Monthly Archives: May, 2019

When Divorce Wasn’t an Option

May 30th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

Department stores continue to disappear and the crowds in the remaining ones are increasingly poorly behaved.  Just about anything you want is available online.  I find myself  rarely stepping foot in a mall. Yet, there is one category of store that I still enjoy visiting in person. Second-hand book stores get my heart racing. I have difficulty walking away empty-handed.

And what gems I have found! One of my favorite discoveries was a copy of Pink and White Tyranny. While Harriet Beecher Stowe is universally known for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she was a prolific author with other volumes to her credit. Pink and White Tyranny tells the tale of a New England man accustomed to competent, intelligent, God-fearing, principled and diligent women such as his sister. On vacation he meets and marries a different type of girl, one whose entire life training has been to catch a husband; she is a bit of mindless pink and white fluff.  The book is sad and humorous; depicting his arrival home with his new wife and his slowly growing comprehension that he has made a disastrous choice in his life partner.

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My church is emphasizing ‘social justice.’ Is that Biblical?

May 29th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

What are your thoughts on the word ‘mishphat’ (social justice)?

My church is currently undergoing a ‘replant’ with a new emphasis on community growth and ‘social justice’. However, Glenn Beck said to be wary when you hear ‘social justice’ in the church.

I know that ‘social justice’ is a term created by the far left in the 1800s(?). However, the term is now found in the Bible and is now considered mainstream and embraced by churches.

In addition, I recently came back from a trip to Israel with an Old Testament scholar. He said the real meaning of ‘mishphat’ is ‘a shared experience’.

Can you clarify?

Judy C.

Dear Judy,

We’d like to let two famous authors start off our answer to your question. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott said, “I like good strong words that mean something…,” while Roald Dahl said in The BFG, “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.” Our thoughts exactly!

We generally distrust any terms that insert the word social in front. For instance, studies are good, but social studies?  Media we get but social media? Justice is good, but social justice?  What does that even mean?  In general, the word social in front means that the thing is undefined.  One thing is for sure and that is that ‘social justice’ is not the meaning of the Hebrew word mishpat.

Today in England, if you suggest tabling a motion it means bringing it up for discussion or vote. In the United States, those same words mean putting the motion aside and postponing discussion. Words that meant one thing in the 1800s may mean something very different today. Unless you are attending an academic convocation on the evolution of language, it is rather irrelevant what the phrase ‘social justice’ meant in the 18th or 19th century. It is very relevant to ask exactly, in precise and detailed language, it means to the elders of your church.

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Jethro’s Connection Contribution

May 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

When the English novelist, Charles Dickens, visited a prison outside of Philadelphia in 1842, he witnessed prisoners being held in solitary confinement.  He wrote that most people are incapable of recognizing the full extent of the torture and agony of being incarcerated alone.  He insisted that the mental torture of solitary confinement was far worse than any torture that could be inflicted upon the body.

In this, Dickens was agreeing with the Bible’s insistence on everyone’s need for human connection.

We’re all familiar with the 187 chapters into which Archbishop Langton divided the text of the Five Books of Moses in the 13th century.  Less well known are the 54 original divisions called sidras, each containing a few chapters and each named according to a word appearing early in the sidra that conveys the main theme of the sidra.  Uncovering the connection between the sidra’s theme and its name is always interesting.

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Who Are You Calling Names? by Judy Gruen

May 23rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

I am delighted to share this platform today with my good friend, Judy Gruen. I think it’s a great reminder that each of us can choose to add kindness to the world with a simple act. 

Recently, I attended a memorial tribute for an elderly friend named Maurice. I had met Maurice and his wife, Mildred, back in the late 1980’s, when my husband, Jeff, and I had joined Pacific Jewish Center in Venice, the “Shul on the Beach.” We had been drawn there by the teachings of Rabbi Daniel Lapin and his wife, Susan, and their dynamic leadership that had begun to revitalize a once-thriving Jewish congregation.

Now, Maurice was a big man with a big personality, brash and bluntly opinionated. A strong baritone, Maurice usually seized the opportunity to begin prayers and hymns with his melodies of choice. His commanding voice and musical selections helped define the spiritual atmosphere of the synagogue for nearly 40 years.

Maurice was a colorful character, yet as people reminisced and eulogized him, it was clear that he had touched people by always remembering synagogue members’ full names, bellowing out his greetings: “Jacob Israel!” Or, “Leah Emunah!” His loud acknowledgement became one of his trademarks, but it didn’t end there.

He also remembered the names of extended family members, and he also remembered what troubles or issues they were dealing with.

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My colleague crossed the ‘acceptable behavior’ line at a company party.

May 21st, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 25 comments

Last weekend I went for my company’s trip. As part of the agenda, there were dinner, dance and drinks. So a colleague of mine (we are not close, just working level) who is of an opposite sex started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me. Once he pulled me to one side, he started confessing to say that he has been “checking me out without me knowing”; he treasured the one time lunch we went out together (it was a working lunch discussion) 2 years ago and he always finds me pretty. Immediately felt very uncomfortable and I pulled him back to rejoin the group for dancing.

Not long after, the function hall started turning off the lights and shutting down the AV. So a group of us adjourned to a nearby bar to join our other colleagues who were there earlier. Upon arrival at the bar, he started holding my shoulders and hands and once we reached the table where our other colleagues were, he tried holding my butt. I was so shocked I don’t know how to react  and didn’t want to make a scene, my immediate reaction was to flight. So I immediately left the scene and hid in the toilet of the bar. My friend noticed my disappearance and called me to ask where I was. I said I am in the toilet and will come shortly. We left the scene right after I came out from the toilet.

My question is, should I report this sexual harassment to the the company through the appropriate channel? My intention is not to humiliate/embarrass him,  but I don’t want other to fall as victim.

I didn’t tell anyone in the company yet because I don’t want this to spread as a mere gossip. At the same time, I felt obligated to report this incident and  share this other girls who closely work with him.  Help, I need wisdom. Thank you in advance.

Serene

Dear Serene,

It is a little jarring that the incident you describe is in opposition to your lovely namethat certainly wasn’t a serene encounter you underwent. What an unpleasant experience that must have been.

We need to preface our answer by saying that we are neither lawyers nor human resource experts. We did run our answer by someone who heads H.R. for a large company, but the words you are reading are ours, not hers. We are quite sure that you would get a very different answer if you asked this same question in a different venue.  And while we are not going to blame you for the incident, we would like to empower you in the future. Let’s start there.

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Pebbles and Panoramas

May 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

My children constantly fascinate me when we hike in breathtakingly beautiful British Columbia during the summer. Some of them visibly thrill to the vast vistas and magnificent landscapes revealed as we crest a hill.  Others seem oblivious to the large scale spectacles but will stoop to pick up a pebble which can absorb their attention for twenty minutes.  Similarly, when boating, one child gazes endlessly at the wave pattern stretching to the horizon.  Meanwhile, her sister lies on her tummy on the edge of a dock peering down at a school of tiny fish darting around as if being signaled by an invisible choreographer. 

We learn much from the patterns of larger arrangements such as the earth’s upheavals that created the mountain ranges and the erosive forces that carved majestic canyons.  However it is just as important to understand the microscopic forces that help atoms to form molecules and the characteristics that shape those tiny molecules into complex substances.

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Book Review: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

May 19th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

At the time a new movie about Marie Antoinette was released, our high-school age daughter made a comment to a friend about the Queen’s youth at the time of her dramatic encounter with the guillotine. Her friend was quite peeved at how our daughter had ruined the movie by giving away the ending.

Ignorance of history portends unhappiness for a civilization. If citizens are able to internalize the concept that, “There is nothing new under the sun,” by recognizing repeated trends and ideas, they are less vulnerable to the “newest and greatest idea” that falsely promises to provide universal freedom, peace and prosperity.

This is one reason that boring history tomes are a menace. History that is dry and lifeless makes no impression. Good historical fiction that creates imaginary characters while faithfully presenting events is a valuable resource. The minute that anyone, whether Marie Antoinette or the family that grew the wheat used in the royal kitchen, catches one’s imagination, the important occurrences of their lives and the applicable dates and locations become unforgettable.

With this in mind, I’d like to recommend a book for pre-teens and up entitled, A Night Divided. The story starts in 1961, on the night that the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany was erected. Eight-year-old Gerta, her fourteen-year-old brother and mother are trapped in their home in the East while another brother and their father are on the other side, aware that returning home is no longer an option due to their political leanings. The bulk of the book takes place four years down the road as Gerta and her brother begin plotting to escape to the West and reunite their family.

Read as an adventure story, the book is gripping. Adding some historical context gives it great value. It is a good sign that even in our times, this book received positive reviews from various newspapers and organizations that prefer not to focus on the evils of Communism.  I would recommend either reading A Night Divided aloud or at least discussing it with children after they have finished it, making sure they understand that the depiction of control and fear exerted by the East German Communists, as well as the dreariness of life under their rule, was real. 

The great author and playwright, Herman Wouk, today returned to the Lord, aged 104

May 17th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 4 comments

Herman Wouk spent time with Susan and me in our home in Los Angeles while his classic books, Winds of War and War and Remembrance were in television production.

His book that I tend to recommend more than any other is his depiction of Judaism entitled This Is My God.  It is named for the Bible verse   This is my God and I will beautify Him (Exodus 15:2) and I don’t think it has ever been improved on.  In that book Herman Wouk described what Shabbat meant to him.  This is part of what he wrote:

 

The Shabbat has cut most sharply athwart my own life when one of my plays has been in rehearsal or in tryout.

The crisis atmosphere of an attempt at Broadway is a legend of our time, and a true one; I have felt under less pressure going into battle at sea. Friday afternoon, during these rehearsals, inevitably seems to come when the project is tottering on the edge of ruin. I have sometimes felt guilty of treason, holding to the Shabbat in such a desperate situation. But then, experience has taught me that a theater enterprise almost always is in such a case. Sometimes it does totter to ruin, and sometimes it totters to great prosperity, but tottering is its normal gait, and cries of anguish are its normal tone of voice.

So I have reluctantly taken leave of my colleagues on Friday afternoon, and rejoined them on Saturday night. The play has never collapsed in the meantime. When I return I find it tottering as before, and the anguished cries as normally despairing as ever. My plays have encountered in the end both success and failure, but I cannot honestly ascribe either result to my observing the Shabbat.

Leaving the gloomy theater, the littered coffee cups, the jumbled scarred-up scripts, the haggard actors, the knuckle-gnawing producer, the clattering typewriter, and the dense, tobacco smoke has been a startling change, very like a brief return from the wars.

My wife and my boys, whose existence I have almost forgotten in the anxious shoring up of the tottering ruin, are waiting for me, dressed in holiday clothes, and looking to me marvelously attractive. We have sat down to a splendid dinner, at a table graced with flowers and the old Shabbat symbols: the burning candles, the twisted challah loaves, the stuffed fish, and my grandfather’s silver goblet brimming with wine. I have blessed my boys with the ancient blessings; we have sung the pleasantly syncopated Shabbat table hymns.

The talk has little to do with tottering ruins. My wife and I have caught up with our week’s conversation. The boys, knowing that Shabbat is the occasion for asking questions, have asked them. We talk of Judaism. For me it is a retreat into restorative magic.

Shabbat has passed much in the same manner. The boys are at home in the synagogue, and they like it. They like even more the assured presence of their parents. In the weekday press of schooling, household chores, and work — and especially in play producing time — it often happens that they see little of us. On Shabbat we are always there and they know it. They know too that I am not working and that my wife is at her ease. It is their day.

It is my day, too. The telephone is silent. I can think, read, study, walk or do nothing. It is an oasis of quiet. My producer one Saturday night said to me, “I don’t envy you your religion, but I envy you your Shabbat.”

For Your Own Good

May 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

I appreciate warnings. When I’m a guest at a meal and my hostess tells us that one of the dips is super spicy, I appreciate knowing that before setting my mouth on fire. When a friend suggests that I skip reading a popular book because it is filled with profanity, I appreciate taking it off my reading list. When my phone alerts me about an accident up ahead and re-routes me, I appreciate saving the time I would have sat motionless on the freeway.

But what happens if I find out that the dip wasn’t actually spicy at all. There simply wasn’t enough to go around and my hostess wanted to save it for her other guests. Or my friend knew that I would love the book which was actually unobjectionable, but wanted to write about it on her blog before I wrote about it on mine. What if the developers of my traffic app only wanted to route me so that I would pass a certain coffee shop that was giving them a kickback on each beverage sold?

I no longer appreciate the warnings. Instead I feel manipulated.

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Young and Foolish, Old and Grumpy?

May 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

With apologies to all senior citizens, (a civilized sobriquet if there ever was one) I am going to ask you a question:

What is the one word in English literature that occurs more frequently than any other directly after the words “crotchety,” “curmudgeonly,” or “cranky”?  If you answered “old” you are quite correct.  You’ll nearly always read “the crotchety old woman” or “that curmudgeonly old man”.  I am certainly not suggesting that all senior citizens are crabby or cantankerous but apparently enough are to have earned the connection.

Apart from being a warning to us all to avoid acquiring those unpleasing characteristics as we age, it also raises a question.  What in heaven’s name was in God’s mind with this verse:

You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old;
you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:32)

Other than managing to survive for six (seven, eight, nine? Fill in the number of your choice) decades or more, what exactly has an ill-tempered old man done to deserve such respect?  Therein lies an important insight from ancient Jewish wisdom.  An old person might indeed be a bit grumpy and grouchy but he or she has seen a bit of life.  If nothing else, the elderly have experienced more of life than people in their twenties.  Why does that qualify them for such a level of respect?

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