Monthly Archives: January, 2019

God Bless America

January 31st, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind No Comment yet

My husband and I have the privilege of speaking for the United States Army Chaplain Corps over these few days. What an incredible honor and humbling experience to meet these soldiers and their spouses. We pray that our words provides insight, strength and support to them and are grateful for the reminder that our peaceful lives are possible because others shoulder the burden of protecting our country.

 

Does God use art to reveal spiritual lessons?

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Hi. I’ve just seen your TV show about music complementing scripture and how it is used to help understand God’s intent in his words.

What about art being used in this way? (a picture says a thousand words)

Are there examples in scripture where God uses art to help people in their understanding?

Thanks,

John

Dear John,

We think you’re referring to one of our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV shows where we discussed that, when read correctly in synagogue, the Five Books of Moses are chanted in very specific ways handed down from Sinai. In addition, the service of the Levites in the Temple featured music and instruments. Music adds to the understanding of the Bible’s words and verses and touches our souls in ways that can bring us closer to God.

Visual arts, too, are part of God’s revelation. You have surely noticed how much detail is provided about the construction of each piece of the Tabernacle. The materials used, the dimensions and every other detail of construction is specified. This obviously isn’t in order to get featured in an article in House Beautiful magazine. Rather, each detail carries a spiritual message. For one example, see this Thought Tool: Vision – Mission – Vision.

An over all take-away for us is that God has gifted us with a wondrous world. We are constantly balancing the spiritual and the physical to best live in that world. Those of us with a connection to God try to be aware of the overwhelming consumerism and misplaced focus on materialism in developed countries today. However, condemning materialism too strenuously can lead to wrongly rejecting the physical part of life entirely.

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Slaying the Giants

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

“Leave the light on, please” says the child, “I’m scared of the dark.”  One of the most common emotions expressed by little children is fear.  Long before they become comfortable articulating happiness, excitement and sadness, small children speak of feeling frightened.

Though we speak of it less as we grow up, we still feel it.  Just ask the adult who has been invited to give a speech before a large gathering.  People fear approaching strangers, they fear harmless insects and they fear looking over the edge of tall buildings; there are all kinds of phobias.

To be sure, there is a healthy fear that keeps us from doing dumb and dangerous things, but what about the fears we all have for utterly harmless activities?  I don’t know what your particular fears and phobias are but I’m sure you have them.  I know I do.

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Therapy as First Resort

January 27th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

Have you noticed a number of recent articles encouraging new mothers to consider therapy? Some of the articles reassure pregnant women that various emotions after childbirth are normal and a therapist can help work through them.  Others suggest that preventive therapy is a good idea. Line up someone to talk to so that when you have trouble coping you will have where to turn. The underlying message is that there is no shame in asking for help, a concept that is certainly true.

However, I have the same problem with these articles as I have with the terms, “terrible twos,” or “teenage rebellion.” They frame future occurrences in a negative light. We all know how often self-fulfilling-prophecies come to pass. That is entirely different from recognizing and educating oneself about upcoming physical, emotional and psychological developments and equipping oneself with tools to make these transitional times mostly positive and joyous.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition requiring medical and psychological intervention. Postpartum blues are a different matter altogether and are almost universal. Faced with massive hormonal changes, seriously impaired sleep, the disruption of routine and a new identity among other things, it’s no surprise that new mothers have trouble concentrating and find themselves weepy. This has been so for centuries. Why should women in our day need to pay a professional and fit extra appointments into their schedules, incidentally adding two additional sources of stress into a naturally stressful time?

I don’t have a politically correct answer. All I can suggest that we are structuring society in ways that set us up for difficulties when it comes to family life. We are causing many of our own problems and then providing solutions that may well be needed, but only because of our previous decisions and actions.

What do I mean? Ideally, new mothers should have support. Not only do their bodies need to recuperate from childbirth, but they often have little experience and confidence in their new role.  Watching family members calmly handling the newborn and having someone available to answer questions allows women to adjust. Simply having someone to give a hug and a hot drink can go a long way. Mothers, aunts, sisters and neighbors used to fill that function.  Today, geographical distances between close relatives are often huge and the women who would most naturally move into a caregiving mode are themselves busy earning money. It isn’t usually a question of choice anymore; taxation, the cost of living and a societal structure that presumes women working at an outside job rarely give women the option of helping out even if they yearn to.

Under these circumstances coping with a newborn does become more fraught with tension. It is completely understandable that a therapist might be helpful. Rather than seeing this as a welcome sign of progress, I see it as a sad consequence of years of devaluing the instincts and power of women and motherhood.

When Did Maturity Become a Bad Word?

January 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

The teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School did not set out to become famous. Sometimes history forces us into positions we did not seek. We have no way of knowing if in time they will fade into oblivion or become leaders. Will they emerge from this experience with new strength of character or will they wilt from this trial? Will they continue to uphold the morals and values of their families or will they succumb to the lure of easy acceptance for those who kowtow to popular culture’s sacred icons? We cannot predict their futures any more than we can predict our own children’s or even our own.

What we can know is that they are growing up in a world that no longer values the idea of maturity. The word itself has become a buzzword for old age with all its negative connotations rather than a desired step of growth. For younger people, it has been replaced by ‘adulting,’ a word that implies tentative, halting steps to being responsible for oneself rather than a solidifying of one’s character and moral backbone.   

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MAGA Hat Day: an anti-bullying initiative

January 24th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 11 comments

Around Chanuka time, one sometimes hears a story of a house that has in its window a menorah celebrating the Jewish holiday, being defaced. Whether this was done by teenage hooligans, motivated by anti-Semitism, or the act of a disturbed Jew, a number of Christian neighbors’ immediate response is to buy a menorah and place it in their windows. It is a sign that they stand against hatred.

In honor of that, I have an idea. Teenage boys from Covington School were bullied for being white, male, Catholic, pro-life and Trump fans. The bullies were, in many cases, powerful people who at other times deride bullying. They include pundits, media personalities, actors and others. Some of them have apologized for their actions; others have doubled down and are still wallowing in their venom.

Let’s declare a date, perhaps February 7th, thus giving everyone time to prepare, as “Wear a MAGA Hat Day.” The ladies on The View, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Times journalists, Al Sharpton and others who despise Donald Trump can make a true statement that disagreeing politically with an adult is one thing, but demeaning, threatening and bashing children is something entirely different. Who knows? Maybe the far Left might even reach the point of declaring that demeaning, threatening and physically attacking adults with whom they disagree is worth denouncing.

How can I stop my kids fighting?

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A “Your Mother’s Guidance” post by Rebecca Masinter

I would like to share some thoughts in response to a question a mother on this group emailed me.

Here is the question:

I, thank God, have 4 children,  a six-year-old girl, almost five-year-old boy, almost three-year-old girl and an eight-month-old baby. I wanted to know if you can give some pointers on how to handle when children are fighting and when we, as parents should intervene or let the children work out the argument themselves.

There are two parts to my answer.  The first will be a few ideas on how to intervene in the moment, and the second is what can I do when my children are not fighting to decrease the amount of future conflict in my family.

(One caveat is that what I will share now is intended in families where the children are pretty typical and evenly matched. Some of us have been blessed with children who have more complicated emotions and/or more of a tolerance for conflict and aggression and you have constant fights between that child and everyone else. In that case, there are different principles to consider.)

Firstly, let’s remember that children feed off of our emotions and stress so I think step number one is to not let ourselves get emotionally riled by our kids fighting.  We need to respond and not react.  We are humans and sometimes some arguments can push buttons of our own, but our kids need us to respond consistently and calmly, not emotionally.  This means for example that if your family rule is, “No physical contact when arguing,” you want to enforce it consistently, not just when you’re feeling impatient, tired, or stressed, or just when it’s an older kid hitting a younger or not just when it leads to hysterical tears.  You get the idea.

Another thought.  Kids can’t think and express themselves well when they’re emotionally upset. They need us to help give them the words initially and model to them how to express themselves.  You can do this by getting down at their eye level and asking each one, one at a time what they’re upset about.  Then, with a loving arm around them, you can role play dialogue for them to repeat as they take turns calmly expressing what they want.  You feed them the lines and let them copy them. What’s happening is that they feel understood by you and they’re learning to express their feelings and needs. As a bonus, they’re doing it in a way that solves problems!  If a child needs to apologize to the other, you can also feed them the words for that apology.  This isn’t a cop out for them — it is modeling how to disagree and how to apologize. Initially, they need us for that.

Now for part two. As in so many areas of our life, being proactive goes a lot farther than trying to just cope once we’re in tough situations.

Take some time to think through your children’s fighting patterns.

Are they often at the same time of day?  Over the same issues?  Between the same kids?  Following the same activity or routine?  When are your children most harmonious?

Sometimes we can change routines or dynamics in our home that lead to stress and create new ones that contribute to harmony. For example, if they fight while you prepare supper each day, think about what you can do differently so they are each happily occupied in soothing activities before you start cooking.  What patterns do you see that you can tweak to get a different outcome?

Here’s another way we can be proactive:

If your children are old enough, you can talk to them one-on-one about the recurring patterns you see in their arguments.  Maybe you and your child together can brainstorm alternatives and role play the way they can handle irritating siblings next time.

The flip side of that, is that when kids (and adults) are emotionally upset and aggravated, it is not the time to try to calmly analyze what went wrong and what they can do next time.  As ancient Jewish wisdom says…don’t try to calm someone when they’re angry.  Often, you will have to wait a while, until they have really calmed down, to lovingly discuss the fighting that went on before.  You can validate their experiences and their emotions and then discuss what they may want to try differently next time, both action wise and response wise.  I think it’s important to end by getting an agreement from your child that he’s willing to try something different next time.  (This doesn’t mean he will succeed at that, it means he’s willing to make an effort. That is something you can praise no matter whether or not he manages to follow through each time.)

For example, you may say something like this while snuggling with your son at the end of the day…

“I can see you were very angry and sad when the baby knocked down your tower.  I would be sad too if she knocked down something I built.  Do you want to build a tower next time when she’s napping so she can’t break it?” 

Or, Would you like to build a tower on the table instead of on the floor?

Even though it’s ok to feel sad and angry, it’s important to speak nicely to your sister instead of yelling.  She’s little and your yelling probably made her feel scared.  Do you think that the next time she starts to break your toys, you can come calmly and ask me to move her?”

Aside from trying to figure out patterns and what you can do to eliminate the stressors that often lead to fighting, being proactive before arguments and working through them with your children after they’re calm, there is one more secret weapon we have that I want to share with you.

That is yourself.  You are the magnet at the center of the family.  You are the one that each child wants to be with, to be like, to be loved by, and to be approved by.  Don’t ever underestimate your power as a mother.  Often, I find I can diffuse tension before a fight breaks out by “happening” to come into the room then and inviting one of the kids to hang out with me, do laundry, help with dinner, run an errand, whatever.  Or I “happen” to come  in to do something with all of them – distracting them with a story or a game.  Don’t let them sense you’re doing it to get them away from each other — of course you’re doing it because you love being with them! 

Neither I, nor anyone else, can ever tell another parent what to do as the nature of parenting is one of relationships and those are unique and distinct between each child and his or her parents.  This is at the foundation of any thoughts I ever share.  I can share my experience, I can share some of the principles that may be important here, but ultimately all I hope to do is start the discussion so that each one of us individually can have a springboard from which to start thinking through this question.  Pay attention to your reactions as you read my words. They are the keys to figuring out your answer for your family.  You are the expert on your children—that is why God gave them you as a mother.

How much help is too much help?

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

Huge fan here – Thou Shall Prosper has changed my life, and I continue to be inspired by Ask the Rabbi and Susan’s Musings.

My question is, as a follower of God, am I a hypocrite for not wanting to help someone in need? I’ve recently become acquainted with a woman who has severe emotional problems related to anxiety and trauma. She refuses to get professional help but simultaneously expects other people to take care of her many needs.

The lady she is staying with has a weekly prayer meeting at her home on Sundays, and she is afraid to be in the house during that time because of her fear of crowds and people. Last Sunday I took her with me to a part-time job, but this week I really felt I needed my Sunday free as it is my only day off. The homeowner told me she is putting the woman up in a hotel since I’m not available to take her.

How much help is too much? Having been treated for anxiety myself, I understand that someone can be extremely fearful of everyday circumstances, but if she can’t ride the bus to a coffee shop for a few hours or take a walk in the park while the prayer meeting is going on, how much can another person do for her? Should I be expected to give up my one day off every week to babysit a grown woman, and should my friend be expected to use her own money to put her in a hotel?

I’m torn between feeling anger and judgment toward this lady as well as feeling like a hypocrite both because I know what it is like to suffer from anxiety and because people also opened their homes up to me through house sitting jobs when I was first new in town. I can’t help thinking that but for the grace of God, I could be in her shoes, so I feel incredibly guilty for thinking she needs to “woman up” and take care of herself.

Feeling hypocritical and very un-Christlike,

Cindy

Dear Cindy,

We shortened your letter because of space restrictions, but you gave a number of examples of how difficult this woman is and how no matter what you or others do for her it is never enough. The problem you are facing is one that, we believe, most good people run into during their lives. As good, God-fearing people, how can we turn away from those in need?

Truly, only you can answer that question for yourself, perhaps with guidance from a religious leader or wise mentor, but we can make a few comments.

Have you ever worked with pie or pizza dough? You need to roll it or stretch it into shape, but if you yank too hard, you will make holes rather than produce a smooth, satiny surface. Gently tugging at different areas gives the desired result; forcing the dough doesn’t work.

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Fake News? I’m Shocked

January 22nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Hypocritically assuming a false mantle of virtue by pretending horror at discovering someone else’s transgression is so unattractive.  We all recognized the dishonesty when Captain Louis Renault in the movie Casablanca (1942) said, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

The hysterical shrieks we’ve been hearing these past couple of years about “Fake News” are equally disingenuous.  Until 2016, did we simply accept as reliably true everything we read or saw?  Of course not.  The rule of Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware-has been part of the prudent person’s arsenal forever. 

Sadly out of print is Robert Spero’s wonderful book, The Duping of the American Voter: Dishonesty and Deception in Presidential Television Advertising in which Spero showed how the television ads as far back as the 1960s and used by presidential candidates Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter were “the most deceptive, misleading, unfair, and untruthful of all advertising…” 

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Do I Know You?

January 18th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A Your Mother’s Guidance teaching by Rebecca Masinter:

In Exodus 6:2, God appears to Moses to send him on a mission to speak to the children of Israel. Moses should introduce God to the Jews as the One who will redeem them from the slavery of Egypt and ultimately lead them to the land of Israel.  However, before Moses can get to that part, God gives His introduction: “I appeared to the Patriarchs, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I made promises to them and I made a covenant with them to give them the land they dwelled in…”  Why does the Jewish nation need a history lesson now?  Why can’t Moses just say, “God appeared to me and He will redeem you!” 

I think that perhaps God is giving the Israelites an important message:  He’s saying, “I know you don’t really know me yet very well, and we don’t have much of a relationship as of now, and a lot is about to start happening very dramatically.  You may feel unsure about all of this and about Me, but here’s the thing: I had a close relationship, a relationship and a binding covenant, with your grandparents.  We have a strong history together and whether or not you realize it on your own yet, we have an intact and foundational relationship that goes back generations.  Everything that will come, the Plagues, leaving Egypt, the splitting of the Reed Sea, and settling the land of Israel is building on the relationship I forged with your fathers and will forge directly with you, “I will take you as mine for a nation and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). 

When parenting our children, they need to know that we have a deep relationship with them before we do things together, before we ask things of them, and before we try to teach them.  Before any parenting can happen, our children need to feel that they are in an intimate, eternal relationship with us, their parents.

How can we do this today?  For today, let’s follow God’s example and share with our children the history of our love for them from the beginning.  Show them baby pictures of you holding them tight, tell them how happy you were at their birth, and share with them, (even your teenagers!) the adorable things they used to say and the activities you used to share together when they were little.  We need our kids to know that our commitment to our relationship with them began way back at the beginning and will continue forever just as God introduced Himself to us with the same information.

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