Monthly Archives: March, 2020

The Wrong Medicine?

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

The kids are not going back to school for the foreseeable future. If your family is smiling, laughing, physically active and relatively nutritiously fed, please pat yourself on the back. Every day is another triumph. But, if you will allow me, I diffidently would like to suggest that (some of) you might be making your life a little harder than necessary.

I’m talking to those of you who responded to news reports like this one, “Inevitably, children will be having more screen time,” with a huge, OH, YEAH! For many kids, schoolwork now demands hours online and with venues from opera houses to museums to astronauts reading stories from outer space, there are multiple educational and healthy resources available.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking. Maybe it is worth remembering that families who were quarantined during the horrific flu epidemic of the early 20th century had no recourse to digital entertainment. For most families, financial limitations ruled out large choices of games and toys as well. Paper, scissors and crayons, a bag of marbles and a homemade doll or truck somehow kept kids occupied. They had one more special ingredient—imagination.

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The Mysterious Traveller

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

In 2004, a beautiful blonde dropped out of Stanford University to start a biotech company she called Theranos. Before she was 21-years-old, she had raised hundreds of millions of dollars from some of America’s smartest and most sophisticated investors. These included ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch; and the Walton family, founders and owners of Walmart. Even then-vice-president, Joe Biden, toured Theranos and announced, “Talk about inspirational, this is inspirational.”

These investors weren’t deterred by articles questioning the technology of the company and the secretiveness of its founder. For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association was hardly reticent in expressing concern that Theranos was operating in “stealth mode”  and never published research in peer-reviewed medical journals. Their concerns were valid. Within a short space of time, Theranos was revealed as a scam and stupendous sums of money were lost.

How do smart people make such big mistakes?  This same question could be asked about all of us who have ever made bad mistakes with money, relationships or politics. It could be asked about every bright and intelligent person who carries regret for dreadful decisions.  Now, imagine if we possessed a foolproof ‘mistake monitor’ that could prevent us from making those egregious errors in life that end up being so costly.  Well, we do, but like all effective solutions, it is not a magic wand.  It takes hard work to deploy it in your life. Let’s begin.

Exodus 23:5, as usually translated, seems to be a straightforward verse:

If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under his burden,
you would refrain from helping him?— you shall surely help with him.

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Thinking of You

March 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

This has been a very strange week, certainly for many of you as well as for me. Somehow, a new normal is evolving. It includes not seeing children, grandchildren and friends in person but meeting them online. It means not going to the supermarket, and exercising via my computer rather than in the class that usually starts my day. It consists of a world that is at one and the same time slower yet more overwhelming. I am physically doing less, but my mind is running in a hundred different paths.

We, probably like you, know of people who are ill, in hospital and sadly, some who have lost their lives. We are living in times that the history books will describe. They will use the word plague, which previously for many of us privileged individuals was associated with the Exodus from Egypt or distant-sounding words like Bubonic or cholera. The financial stress is real and that will have long-reaching physical, psychological, emotional and political implications.

I recognize how fortunate we are to have technology that allows us to go beyond physical isolation. The library building is closed, but I can download books from there as well as other services. I am finding new choices as well as comfort-reading old favorites. Along with re-reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon series (I just finished Pigeon Post), this week, I read Lori Gottlieb’s new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It provided a fascinating look into the world of therapy. I am being incredibly moved by Abby Johnson’s book, Unplanned, and hope I have a chance to discuss it with you.

How are you doing? What is your new normal? What are you reading and how are you coping? We are thinking of and praying for you as we know that you are for us.

How can (the world and) I cope with so much stress?

March 26th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Hi Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

I remember that you’ve talked about dealing with anxiety and stress in previous ‘Ask the Rabbi’ columns, but I’m wondering if you have any more advice for what we are going through in today’s COVID-19 crisis?

Thanks,

Pamela T.

Dear Pamela,

You are right that we have written about stress and anxiety previously and you are also correct that there are special circumstances now. 

A crisis grips the globe and reverberates in our own homes and in the homes of everyone else.  Our own work and that of others have been curtailed and the resulting financial stress casts its own pall.  People we know and love are suffering from health complications and health workers are stressed.  There is more than enough to keep us awake at night.

Ancient Jewish wisdom gifts us with three timeless truths for troubling times.

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The Corona Cascade of Calamities

March 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Most of us are feeling some sort of anxiety and stress these days. We are worried about our health and the health of those we love. We are anxious about our jobs and businesses surviving. We are coping with either more people in one space than we are used to and/or not seeing enough of other people. 

Anyone who has lived for a few years knows that stress can cause an overreaction to the normal ups and downs of everyday life.  Often, when we behave towards someone we love in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed, our reaction stems from being over-stressed. A dish left on the table or a toy left on the floor leads to nasty words rather than a reasonable response.

This plays out in the workplace as well. In analyzing medical mistakes, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that stress was a primary cause of errors. Whether you are providing health care, car rides or ketchup, poor decision making is often the result of an anxious mind.

What is stress?  Psychology texts offer dozens of definitions but it’s mostly feeling that important aspects of your life are outside your control.  You lack time to do what you think must be done.  Fate is flinging circumstances at you for which you lack the resources.  Costs are climbing faster than your ability to increase revenue. 

Stress overwhelms you when you feel that you’re not in control of consequential developments in your life. Paradoxically this makes you less capable of making smart decisions and executing them. It is not surprising that the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have most of us feeling unstable.

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Are We In This Together?

March 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

“We’re all in this together,” is a rather contradictory phrase to use at a time when we are being exhorted to stay apart from each other. Nonetheless, the more widespread that sentiment, the more successfully we will weather this crisis.

I suspect that many of you, like me, vacillate between thinking that we, at community, state and country level, are dealing with this virus too leniently or alternatively in too draconian a fashion. I do not envy those making decisions. Nonetheless, I am concerned at social and governmental factors that belie the idea of one people pulling together in a tough time.

There have always been greedy, power-hungry and selfish people. Communities that could be loving and warm to those who fit in could also be indifferent or hostile to those who didn’t. However, I don’t think I am guilty of over-romanticizing the past in claiming that when doctors, storekeepers, teachers and mayors met the individuals they served in church, at Rotary and on the street, they actually saw them as individual human beings. When times were tough, those who had much helped those who had little. Those who had little helped those who had even less.

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How Do I Stop My Customers from Hoarding?

March 18th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 30 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan,

I run the general store in our small town and the coronavirus has impacted supplies of many things that people want. I recently got in a load of bathroom tissue from my wholesaler and three of my customers came in and between them cleaned me out. They bought it all. I know they are just hoarding it in their basements; it is far more than they usually purchase. I tried to argue with them and I explained that they please should not buy more than they need. When I said that I would limit it to one package per customer, one of them laughed in my face and said he’d just come back with all his cousins. (He has a huge family) This crisis is turning my neighbors into people I can barely recognize. And it’s not only toilet paper. 

Here’s my question. Can I raise prices to encourage people to buy only what they actually need and to stop hoarding? I’m frightened they’ll slander me as a price gouger. My supplier doesn’t know when my next shipment will arrive, and even worse, my supplier says that they don’t yet know what my price will be. So at the moment, I am selling merchandise for possibly less than I will need to pay to replace my inventory. 

Can I raise my prices?

Yours sincerely,

Joe F.

Dear Joe,

We sympathize with your predicament. There is little question that right now, greater suffering is being inflicted by fear, panic, and hysteria than by the virus itself. We do want to point out that while you have unfortunately seen some bad behavior, that is not universal. Our synagogue, along with many other groups in America, has organized phone trees to make sure that the elderly and those who live alone receive daily phone calls and have people shopping for and helping them. Even in supermarkets, we have seen examples of people helping each other. Unnerving times like this tend to exaggerate character traits and serve as a litmus test for all of us.

Let us examine your question through the lens of God’s word alone and try to ignore the cultural implications. There are harsh words in English that have been used for centuries to hurl slurs against business professionals. These include price gouger, slumlord, and profiteer. Occasionally they are legitimate charges leveled at people who are practicing business in styles not intended by God in His plan for human economic interaction. Other times they are used by sickly envious people imbued with socialistic thinking who flail about their own lack of industry by using these words to attack the more successful whom they envy.

The Biblical origin of our sense of morality when it comes to pricing goods is this verse: 

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3 Tips for Isolation and Quarantine

March 16th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

In a way that you neither anticipated nor planned for, your children are now home. All of them. All the time. In addition to that, there are added worries on your plate. Will your business/job survive this economic crisis? More importantly, will all your loved ones, including aging parents, be healthy and well? Will there be shortages…? Anxiety abounds.

Making things more complicated, libraries and other attractive venues are off-limits. Your children might have on-line learning organized by their schools or they might not. If the above scenarios don’t describe your city at the moment, they may very well in the next few days.

I’d like to share three tips from my daughter, Rebecca.  While four of her children homeschool, her two high-schoolers are now home as well. The tantalizing playground next door is off-limits as are the many friends with whom the family usually plays and the homeschool activities they usually attend.

  1. Children crave routine. Whether or not your children are expected to keep up with their studies, let them know that the day is not open and endless. The schedule will look different depending on the ages of your children as well as your own personality, but you will all benefit from knowing what time to get up, what chores are expected and when meals will be. Setting times for family reading, for a walk around the block, for crafts and for other activities will make life easier than having a laissez-faire attitude. For younger children, use pictures to share the schedule.
  2. Give Mommy-time to children before they feel the need for it. Pay attention to them before they demand that you do. If you start the day by giving your children your full focus, share time with them before you need to make a business phone call and offer yourself to them first rather than last, you will probably find that they are more willing and able to be on their own and let you have the time you need (in reasonable quantities) to do what you need to do by yourself.
  3. Keep your frustration and anxiety to yourself. Vent in your room and to a friend when you need to, but recognize that the most important lesson you may be providing for your children right now is how much you enjoy being with them. Let them see you rejoice in time spent together. When they are older, they will also look back with wisdom born of maturity and recognize that you modeled how to handle difficult times with grace, prayer and love.

Rebecca always makes a point of saying that each parent needs to know what works for him or her. If her words are helpful—use them. If at this point, they aren’t appropriate for you and yours—ignore them with confidence that you are the leader that God provided for your unique family.

Music, Marriage and Eternal Life

March 16th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat among a capacity crowd in a darkened auditorium.  I sat on the edge of my seat as, upon the stage, about a hundred young people between the ages of ten and seventeen played complex classical musical masterpieces with stunning perfection. The music by Beethoven, Bruch, and Mahler was being played by members of a city youth orchestra. It was the youth orchestra of one of America’s most deeply troubled cities.  Violent crime, high school drop-out rates, rampant drug use and the virtual abolition of normal family life plague this city.  Surviving somehow, in this desert of doom and destruction, were these children who devoted hours to honing their musical talents and their parents who made music lessons a priority despite competing pulls on their time and finances. There I sat in open-mouthed astonishment in a virtual oasis, surrounded by the parents and siblings as these young virtuosos played their hearts out on stage.

But wait! Was my sense of wonder really well placed?  In many parks and fields around that same city were plenty of other groups of young people.  They were playing football, soccer or basketball. Of those, quite a few were on teams playing proficiently.  Is there really any difference between being on a football team and playing in a youth orchestra?  Don’t they both require discipline, dedication, and teamwork?  Why be more amazed at music than basketball?  I asked myself whether there really is any true and objective reason to value participating in a youth orchestra more than participating in athletics and sports?

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Panic Isn’t Personal

March 12th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

Like most of you, I do not know how to assess the actual health threat of the Coronavirus while recognizing that much of the panic, economic and social damage is media and politically driven. Panic hit my town today, with markets overflowing as customers stocked up in preparation either for being quarantined or for shortages. At the same time, friends and families co-ordinated, recognizing that we can share resources. Sharing a laugh—even a nervous one— and scheduling virtual activities for children sent home from closing schools makes it easier to deal with the unexpected.

Yet, today, many individuals around the world have few friends. A singular focus on career leaves little time for establishing families, building community on the local level, or for keeping up with relatives and childhood buddies. A few years back I wrote the following and it is as true or truer today.

What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in honor of our nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite a lot.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of studying a specific portion of God’s word. (For a deeper understanding of a siyum see chapter 50 in Thought Tools Volume 1.) In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known Yosef’s teacher since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books.  In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as government grows bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more government expands, the more the private sector must shrink.  The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support.  As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can transfer or redistribute money and services, but not heart. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker.  It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient while stopping you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is increasingly devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other.  The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives. 

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

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