Monthly Archives: April, 2012

Lean Upon the Counter

April 24th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In 2002, after six years in business, Amazon became profitable. How did they keep their doors open for so long without profits? Amazon had cash flow. A year earlier two famous Internet high-flyers, Webvan and, collapsed. Why did they fail in spite of operating in profitable niches? They had no cash flow.

A business can run without profits for quite a while provided it has cash flow. However, the opposite is not true. Webvan wasted capital on huge infrastructure investments and struggled to raise capital. Meanwhile, Amazon was generating sales and raising capital. Small business startups fail most frequently from lack of cash flow. Maintaining, and projecting cash flow is crucial. The tool for doing so is counting.

Whether you run a business, work in one or invest in one, you occasionally examine a balance sheet showing assets and liabilities. You also watch income statements which reveal profit and operating earnings figures. But more important, scrutinize the often neglected cash flow statements regularly as they show the cash coming into and flowing out of the coffers. Understanding numbers is a key life skill.

We are currently in the calendar period between Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) when Jews count off each day. (Leviticus 23:15) This is called Counting the Omer. For instance, today, we formally note, is the 18th day of the Omer.

Hebrew associates counting with wisdom. The word SoFeR means both someone who counts and also a wise man. Wise people can convert complex circumstances into precise numbers which can then be easily compared and analyzed. Numbers can certainly be manipulated, but it is harder to mislead with numbers than with words. A torrent of words easily obscures simple facts and plays to the emotions. It is much easier to figure out the story from the numbers than it is to discover the numbers from the story.

For car enthusiasts like me, advertisements with performance figures are more useful than poetic paragraphs lauding the luxurious leather seating and the rapturous flowing lines of the Italian-designed bodywork. When studying a company’s annual report, the financials and footnotes are more important than photographs of corporate personalities and their headquarters. Revenue figures are more valuable than pages of propagandistic prose.

Jewish tradition is filled with numbers. We maintain and calculate a complex calendar whose months and days have not names but numbers. We count generations, we count money raised for the Tabernacle in Exodus and we count the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. We even like knowing how many letters there are in the Torah (304,805) as well as how many words (79,847) and verses (5,845).

Numbers convey meaning; often deep meaning. For instance, because the Torah is God’s message to mankind for all places and for all times, we should not be surprised by prophetic insights that flow from analyzing numbers.

For instance, the founding Israel in 1948 was a manifestation of God’s special relationship with the Jewish people. It would be surprising if the Torah contained no hint of that forthcoming event. The civil year of 1948 corresponds to the Hebrew year, 5708.

Let’s examine the 5,708th verse of the Torah:

The Lord your God will bring you into the land

which your fathers possessed and you shall possess it…

(Deuteronomy 30:5)

As the State of Israel celebrates its 64th birthday this week, it is worthwhile to remember that the land is continually earned through faithfulness to God.

I wish I could invite you all into my home to share more amazing truths which flow from Biblical numbers. I’m afraid that space would get a bit tight. But I am delighted that my wife and I can visit your homes through our television show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom. We have gathered four of our favorite shows on DVD, including The Importance of Numbers: Scripture is Full of Them. Why? You will greatly enjoy these shows with astonishing secrets embedded in Scripture. Imagine – TV shows the whole family can watch and discuss together! Ancient Jewish Wisdom with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin is on sale online for a few days, making it an even friendlier individual, friend or family activity.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: A Cruel and Unusual Susan?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend relating to feedback on my Musings. Last week offered one example. A reader wrote to my husband, commenting, “Had Trayvon been your son would your wife had been so inhumane about the matter? I think Susan is very cruel, I would like to hear your comment when it is your child’s turn.”

What was my alleged cruelty?… READ MORE


A Cruel and Unusual Susan?

April 24th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 42 comments

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend relating to feedback on my Musings. Last week offered one example. A reader wrote to my husband, commenting, “Had Trayvon been your son would your wife had been so inhumane about the matter? I think Susan is very cruel, I would like to hear your comment when it is your child’s turn.”

What was my alleged cruelty? I wrote in last week’s Musing that after a holiday week, “I am having a hard time getting back to everyday life.” I said that the break had made it difficult for me to “order my brain to deal with anything substantive in time to write this Musing.” As examples of noteworthy issues which I was not able to address, I wrote, “Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman; Obama and Romney; even Iran and nuclear armament recede into the background.”

While the writer didn’t use the word racism in her email, I think it fair to assume that it is the elephant in the room. Exactly what pained her so much? Unfortunately, there are frequent tragic occurrences in the world and I don’t think she is making the suggestion that it is cruel to do anything other than be immobilized by suffering.  Or was she suggesting that a nuclear Iran and the upcoming presidential election are light-hearted subjects and as such my sentence suggested a frivolous attitude towards Trayvon’s death? Unfortunately, she didn’t elaborate on her accusation.

I have received similar negative feedback every time a Black person is mentioned in my blog. It doesn’t matter what the context; someone directly or indirectly accuses me of insensitivity or racism.  No one as of yet has left their remarks as a comment. They send their thoughts to me through my business email or, as in this case, to my husband.  The result is that the writer vents without opening the potential for a public conversation.

Since we don’t ask people to provide detailed information before signing up for Thought Tools (the source of the overwhelming majority of Musing readers) or accessing my Musing, I have no way of knowing how many weekly readers fit into various racial, gender, ethnic or income groupings. Judging from the people I meet at events, I think it’s reasonable to assume that there is a relatively diverse spread in all those categories.

Racism, like anti-Semitism, is a charge which is easy to hurl, difficult to substantiate and impossible to refute. Aside from easy to recognize, egregious examples, I believe that both racism and anti-Semitism often exist more in the mind of the individual who feels victimized rather than in objective reality. Years ago, my husband and I, along with an out of town guest, strolled through our neighborhood. We spent some time on a curvy road which lacked sidewalks. As we rounded one bend, a passing driver tooted his horn. To our astonishment, our guest immediately muttered, “Anti-Semite!” It is true that both my husband and our guest were wearing yarmulkas (religious head coverings) which identified them as Jewish. My husband and I took the beeping as a friendly gesture of warning that a car was going to be passing us on a shared road. Our visitor took it as a hostile gesture. There is no way of knowing what the driver’s actual motivation was, so our differing reactions revealed more about our own ways of thinking than anything else.

I recently read a letter to an advice columnist where a young woman expressed her hurt and resentment towards her mother-in-law, giving a few examples of the painful situations she endured. Like the columnist, I felt sorry for her. Not because her stories proved that she had an awful mother-in-law, but because she was locked into a world view in which she saw herself as maltreated. Rather than giving the benefit of the doubt to her husband’s mother or recognizing that two women from different backgrounds thrust into intimacy don’t necessarily share communication styles, she saw every interaction through a jaundiced prism. Likewise, I found that response to last week’s Musing tremendously sad. It spoke to me of a woman who lives in a world full of offense and antagonism rather than one of good will.

Both the American Jewish and African-American worlds are conspicuously led by spokesmen who earn high salaries from organizations whose existence depends on their respective groups being hated.  Politicians and irresponsible (or true believer) journalists likewise manipulate the truth for their own purposes. While ostensibly decrying prejudice, they often encourage people to bask in victimhood, to the detriment of all.  

I thought of ignoring what, after all, was one email. But on the principle that what one person writes reflects the thoughts of others, I chose to respond in this way. If this Musing provokes negative reaction, I hope it will be submitted as a comment so that it can be posted for all to see. I would look forward to comments whose goals are not to accuse or to insult, but instead to provide perspective.  That is the only way that a conversation can ensue which can encourage us all to expand our horizons and step into one another’s shoes.


Time Out

April 17th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 7 comments

When your life revolves around the Jewish calendar, certain periods in the year overwhelm time. Passover is one of those occasions which take up so much mental and physical space that there is no attention left for most other things. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman; Obama and Romney; even Iran and nuclear armament recede into the background.

In those years when my husband and I host Passover observances for our family and friends, preparations for the holiday completely overpower the rest of life. (See 50 Pounds of Potatoes) This year, however, we had the delightful experience of being guests of our daughter and son-in-law at a Passover Conference for about 600 Jews at a Bahamian resort. They arranged for my husband to be engaged as a scholar-in-residence, teaching through the week. The added inducement of spending the week with granddaughter, Aliza, made it an offer we couldn’t refuse. While my husband was busy teaching for the program, I had few demands on my time. 

The holiday and the setting worked its magic. While I am grateful for the many blessings in our lives over the past few years, including weddings, babies and a growing publishing business, there hasn’t been a lot of down time. Having abundant food with no cooking or clean-up in an absolutely stunning setting was incredible. The prayer services were lovely and our fellow participants were congenial and fun to meet. We even got to visit a pirate museum on one day, which delighted my husband as he appreciates knowing that there are alternate career options available. (He has long been quite fascinated with the many Jewish pirates (o.k., privateers) in the 17th century.)

I am having a hard time getting back to everyday life. This is to say that despite numerous faulty starts, I simply couldn’t order my brain to deal with anything substantive in time to write this Musing. See you next week!




50 Pounds of Potatoes (April 2010)

April 17th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

At the end of the meal, after proclaiming in a loud voice, “Thank you HaShem (God); thank you Grandma,” three year old Eli noticed that everyone at the table was looking at him. He explained to the group, “I like to thank both those guys.”

This pretty much sums up our Passover. With God’s blessing, we had all our children and grandchildren around the holyday table for the first time in a number of years. While I spent many hours preparing the food for the seventeen to nineteen people at each meal of the eight day celebration (including ten festive meals), it truly was a labor of love.

This is not to say that it also wasn’t a lot of work. The planning started weeks in advance with a lot of unknowns. Would we have a very pregnant daughter at the table or a post-partum one? Or maybe the eagerly awaited family member would arrive during the festivities? Would we have a sparkling new and large kitchen to work in as well as extra bedrooms available or did the east coast winter snowstorms put another daughter’s planned move into a new home behind schedule?

Well, we are still waiting for the baby and about two weeks before Passover it became clear that a tiny kitchen would have to suffice and that we would need to impose on generous neighbors for beds. We rented an extra refrigerator, bought a counter top convection oven and moved the organizing/cleaning/shopping/cooking countdown into high gear.

Is Passover an easy holyday to make? No. But it is hard to think of anything that is worthwhile which doesn’t entail great effort. While this year had its specific complicating factors, other years have featured my own newborns, ovens and refrigerators that conked out, and a variety of other family and technical hurdles to overcome. Still, while I appreciate the times we have spent Passover at friends or relatives as well as the availability of hotel Passover programs, my favorite years are like this one, when we are blessed enough to have the strength and time to do all the preparations and gather our family around our own table. The “easy” Passovers, when others do the work, can be wonderful, but they always feel a bit “Passover style” to me rather than the real thing. Not only are the weeks of preparation an intrinsic part of the celebration, but while the food may be delicious elsewhere, it doesn’t include those items whose smell and taste trigger the explosion of Passover memory receptors.  And had anyone other than I done the cooking, I would have missed out on my grandson placing me in such illustrious company.

As my mother always said at the holyday’s end each year, “May the same hands that put the Passover dishes away this year take them out again next year.” Amen.



Caribbean Connections

April 17th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

The beautiful Bahamas. Stunningly clear turquoise waters; white sandy beaches; sunny days with warm winds blowing gently and balmy evenings beneath the stars. You might think I am being hired to write tourist brochures for the fabled islands of New Providence, Bimini, and Eleuthera.

But no; I just returned from teaching “Contemporary Lessons from the Exodus” at a weeklong Passover Conference in Nassau. What I remember is not so much the natural beauty, though that was certainly striking. Not even the glowing descriptions from my friend, the distinguished Bahamas-based pastor Myles Munroe, prepared me for what I found.

It was the people. Eight days which included traveling and lecturing, being interviewed on Bahamian television, and meeting hundreds of locals. Yet I did not encounter even one surly, sullen, or unfriendly person. Not one!

For an explanation I turn, as always, to ancient Jewish wisdom. The Hebrew word for nature HaTevah has the identical numerical configuration (86) as the ineffable name of God, the Creator, appearing in Genesis 1:1 Elokim. The lesson is that to understand God, we must try to understand His creation.

In the beginning, God created 92 basic elements including the well-known hydrogen, oxygen, gold, silver, copper, platinum, uranium, calcium and lead. The remaining 83 include lesser known elements such as titanium, tellurium, caesium and cadmium.

While it is true that the periodic table today contains over 100 elements, only the first 92 occur naturally. The others must be artificially made and are generally unstable. They undergo nuclear rearrangement and radioactive decay shortly after being synthesized.

God created the entire universe with only 92 basic building blocks we call atoms. Everything that we use and which makes life possible and wonderful comes about through combining the atomic building blocks into compound molecules.

Thus, water, air, steel, wood, plastic, wool, silk, potatoes and marshmallows are all mixtures of those 92 building blocks. Even the table salt that our bodies need and which adds flavor to French-fries is a mixture of sodium and chlorine.

Obviously, true science never conflicts with the Torah and many of the secrets that God embedded in His book reveal this. Here is just one example.

The account of Creation runs from Genesis 1:1 all the way to Genesis 2:3. Those 34 verses contain exactly 92 separate discrete Hebrew words. That’s right! The building blocks of Creation number exactly the same as the building blocks used to describe it. 92 words to describe 92 elements. Please tell me that you’re utterly astounded by God and His Book. I know that I am.

The lesson is clear. God created a world for connection. He created words to connect into verses, musical notes to connect into songs, and people to connect with one another for fulfillment and happiness. Every socio-medical study arrives at the same conclusion. People with strong connections to other people – friends, family, worship community and business associates – live healthier and happier lives.

Yes, happier. Now back to the Bahamas. During many taxi and jitney rides, it was impossible to ignore how everyone greeted and spoke to everyone else. Even the driver’s efforts were punctuated by frequent horn honking as he waved and yelled greetings at acquaintances on the sidewalk or in passing vehicles.

I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s the result of a small population on a small island. But one thing is clear. Connected people are happier. Now go out and make at least one new friend every day!

How do you transform the idea of continually making new friends from a sweet sentiment into an action? Many of us have difficulty reaching out, especially when it is so easy to be in touch with thousands electronically without making any deep connections. I created my 2 audio CD set, Prosperity Power: Connect for Success precisely to offer realistic, concrete guidance for this task, along with additional ancient Jewish wisdom. Get it by mail or download, on sale online today.

I like to think that my little granddaughter, Aliza, with whom I shared Passover, is still happily singing the lyrics from the Beachboys hit “Sloop John B”:

We came on the sloop John B
My grandfather and me
Around Nassau town we did roam…

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Time Out

When your life revolves around the Jewish calendar, certain periods in the year overwhelm time. Passover is one of those occasions which take up so much mental and physical space that there is no attention left for most other things. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman; Obama and Romney; even Iran and nuclear armament recede into the background…


Thought Tools April 10, 2012

April 10th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

A certain Passover image is burned into the memories of many American Jews. They remember Grandpa droning his way through the standardized text of the Seder (Passover evening program) while his children make a dutiful effort to listen. His grandchildren succumb to abject boredom.

Today, that picture has become rare. Those grandchildren have grown up. Some have utterly abandoned observance of Passover while others take it very seriously. The latter correctly understand the Passover Seder to be full of vital life lessons.

After being enslaved by the Egyptians for more than two centuries, no Hebrew even remembered what freedom meant. Their slave status was natural. Just as natural, in fact, as it is for each of us to accept our ‘Egypt’ as natural.

“Our Egypt?” you ask. Yes, our slavery to whatever circumstances block the path to our own Divine destiny. Egyptian slavery is the ultimate model of any oppressive force that obstructs our attempts to reach the purpose God has planned for us.

Our audio CD Let Me Go teaches three vital strategies for escaping the invisible forces that restrain you from reaching your dreams. A peculiar phrase used in the description of the Exodus guides us towards a fourth escape strategy.

…and the Children of Israel are going out with a high hand.

(Exodus 14:8)

Perhaps because present tense is so rare in Scripture, the King James Bible substituted the past tense:

…and the Children of Israel went out with a high hand.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the present tense actually used emphasizes the relevance of this section to anyone wishing to emulate the Children of Israel and escape his own Egypt. It applies to each of us today – present tense.

Second, the Hebrew word used for high is RaMaH. It appears in a similar context in Deuteronomy 32:27:

…lest they will say, “our hand is high; the Lord has not done this.”

RaMaH means high and dominant. However, look at this verse:

…the horse and its rider has He flung down into the sea.

(Exodus 15:1)

How perplexing that the Hebrew word used for ‘flung down’ is also RaMaH.

To make matters worse, see this verse from Job:

How much less man, who is [after all] a worm

(Job 25:6)

The Hebrew word used for ‘worm?’ RiMaH. Regular readers of Thought Tools know that RaMaH and RiMaH are the same word with slightly different pronunciations. With the special power of Hebrew, their meanings are also related. Identifying that relationship exposes us to deep spiritual insight.

The mysterious message of the twin words RaMaH and RiMaH suggest that though they appear to be antonyms, there is a spiritual link between high/dominant and low/abject. Furthermore, this link is a key to escaping one’s own Egypt.

That majestic record of Jewish durability known as the Hagadah, read at the Passover Seder, hints at the link. Not surprisingly, the Hagadah relates how the powerful and mighty Egyptians were humbled. But another essential characteristic of the Hagadah is its commencement with deprecating accounts of the ignoble beginnings of the Israelites. The Hagadah reminds us that Abraham’s father was an idolater before relating the achievements of his children.

Therein lies the valuable key. Life is not static. If you happen to be riding high at this point in your life, retain humility by remembering how easily and quickly high can turn into low. No matter what struggles you face today, you must remember how much lower you or your ancestors were yesterday. Neither the depths of misery nor the heights of triumph are constant states.

In this way, the Passover Seder serves as an annual inoculation against thinking that the status quo defines you. With God’s help and in the blink of an eye, we can go out from our difficulties with a high hand.

It is easy to descend into Egypt while searching for a life mate. I want you all to have the book, I Only Want to Get Married Once by a wise and experienced Jerusalem-based relationship coach. You or someone you love urgently needs the crucial guidance given here – and it’s only $10 online this week! Leave behind your status quo or help someone else do so!

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Beware the Misguided Majority


Beware the Misguided Majority

April 10th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 7 comments

“Each Passover we should see ourselves as if we personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt.” Jews around the world recited a sentence expressing this thought at the Passover Seder a few nights ago. Shortly before the holiday started, my son, Ari, saw one aspect of this idea come to life.

I think most of us picture ourselves on the right side of history. Had we lived in different times and places surely we would have stood with the abolitionists rather than the slave-owners; would have joined the Resistance rather than the Nazi Party; and would have opposed Stalin rather than embracing him. We more easily picture ourselves following Moses through the sea rather than ignoring him and the God he represented.  But the majority of Jews did not leave Egypt. Eighty percent chose loyalty to Pharaoh and the status quo.  Bad choice.

Being courageous and noble is always easier with hindsight. If we were all virtuous, wise, discerning and proper-thinking people, there would be no evil to defeat in the world. It is obviously quite easy to follow a wrong ideology and be swayed by misguided and evil philosophies. Ideas which sound good can be awfully destructive. Fully aware of how courage is contagious, our son, Ari, took time from an incredibly busy schedule to go hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the brave and heroic women of our day. If you have not read her book, Infidel, I highly recommend that you do. An outspoken activist against the worst manifestations of Islamo-fascist behavior, particularly as it affects women and children, she risks her life by speaking out and has been forced into exile for her views.

Hearing her speak was a mixed experience. Ari appreciated her words and was glad to support her as she addressed the students at a major university in Maryland. The student reaction, however, was demoralizing. Ms. Ali and America were attacked. Listening to the questioners, one would be forgiven for thinking that the Moslem world is a bastion of women’s rights and peaceful coexistence among all religions while America is a bigoted, repressive society. In Ari’s words, “The questions and questioners were uniformly dumb, rude, antagonistic and illogical.  What was incredible is that the moderator, the president of the university, allowed and encouraged their behavior.  It was truly childish and embarrassing.”

In every generation in which evil triumphs, many who side with it are ‘useful idiots’ or swept along with the crowd. We should never stop looking deep inside ourselves and asking ourselves whether we are on the right side of issues and will be able to look back and declare that we, indeed, did align ourselves with those who chose God rather than Pharaoh.





Graceful Endings

April 3rd, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever been in an audience listening to a speech that never ends? It is an even more ghastly experience for the speaker who plainly wants to finish but just doesn’t seem to be able to wrap it up. The sweat beads on his brow, his eyes dart around frantically seeking a savior, his hand clench and unclench and words continue pouring from his moving mouth. And the audience prays for it all to end.

I’ve been at synagogue services and also at business meetings that suffer from the same syndrome. Just like the speaker who can’t stop, the longer it goes on, the less likely it is that anything valuable is occurring. There is another event that suffers from having no ending.

I particularly enjoy being a dinner guest when a family’s children are also at the table. If they are deliberately included in the conversation, their views can be delightfully off-beat and refreshing. The problem arises when they leave the table mid-meal. Whether they excuse themselves politely or simply vanish, they leave unoccupied chairs and an off-balance feel to the gathering.

But since they have no idea of when it will end, what are they to do? They become restless because the meal stretches off endlessly into the future. Happily, ancient Jewish wisdom offers a solution. Establish a formal end to every meal and signal that everyone is expected to remain till the end by labeling it “Grace after meals.”

The Torah directs us to thank God for the food we have just eaten with a blessing;

…you shall eat and be satisfied; then you shall bless the Lord…

(Deuteronomy 8:10)

We are also taught to thank God for giving us His book, by saying a blessing before we study the Torah. Ancient Jewish wisdom discusses these blessings over food and the Torah in the same section to make the connection that food nourishes our bodies while God’s word sustains our souls. One who cares only for his body is but half a human as is one who cares only about his soul.

Why is one blessing said before and the other after? We say the Torah blessing before our souls are born aloft by hearing God talking to us from the pages of Scipture. However, we say the major food blessing after our stomachs are sated. The reason is because we always try to progress upwards towards the climax. Allowing God to talk to us from the pages of His Book is the whole point of reading His word. The blessing precedes that pinnacle. However, the highlight of the meal is when we talk to God.

In this fashion, a Biblical meal never just fades away. It builds to a peak and goes out with a bang. The solemnity of the Grace after Meals, along with its joyful melodies wraps the meal in the fabric of an unforgettable experience.

Children can easily be taught to remain at the table because the meal has a finite conclusion in the form of Grace after Meals. They readily understand that leaving the table before thanking God is even worse behavior than leaving a meal without thanking their parents.

Good advice for those in charge of worship services is to emulate the principle of the Grace after Meals. Instead of allowing the power and the passion of prayer to simply fade away as people inconspicuously creep to the exits in order to escape an interminable service, finish with a bang. Program the most important, and perhaps the most moving part of the service for the very end. Thus will people leave invigorated rather than fatigued.

Similarly, arrange business meetings with not only a start time but an equally definite ending time. Start the meeting with the less important items on the agenda. Finish it with the most important topics and perhaps with an uplifting announcement. People will leave energized rather than wearied.

We hope our Thought Tool books help you to study God’s wisdom and to enjoy uplifting conversation at mealtimes. Our two volumes are on a “get two for the price of one” sale right now. They make a delightful gift for yourself or for someone you want to bless.


Barbie, Queen of the Prom

April 3rd, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

An article about over-provocative high school prom dresses in last week’s Wall Street Journal got me reminiscing. Not about my own prom or my children’s; proms are not a part of observant Jewish life. Instead, my memories are of a board game I played as a girl – Barbie, Queen of the Prom. The object of the game was to be the first player to collect everything your Barbie needed for the prom. My memory is a bit fuzzy on exactly what was required, though I do know a date and dress were two essentials. Four people could play and there was quite a bit of competition to get the best boy (Ken, of course – some poor white-haired lad named Poindexter was always last picked) and prettiest dress.

As a child playing the game with my friends, Barbie seemed very mature and sophisticated.  Surely, by the time you went to your high school prom, you were grown up! And indeed, when high school proms began to be popular in the 1930’s and1940’s, eighteen year old students were usually mature and responsible. High school prom was often engagement night, especially for young women. The earliest proms were akin to a debutante ball for those not in the upper social echelon; a way for middle-class families to mimic the debutante balls which introduced upper-class daughters to society as women of marriageable age. I may be confusing this with Victorian England, (I have a severely restricted research budget for this Musing) but in the college proms of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s men might have even worn gloves so as not to touch the skin of the young ladies.  Those same young men by age eighteen were already, or on the threshold of being, financially responsible for themselves.   So at a time when these formal dances were strictly structured and meant as an acknowledgment of one’s grown up status, the participants truly were standing at the entry to adult society.

That is quite different from what goes on today. Certainly, renting hotel rooms after the dance was over was not a feature of much earlier eras.  Nor was the expectation that marriage might be a decade, or more, in the future. Today, we take nubile girls and testosterone poisoned boys nowhere near emotional maturity and place them in a romantic milieu, after having immersed them with an education which insists that there is no absolute morality. To me the Journal article highlighting how some schools monitor dresses, even providing pictures showing what skin may be shown and what skin must be covered, seemed quaint. Certainly one can understand the desire of administrators to keep the evening from looking like auditions for Amsterdam’s red light district. But is a dress code anything more than providing a box of Band-Aids to victims of a horrific crash?

As I said, I have no emotional connection to prom. Perhaps I am viewing it through cynical and jaundiced eyes. Does the evening have a value which escapes me? I’d be curious to hear another view from those who still see high school proms as not just an exciting evening (tornadoes can be exciting as well), but also as a beneficial and constructive experience in their children’s lives.




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