Yearly Archives: 2015

Compromise Isn’t the Answer

December 30th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

Compromise is one of those warm, fuzzy words that sound eminently reasonable. In reality, it is a tool that works extremely well in certain situations and is useless in others. You enjoy partying while your spouse craves quiet evening at home? A compromise that sometimes has you both surrounded by friends and has the two of you together in front of your fireplace at other times is a great idea. You can work out additional details such as occasional extra socializing for you (with same gender friends, please) or perhaps having only one other couple over, but this is the type of issue that a marriage can tolerate. 

What if you think that affairs spice up a marriage and your spouse believes in monogamy? Agreeing to limit affairs to once a year or agreeing to emotional but not physical adultery or physical but not emotional adultery isn’t going to cut it. There is no compromise possible on this issue, just as having half a child if one spouse wants children and the other doesn’t simply isn’t a feasible solution.

Sometimes, compromises temporarily hide an unsolvable difference but they leave the underlying friction festering. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, attempting to balance slave and free states, may have postponed the Civil War, but it didn’t eliminate slavery as an issue. In the final analysis pro and anti slavery advocates could not share a country. 

I was pretty young during the turmoil of the Sixties. Reading about what went on during that time makes me think that many people were probably very pessimistic about the future of America. Yet, not only is America still around, but there have been good years and many flourishing times since then. 

However, some of the ‘advances’ of those years, such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision are still sources of agitation. That ruling not only honored an activity that huge numbers of Americans see as morally reprehensible but also set a precedent for Justices to ‘find’ non-existent rights in the  Constitution based on their personal views. In the final analysis, compromise isn’t possible when it comes to certain core values. 

When compromise isn’t feasible, people reject their government. Certainly, large numbers (a third, a half, more than that?) of voters who are registered as Republicans spurn the party to which they nominally belong. While nobody right now is running as a third party candidate, an internal Republican third party already exists. Meanwhile, large numbers (a third, a half, more than that?) of Democrats reject the founding principles of this country, such as free speech and freedom of religion—specifically for Christians. Do these schisms represent differences that cannot be resolved, those areas where compromise is not possible? I simply do not know. Heading into 2016 we are certainly at a time of history where each of us needs to examine ourselves and discover where we take an uncompromising stand. 

Wishing you all a year of health, joy, peace and prosperity. I’d be honored if you would read my husband’s letter regarding our organization, the American Alliance of Jews and Christians











Why aren’t conservatives compassionate?

December 30th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments


I consider myself libertarian conservative and I believe in being financially and morally conservative and obedient. However I’m very questionable on your recent stances on immigration and compassion in relation to scriptures. Leviticus 19:34: But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Do you think that maybe conservatives find it difficult to maintain their throne (or authority), because they (per your policy as you said on your podcast) refuse to display compassion, or mercy?

∼ Esosa


Dear Esosa,

And when was the last time you beat your wife? (Or husband. Sorry for not being precise but a Google check suggests that your name can be male or female.) In other words, we reject your closing premise. We don’t think you’re right that conservatives lack compassion.



The 3rd Great Awakening

December 30th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

How quickly time speeds by. It is already a year since I last fulfilled my responsibility as president of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians by soliciting your support. It’s time for me to do so again. Instead of just asking for your help, I would like to deliver to you something of value in exchange.

Here is a fun question worthy of dinner table conversation: The book of Exodus, chapter 17 verses 8-16, describes the warlike Amalekites attacking the newly emerging nation of Israel that was weakened by a few hundred years of brutal slavery. Israelite victory is clearly going to take a miracle. (more…)


A New Normal?

December 17th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

A strange thing happened to me this week—twice. I’m wondering if this is the new norm. I had two first-time interactions with female representatives from two different companies. Each woman explained her poor customer service and tardy attention to my needs by providing me with details of her children’s lives. 

There are many business contacts and vendors with whom I have long-standing associations. We might interact only a few times a year, but over the course of years a relationship develops. When, last week, one of these men apologized for not responding rapidly to an email, I appreciated his letting me know that his father-in-law’s passing led to his missing work. I was able to send condolences as well as dismissing any concerns that his work ethic was slipping. It was appropriate for him to share personal information.  

The two instances this week, however, were completely different. In one case, the company’s agent explained that she might be late for a one-time appointment if her daughter’s doctor visit went too long. Excuse me? As a human being and a mother, I appreciate that doctor visits are unpredictable. That has nothing to do with me as a client. Surely, she should have informed her company of her dilemma at which point they might arrange to send another agent in her place or they could choose to call, apologize and reschedule. As it was, the agent kept me waiting for half an hour.  

The second instance was with a company’s representative assigned to my account. In this case, we are at the beginning of what is meant to be a protracted working relationship. After following up when I did not receive a timely response to an email, I heard back. While the email started with an apology for not responding and ended with an assurance that our account mattered, in between our representative explained how many children she has and how, obviously, they keep her busy. 

I don’t get it. Is this the new professionalism? After socially and financially engineering our society so women both choose to and are forced to work, are we dropping the illusion of expecting the same level of service as a man provides? Has ‘equal pay for equal work,’ which at least sounds fair even if statistics are manipulated to make a case for it, devolved into an open and outright acknowledgment that what is demanded is actually  ‘equal pay for lesser work’? 

I greatly appreciate motherhood. I appreciate many things including caring for elderly parents, community involvement, charitable work, devoting time to strengthening marriage, hobbies and play. I think that life works better when a man and woman combine their talents and time to build a unified family, social and economic life. Our society has chosen over the past few decades to reject that idea, insisting that one person can do it all—work, raise children and still find time for other interests. 

As this idea is shown to be impossible, my experiences this week suggest that we may have moved to the next level where we admit that family and work demands often conflict. Is the new response to basically say, “Tough luck” to those who depend on functioning businesses, throwing another hand grenade at America’s tottering economy?

Was my experience simply a (I hesitate to use the word) coincidence? Are you also finding that the lines between personal and professional are blurring in a disturbing way?

Do you have a long drive to be with family for Christmas?
Take along one of our audio CDs and let the miles  melt away.

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Do you believe in magic?

December 17th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet


I have been following your newsletter for some time now, have purchased some of your materials and most recently have been listening to your podcasts on SoundCloud. I have many questions yet to be answered as I continue my journey of faith. I enjoy your teachings and am thankful God led me to you.

A question came to mind as I was listening to your podcast titled, Do You Believe In Magic? Do You Know Why Things Fell Apart in the 60s? Deuteronomy 18:10 says not to perform acts of magic. In your podcast you spoke of your research and practice of magic tricks. It did seem harmless and provided an excellent stage for the podcast, however, I couldn’t help but ask myself if this is  contrary to Deuteronomy 18:10.

Thank you and blessings!

∼ Devin L.


Dear Devin,

We have received quite a few comments over the years about our occasional use of the word magic, so we appreciate the opportunity to explain. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 uses seven different languages describing negative spiritual interactions that are an abomination to God. These include things such as contacting the dead and accessing ghosts.



No Rules for Radicals

December 16th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

We accept rules in cartoons. For instance, the late Chuck Jones, a prominent animator for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, established nine rules for the Wile E. Coyote cartoons. They included “No outside force can harm Coyote; only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products can hurt him,” “Coyote is more humiliated than harmed by his failures,” and “Gravity is Coyote’s greatest enemy.”

We accept rules in books. In J.R. Tolkien’s series Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books there are strict rules which govern which characters can do what. Readers quickly understand how these fictional worlds operate and accept the limitations that regulate the options. (more…)


Chanuka, Take 2, Take 3…

December 10th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

Celebrating Chanuka is fun. Living at the times of the Maccabees was not. Similarly, Purim, the Feast of Esther, is a joyous celebration. Living in Persia with a death sentence over your head, in the days before Queen Esther revealed her identity, was frightening. Leaving Egypt after ten amazing plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea was awesome. Two-hundred and ten years of slavery was miserable. 

A popular joke sums up Jewish holidays in this way, “They tried to kill us. God saved us. Let’s eat.” But, of course, they did kill many of us. Those who survived went through scary and wretched times. Centuries later, knowing how things turned out, it is easier to channel into the joy than to feel the suffering. 

American history has its parallels. The Fourth of July, with its parades and fireworks, is a grand time. Life in Revolutionary War times was grim. When our Founding Fathers issued the Declaration of Independence saying, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor,” they did not know how things would turn out. Indeed, many of them and their families did lose their fortunes and lives.

My husband and I celebrated the first four days of Chanuka at a gorgeous resort in Puerto Vallarta, as the guests of a financial conference where he was the keynote speaker. It is a long way, in every meaning of the phrase, from the original clash between Jerusalem and Athens. We look forward to celebrating the final four days back home with family. That is also far removed from the original conflict. We can celebrate both the military victory and the miracle of the oil without having lived with the fear of those days. Yet, the underlying recurring theme of purity vs. depravity, good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, few vs. the  many is not far removed from us at all. 

I think many of us worry that life in the next few years might be darker and more dangerous. During the past few years, many have already willingly sacrificed their lives for truth or been victims of evil. This has been the pattern of history. Chanuka calls on us to take heart and channel the courage of our ancestors to do our part while relying on Divine Providence to guide and protect us. We know how it ends; our job is to do what we can to hasten that end. 

Make sure to grab a Genesis Journeys Set while it is on this amazing Chanuka sale.
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Is respect earned or given?

December 10th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments


Is respect earned or given?

∼ Vinetta D.


Dear Vinetta,

In Hebrew, the word usually translated as respect is ‘kavod’. Pronounced differently, the word also means ‘heavy.’ We have the same concept in English where we might say that we ‘give weight’ to an idea as a way of saying that we are treating it with extra attention.



Mugging or Mayberry

December 9th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

As the rabbi of a fledgling synagogue in Venice, CA, one of my first goals was to build a school. Recognizing that a stable community needs a place to celebrate and pass along its values, Susan and I spent the summer after our marriage recruiting students for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no teachers and recruiting teachers for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no students.

One father’s reaction disturbed us greatly. He conceded that the local public school his six-year-old was slated to attend wasn’t safe. Nonetheless, he told us that he was committed to sending his son there. “I know he will get mugged for his lunch money and he may get roughed up a bit but I want him to live in the real world.” (more…)


Karen, Tanzania and Islamic Immigrants

December 3rd, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

Growing up, there were a number of books that I read numerous times. Among them were Karen and With Love from Karen, both written by Marie Killilea. They tell the story of her family’s life after her daughter was born with cerebral palsy. Ignoring the common advice given in the 1940s to institutionalize their daughter and forget that she had been born, the Killilea’s raised Karen as they raised her siblings, with the goal of maximizing each one’s potential. 

While I haven’t read those books recently (though this Musing is going to encourage me to do so) one scene is imprinted on my memory. At the insistence of her parents, Karen’s older sister, Marie, stays put while her sister makes a physically daunting and exhausting journey to the kitchen for a glass of water. Marie is anguished as she recognizes that she could easily and immediately bring the drink to her sister. At her age she doesn’t comprehend her parents’ wisdom in recognizing that Karen’s life will be destroyed if she views herself as a powerless victim of her birth circumstances rather than as a capable human being.

Maturity doesn’t necessarily make it easier for us to ignore the tugs at our heartstrings. That is a blessing. Being able to ignore the suffering of others makes us callous. Yet, maturity demands that feeling the suffering of others doesn’t automatically translate into performing what seems to be the kindest response. Sometimes,  what looks like kindness is actually cruelty, just as Marie’s getting her sister a drink would have ended up harming, not helping, Karen. 


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