Posts by slapin

The No-Musing Musing

January 23rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

This may be the shortest Susan’s Musings I have yet written. I love writing and I love the links that my writing forge between us. I feel like I know those of you who frequently comment even though we have never met in person, and I am thrilled when some of you come up to me at events where my husband or I are speaking—or even at the airport.

I have often written about homemaking and building a family being a full-time-job. This week has served as a confirmation. On Sunday, I pulled out my recipe files and planned dinners for the week. Tonight will be the first one we are actually eating.

Our children are grown, and we are blessed to live near many of those adults and their own little ones. This week, while I did what I could, I also turned down a few requests for help and, after offering rushed good wishes, I wasn’t able to stay and celebrate with our nine-year-old birthday girl.

I won’t even mention laundry and tidying, but I have also not had the chance to join my husband for a quick chat or drive. I haven’t caught up with all our further-away children by phone or paid attention to my friends. 

What have I been doing? Working, of course. Now, my work is in our ministry and done largely from home which means that I am feeling only a tiny percent of the tug-of-war that many women feel when they head out to their jobs in the morning. I also believe that my work is important and consequential. Even so, while I am incredibly excited about two projects on which I am working, I’m not happy that pretty much everything else has gone by the wayside—including having time to think about and compose a Musing.

(In just a few days we will be telling you about how you can participate in our online Master Class, based on updating our 1999 book, America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival. I hope to share about the 2nd project shortly thereafter.)

Thank you for your patience.

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PAL – Parents Against Leeches

January 19th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 2 comments

No matter what brought you to his office, your doctor has probably not prescribed leeches or blood-letting. Thinking of those once-common medical remedies may even make you question whether George Washington and others might have survived longer without medical assistance.

That doesn’t mean that the medical advice we get today is necessarily foolproof. Yes, there have been innumerable advances, but new challenges arise and medicine is a field that is constantly developing. How does a parent decide to listen to medical direction or to ignore it?

I was thinking of this when re-reading Small Steps by Peg Kehret.  The author tells her story of contracting polio in 1949 when she was in seventh grade. It is a book worth sharing with our pre-teens and teenagers both as a depiction of a polio epidemic that, thankfully, we no longer see and as an evocative piece of writing. As a mother, one section particularly resonates with me.

Shortly after Peg was first diagnosed and hospitalized, she was running a fever. Worried about dehydration, the nurses encouraged her to drink. After she aspirated some soda, they restricted her to water and juice. However, largely from fear of aspirating again and being put in an iron lung, Peg barely swallowed anything. Day after day, her parents watched her grow weaker. Finally, they asked Peg if there was anything she would like to drink and she responded, “A chocolate milkshake.”

The nurse on duty told Peg’s parents that she was forbidden to have either milk or ice-cream as they would cause her to choke. The nurse held up the specter of their daughter choking to death because of their actions. Her parents responded that they were watching her slowly die anyway and went out and got her a milkshake. Within an hour of sipping the shake, Peg’s temperature dropped and she began her road to recovery.

I know that we now have IVs and that if parents today tried to behave in that way, social services would be called. But I still find myself asking if I would be so confident that expert advice was wrong and able to accept responsibility for ignoring it. This question isn’t limited to medical advice. We are besieged by authorities ranging from politicians to psychologists to schools pronouncing what is best for our children and families. Sometimes they are right; oftentimes they are wrong.

Here is my blessing to parents. May God guide you to have the humility to listen to advice and the wisdom and courage to know when to pay attention and when to ignore it.

She Said – He Said: A Tale of Lizzie and Bernie

January 15th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 34 comments

Little Lizzie and Bernie had a playground spat.

“He said that I couldn’t  be president because I’m a girl.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Did not,”  and so on and so forth.

I’m sure some advice in the kindergarten teacher manual recommends how to deal with “he said”-“she said” arguments, but here’s a memo to these presumed grown-ups acting like overgrown toddlers.

You both sound ridiculous!

In the long-ago distant past when I was a child (it wasn’t actually that long ago, but the memory of college-educated American seems to be about ten-minutes-long these days) there was a popular riddle.

“A child is rushed into the operating room after being in a car accident.”

“The surgeon enters the operating room and exclaims, ‘I can’t operate. This is my son.’”

The surgeon is not the boy’s father. How can that be?

The incredibly elusive answer was that the surgeon was the child’s mother.

Have you heard that riddle being told lately? Neither have I. The instant response today would be, “Duh – it’s his mother.” (Or maybe, “Duh, it’s his stepmother or his other dad or….”) Female physicians are part and parcel of the landscape rather than an aberration. Someone should tell that to Senators Warren and Sanders.

Somewhere between my childhood and today, I recall reading—and being terribly annoyed— by an article about women in Congress in Good Housekeeping magazine. If memory serves me, either Senator Susan Collins (Republican, Maine, 1997-present) or Senator Olympia Snowe (Republican, Maine, 1995-2013) spoke of feeling a sisterhood with her female Democrat colleagues to the point of being more likely to support legislation proposed by one of them. I was indignant. Senators are supposed to represent ideas, not gender affiliation. If anything, those words made me less likely to vote for a female, not more. I want my elected officials to examine, analyze and vote based on the legislation itself, not based on feelings of kinship with the person bringing it to the table.

I had a similar negative reaction to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s words while campaigning for Hillary Clinton, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” If women vote based on such foolish criteria then we should re-examine whether they indeed deserve the vote in the first place. Even Ms. Albright doesn’t mean what she says. Had, for example, Nicky Haley been running on the Republican ticket we can be pretty sure that she wouldn’t have advocated sisterhood. Sarah Palin certainly did not get the support of woke women just for having an  Xtra chromosome.

Here’s the rub. All three Senators I mentioned (Warren, Snowe, and Collins), as well as Ms. Albright, are—how to put this tactfully?—on the older side. Their age is showing. Any assumption that a substantial portion of Americans would not vote for a woman is highly anachronistic. Elizabeth Warren is out-of-touch with reality in many ways. Channeling victimhood for being a woman is one embarrassing example.

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Hocus Focus: Wave Those Priests

January 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Artist Jacob Kurtzberg, later known as Jack Kirby, once told an interviewer that he was inspired to create the comic book character The Incredible Hulk after seeing a mother lift a car off her injured child.

Though I do not know that this was the event Kirby witnessed, the Associated Press reported a 1982 incident in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in which Angela Cavallo freed her teenage son, Tony, who was crushed when a Chevy Impala he had been working on fell off its jacks. She lifted the vehicle enough for neighbors to pull Tony to safety.

I’ve heard so many accounts of people driven to superhuman feats of strength that I knew this must be well researched. Sure enough, in 1961 the Journal of Applied Physiology published a study entitled “Some Factors Modifying the Expression of Human Strength.” Apparently, certain drugs, hypnosis and yelling are among the stimuli that can temporarily boost human muscular strength by over 30%.

Wouldn’t it be useful to discover a way in which those of us who prefer not to indulge in psychotropic drugs or undergo hypnosis can nonetheless boost our strength?

Let’s glance at several Biblical feats of strength:

And Aaron shall wave the Levites….

The Levites purified themselves…and Aaron waved them…
(Numbers 8:11 and 21)

Ancient Jewish wisdom makes a point of noting that Aaron actually lifted and waved a large number of Levites. If Aaron only waved half the 22,000 Levites mentioned in Numbers 3:31, he would have had to lift and wave one adult male approximately every five seconds during about twelve hours of daylight. In the face of this almost unbelievable feat of strength and endurance, you would have expected to see the waving portrayed as some sort of spiritual metaphor that would have made the entire account plausible. Yet it insists that Aaron, and only Aaron, was capable of this feat.

Similar discussions surround other feats of strength. Jacob singlehandedly rolled a massive stone off the mouth of a well, a stone that usually required many men to move it. (Genesis 29:8-10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Jacob accomplished this task as easily as one removes a cork from a bottle.

Moses carried a heavy pair of stone tablets down steep Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 34:4)

In all these examples, oral transmission makes no attempt to dismiss the stories as metaphors. Instead, we are instructed to read them literally in order to gain a glimpse into God’s guide to life that can help us all in our own lives right now and right here.

What is the secret? It is focus! That’s right, just focus. As a child, did you ever play with a magnifying glass? Holding it just right would focus the sun’s rays into a blazingly bright spot that could melt plastic and burn wood.

Similarly, focusing all of our mental and physical energy can allow us to achieve astonishing results. Jacob was utterly focused on supplying Rachel’s need for water. Moses was utterly focused on bringing God’s Torah to the Israelites. And, yes, Aaron was utterly focused on worshipping God in exactly the way He instructed. Utter focus confers the gift of superhuman strength and endurance.

There are ways to train ourselves to focus. The martial arts expert’s blood-curdling yell as he strikes out is an example of one way. For most of us the goal is not smashing bricks or lifting up huge boulders but it is tackling the things we should do diligently and effectively. This can be done with focus.

Ancient Jewish wisdom regards the opposite of focus as laziness.

The field (work) of the lazy man is covered with thorns, dilapidated and overgrown.
(Proverbs 24:30-31)

In a world that dangles distractions, focusing on being able to focus is a necessary first step.  Start by devoting a few minutes before the start of each workday to drawing on God’s limitless strength by studying His word. Keep yourself on track by making a physical mark on paper each time you interrupt what you are doing to pick up your phone, check e-mail or succumb to the siren call of technology. By doing that day after day, you will accustom yourself to using those amazing tools deliberately rather than as a tool of disruption or procrastination.

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Happy Anniversary!

January 13th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A year ago, our daughter Rebecca began a What’s App group to share her thoughts on Torah and Parenting. Over the year, I have shared many of her teachings with Practical Parenting readers after editing them to make them available to those without a strong Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom background. I hope you enjoy her reflections on this anniversary.

Before I started this group I was feeling stuck.  I love teaching Torah, and I love teaching parenting, but I was so busy in the throes of parenting, working, and running a home, that I didn’t have time to teach any classes.  When I thought about waiting until all my kids were out of the house to begin teaching again, I was disheartened.  Frankly, I didn’t want to wait another 15 years to do something that is so important to me, and I also thought that at the pace the world is changing, in 15 years my perspectives on parenting may well be out of date and irrelevant. So I felt stuck.

Ironically, I felt barred from teaching Torah and parenting because I was taking my parenting so seriously that it filled up my days and I knew I didn’t have time to give to others or teach Torah to others.  I didn’t like feeling stuck.

That is when I realized that I can do what’s important to me – I can teach Torah and parenting, if I do it in bite sized chunks of a few minutes at a time only on the days that my life allowed me. This group was born.  Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone would join, and mostly I didn’t even care – I was doing this because this is what I wanted to do with my life!  On January 1, 2019, I shared the link with my sisters and a few friends—I really didn’t think most people would be interested.  But I was wrong.  In addition to being blessed by doing what I truly love, there is now a group of well over 200 women learning together about Torah and parenting.

I’ve been blessed with reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.  I’ve been inspired and blessed by friends who don’t have children, who listen and comment. I’m greatly inspired by grandmothers who have such vast experience in their own parenting lives who listen and graciously reach out to me.   I’ve been incredibly blessed by friends of my mother who listen and tell me I occasionally remind them of my mother and grandmother teaching Torah.  I’ve been blessed by each one of you who reach out to let me know that something I’ve said has touched you or resonated with your life.

I think there are things we all feel stuck about.  Goals that we once had, or may still have that we give up on, because life is too full and busy, to live our secondary dreams as well as our primary dreams of our homes and families.  And I’m sharing my story to encourage you not to give up, but to think of ways to reframe your goals in ways you can incorporate into your life as it is today.  I can’t possibly commit to teaching a regular class now, but on the days I have time, I can prepare a short Torah thought and it’s more than enough for me right now!  Maybe you also have a dream, a goal that you thought was out of reach.  Maybe, today is the day to brainstorm what is really important to you and whether you can change the scope or size of your dream to fit your world today.

Last January 1st,  I suggested we take time to brainstorm and take notes about our children’s development, physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially.  Today, I’m suggesting that we take the time to do that for ourselves.  If there is any way you can squeeze half an hour out of the day today, let’s use it to really think deeply about these questions.  What do I value most of all?  What arouses my passion?  What brings me joy?  What small step can I take today to bring me more in alignment with my deepest values? 

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go

January 9th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

For thirty years, Sue Shellenbarger has been writing the Work and Family column for the Wall Street Journal and I have always enjoyed reading her words. This past week, she penned a farewell article summing up what she sees as advances for working parents as well as areas where she sees problems looming.

I found the piece depressing. Perhaps the sidebar to the article helps to explain why. It highlighted four questions asked of mothers and fathers in a recent poll. They were asked if:

Being a working parent:

  • Makes it harder to advance in your job or career.
  • Has created a need to reduce your work hours.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at work.
  • Has caused you to turn down a promotion.

In each of these four questions, the percentage of mothers answering in the positive is larger than that of the fathers. This seems to present an underlying problem for Ms.Shellenbarger, revealing that things haven’t advanced as much as she would like over the past thirty years.

I come from a different perspective. I wouldn’t see it as an advance for the answers to be more 50/50. I actually would have liked to see the questions phrased differently.

Being a working parent

  • Makes it harder to devote the time needed to being as good a parent as you would like to be.
  • Has created a need to reduce your time with your children.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at home.
  • Has caused you to turn down participating in important events, like family meals, with your children.

I think the best world is one in which a man and a woman (married to each other) support themselves and their children financially, emotionally and spiritually. The most important thing isn’t being able to manage having children without interfering with one’s paid work, but being able to juggle everything as a family. I see it as a step back to assume that the largest chunk of both parents’ time should go towards their careers and the role of government and  business is to enable that to happen.

There are all sorts of reasons for mothers to work. Some women have a passion or talent that they want to express. Others are working because they need the money. That doesn’t mean that they hate their jobs or get no satisfaction from their work. It is important to make the best of our circumstances. Yet, I suspect that many working women would have a passion for building a home and raising a family were that to be socially acceptable, esteemed and economically feasible. They don’t need universal access to cheaper childcare or stronger maternity and paternity leave policies or women being given an advantage when looking for a job so that companies can boast (or meet requirements) for gender-equity. What would serve them (and most children) would be a return to a society that views a married couple having children as the preferred norm and enables that choice. If women do choose to work, rather than being forced to do so for economic reasons, perhaps they might willingly and thoughtfully turn down a promotion or reduce work hours rather than being compelled to do so by an unbending work environment. Returning to a society that values the work involved in creating a home and raising a family as well as participating in an active community and neighborhood life would meet their needs.

Yes, times have changed and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Yet, I don’t see women, men or children being happier and healthier today. Instead we see a rising rate of anxiety, depression and suicide. Is this related to our “improvements” in facilitating divorce, single motherhood and career-oriented women? Is suggesting that we can “have it all” leading to more satisfied lives or just to more unhappiness and resentment? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I think the question is worth examining before we assume that continuing on that path is the only way to go. 

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It’s Fettuccini, Not a Kidney by Randy Weiss

January 8th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Jim Weiss’ recordings are among my favorite homeschooling and mothering resources. For decades, this master storyteller’s work, produced with his wife Randy, have been favorite gifts for our children and now grandchildren. They range from CDs or downloads meant for four-year-olds to those that are more suitable for high school and up. If you aren’t familiar with do yourself a favor and check it out.

Every other month, Jim and Randy send out an e-magazine telling of appearances, new products and specials. Randy has her own column and graciously gave me permission to share her most recent offering, a piece that I loved. You can also access previous essays on the website. 

It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I was two hours from home for a variety of appointments. The emotional payoff for the day was that I could go to the community’s local Whole Foods (often referred to as my “Mother-Ship”). I wanted to pick up our favorite brand of eggs, challah, rye bread, and fish. And then something special for dinner.

I found myself in the fresh pasta section and I could instantly picture Jim and me savoring Fettucini Alfredo. Adjacent to the pasta section was the beverage bar, and behind it was the pasta guy. He was waiting on a young women with 3-year old twins in a double stroller who drew me into an intriguing and adorable baby conversation. The twins were charming entertainment as I waited for an exceptionally long time for their mom to make her purchases.

Finally, the pasta guy came rushing over and slipped behind the pasta counter and apologized profusely for the wait. He went on to say that his work partner was nowhere to be found and how he hates to keep people waiting. I appreciated his customer care ethics but my immediate response was, “It’s fettucini, not a kidney.” His frazzled demeanor suddenly relaxed and he laughed and agreed with me as we engaged in a discussion about working with the public and dealing with all sorts of personalities and expectations.

I often refer to my fettucini/kidney quote in my own mind. It’s important to consciously acknowledge what is important and what is not. I am not the most patient person in the world-all the more essential for me to work on this characteristic. Sometimes I rush around like a chicken with its head cut off and in those instances, waiting for service can seem unbearable. That’s when I need to reign myself in and choose to slow down and be patient.

It’s all about perception and perspective, isn’t it?

In my experience most issues heat up or calm down depending on how we view the situation. I have come to realize that ones’ perspective and perception can both be influenced by a choice to be in the here and now and in the process be grateful that “It’s fettuccini not a kidney”.

The Gift of Deprivation

January 6th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 5 comments

One of our darling daughters (henceforth DD) recently told me the following story.

DD had taken four of her daughters, ages 5-11, clothing shopping. When she was checking out, the store proprietor pointed to a bowl of chocolate coins and told her that each chocolate had a discount coupon inside the wrapper. Picking one, our daughter received a percentage off her purchases and was left with a circle of chocolate about one inch in diameter.

DD proceeded to give each of her girls a ¼ of the chocolate coin, and they responded by thanking her. She was rather astonished to find the store owner gaping at her. “I’ve never seen that,” the owner said. DD actually didn’t know what she was talking about, so the woman explained that mothers shopping with children tended to fall into two categories. One group pocketed the chocolate making sure that their children didn’t see it, while the other group was besieged by children complaining about how small the chocolate was, or each particular child whining about why she should get the whole coin. Tears, rudeness and whining were not unknown. Frequently, the mother ended up promising more chocolate to everyone. In the best scenario, the children simply gulped down the chocolate.

This story brought to mind a friend, now married for many decades, who had a rather rough adjustment in his newlywed phase. Brought up in an upper-middle-class home, he and his siblings had separate bedrooms. He never went to sleep-away camp nor did he dorm at college. After he married, he was shocked to discover that his wife (and new roommate) expected to have a say in what the bedroom looked like and even had clothing and other items that demanded closet and dresser space.

Loving parents want to give their children everything. Doing so, however, means that they are not giving them the gift of deprivation. In general, my husband prefers teaching adults to children. He once made an exception and agreed to learn with an American boy approaching the bar-mitzvah age of thirteen. At their first meeting, in an attempt to break the ice, my husband shared an exciting story from one of his safaris in Africa. The response he got was heartbreaking. At twelve, this boy was completely jaded. The son of very wealthy parents, he had been everywhere and done everything. The proceeds of a garage sale of his possessions probably would have yielded enough money to support the average American family for a month.

Some of us who grew up wearing hand-me-downs may get a thrill in buying our children new clothing. If a highlight of our childhood was seeing a performance on ice, we may want to make that an annual outing for our own children. Maybe we only read library books and can think of nothing greater to give our kids than crisp, new books.

If they fit in our budget, here is absolutely nothing wrong with new clothing or books or expensive family outings. Certainly, much that I take for granted, my grandparents would have seen as luxuries. Yet, in one way or another, each of us should make sure to never give so much to our children that a small gift or pleasure cannot be appreciated.

Worry Less About anti-Semitism

January 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

Was the attack in Monsey, NY, on December 29, 2019, an anti-Semitic attack? How about the increasingly frequent attacks on Hasidic Jews, as happened recently in Jersey City or the numerous incidents that are taking place in Borough Park, NY, or the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, 2018, or the synagogue attack in Poway, California in April, 2019?  The answer is both yes and no.

Yes, these are anti-Semitic attacks because the victims are easily identified as Jews and the words shouted and backgrounds of the attackers reveal that they chose their victims for this very reason. So why do I say that the answer is also no? That is what I intend explaining in this Musing. This is a difficult piece for me to write. There is absolutely no way in which I can treat the topic comprehensively .  Furthermore, there are many ways  in which my words could inadvertently hurt. I intend this, ideally, as a starting point for discussion rather than a finished piece. I am writing it because America is in crisis. If the American experiment fails, Jews around the world will be among those who will suffer, but in no way will they be the only casualties. My hope is that my words—and those my husband added while editing—might clarify the struggle.

Anti-Semitism—which I’m defining as singling out Jewish people for hatred— has existed since at least the generation of Jacob and Esau. Jacob received the covenantal blessing and continued the spiritual line of Abraham and Isaac. His brother Esau and Esau’s descendants, especially grandson Amalek, swore enmity to their cousins. One of the reasons that anti-Semitism is such a phenomenon  is because the Jewish people are eternal. Other people and nations eventually exit the stage of world history, but the Jews endure. We also spread out around the world as prophesied in Genesis 28:14. This means that Jews constantly maintain their presence as targets of  hatred, year after year, decade after decade, century after century and millennia after millennia. Amalek too has a spiritual component, but this destructive identity rests on different people and different nations at different times.

This spiritual dimension does not in any way legitimize  the hatred, however it does point to the fact that there is an unnatural and spiritual makeup both to the survival of the Jewish family and to the hatred of it. Any analysis of anti-Semitism that does not take this spiritual component into account is going to be lacking. For example, the great historian Paul Johnson wrote an excellent piece about anti-Semitism in 2005, yet he neglected the spiritual underpinnings. He recognizes that the hatred is irrational saying, “I would call it [anti-Semitism] an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.” Understandably, as a historian, he didn’t discuss God’s unique relationship with the Jews and how this affects anti-Semitism as well.

However, many open-minded students of history would conclude that God has a covenant with the Jews and that because of that covenant no matter how many are murdered, as a people we do and will survive. That covenant also means that God holds us to a strict standard and, as He promises and warns in Leviticus 26, how we behave results in things going well for us or in great tragedies befalling us. Is this blaming the victim? No, it  is reality. Often the victim is indeed complicit in his own misfortune.

As Mr. Johnson articulates, nations that succumb to the hysteria of anti-Semitism end up being diminished themselves.  Whether we  consider  ancient Egypt or Rome or whether we  talk of Spain in the late 1400s or Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany or Islamic  countries today, God does, to paraphrase Genesis 12, curse those who curse his people. When God wishes to punish his children, He doesn’t need anyone’s assistance. Those eager to kill Jews who rush in saying, “Me, me, I’ll wield the sword,” and volunteer to be the instrument of punishment end up suffering even to the point of disappearing.

However, this does not let the Jews off the hook either. If we were faithful to God, no person or nation on earth could or would touch us. However, this refers to the people as a whole, not to individuals. In most generations, a minority are faithful while many more fail in that task or even actively  rebel. We  had to wander in the desert for forty years so a generation could die out before entering the land of Israel under Joshua’s leadership! The rejection of God’s will featured throughout the book of Judges did not cease when Biblical times passed.

Much ink has been spilt in trying to define who is a Jew. Are we a genetic group, a nation, an ethnicity, a religion? The baffling answer is all of those and also none of the above. The best I can offer is that there is a spiritual link marking those whose ancestors stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai (and ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the ancestors of all converts to Judaism were there as well) that is incredibly difficult to shatter.

Nazi Germany declared that having one Jewish grandparent made you eligible for extermination. Were you raised as a Christian with Christian parents? That was irrelevant. Yet it touched a truth. People consider themselves Jews and are considered by others to be Jews no matter what their beliefs or whether there is any relationship between them and the Torah or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sometimes, the only relationship there is goes back generations or it is one of brazenly rejecting God’s presence in their lives. Other times there is intense fealty to one portion of God’s message but a spurning of the whole picture. Whether one is ignoring the guiding principles governing the relationship between man and God or man and his fellow man, this picking and choosing doesn’t end well. 

Jews are meant to be a light unto the nations and they were given powerful tools with which to influence the world. Here is the catch: those tools can be misused to influence the world in the wrong direction as well. Let me offer an example my husband uses based on an idea taught to him by his uncle, one of the 20th century’s prominent rabbis. Someone riding a bicycle can stumble and fall. He will harm himself but no others. Most often, the damage to his body will be minor. That same individual  who has an accident in a car can be more severely injured and can also injure others. He can go further and more comfortably than on a bicycle, but the downside is more serious as well. What happens if we now envision the individual piloting a commercial plane?  He can transport himself and hundreds of others to locations thousands of miles away quickly and comfortably. Yet, an accident is likely to cause the death of everyone on board. In the same way, fire is a powerful force for good as well as for destruction and nuclear power can do both more good and more harm than fire can. Jews are the nuclear power of the world, both for good and for bad. As a group Jews are intensely involved in the entire mosaic of both human greatness and human failing.

The United States of America is a unique and amazing country for reasons that do not belong in this essay. One of the reasons it has achieved such greatness and has been such a  blessing to the world is the safe haven and many opportunities it has offered its Jewish population. Yet those same Jews that have helped propel the country to greatness also have among their number  those who have been encouraging secular socialistic  policies that, if unchecked, will destroy America. Jews have been both a light to the nation and a heart of darkness. That is how  spiritual reality works: it is a powerful tool for good and a powerful tool for bad. 

People as disparate at President John Adams and historian Thomas Cahill recognized that ideas that civilized people share such as the value of each and every human life, justice that neither tilts toward or against the rich or the poor, and the importance of education entered mainstream thought through God’s chosen people. As a vessel for God’s wisdom, the Jewish people are invaluable. Yet, individuals are as human as members of all other groups. It would be nice, but completely unrealistic to assume that external religiosity is a foolproof indicator of goodness, but it isn’t. Many of those Jews who contributed great scientific, economic and social gains were a generation or two removed  from  Torah observance. There is no Moses or prophet available today to vet our thoughts and actions telling us if we are on the right track or heading  for doom. But, we all can and must do our best to measure ideas against an unchanging moral code and beware those who seek to replace God’s vision with their own.

When anti-Semitism is unleashed, those most easily identifiable as Jews often suffer the most. As an example, Leon Trotsky was one of many Jews in his generation who abandoned the faith of his fathers, embracing Bolshevik atheism in the early 20th century. As part of this rejection of his religious heritage he changed his name from the Jewish-sounding Bronstein to Trotsky. His motivation may well have been a belief that religion, economic differences and nationalities separated people and were obstacles to a utopian society. Even the best motivation does not shield anyone from horrific unintended consequences. The Russian revolution he  helped foment did not lead to peace on earth as promised and, in fact, it led to tremendous persecution against the Jews and the deaths of innocent millions. A story relates that when the chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Jacob Maze, appealed to Trotsky to speak out against that anti-Semitism (and was rebuffed), the rabbi said, “Trotsky makes the revolutions and the Bronsteins pay the bills.”  In other words, Jews who revolt against God and His Torah initiate actions that result in tragedies for the Jewish people. When that happens, those most recognizable as Jews are often the first to pay the price. For this reason Hasidic Jews (often mistakenly referred to in the press as “ultra-Orthodox) and a Reform Temple in Pittsburgh are both targets.

However, I think it is a dangerous mistake to fixate on these attacks as anti-Semitic. Doing so suggests that they should be dealt with in isolation from similarly deadly attacks on churches, on concert-goers in Las Vegas, attacks on white people by black hooligans or on colored individuals by neo-Nazis, or on Amish schoolchildren or first-graders in a public school.

It is long overdue that we Jews stop viewing ourselves in an isolated way as victims in America.  A Barnard College student was murdered by vicious thugs in Manhattan just at the time of the Jersey City massacre. A Texas church was shot up at the same time as the recent Monsey attack.  It is not as if every non-Jewish citizen is living in a cloistered cocoon of tranquility, and only we Jews suffer.

Liberalism, promoted, encouraged, and financed by too many Jews for the past fifty years has, over the years morphed into Leftism. The overwhelming majority of individuals supporting those ideas did so with benevolent motivation and the desire to help make a better society. Yet, taken to an excess, as it has been, this has largely been responsible for the collapse of civilized conduct on the streets of American cities. Today, the more Leftist a city and the more secular, the more anti-Biblical behavior is tolerated including assault and murder.  Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle do not even take sensible precautions to prevent human excrement on the sidewalks.

It is not hard to see that there are more acts of violent anti-Semitism and violence in general in New York and Chicago than in Dallas and Salt Lake City, cities in which the restraints of religion still exert cultural sway and where liberal Democrat ideas have not been in charge for over more than four decades.  The far-Leftists (including both non-Jews and Jews) increasingly in control of the Democratic Party even shamefully refuse to condemn the openly anti-Semitic members in their ranks. As ancient Jewish wisdom predicts, those who show kindness without the balancing arm of firmness and rules as instructed by God, end up inflicting cruelty. Over many  years, Jews and non-Jews whose values have been sculpted by secular fundamentalism blame all manner of causes rather than taking an honest look at the failures of the policies they supported that have led to suffering for so many.

Jews who do strive to follow Torah rules are not guiltless either. Too many have assumed that as long as they have their own schools and communities, the precipitous decline in civilization didn’t really impact them.  This latter group needs to join the general outrage at the collapse of the culture which has been going on for half a century rather than maintaining a parochial focus on anti-Semitism. Yes, there are very disturbing attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, but to pretend that the mind-addled predators that attacked Jersey City or the mad Monsey murderer are avid followers of the rabid writings of Joseph Goebbels is to miss the point.

As difficult as it is to understand or accept, many of those who led and participated in torturing and murdering Jews under the Nazi regime were decent husbands, fathers, professionals and members of their community. That is not so for today’s anti-Semites. It’s not as if absent their Jew-hatred, the attackers in Pittsburgh, Monsey or Jersey City were model citizens.  At the present time Jews are collateral damage rather than the bullseye of the target in the collapse of American civilization at the hands of secular Leftism. 

If you wake up one morning to find that the food in your fridge is spoiled, the lights won’t go on and your house is freezing, it would be a futile mistake to call a refrigerator repairman, an electrician and a heating company. You might look around and see that your neighbors are having the same difficulties as you are. The problem isn’t personal but a massive breakdown of your city’s electric grid. Expending money and effort on the symptoms isn’t going to solve the problem.

America has a systemic problem. About half its populace rejects the Judeo-Christian values and founding principles on which the nation was built. Effort expended on dealing with the symptoms, among them anti-Semitism, rather than on recognizing the source of the problem may serve as a band-aid but will not be effective on a large scale.

Did the attacks in Monsey or in Borough Park or Pittsburgh target Jews? Yes. Are proclamations against anti-Semitism, the dangerous focus on hate crimes, getting increased funding for security or political posturing the answer? None of these popular prescriptions are solutions to the problem.

What can we do? Certainly, prayer and repentance are elements, but action is necessary as well. Each American needs to take a stand in today’s world. To do so, we need to be informed and being informed today means searching for information as the media is untrustworthy. 

In 1999, my husband and I wrote a book, America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival. It was a best-seller and stirred great response, both positive and hateful. The American Alliance of Jews and Christians is one of the outgrowths of the book as it argued that Jews and Christians must come together, not theologically, but politically.  It attempted to answer the question of why Jews were so liberal when so many liberal policies were either in rejection of God or with complete unawareness of the reality of unintended consequences. The book pre-dated 9/11 and so many other historic changes in the world. It is time to bring it up to date so it may serve as a tool in today’s battles.

We are considering a 15-week-series discussing and updating the book as well as joining together to find solutions to today’s problems. Make sure you are on our mailing list so that you will hear as details become available. Head to Friends of Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin on Facebook, comment on this Musing or shoot an email to  to let us know of your interest.

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Caveat Parente!

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

If your five-year-old cannot translate the above title or write an essay about the play on words with the better know phrase ‘caveat emptor,’ perhaps you should hold off sending him or her to kindergarten.

Ok. I’m exaggerating. But if an article in Psychology Today reflects current trends, I am not off by much. The article focuses on the anguish of kindergarten teachers as they are instructed to treat their young students in ways that they, especially those teachers with years of experience, feel damages the little ones psychologically and educationally.

These teachers speak of pressure from the government (Common Core) via the administration insisting that they do age-inappropriate activities in their classrooms. They find themselves needing to ignore the tears, frustrations and growing hatred towards learning that they are seeing. The teachers’ other option is to quit their jobs.

There are many reasons why too many of America’s schools drastically fail those they are supposed to be serving, whether we are speaking of elementary, middle, high school or college. At the same time, as a society we are encouraging parents to put their children into organized, structured groups at earlier and earlier ages. It is not unusual today for kindergarten to be a youngster’s third, fourth of even fifth year of day care or schooling.

We can certainly get involved and try to solve society’s ills. However, as parents, our first responsibility is to those lives we brought into the world. We cannot afford for our motto to be, “See no evil; hear no evil.” Our eyes must be open and we need to be ready to act.  The onus is on us to know whether those teaching our children nod in agreement to the horrific comments below the article. Are we harming or helping our children by sending them off to school? Isn’t that an important question to ask?

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