Monthly Archives: October, 2018

Who Speaks for the Jews?

October 31st, 2018 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 6 comments

The simple answer is, “No one.” It has been many years since there was one spokesman like Moses. Even King David had a counterpart in the prophet Nathan. So, while I am aware that columnists do not get to pick the titles of their pieces in newspapers, the heading of William Galston’s piece in the Wall Street Journal of Oct. 31, irked me.

The headline proclaimed, “Jews Are Proud to Stand with Refugees,” and Mr. Galston extols HIAS – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – founded in 1881. HIAS indeed has done admirable work in its more than a century of existence. What Mr. Galston failed to point out is that HIAS used to be a case of the Jewish community, not the government, supporting Jewish refugees. If it urged the government to allow more refugees to enter, it encouraged legal channels. I am not familiar with HIAS today, but most likely they, like so many once worthy Jewish organization, have instead become mediums for far Left politics.

I don’t draw any commonality between the honorable work HIAS has done in the past and its new focus. Obviously, being upset with HIAS, as murderer Robert Bowers was, doesn’t entitle one to enter a synagogue and start shooting. HIAS and any Jews who support it, have a voice in our open society. So do the many Jews who see the flouting of American law and the invasion by hordes of people illegally crossing the border as a threat to both the United States and safe Jewish survival here.

Neither group speaks for the non-existent “the Jews”. Only our enemies see as as one indivisible group, united as they are in wanting our death whether we are Democrats or Republicans, political conservatives or political liberals, religious or secular.  I assume that Mr. Galston is embarrassed by the title given to his piece. He speaks only for himself and those who agree with him, not for an entire people.

Choosing Childlessness

October 30th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

I am 32 and married 3 years ago. My husband and I do not like children and thus we choose to be childless. Is that okay?

Jia Mun

Dear Jia Mun,

We aren’t sure what ‘okay’ means and we know almost nothing about you and your husband. From the fact that you wrote asking us, we assume that you aren’t completely confident with your decision. Perhaps we can suggest some avenues to explore.

We come from a Biblical perspective that says that God’s preferred architecture of life is for people to marry and raise families.  Getting married and becoming a parent are ideally both steps that discourage self-absorption and teach us the great human thrill of bringing good to others. God wants us to connect to others and countless modern studies show that being connected to family and friends is not only a formula for happiness but also one for health.  Like so many other improvement projects, connection works best from the inside out. In other words, the most effective way to set about developing a love for humanity is to start off exercising our love on our own children.  After that, upon the children of our loved ones and then moving on outward from there.

You say that you and your husband don’t like children. We confess to feeling a bit perplexed.  What exactly do you mean by that?  We do understand that having a child makes a massive difference in one’s life and we understand that this can be terrifying.  But for you both not to like children sounds a little hard to understand.

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Harvey and Montgomery

October 29th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

If you’ve never seen the delightful 1950 movie in which Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd whose friend is a six-foot invisible rabbit eponymously named Harvey, you might enjoy it.  I too have an invisible friend, though I don’t know how tall he is because he is, well, invisible!  He happens to be a highly intelligent Martian named Montgomery, who is entirely and utterly unfamiliar with everything on earth.  I find it ever so useful to be able to solicit his opinion about, or his reaction to, various earthly events.  Some people dismiss my friend, and insist that all I am really doing is conducting thought experiments but to each his own.

Let me give you an example.  I introduced Montgomery the Martian to two very different families.  The first, residing in Beverly Hills, California, presents their children with the keys to a new BMW car on their sixteenth birthdays and engages a small army of housekeepers and gardeners to free each child from any onerous household chores.  The children address their parents by their first names and receive lavish allowances with very little supervision and few rules.

The second family lives in a small town near Nashville, Tennessee.  Each child carries the responsibility for some aspect of the family’s smooth running.  Each child also has a job outside of school and is expected to say, “Yes, Sir” or “No, Ma’am” to his parents.  The family attends church each Sunday together and dinner times are also family occasions.  The children take turns mowing the lawn and tending to the flower garden.

My questions to Montgomery were this: Which set of parents is more likely to raise children with an enduring respect for parents and siblings? Which set of children are more likely to grow up into young adults who will endlessly complain to expensive therapists about how their parents ruined their lives?

Montgomery weighed it up and concluded that the parents who gave so much to their children, asking nothing in return, were surely the parents who would enjoy enduring gratitude and honor from their children.  As his earthly friend, it was my duty to inform the Martian that he was wrong.  In families where frugality is a fact of life and children are expected to behave like responsible family members and to carry their weight, family relationships are far stronger.

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Tree of Life Shooting

October 28th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

In observant Jewish households, Saturday night brings more breaking news than other nights of the week. The reason is simple. Since we turn off phones, computers and other technology as the sun sets on Friday night and Shabbat begins, we are out of touch with the greater world for 25 hours.

This past Saturday night followed a too-frequent pattern of holding the closing ceremony for the Sabbath and then quickly hearing of tragedy. This time is was a mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Eleven people, ranging in age from 54 to 97 died, while others were injured. 

Today, the correct response of all decent people is sorrow and prayer. Later this week, there will be time for more reflection.

Book Recommendation: The War that Saved My Life

October 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

When looking for books for my children, I used to peruse the Newbery Honor books (and, yes, until I started writing this piece, I thought it was Newberry). Since I care about morals as well as language, I admit to favoring books that were chosen for the award in earlier decades. With that in mind, I am delighted to recommend a recent honoree, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

This book and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, tell the story of Ada, a ten-year-old British evacuee from London during World War II. I appreciated the depiction of England during wartime including rationing, bombing, the death of so many soldiers and the real fear of invasion. But the story is deeper than a historical fiction sketch of England in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Not Funny

October 25th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

When you eat only kosher food, as our family does, traveling has an added element of uncertainty. Will there be a kosher market or restaurant? What will the quality be? We are grateful that in the United States many national brands of crackers and other items are kosher and fruits and vegetable are easily accessible. Even so, after a few days tuna fish and peanut butter stave off hunger but don’t do much more than that.

To our delight, my husband’s recent speaking engagement was in a city that had a kosher restaurant. The place was clean and the food was delicious. What more could we ask?

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I need new skills for my job

October 23rd, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

I thank you for all the sound advice you give. I enjoy your teachings because of all of the insights. It helps me to see why I sometimes make the wrong decisions and how to make improvements.

I need your advice because I am about to make changes in my lifestyle. I have to make improvements to my writing and how I speak. My last job I did not deal with people of high quality and as a result I began to neglect how I communicated. Now I am planning on coming into contact with people who are educated and I feel that I need to improve in the area of communication and how I express myself.

I would love to hear your advice on how to best prepare myself on how to communicate and to express myself to a much better educated group of people. I know that my writing has to be improved as well.

Thank you very much for your answer.

Francisco D.P.

Dear Francisco,

Congratulations on embarking on a program of self-improvement. That is a lifetime quest, but we all emphasize different things at different times and you now want to focus on communication.

Before giving advice, we would like to quibble a bit on the equation of high-quality people with educated people. We have known many high-quality people who did not even graduate high school and very low-quality people who have multiple Masters degrees. Nonetheless, speaking and writing correctly is something to which we should all aspire.

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Can You Describe That?

October 23rd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

Can you identify these four short excerpts?  Each is found in the opening paragraph of a popular book.

“He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck…”

“His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh.”

“He wore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian waist coat with white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings and a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas.”

“Squinting at his surroundings he saw a plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed.”

Can you name each book?  Actually, it doesn’t matter.  As it happens the excerpts are from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Da Vinci Code.  But I wasn’t really trying to give you a short quiz on 20th century popular fiction.

In fact, I wanted you to notice how important visual descriptions are in most books.  Later in those four books, we discover how Professor Dumbledore looks and we find out how Atticus Finch, Michael Henchard and Robert Langdon look and dress.  This is how most books are written.  Such descriptions help the reader imagine the scenes and get to know the characters.

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Growing with Nancy

October 22nd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

In addition to what I recently wrote, Sarah Mackenzie makes another important point in her book, The Read-Aloud Family. When we read to older children we expand their vocabulary. While a child might get frustrated  reading a book too much above his or her comfortable reading level, children begin to decipher unfamiliar words in context when a parent is reading.

Even when a child is reading at an advanced level, reading aloud has an added benefit. I think every homeschool parent of committed readers has been amused when their children mispronounce words that they have only met through printed matter. Reading aloud gives children a chance to hear new vocabulary words as well as see them.

Thinking so much about reading aloud reminded me of a Musing from a few years back. I hope you enjoy this reprint:

Superman comic books may not generally be considered advanced literary material, but the childhood hours I spent reading them did help me do well on my SATs.  While I didn’t read the comics for vocabulary lessons, years later the spurious documents that one criminal used served me admirably when I needed to pick the correct multiple choice synonym for that word.

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Read Aloud – Please

October 22nd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 6 comments

One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling is time. Not having to rush out of the house in the morning or spend time on homework in the evening puts you in control (as much as possible) of your family’s hours. You gain all those hours that are otherwise spent on parent/teacher nights and working on projects that may not have anything to do with what you think is important.

Reading aloud was one of our family’s favorite ways to use the expanse of time at our disposal. Like many moms, I read voraciously to my toddlers and younger children. But we read aloud well after our children were themselves proficient readers. We regularly read at our Shabbat table, to the point that some of our regular guests were miffed if there was a week they weren’t invited. While they could have picked up Swallows and Amazons or The Microbe Hunters on their own, they enjoyed following along with us. Sometimes we read to the children as a group, an activity that strengthened family bonds. Other times reading was a one-on-one experience. Some of my fondest memories are sitting in front of a fireplace with my sixteen-year-old son, reading A Tale of Two Cities together. 

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