacy for a teeny girl. She has yet to find her thumb or sleep through the night. She doesn’t even have a proper belly button. As she passes those milestones and ever so many more, I pray that she will grow into her name and admirably carry on the values her great-grandmothers enthusiastically embraced and the qualities they exemplified.  With their names, she has been given a precious gift to accompany her throughout her life. 


Leave Your Baggage Behind

November 17th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It was profoundly disturbing when a member of my congregation told me that he didn’t care that his father had just passed away.  They had been estranged for years, he explained. For my part, I encouraged him to observe the traditional mourning routine, but my words fell on deaf ears.

During the following six years I witnessed his life deteriorate.  He became an angry man.  His marriage suffered, his children grew distant, and his psychiatry practice shrank.  My late father trained me never to offer unsolicited advice, so though I suspected the problem I remained silent.

Finally, in despair, my unhappy congregant scheduled a consultation.  When he sat down and I determined that he had an open mind, I picked up a Bible and turned to Genesis 28:5.

And Isaac sent Jacob who went to Padan Aram, to Laban…..

Did you get that? Jacob went on a journey.

I read showed him verse 7 a few lines later:

And Jacob obeyed … and went to Padan Aram.

I think you’ll agree that even for the slower ones among us, it is becoming clear.  Jacob went on a journey.

Then I read verse 10:

And Jacob went out of Beersheba and he went to Haran.

Okay, what is this repetition all about?  A basic principle of ancient Jewish wisdom is that there are no unnecessary words in the Torah and certainly no unnecessary repetitions.

The answer is that the Torah is instructing us in a timeless truth about life. 

You can never go to a new place until you have properly left the old.

This, my friends, is how the world REALLY works. In order to move on, you have to be able to leave the past behind.  And leaving the past can be difficult and painful.  Until verse 10 informs us that finally, Jacob left Beersheba, he was not able to fully embark on his new life adventure.

Sometimes our inability to bond with new friends is the result of our subconscious souls knowing that we haven’t closed out old relationships.  I remember one young woman who fell in love with a student of mine but unfortunately the sentiment was not reciprocated.  During one of our conversations, she casually revealed to me that she had once been in a brief common-law marriage.  Drawing from the insights of these verses, I suggested that she go ahead and secure a formal religious divorce.  It was just possible, I reasoned, that she was involuntarily holding back as she still felt united to the earlier individual. It was also possible, that on some profound spiritual level, my student was sensing that this woman was not truly free.

Well, you can guess the outcome.  She put closure on the earlier misadventure; she departed from that place.  She and my student have been happily married for years and are raising a beautiful family in Southern California.

Oh, and you probably want to know what happened to my friend and congregant, the psychiatrist who failed to mourn.  Happily he followed the Torah guidance I offered, and though late, he embarked on a proper period of mourning after which his life gradually began to turn around.  Would things have improved for him in any event?  I can’t say, but I do know that failing to properly close the chapter on his life with his father prevented him from stepping successfully into the future.

Many of us know where we want to be, but often we forget that to do so we have to close the circle on certain parts of our past. Meaningful lessons for our life, such as this one, are embedded throughout Scripture.


Wicked Fun

November 16th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments


By nature, I am not impulsive, but when my youngest daughter’s college lecture was cancelled last Wednesday and I had no urgent deadlines to meet, we hit the half-price ticket booth in Times Square. A few hours later, we were ensconced in fantastic seats watching the Broadway show, Wicked.

The last Broadway show I can remember seeing was right after my wedding when my husband and I saw Angela Lansbury perform in Sweeney Todd. Though we come to New York relatively frequently, we are usually busy with work and family. Despite the activity’s benign nature, last Wednesday has an aura of illicit, stolen pleasure.

There was a special fillip of fun in enjoying Tamara’s exclusive company. After the show, when we grabbed a bite to eat, Tamara and I had similar reactions. The show was amazing with talented actors and a clever plot. However, most of all, we were both struck by the energy level. Wicked is in its eighth year and many of the actors have repeated this performance thousands of times. Yet, it all seemed fresh and exciting.

That, of course, is one of the things which separates a professional cast from an amateur one. An actor who can’t continually play a role as if it was the first time won’t make it to Broadway. Neither will one who can’t leave personal difficulties, minor illnesses or tiredness at the stage door.

Ideally, isn’t that true for all of us? Whether we are surgeons or secretaries, parents or postal workers, we should demand a level of professionalism for ourselves. I was once at the playground with my children where I noticed the extreme patience and level of fun a young woman was exhibiting with two young children. She pushed them on the swings and wiped noses with such good nature, that it made me feel ashamed of my own, less enthusiastic, playground demeanor.

We struck up a conversation where I commented on her behavior. To this day, I remind myself of her answer. “I am their nanny,” she said. “I am getting paid to be cheerful and involved.” My children weren’t with a nanny, but with me. Surely, my responsibility as their mother and my payment in the form of the relationships I was building were greater than hers. Yet, not reporting to my Boss on a face to face basis made it easier for me to forget that I too needed to take my job seriously.

 Being at the performance of Wicked reminded me of this long-ago encounter. Sometimes time with my children is an unadulterated pleasure, as was last Wednesday. Other times when the phone rings after I want to be asleep, or when they are grouchily recuperating from having their wisdom teeth removed or when being together means hours upon hours of cooking and dishes, the time is less enjoyable. Nonetheless, they are a treasure entrusted to my care and deserve every degree of the best attention and affection possible.


House of Shame – originally published Nov. 11, 2009

November 14th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

This blog from just over a year ago, wrote itself. I was enraged and sickened by the events described. I still feel that too little attention was paid to the outrageous behavior that took place. May God comfort the families of those killed or injured, may He keep our troops from harm, and may He make us deserving of their sacrifices.


Like many Americans, I have strong feelings about the proposed health care bill. For right now, that is irrelevant. I don’t care if you truly think this is a necessary and vital piece of legislation or if you think it will destroy the American economy and way of life. What matters is that the vote that occurred in the House of Representatives this past Saturday night is a badge of shame that is indelibly inked on the lapel of each and every politician who voted or curried votes for its passage.

Let’s review the occurrences of the week. On Thursday, a man who frequently and openly proclaimed his anti-Americanism killed over a dozen soldiers who were under the protection of Uncle Sam. He wounded dozens more. These soldiers’ commander-in-chief made a perfunctory statement for the press and immediately moved on to his priority, health care. He could have insisted that his place this weekend was at the side of his wounded troops. He didn’t. He could have refused to discuss legislation while the bodies of those that were under his command lay unburied. He didn’t. As the head of the Democratic Party he could have questioned whether the Executive and Legislative branches which his party control bear some responsibility for this terrorist act, perhaps by not recognizing that someone who kills in the name of Allah is a terrorist even if they are not under direct orders from a recognized enemy. There could have been some hesitation, some acknowledgment that this wasn’t a natural catastrophe but one which calls for action if it is not to be duplicated.

Democrats bristle when their patriotism is called into question. There was an opportunity this Saturday to make a principled stand. In the entire House of Representatives where was the patriotic politician who called a press conference and refused to vote for a bill – despite the fact that he or she supported it – because the timing was unseemly? And yes, the onus was on those who supported the bill since it was at their insistence that the vote was called for this weekend.

Instead of sacred honor, they opted for shameful hubris; instead of principled patriotism, they chose pompous power seeking. Most of these inflated egos will give speeches on Veteran’s Day presenting themselves as devoted to the troops. Anyone of them who did not stand up and denounce a leadership that insisted they stay in the capital and vote on Saturday rather than fly to visit the wounded, comfort the mourners or spend the day honoring the victims by visiting military bases and hospitals, deserves to be greeted with disdain. The least they can do now, after the fact, is cancel any planned Veteran Day speeches and appearances. Their behavior this past weekend will still be shameful, but they needn’t add hypocrisy to the brew.




Excuse Me, God

November 9th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“Do you have any questions for me?” I asked the applicant for a position in my organization.  “Yes,” she responded.  “How many vacation and sick days do I get each year?”  Needless to say, she got none from me.

There is a right way and many wrong ways to interview for a job.  The right way involves demonstrating that you are a giver rather than a taker.  The job seeker should thoroughly research her prospective employer, learning about the industry, its challenges and its opportunities.  Ideally, she would even learn the details of the department in which she’d be working.  Finally and most importantly, she’d know exactly how she could help and add value. 

That is how the good Lord designed human economic interaction. “I truly wish to serve you,” is the tacit message that you should communicate by your words and actions.  And if you serve God’s other children it shouldn’t surprise you that a good and loving God rewards you with the blessing of financial success. 

To take it a stage further, ancient Jewish wisdom insists that serving other people is one path to serving God.

Here is one portion of the Torah in which this vital lesson is communicated.

1)    And God appeared to him [Abraham]…while he was sitting
at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.
2)    And he lifted his eyes and saw three men standing by him…
3)    And he said, ‘My Master, if I find favor in your (singular) eyes,
do not move (singular) away from your servant.’
4)    Let some water be brought and wash your (plural) feet
and recline (plural) beneath the tree.
(Genesis 18:1-4)

In English, the phrase “your eyes,” “do not move,” “your feet” and “recline” can be addressing one person or many people. In the original Hebrew, we know whether they are meant as singular or plural.  Furthermore, in the Bible, God is addressed by many names. Some of these are unique to God, while others portray attributes of God that can apply to people as well. So, God can be addressed as, “my Master” but three visitors could be addressed with the same word. (Don’t be confused by the connotation the word master had in the pre-Civil War South. Think of a master chef or master carpenter, suggesting a respectful recognition of the person’s standing.)

English translations often mistakenly suggest that when Abraham says, “My Master” in verse 3, he is addressing the three men he saw standing near him, asking them not to pass by but to visit.

Ancient Jewish wisdom records that in reality Abraham is addressing God, saying, “I know you’ve just appeared to me but I have to take care of some visitors. Please don’t leave me while I am thus engaged.  I’ll be back with You shortly.”

The singular usage in verse 3 indicates this quite clearly. Having excused himself from God, Abraham addresses the three travellers in verse 4 using the plural form since he is now speaking to three individuals.

In verse 13, God, who had patiently waited until Abraham had taken care of his guests, re-enters the conversation. Clearly, God expresses no anger at all upon being kept waiting while Abraham hospitably welcomed his guests.

Through this seemingly simple story in Genesis, we learn this vital lesson.  We need to have a relationship with God and we need to have relationships with other people.  They complement each other rather than conflict with one another.

Acknowledging God’s role in Creation leads to acknowledging that all other human beings are made in His image. Focusing on their needs, in your business, communal or personal life is one way of serving God. God might even happily wait, watch, smile, and yes, bless you.


TV or not TV? That is the Question.

November 9th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

I am not a silent reader. I respond audibly to my reading material, either sharing it aloud or else groaning or cheering as the case requires.

Had you been in my neighborhood when I read a recent article on children’s television in the Wall Street Journal, you would have first heard a moan followed closely by a growl. The article, entitled, ‘The Turf War for Tots,’ explored the competition for tiny eyes between Nickelodeon and the Walt Disney Company. The battle was presented as pitting educational programming vs. entertaining storytelling.

My moan was precipitated by this sentence, “Preschoolers aged 2 to 5 spend an average of more than 32 hours in front of a TV screen each week, according to Nielsen.” The growl?  That came when I read this gem, “…Disney researchers found that when parents were asked what they most want for their children, the most popular reply was for them to be happy.”

Call me a curmudgeon, but I think children’s happiness is a terrible thing for which to aim. Happiness is a delightful by-product, not a worthwhile goal. The more one pursues it, the less reachable it becomes.

In addition to basic needs such as food and shelter, children need a secure, affectionate, structured and responsive environment.  If their imaginations and intellects have opportunities to expand and their bodies and souls have room to grow–they will be happy.  

TV, I’m afraid, makes achieving many of those goals more difficult. The link between TV watching and lack of physical exercise is often touted. But that is a minor drawback compared to other areas. I can’t cite scientifically based studies and I was certainly not interested in conducting experiments with my own children, perhaps raising half of them with TV and half without. But, having watched my children and those of most of my friends’ grow up without a TV, I saw their creative play and abilities to entertain themselves soar. Rather than self-medicating boredom with a television screen, they responded to the discomfort of being at loose ends with sparks of resourcefulness.

Was the ability to entertain themselves more evident in post-preschool years? Certainly. Books, puzzles, activities and crafts have limited appeal for a toddler without an adult or older child’s participation. Unfortunately, TV is not a worthy replacement playmate. Leaving aside the potential physiological effect on the developing eyes and brain, it makes the preschooler a passive recipient. It may keep the child quiet, but at a cost. Counting to ten with Elmo is not the same as counting to ten with Mommy and neither Dora the Explorer nor Kai-lan Chow, the cartoon character who teaches Mandarin Chinese, do so with hugs and tickles. My personal conviction is that the more TV a child watches from birth to age five or so, the less capable he will be of independent entertainment and learning as he moves beyond the preschool years.

I know first-hand the struggle to find time to take a shower, the mind-numbing effect of reading Hop on Pop hundreds of time and the frustration of trying to accomplish any adult activity with a three year old at hand. With hindsight, I also know how fleeting those early years are and how impressionable minds deserve to be given loving, personal attention rather than an electronic visual distraction in the guise of either education or entertainment.




Music, Morality and Mayhem

November 2nd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

During 1969 many young people gathered at rock music festivals at Woodstock in upstate New York and at Altamont in Northern California.  Both events were as much about sex and violence as about music and despite the veneer of innocuous love, both had a dark undercurrent.  Rapes, brutal beatings, numerous injuries and countless concussions were reported at the time.  Several people died at each event.  At Altamont, the Rolling Stones were singing their hit Sympathy for the Devil while eighteen year-old Meredith Hunter was being stabbed to death directly in front of the stage on which Mick Jagger was gyrating.

But this connection between revolutionary music and rejection of conventional Judeo-Christian sexual mores was not invented in 1969.  A hundred and twenty years earlier, Richard Wagner, famously known as Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer, was doing the same thing.  His music contemptuously called for the murder of morality. Though not intended, Wagner’s music opened the doors to terrifying barbarism.

Wagner, a socialist, lived a dissolute existence constantly betraying his wife Minna, often with the wives of men who befriended and supported him.  His music, which I find brilliant though evil, celebrates sexual immorality and violence.

We might wish that renouncing rules of sexual morality would lead to lives filled with love, but instead it usually leads to disappointment and distress. The Bible gives us a glimpse into another physical appetite whose abuse we might not instinctively recognize as similarly dangerous.

Our two most powerful bodily appetites are the craving for carnality and the frenzy for food. Failure to treat these areas in a sacred manner nearly always results in decreased ability to succeed along with eventual physical damage.

Look how differently Moses reacts to various sins of the Israelites.

After the people sinned idolatrously in making the Golden Calf, Moses prayed asking God to forgive them:

On the next day, Moses said to the people,‘You have committed a great sin and now I shall ascend to God, perhaps I will win atonement for your sin.’
(Exodus 32:30)

Amazingly, Moses makes no effort to seek forgiveness for Israel when they sinned with food and sexual depravity. 

The rabble among them cultivated a craving and the children of Israel
also wept again and said, ‘Who will feed us meat?’
(Numbers 11:4)

In verse 6 they continue to ungratefully complain—

But now….there is nothing, we have nothing to anticipate but manna.

Yet a few verses later, the verse doesn’t seem to have anything to do with food.

Moses heard the nation weeping about its families, each one at the entrance to his tent, and God became very angry and it was evil in the eyes of Moses.
(Numbers 11:10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains the mysterious phrase ‘weeping about its families.’  They were really weeping about the recently received Bible’s rules defining sex within marriage as the essential key to family life.  The nation resented God requiring confining of bodily appetites.

Whether in politics or in business, anyone whose appetites are out of control is heading toward destruction. That is why I emphasize that one of the great gifts of Bible culture is the set of religious rules restraining sexuality that Judaism and Christianity strive to keep alive. Similarly, a healthy attitude towards food uplifts and ennobles.

Modern music is usually composed of two parts, the lyrics and the music itself. Each of these can inspire or deprave.  Destructive music cannot be casually dismissed. It is often an early symptom of impending problems for those you love or must work with.

 What we allow our ears to absorb and what we permit our mouths to say, whether they are our own words or those of musical artists, affects our ability to prosper both socially and financially. In one of my audio CDs I provide practical tips and techniques for getting the most from your mouth. This period as we head towards gatherings with our families and friends, is a wonderful time to become more aware of the astonishing power of the spoken – or sung – word.  


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