Posts by slapin

Parents Living in Fear

July 12th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

I often stand in awe of Israeli technology. This tiny country is the source of an unusual number of innovative, life-improving and life-saving techniques. However, not all innovation, brilliant as it may be, is positive.

I watched the following video highlighting a new product that lets babies “speak” to their parents. No more guessing whether your baby is cold or hungry, tired or thirsty—hook baby up to this AI-powered device and it will tell you!

At this point, I was figuratively shouting at my computer, “There already is such a device. God created it and it’s known as a mother or father.” What I was seeing was another nail in the coffin of parents trusting themselves and taking the time to learn their baby’s unique cries and responses.

But it got worse. The video went on to explain how this artificial intelligence gadget would give early warning about heart or breathing difficulties. It would let you know if there was a spike in temperature, perhaps reminding you that you left your baby in a hot car.  It would inform you if your baby was being abused by a caregiver.

Tragedies happen. And, yes, a device like this might prevent some tragedies. But, in my estimation, it will lead to more. Putting her purse in the back seat so that she remembers that her baby is in the car seat empowers a mother to protect her child. Trusting a machine to tell you there is a problem breeds both constant anxiety as well as dangerous mindlessness.

Suddenly losing a baby because of an undiagnosed health problem is heartbreaking. Living in constant fear of that happening slowly chips away at one’s happiness and mental health. Being given, even slightly,  the suggestion that you are a negligent parent if you don’t buy a certain product and the idea that you should drown in guilt if something bad happens is devastating.

Life is uncertain. Life holds risks. Loving someone with your whole heart, such as one’s children, means being vulnerable. It also means having a life filled with joy and meaning. Today’s trend of terrifying parents by emphasizing dangers that are inherent in being alive is not a positive innovation.

The Who-Is-A-Nazi Parlor Game

July 8th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

For those of us under the age of 100, the name of journalist and radio commentator Dorothy Thompson may not ring a bell. Yet, when her picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1939, the accompanying article compared her influence to that of Eleanor Roosevelt. A few years earlier while working in Germany, Ms. Thompson had interviewed Hitler. Her uncomplimentary write-ups about him made her the first American journalist to be expelled from that country as the Nazis ascended to power.

This is to say that her article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1941 entitled “Who Goes Nazi” bears attention. Ms. Thompson creates an imaginary party at which she divides the mingling guests into four categories. She tags them as, “…the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers,” as well as those,  “who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.”

She asserts that being a Nazi is not a matter of nationality or ethnicity. She is using the word Nazi as a shorthand for those who, while they may be educated and sophisticated, are capable of and likely to buy into an ideology of hate, cruelty and destruction. In this experiment, Jews can be Nazis and Aryans can fall into her last, noble category. In an imaginary party that she posits, Ms. Thompson goes around the room, putting each guest into one of the four categories. While she elucidates her thinking throughout the article, she writes that she sees a generation rising that is ripe for becoming Nazis. As she says of this youth, “His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.”

Doesn’t that sound like a good description of many university students (and members of Congress) today?

While Dorothy Thompson is long gone, Professor Robert P. George is, thankfully, alive and active. A professor of jurisprudence and the director of the James Madison program at Princeton University, you would do well to become familiar with his writings.

My husband is honored to consider him a friend, and recently Professor George shared his own experiment. He sometimes asks his students if, had they been white Southerners before abolition, they would have participated in the fight against slavery.  Amazingly, each and every student insists that he or she would have done so.

With more maturity, wisdom and honesty, Professor George knows that this is rubbish. He proceeds to tell them that he will accept their answers if they can point to a situation in their own lives where they risked social alienation and professional and economic damages for standing up for unpopular victims of injustice.

That is the equivalent of asking them to follow in the path of John Adams defending the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre or of those who provided a safe space on the Underground Railway in the 1800s risking jail, physical harm and/or damage to their property. In today’s terms, it might mean being one of the tens of thousands who post their messages on the #Walkaway movement page. Getting applause by virtue signaling that you are racist because of your skin color or that you support BLM doesn’t cut it.

The question is not why all good people did not assist runaway slaves or hide Jews during the Holocaust. I certainly do not know that I would have done so. Not surprisingly, in Nazi-occupied Europe, people’s responses differed in countries where the penalty for hiding Jews was jail vs. countries where the penalty was being sent to a concentration camp or watching your children murdered before your eyes. While I venerate those who risked their lives to save others, I do not know if I would rise to their level. I think it more likely that, especially as a mother having to put her children’s lives on the line, I would not. I’m not being modest; I’m being honest. However, that is highly problematic. What in blessedly quiet times is prudence may, in momentous times, be cowardice. What calls for discretion in quiet times can demand reckless courage in consequential times.

Recently, author Izabella Tabarovsky wrote about an oft-shared quote by Sergei Dovlatov. He was a Soviet dissident before the communist regime collapsed. (Full disclosure: I had no idea who he was until I read her article.) It seems that Mr. Dovlatov’s words are often quoted pointing out that cursing Stalin for his murderous and evil regime is fine, but Stalin could not have done what he did had millions of ordinary people not been willing to denounce their co-workers, neighbors and relatives.

Neither Hitler nor Stalin nor Mao built their following by saying that they wanted to murder millions or that their policies would lead to ruin and poverty for their nations. They spoke of valor and brotherhood, of fairness and undoing the wrongs of the past. Step by step, they built a culture of fear and punishment.

I recently read a question from an individual who didn’t know how to respond to a message from senior management announcing that, on a specific day, everyone at work would wear a t-shirt the office was providing that said, “Black Lives Matter.” The writer was asking what he should do. He judges the political BLM movement to be anti-American, anti-freedom and dangerous. Yet, not wearing the shirt would most likely damage his chances for promotion if not altogether cause him to lose his job. Most of those who responded to his dilemma urged him to call in sick. I certainly do not have the moral fortitude or virtue to recommend that he take a stand, but I fear that all of us are increasingly being called upon to do exactly that.

I don’t risk my job by writing these words, though admittedly, during the Obama administration the American Alliance of Jews and Christians and we personally received more tax audits than one might expect. Paraphrasing Dorothy Thompson, people with dark skin can be racist and those with white skin can champion true freedom and love for all. Among those who speak of an end to racism are those who are actually saying, “I suffered and now it’s my turn to make others suffer.” There are also those who see a vehicle they can use to advance their personal fortunes. These are not the majority by any means, but their violence and evil are enabled by those who do not speak against them.

Were she alive, Ms. Thompson might call these haters the “natural racists.”  Many more people fall into the category of those, “whom democracy itself has created, [and] the certain-to-be fellow-travelers…” As Sergei Dovlatov pointed out, just as slavery and Jim Crow laws existed for too long because even those who were horrified by them did not necessarily speak up, the cancel culture that is poised to end freedom of speech and expression in America cannot win if only the truly racist, power-hungry and hate-filled advocate for it. That, my friends, lays the burden upon us.


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Keep it Simple

July 6th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ Post by Rebecca Masinter

Deuteronomy 18:13 says, “You should be tamim with Hashem your God.”  Tamim is a difficult Hebrew word to understand. It is alternatively translated as simple, blameless or perfect. None of these capture the whole picture. One of the main transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, known as Rashi, beautifully discusses this Hebrew word. His elucidation here is especially appropriate considering that the verses surrounding this one deal with the forbidden practices of magic and sorcery.

We are not to try to uncover the future, to predict it, or stress about it.  Rather we are supposed to look to God as the one who gives us each moment, and we should accept each moment as it is, with simplicity.  At one and the same time, plan, work and strive for the future while also trusting in the moment. While “simple” has a negative connotation in English, simplicity is a different ball game. Here it is clearly intended as a lofty aspirational value. This is such a powerful statement and such a challenging concept. 

This idea may be especially challenging for mothers.  After all, we are the ones who are responsible for the future generation!  Surely we need to worry about the future!  Surely if anyone has a right to feel anxious about what is coming down the line it is a parent whose job is to raise a child for the future!  But, no.  Apparently, that isn’t our job.  Yes, we build for the future.  Yes, we do our best to help each child be prepared for his future.  But no, we don’t run in circles and try and make the future unfold the way we want it to.  No, we don’t get anxious or stressed about what will be.  We try to accept with simplicity everything that God brings upon us in the moment.

I’d like to suggest one reason why I think this idea is challenging for some of us and what we can do about it.  I think mothers tend to extrapolate from today’s reality and worry that what is today will always be the reality.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  For example, a mother who is worried that her son is bored in school can very quickly assume this means he will always be bored in school. Before you know it, her mind has jumped to what will happen if he’s bored in school forever: what if he starts disrupting the class, maybe he’ll be kicked out of class, eventually he’ll be kicked out of school, he’ll end up in the streets and be estranged from God.  All these calamities can run through a mother’s head simply because her son told her he was bored in his first week of school. 

Or maybe a mother got a call from her child’s teacher that her daughter was mean to a classmate today. That mother’s brain can jump right from today’s instance to the whole future of this child, worrying about what this means in a much bigger, more general way than the incident requires.

I think a message we can take from this verse is to accept life as it unfolds and let God take care of foreseeing the future and bringing it about.

Walking this way with God, not stressing about the future, is also a great lesson to teach our children.  Especially as anxiety in children has skyrocketed in recent years, this may be a lesson we want to consciously teach them over and over.  We can share with our children that we can trust in God and accept what He gives us at this moment without worrying about the next moment.  It’s truly a lofty vision, but one that will help our children day today just as much as it helps us.

I want to thank each one of you who has reached out to me to tell me you appreciate the ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column.  It really means a lot to me when I hear that you are reading and enjoying it.


Carl Reiner’s Privilege

July 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 58 comments

It is refreshing to read the obituaries for 98-year-old Carl Reiner. Not only does the Hollywood figure leave behind seemingly genuinely mourning family and friends, but the words describing the entertainer’s life do not include the following: COVID-19, Biden/Trump, sexist, racist or privilege. It is the omission of the last word that I would like to discuss.

Had I been asked to define the word privilege a few years ago, I would probably have replied ‘honor,’ as in the sentence, “It is a privilege to meet you.” Similarly, I would have thought of a student being told that she has the privilege of representing her school at an event. In both cases, the privileged individual feels humility at an honor bestowed on her, whether or not the opportunity was random or hard-earned.

Times change and words change with them. The word privilege is now supposed to denote an undeserved, unjust and unacceptable advantage for which one needs to apologize or preferably grovel. There is male privilege, white privilege, and rich privilege. More categories exist and even more will surely be added. The ones listed above could all be applied to the life of Carl Reiner.

Let’s look at the privilege that Carl Reiner had. In 1922, Mr. Reiner was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents. He had the privilege of growing up in a free country that wasn’t about to turn into a Nazi tyranny that would have automatically slated him for death. He had the privilege of having parents who, if they were at all similar to the immigrant parents of that generation that I knew, were hard-working, felt a deep gratitude to America and prioritized and treasured education for their children. He had the privilege of growing up poor in a country that allowed its citizens to work their way up the ladder.

Carl Reiner had the privilege of capitalism. He started working full-time at the age of 16 when, as a young high school graduate (whose education would probably run circles around today’s Liberal Arts Ph.D.s. ), no one suggested that college was a right to be demanded regardless of whether or not his parents could afford to send him. He had the privilege of living in a country where millionaire politicians did not insist on a minimum wage that would have led the company that hired him as a shipping clerk to reject a young, inexperienced worker who could not yet provide enough value to earn a higher salary.

Mr. Reiner had the privilege to benefit from a free, WPA government-sponsored acting class and he was then privileged to serve his country during World War II.  After the war, Mr. Reiner had the privilege of resiliency. When, due to worries that he was “too Jewish,” he was rejected for the starring part that he wrote for himself and that was based on his life in what became the popular The Dick van Dyke Show, he did not don the mantle of victimhood and cry “anti-Semitism” but instead played a smaller role in the series he produced and for which he wrote.

So much privilege. It went hand-in-hand with hard work, marriage and family, being a good friend and, by all accounts, rejoicing in life.

My daughter, Rebecca, recently wrote in her ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column of my own Great-aunt Charlotte, who, like Mr. Reiner, lived a long life. Even when she no longer recognized those around her, Aunt Charlotte remained steadfastly pleasant and grateful. Was she privileged? Privileged to have a mother die giving birth to her, to have her only brother taken overseas at that time by their grandparents, to be sent at age eleven from Europe when her father died to join this unknown brother in America, tearing her away from the step-mother who had loved and raised her? Was she privileged to come at that awkward age to a country whose language she did not speak? She was certainly privileged that no one pitied her and excused her from learning English so that I knew her as a highly articulate and learned woman able to fully participate in American society.

There were many tragic events in Aunt Charlotte’s life that could have led her to bitterness and anger. Yet she and Carl Reiner shared a truly great privilege. They were raised to believe that not everything was going to go their way, but that their response to life’s events was something that they could control. They were not raised to envy those who had what they did not, but rather to be grateful for what they did have.

If you are alive and breathing you are privileged. Every single individual has inborn advantages and disadvantages and others that emerge during his or her lifetime. We could probably list thousands of categories and futilely try to provide an accounting (maybe a scale from 1 – 5?) for each individual in each category. Successful people will not spend their time on such nonsense. I have met recent immigrants along with other people in all their wondrous variations including color, health and economic situations. Those who are successful, like my Aunt Charlotte, take all opportunities to be grateful for their own blessings and work to increase those. That is a privilege, indeed.

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It’s Not Fair!

June 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

How many times have you heard your children cry, “It isn’t fair!”  Children are born with an acute sense of what is fair and what isn’t.  They keep detailed track of who sat next to Mommy and Daddy last week at the Shabbat table, who got the extra piece of cake, and whose turn it is to take out the garbage.  The problem is that focusing on what is fair doesn’t make happy people because there is always something in our lives that isn’t fair or that doesn’t match up with our expectations of what we deserve.

Let’s take a look at Numbers 16.  Korach was upset that his father’s family had been unfairly skipped over when a younger sibling’s son was appointed to leadership. Surely it would be fairer for the older brother’s family to be honored first?  He gathered with him the tribe of Reuven (Reuben) who, in the words of the transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as the Kli Yakar, were bitter of soul because many, many years earlier, Jacob had taken away the firstborn privileges from their ancestor, Reuven, and given the privilege of the oldest to Joseph.  For generations, they had held onto a spirit of, “That’s not fair!” Korach’s group of discontents were all people who thought they deserved more than they were given, who perceived life as unfair. 

That is a very seductive way of thinking and incredibly contagious.  Who can’t jump on the bandwagon of something in our lives being unfair?  It’s no wonder that Korach was able to quickly attract hundreds of followers, and it’s no wonder that our children so quickly cry, “It isn’t fair”.

But we know that wallowing in victimhood doesn’t lead to a happy life. As parents, our job is to help our children move past the immature perspective that breeds misery when life isn’t fair.  How can we do this?  I think the answer lies in Moses’ response to Korach and the Levites in this section.  Moses says two things.  The first is, ”In the morning God will make known that which is His.” God has a plan for each person and He chooses who will be who and who will get what.  We don’t get to decide what is appropriate and fair for each person. That is God’s job, and when we accept His decisions as His perfect will to give us exactly what is best for us and to give our friends exactly what is best for them, we can discard discontent and be happy with our portion.

My children and I recently finished reading an inspiring book about the life of a woman in Jerusalem who recently died.  One lesson from her life really resonated with us. That is the recognition that whatever happens to you in life, even through other people, such as when someone yells at you, when someone breaks your toys, or any frustration you experience, is directly given to you from God as a way to help you grow in that moment.  Our lives are utterly and completely what God gives us and when you live with that consciousness, the whole notion of “Is it fair?” becomes ridiculous.  It doesn’t matter at all what someone else has or what I think I should have—I accept that everything I have is perfect for me because God made it so.

Moses’ second argument is, “Tribe of Levi, you have so much greatness that has already been granted to you!“

“Is it is a small matter that God has separated you from the rest of the children of Israel to bring you close to Him to serve in  the Tabernacle and to stand before the congregation to minister to them?”

Instead of focusing on what others have that you don’t, take a look at what you’ve been given!  Focus on the good that is in your life, the disproportionate good, the good that you have in ways that others don’t!  My mother had a great aunt who had a tragic life from beginning to end.  Yet my mother recalls that she was the most cheerful woman who, when asked to explain how she could be cheerful in the face of all her hardships, responded, “You can always look over your shoulder and find someone worse off than you.”  Moses is calling for a shift in perspective.  Don’t look at what you don’t have and others do, look at what you have despite the fact that others don’t.  Each of us can think of blessings in our lives that we were given “unfairly.” Each of our children can think of a time they got an extra treat, a special outing, special talents and gifts—focus on those!

I’m sure they can all relate to Korach’s bitterness over not being given what he thought was fair, but we have a powerful opportunity here to share with our children a different philosophy in life, one that will stand them in good stead for years to come.

Ennui For Me

June 26th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 41 comments

You know you’re in for a rough time when you hear a speaker begin his speech by saying, “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking.” I hope that this Musing isn’t an echo of that as I say, “Unaccustomed as I am at having nothing to say…”

As an introvert, the increased isolation engendered by COVID-19 has been less burdensome on me than on my extroverted friends. We do not have a house of young children needing almost-constant attention. My instrument for work, otherwise known as my computer, is readily available and my husband and I enjoy each other’s company.

What I have noticed, however, is that I am beginning to bore myself. The news rotates on a cycle of Coronavirus, protests, violence, racism and perfidy. Hypocrisy and lies are constant. How much more is there to say? Opportunities to speak to regular people are limited and most politicians and pundits are predictable and amazingly disconnected from reality.

I am disappointed that, in confusing and momentous times, President Trump,has so far failed to address the nation as a strong leader. While he could not say or do anything that would result in the press or many Americans treating him fairly, he could and should have provided his citizens with straight talk and with uplifting inspiration.

I am disappointed at how many gullible people think that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for Joe Biden. That demands a naiveté that historically leads to disaster The media’s failure to report on almost unimaginable excesses occurring in academia, CHOP, what used to be known as the free press or other Leftist enclaves means that those pronouncing that a “normalcy” and “return to respectability” will accompany any Democrat power are deluding themselves.

There is absolutely nothing new or insightful in what I just wrote. As I said, I’m beginning to find my own thoughts tedious. I enjoy engaging with you through the comments section and I appreciate ZOOM get-togethers with family and friends, but I am more than ready to meet you again in person and feel the energy and vitality kindled by being around large groups.

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Parents Disagreeing about TV Time (Part II)

June 23rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Last week, we discussed how parents can get on the same page when it comes to children watching TV/video or using technology. While I didn’t mention how important it is for parents to present a unified front, that is imperative. One of the biggest gifts parents can give children is predictability and security. When mothers and fathers enforce different rules, children are the losers. The discussions about watching TV, or any other area where mothers and fathers conflict, should not be in front of the children. Since children are equipped with X-ray eyes and hyper-sensitive hearing when they are interested in a conversation, these discussions should best take place out of the home or, at least, in a private room with relatively loud music playing (even if you are sure your children are asleep).

What can children do instead of watching TV or videos? Let’s compare this to food. What would you do if your family was accustomed to a diet of nutritionally empty snacks and fast-food main courses washed down by soda and you reached the conclusion that this wasn’t a great idea?

Here is what you would not do: You would not get up and lecture about the dangers of sugar and the importance of cruciferous vegetables. You would not insist that you could only switch to a healthier menu if it took exactly the same time and cost the same as a fast-food supper. You would not choose to make this change the same week as you have two overdue projects at work, your daughter’s best friend was moving out of town or your annoying cousins were coming to visit.

What you would do (I hope) is recognize that often the immediate reaction to making an improvement seems to make things worse. Do you want to renovate your house? Get ready for expense, dirt and noise. Do you want to get in shape? Prepare for sore muscles and aches. You get the idea.

Make a strategic plan. Pick a stretch of time when you and your wife will be more available than usual. Make time each day for playing with your children. If your children are not accustomed to imaginative and independent play, you are going to have to help ease them into this.

Invest in art supplies, games, building and construction toys, puzzles and books. Don’t overbuy—too many “things” tend to lead to boredom. You have lots of supplies already at your fingertips: empty paper towel and toilet rolls, empty matchboxes, socks without matches, etc.

If you and your wife’s imaginations could use a boost, there are thousands of ideas online as well as tons of craft books in the library. Spend time together discovering if your children enjoy board games, books on tape, building towers or having relay races. If you invest time doing these things with them now, they will grab the initiative down the road and be able to do these activities on their own.

Yes, this will make for a messier house. Establish ground rules for cleaning up after each project/game before beginning a new one. Make designated places for library books and art supplies. The time and thought the two of you put into converting your household from passive to active past-times will pay off down the road.

You mentioned “young children,” but did not designate an age. Toddlers can entertain themselves as can eight-year-olds, but obviously not for the same amount of time. Be realistic. If your children are very young, you and your wife may well have to take turns being on call and playing at any designated hour. Maybe a pre-teen or young teen-age neighbor can play with your children while you are in the house getting some work done.

I don’t think of watching TV as the equivalent of giving a child arsenic, but I do think of it as junk food. In small amounts, it is a treat. In large doses, it is harmful. I hope this discussion helps you and your wife figure out your own views on the subject.


Susan Lapin

American Blessings

June 18th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

It is terribly easy to become convinced that evil lurks in every heart and that cross-cultural friendships are impossible. Many rabble-rousers and politicians get rich and powerful by convincing us of such. One of our daughters mentioned that, as summer weather descended, her children (age nine and under) were playing daily in a local park. Each day, she said, different neighborhood children are there, including children of all religions, colors and ethnicities. Shared water balloons and nerf guns forge friendships. She was having difficulty reconciling the normality and community togetherness that she was witnessing in the park with the hatred presented in her morning newsfeed. Her words reminded me of the Musing I am copying below that I wrote a number of years ago:

For most of my childhood, my grandparent, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in the same, general area. Even those who moved “far away” were usually within an hour’s drive. Family relationships were augmented by neighbors who became friends, the relationships often emerging more from proximity than from shared interests. One of my closest companions, from even before my memories start, was JoAnn who lived down the block. We had a lot of fun, but we didn’t have a lot of choices. It would never have occurred to our mothers to make playdates and arrange transport for little girls. They unlocked the door in the morning, expected their daughters back for lunch and supper, and assumed that they would find companions without leaving the block.

My friendship with JoAnn was a weekday one. Saturday was my Shabbat and Sunday her day for church. I went to a Jewish school; she to the local Catholic one. Our differences went beyond religion, though. I was an avid reader while JoAnn’s mother coerced her into reading anything at all.  JoAnn enjoyed fixing hair and trying out new styles while I wasn’t terribly interested in fashion.  Had we met in the classroom or at a camp, we probably never would have gravitated to each other. But for those many years during which we were too young to venture far, we played hopscotch and stoop ball and spent many summer days splashing about in her four-foot-deep plastic pool. We rode endless circuits around the block on our bicycles and, if memory serves me right, more than once we saved civilization from utter destruction in our roles as intrepid spies. (I never watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but JoAnn’s mother was a fan.)

We knew each other’s families. JoAnn and her siblings rotated spending evenings with her grandmother, and I joined her in visiting the black-clad, elderly widow who knew as many words in English as I knew in Italian. I knew more about communion and convents than most of the kids in my class and JoAnn knew more about less popularized Jewish festivals, like Shavuot or Shmini Atzeret, than did the majority of Jews.

All the families on our block were either Italian-Catholic or Jewish. Across the street lived an older Jewish couple. For many years their youngest daughter was a favorite babysitter for many of the families on the block.  After her marriage, this young woman and her husband took an apartment next door to her parents.  A few years later, we were all shocked when her father had a heart attack while driving home and died.  Jewish burials take place as quickly as possible, and within 24 hours matters were arranged. I was considered too young to go to the funeral with my mother, but old enough to stay home alone. Our ex-babysitter’s toddler was sent across the street to JoAnn’s house.

About two hours after my mother left, JoAnn came running down the block. Their young Jewish charge was hungry and her mother, knowing that it was Passover and how the food restrictions on that holiday are extremely serious, was hesitant to give him as much as a fruit from her kitchen. I solved the problem by sending over kosher for Passover food, but it wasn’t until years later that I recognized and appreciated the sensitivity and respect which JoAnn’s mother exhibited. 

People endlessly talk about multiculturalism and the need for valuing all ethnicities, races and religions as if America in decades past was a hostile and evil nation for all but a select few. To speak that way is an insult to so many who, like the people on my block, treated each other with dignity, were quick to help one another, and who created safe and secure neighborhoods for their children.

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Parents disagreeing about TV time

June 16th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

The following question came into our office and I think this is the best venue for a response.

My question is what if your wife does not share the same thoughts of watching tv and reading. What do you do? 

Also if you have young children who watch tv but sometimes it’s difficult not to allow them especially if you are busy doing other things such work, studying. How do you balance things?



Dear H.,

Because TV watching is a relatively unemotional topic, it is a wonderful opportunity for a couple to use to learn how to discuss conflicting ideas with affection and respect. Start by acknowledging your common ground. Both of you love your children and want the best for them. Once you recognize that, you can explore together the potential benefits and/or harms of TV (or video or technology) time. You are no longer in opposition to each other; you are on the same team.

Share with each other articles and/or books presenting different sides of the issue. There is physiological evidence on what watching TV does to children’s brains.  Educate yourselves together. Discuss the cultural views that your children will acquire through commercials as well as through programs and ask if these are ones you want in your house. You may find that learning more is enough to change one of your points of view.

I imagine that your disagreement partially hinges on your second question. We are busy and TV certainly provides an easy way to keep kids sitting in one place quietly. The problem is that this is a temporary solution that can produce long-term difficulties.

What do I mean? You have probably heard about the concept of an “emotional bank.” This is based on the idea that interactions work more smoothly when positive comments and actions far outnumber negative ones. For example, if your children are in school, make a point of letting a teacher know when an assignment is clever and enjoyable, when the book chosen as a classroom read-aloud is one you love, or about the days your child comes home brimming with excitement. Should there be a time when you have a complaint, a teacher who has received approbation from you will be much more willing to listen to what is wrong. This concept is true in all relationships. Recognizing the good is a powerful tool.

I think that, similarly, there is an “imagination bank”. For every activity that stifles imagination or puts it on ice, there should be numerous activities that encourage creativity. Watching TV is a passive activity. The more TV children watch, the less capable they become of entertaining themselves. The less capable of entertaining themselves they become, the greater the urge to resort to TV to keep them quiet. The vicious cycle continues. By the way, this is true whether or not the shows are of positive, negative or neutral value.

This means that while TV can give peace and quiet, it is somewhat like taking a sleeping pill rather than acquiring habits that lead to a good night’s sleep. Eventually, the dose needs to be increased and, in the process, you may be harming your body. Some of the studies you should read together show how children can be more agitated and harder to manage after they have been watching TV. Forewarned is forearmed.

So what is a parent to do when they need quiet time? I hope to follow up next week with suggestions.

FRIWAFTT or Still Writing

June 11th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 46 comments

On one of our family boat trips in the Pacific Northwest, we were deciding whether or not to travel a passage that was described as stunning but needing cautious navigation, when my husband blurted out, “F.R.I.W.A.F.T.T.” Responding to questioning looks, he explained to our family, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

That pretty much explains why I want to continue the discussion about the racial crisis roiling our country. It certainly would be easier to write a Musing about a book I have read, about summer’s approach, or about ZOOM friendships, but it would be cowardly. Like most people, I find it uncomfortable to be disliked, especially by those who previously liked me. It pains me to know that my words are a source of pain to others. Yet, I am going to write. Let me first explain why I started writing my Musings.

I loved being pregnant. Whatever I was doing, whether it was eating or sleeping, reading or daydreaming, I was being productive. How can you beat the accomplishment of, “Take a nap and build a kidney!” As a mother, and particularly as a homeschooling mother, I had no questions about whether I was engaged in a worthwhile activity. Partnering with my husband and God to produce human beings whose presence would make the world a better place seemed an eminently profitable endeavor.

Along the way, I also taught adult Bible classes, supported my husband’s work both in the Jewish community and outside of it, welcomed hundreds (thousands?) of people to our Shabbat table and stood alongside friends as they built their own homes and families.

One day, as inconspicuously yet dramatically as the sky lightens in the morning, many of those roles had disappeared or minimized. What was I to do now? I discovered that I had absorbed a great deal of wisdom along the way and that, perhaps, I could use that on a larger scale than before to benefit others in a world that seemed increasingly confused and wrong-headed.

Doing so entails risk. One of the major perils is being wrong or, of being right but expressing those ideas in the wrong way. Surely, one can do less harm by just staying quiet? The Bible rejects that argument. While there are innumerable rules defining incorrect speech and warnings about misusing one’s tongue, withdrawing from society and staying quiet when words and actions are needed is not a preferred choice. When I chalk up the gifts God granted me, they include a certain ability to formulate thoughts and express ideas with words. At a time when I do feel that the promise of America is being closed off, choosing to ignore that gift is not an option.

I know that the minute a Musing touches on the issue of race, some readers feel alienated and reject both my words and me. There are many wounds out there and ripping off the bandage hurts. But not ripping it off allows the infection to fester. Our society is being pushed, pell-mell, to do something—anything. We did that with health-care and other issues as well. The result is often less fairness, more pain and more suffering. So staying quiet isn’t an option.

My hope is that others will engage with me, letting us both expand our understanding. I appreciate that many have done so. As a female and a Jew, I don’t accept the argument that only Jews can speak about Jews and only women can speak about women. Similarly, I don’t accept the idea that only dark-skinned people can speak about race. If that were all true, we would need to separate all human beings from one another, because none of us share the same experiences, backgrounds and identities. We would need to go back to measuring percentages of racial make-up and to defining ourselves by material rather than spiritual criteria. The trick is to communicate and relate despite our differences, not to use those differences as excuses for alienation.

Having said that, I find it interesting that there are many Black voices being raised that do not agree with the agenda of BLM, but they are being silenced and hidden. You have to put in the effort to find those voices whereas Leftist voices get front-page treatment. (Here are three examples of counter-PC views: and, There are many more articles and videos for those who look.

After that rather long introduction, here goes.

In the past week, I heard from two friends (one Black and one White—and I hate that I need to describe them as such) as to why they support the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” While I think that I could have a polite discussion with each of them as to whether or not that is a good phrase to champion, I don’t actually think that opportunity exists anymore. Because there is an organization called Black Lives Matter, using the phrase provides support to that organization whether it is intended to do so or not. Making support for that organization the defining feature of a person’s character seems counterproductive to me.

My grandfather was a kind and gentle man. He valued other people and went out of his way to show appreciation for all. Once, towards the end of his life when I was visiting him in the hospital, a cleaner, a Black man, came in to mop the floor. My grandfather conversed with the man and thanked him. After the man left, my grandfather said to me, “We need to thank everyone who does something for us no matter how big or small that thing is.”

Yet, this same grandfather often used the word “shvartze” to identify a black person. An immigrant to America, he occasionally lapsed into Yiddish and in Yiddish, the word “shvartze” means black. My grandfather used that word in exactly the same way that he would have identified someone as a redhead or tall or wearing glasses. “See if you can ask the shvartze nurse for some more water.” There was zero malicious intent or judgment in his words.

Over the years, that word has taken on the connotation of a slur. If someone in my generation uses it, good people need to object. Why and how it turned into a slur is irrelevant. The fact that it technically means ‘black’ is irrelevant. What matters is that good people should neither use that word nor allow others to use it.

I can hear the argument that the phrase “Black Lives Matters” in and of itself has value. In my mind, that is now irrelevant. Intentionally or not, regretfully or not, it has been tainted by association with approval of violence, promoting hatred based on race, opposing traditional family and society and expressing more of a desire for revenge than for rapprochement. There were many peaceful protests over these past weeks. They received very little press. If the Black Lives Matters organization had been front and center condemning and opposing violence and looting, I would have a different opinion of them. If everyone who wore a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt had stood to protect lives and property, I would have a different opinion. Maybe in some localities, they did—if you have specific examples to relate, I’d like to hear of them. If they rejected and stood against Antifa, I might have a different opinion. If I knew where the enormous sums BLM is receiving were going and approved of those efforts and places, I might have a different opinion.

I don’t think all—or most—of the people chanting the slogan or joining marches where that phrase is given center stage support anarchy or the end of having local police forces, just as I don’t think that my grandfather looked down on anyone when he spoke. I do think many supporting BLM are good people who are hurting, but I think they are being manipulated and will be among those who suffer if BLM gets more power. History is full of similar examples. In this case, those words are muddying the waters and causing unproductive distance rather than leading to solutions and progress. The phrase has become an albatross rather than a dove.

A few years ago, anarchy was let loose on city streets and violence and looting erupted through the vehicle of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The immoral participants were largely White. Along with many others, I was appalled at both the behavior of the rioters and the cowardice and sniveling acquiescence of politicians, pundits and academics as they genuflected before uncivil and illegal behavior. Lives were lost and much property was destroyed.

When similar behavior but under other auspices is taking place today, do I have to ignore it because it is being done under the banner of “justice” or “against racism”? Or because a larger percentage of the hoodlums (though by no means all) are dark-skinned?

A discussion of injustice and of racism needs to be just that—a discussion. Unpleasant truths on all sides need to be aired. When some voices are muted by being fired from their jobs for presenting facts or they are threatened with violence, no good person’s cause is being advanced. When statistics are manipulated and when inflammatory rhetoric incites anger, no good person’s cause is being advanced. When uncomfortable questions are forbidden and when destroying people’s livelihoods replaces arguments, no good person’s cause is being advanced. 

I believe that most Americans want to live among people who share their values. Overwhelmingly, those values include a belief that excessive and prejudicial  (let alone illegal) force by police is wrong. Overwhelmingly, those values include a respect for law and order. If we cannot understand who, in the short space of a few days, manipulated us as a nation that shares a common ground of being horrified at what happened to George Floyd, to a people divided and facing the specter of destroying our civilization, we face a future that is bleak indeed. For that reason, I keep writing.

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