Monthly Archives: October, 2019

Tempest in a Handshake

October 31st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

Writing and speaking in a public forum is exhilarating. That means it is both exciting and terrifying. When my husband or I put something out before a listening or reading audience, we sometimes find ourselves completely off target in how we think it will be received. It is as disconcerting to see stony faces after making a joke as it is to get laughs after saying something serious. 

When we publish our Ask the Rabbi column each week, we are occasionally taken aback at the lack of interest in what we thought was a fascinating question or, conversely, immense interest when we didn’t expect it. This week’s question was an example of the latter

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Mommies to the Rescue

October 31st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Watching a child hurt isn’t easy. Whether the pain is caused by a skinned knee or a broken heart, loving parents suffer along with their children. Parents’ instinctive reaction is to prevent or alleviate the child’s distress. Unfortunately, doing so can sometimes lead to deeper and longer-lasting misery in the future.

I have (accurately or not) read of cultures that don’t make any attempts to keep toddlers away from fire or sharp knives. The logic is that the child will learn an unforgettable lesson before doing serious harm. That wasn’t my philosophy of motherhood for my own two-year-olds.

At the same time, a trend I recently read about doesn’t fit my philosophy either. Thanks to the electronic social networks available to us today, mothers whose children are homesick and lonesome on college campuses or beginning their careers in an alien city are reaching out to other virtual strangers who are also moms, enlisting them to personally bring a care package, extend an invitation for dinner or offer a hug and supporting shoulder.

A Facebook group for parents of 15-25 year olds facilitates these connections, allowing mothers to connect and ask for help from mothers living in the locations where their children are. One side of this is lovely. Making connections and extending friendship to strangers speaks of the best of human nature. My question is if there is potential harm to the recipients of the gracious behavior.

Learning to solve one’s own problems is a vital marker in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Running into difficulties is an unalterable reality of life. Responding to those difficulties builds us into greater human beings while avoiding or succumbing to them leaves us weaker and smaller. Sitting alone in your dorm room while imagining everyone else surrounded by laughter and friends is miserable. If you mom’s “friend” knocks on the door with some donuts and coffee or sends her own daughter to meet you, you will be happier in the short run. But you won’t have grown. You won’t have learned to navigate the world and make your own way to a successful life.

I have done my share of getting off the phone with crying daughters who are in far away cities. It is tremendously painful to listen to a suffering child. Had “virtual mommies” been available at those times, would I have taken advantage of that fact? I don’t know. I think the question to ask is whether the message being sent and received is, “I know you’ll be fine and you’ll figure this out, but I want to send some love your way,” or “You don’t have the ability and tools to handle this so I’ll rescue you.” The answer to that question shines a spotlight on whether our focus is on making our children feel better or only ourselves.

I (Don’t) Wanna Shake Your Hand?

October 30th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 40 comments

Lately, almost whenever I meet salespeople and also socially, people extend their hand to shake. As a woman I do not want to shake strangers’ hands.

Recently a car salesman approached my husband and then me. I kept my hands behind my back and smiled at the salesman. He asked, “Do you not want to shake my hand?” I said I was in covenant with my husband and do not shake hands.

However, I do NOT want to hurt people’s feelings. Do you have a polite, kind way of avoiding the handshake without going into detail? I would appreciate a ‘tool’ for this new lunging intrusion.

Thank You,

Catherine

Dear Catherine,

We are fascinated by your question. When I (RDL) was growing up under the flag of the British Empire, there were definite protocols accepted by the entire society. It was a woman’s prerogative to choose whether to extend her hand to a man or not. For a gentleman to put his hand out first, reflected gaucheness and bad manners.

To this day, men about to be introduced to Queen Elizabeth II of England are warned not to extend their hands until and unless the Queen does so first.

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Say it Once, Say it Twice…

October 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

America built three big, bold and beautiful bridges during a period of only 6 years.  In 1931, the George Washington Bridge leaped the Hudson River and linked Manhattan to New Jersey.  That same year brought us the Bayonne Bridge linking Staten Island to New Jersey and in 1937 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened.

Three astounding inventions that changed our world each occurred about one hundred years apart from one another.  For thousands of years, until about 1750, the only way to make things move was with human muscle, animal muscle, wind or moving water. Then the steam engine appeared which could perform vastly more work than the work originally needed to  obtain the coal to fuel it.  For thousands of years the fastest way to communicate information was to send a man on a horse. About a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, in 1844, Samuel Morse sent an electronic message down a copper wire from the Capitol in Washington DC to Penn Station in Baltimore. In 1948 William Shockley at Bell Labs invented the transistor making possible the digital world we take for granted today.

Three revolutions help us understand the American War of Independence:  the English Civil War of 1643, the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The three previous paragraphs are intended to demonstrate a truism of successful speaking and writing. Our attention tends to be attracted and retained by a list of three items. I could have added the San Francisco  Oakland Bay Bridge to the first paragraph; it was opened in 1936. I could have added the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to the second paragraph.  I could have added the Mexican revolution of 1910 to my third paragraph. However, in each paragraph, I deliberately wanted three items.

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When Satire Becomes Reality

October 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

What adjective is associated with British humor—or humour, to spell it more appropriately? Surely, the answer is ‘dry,’ though other than saying that one knows it when one hears it, I’m not sure what the technical definition of dry humor is.

However you describe it, my husband is a master at it. For this reason I don’t get surprised when a rather large percentage of listeners to his podcast don’t recognize when his broadcast  is in parody mode. Our children and I have had our turns of belatedly realizing that our legs were being pulled with such craftsmanship that we had no idea we were participating in a parody.

Like many Jews, our family has just concluded a month full of holydays. We have spent an amazing amount of time praying, eating and enjoying the company of relatives and friends. The days between the holydays were filled with preparation for the next special day as well as trying to keep up with ministry and business on a three-day-workweek schedule. Between not wanting the external world to intrude on these festive days and not having enough hours for everything I needed to do on regular days, I spent much less time than usual following the news.

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My Mother-in-Law is Impossible

October 23rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 10 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,

Do you have some wisdom for me?  My mother-in-law has been a constant strain on our marriage.  To give an example:  This last weekend we made a special trip to an amusement park where we joined up with my in-laws.  While we were there,  my mother-in-law did everything she could to keep my husband from riding rides with my children or being around me. 

It went so far, that my mother-in-law spun the old story: about how she used to carry my husband around everywhere and she made him promise that he would one day carry her around.   After this retelling of the story,  she got him to carry her around like a bride crossing a threshold for 5 minutes.   🙁  In the amusement park.  🙁  In front of everyone.   🙁

I don’t know what to do. I have so many in-law stories it is ridiculous.   I keep making myself choose JOY because it is a choice.  At the same time however,  I would love to hear some teaching for me or me and my husband, on the topic of unhealthy in-laws and healthy in-laws.  This way maybe I  can be a good mother-in-law someday, and my husband and I can traverse this choppy ever recurring water. 

Signed,

Your friend

Dear Friend,

We absolutely love the way you are using a problem in your life as a springboard for training yourself for the future. The Bible repeatedly tells the children of Israel to be kind to the stranger “because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  Obviously, the Hebrews had little choice and didn’t want to be strangers in the land of Egypt but people still  can choose how to react when they are treated badly. Tragically, some take the attitude of “payback time,” looking to mistreat others as they were mistreated. You have cleverly and bravely adopted the Biblical response of using your own mistreatment to make you more sensitive to others.

Nonetheless, you and your husband do have a problem. However, it may not be the one you are thinking of. Let’s  focus on the phrase you used, “…she got him to carry her around…” As an adult, your husband made the decision to carry his mother around. Your mother-in-law may be difficult; she may be very difficult, but she probably did not whip out a pistol and force her son to do so. The problem is not your mother-in-law.  The problem is that you and your husband haven’t yet got onto the same page dealing with this problem as you most likely have for so many other issues in your married life.

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Yo Ho Ho – a Pirate’s Life for Me

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

In the early 1600s, Rabbi Samuel Palache, president of Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Amsterdam, was also a pirate.  With authorization from Dutch and British authorities, he preyed on Spanish ships. A hundred years earlier Spain had cruelly expelled his family, along with all other Spanish Jews.

I relate to the roving rabbi. For half the year, he lived aboard his boat, equipped with a kosher chef, in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.  Some of our most memorable family times have been aboard a boat, admittedly not in the Caribbean but off the coast of British Columbia. We don’t engage in piracy and our kosher chef is my wife. Still, my feelings about boat and ocean seem to confirm our family tradition that we descend from the tribe of Zevulun.

Zevulun will live on the seashore and boats will be his haven…
(Genesis 49:13)

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Stitch by Stitch

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

Quilting is not in my blood. I possess no antique quilts handed down through the generations nor do I have fond memories of my mother and aunts socializing as they pieced together a quilt top. Nonetheless, I have been hanging out in the fabric store, reading quilting magazines and dreaming about quilt patterns.

My interest was piqued by a fictional series based around a group of quilters. The books are just what I sometimes seek: enjoyable, non-violent, non-offensive reads that don’t engage me enough to keep me up too late at night. Perhaps knowing that my husband’s abiding passion for sailing was triggered by reading a series of children’s books while growing up in his land-locked hometown should have served as a warning to me, but it didn’t.

All this explains how I found myself at a class teaching hand quilting skills at a local sewing store.  In addition to a quilting lesson, I received a lesson about life.

Like most people, I surround myself with friends who make my life happier and more fulfilling. Heading into the class, I thought my budding hobby might provide a source of new friends, bonding over a shared interest. In reality, one woman’s personality dominated the class chitchat, and her comments left me with no interest in pursuing a relationship.

What happened? More than once during the class, her cell phone rang. Each time she looked around the room, grimaced and said, “It’s the little wretches again.” After dealing with whatever child was calling, she loudly complained at how needy, incompetent and time-consuming her children were. It was most uncomfortable.

I have read parenting advice, on occasion, that warns against calling children stupid, lazy or other negative names. Such sage guidance usually has me rolling my eyes. Who in the world, I think, needs to be told that? My mother certainly never spoke to me in such a derogatory tone. Yet, here, sitting next to me, was a woman who clearly needed such direction.

My quilting acquaintance probably loves her children and puts time, money and effort into providing for their needs. Maybe she doesn’t call them wretches to their faces or within their hearing, though I think it unlikely. When we accustom ourselves to certain language, we rarely can confine it to specific circumstances. She may even think she is being funny.  How mistaken.

Aside from being unpleasant, her behavior seemed anachronistic to me. Parents today are far more likely to lavish too much praise on their children rather than an abundance of insults. Yet the challenge of intentional, thoughtful parenting remains. We still have to think through the consequences of our interactions rather than reacting to our children and to situations. Whether it is exploding in anger or surrendering authority to a tiny despot (of one’s creation), whether it is abdicating parental responsibility and following whatever the crowd is doing or encasing one’s habits in concrete and exhibiting no flexibility whatsoever, it is easier to parent poorly than to parent well.  Sadly, unlike a quilt, stitches of a child’s soul and character aren’t easily removed and re-sewn.

Library Shaming?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 39 comments

I have an emotional attachment to libraries.  When I was young, our family didn’t have a car. Before I was old enough to travel by myself, my mother regularly took me on the bus to the library. I was a voracious reader and there was an absurd limit on the number of books one could take out so this trip was a frequent occurrence. 

Libraries stayed in my affection and my routine from that time on. As a homeschooling mom, our family was well known at our local branch. This should help explain why, despite the many momentous events happening in the United States and around the world that will impact millions of lives in frightening ways, I don’t see my concern this week as trivial. Retaining the structure of civilization no matter what turbulent  maelstroms are swirling around our cultural foundations not only keeps us better able to cope with life’s vicissitudes but actually affects the bigger picture as well. 

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She’s offering me security. Is that enough?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 34 comments

I am in my late 30s and not doing so well financially (but that’s absolutely about to change having come in contact with your teachings).

I am currently with a lady who is 5 years older than myself and doing pretty well for herself. Should I for financial security settle down with her even though I am not totally confident when I am with her in  public, or leave her and take my chances?

Francis H.

Dear Francis,

While we take great pride in our books, CDs and DVDs and our many other resources and we are elated about the many thousands whom they have benefitted, we’re afraid that we have to question your assumption that they will help you. We are not sure you are ready for them.

We say this because your letter reveals a very unmasculine passivity. One can be in his late 30s and go bald without having done anything to have caused that to happen. You can be in your late 30s and be less agile than you were at 18 even if you eat healthily and exercise. You don’t get close to 40 “not doing so well financially” without having taken some wrong steps in the past and having failed to take some very necessary right ones. Our resources, we feel, are superb but they are not magical elixirs— in order to be effective, and they can be stunningly effective, they need commitment, hard work and willingness to significantly change. Are you ready for that? Think seriously; are you really ready for that?

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