Posts by slapin

Taking a Back Seat While Others Man the Front Lines

April 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

Some of you may have caught the front-page story in the Wall Street Journal  highlighting how overwhelmed New York City hospitals are. The prime example used to illustrate the dysfunction, disorder and dangerous staff conditions was Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. That is the hospital at which our daughter first worked.

After graduating from nursing school, Lapinette #5  began her nursing career on the medical/surgical wards. After a few years, she moved to the ICU (intensive care unit). Two years ago, she went back to school to get an advanced doctoral degree as a nurse anesthetist. While her training requires clinical rotations in hospitals around the city along with classroom study, those rotations have been canceled due to COVID-19.

Her nursing license is current, the skills she painstakingly acquired during her years in the ICU are somewhat rusty but, like riding a bicycle, she could probably quickly get up to speed. Mayor de Blasio has written to her as well as to every other non-working nurse and she is getting phone calls from City Hall, pleading with her to go back to work.

Our daughter is hearing firsthand from her former co-workers about exactly what the newspaper article described. There is not enough protective gear to make even a pretense of keeping nurses and doctors safe from exposure to the virus. The physical and emotional toll on the staff is devastating

Our daughter, the mother of two young boys, is torn. She and her family have most likely had the virus. Her son’s preschool teacher tested positive and seven days later our children and grandchildren began running fevers and feeling achy. Seven days after that, her amazing babysitter tested positive and both our daughter and son-in-law lost their sense of taste and smell, indicative of the COVID-19. Thank God, their cases were mild and they recuperated at home. They did not meet eligibility for testing, so, like thousands of other people, their cases have not been officially confirmed.

Now she faces a dilemma. She has been trying to get tested to verify that she has developed antibodies to the disease. (An example of the disarray is that while the city is frantically trying to find more medical workers, antibody tests are not easily available.) If that is the case, she is feeling a strong tug to head back to the ICU. That pull comes from two places. One is connected to the reason she went into nursing in the first place, a strong desire to help people. I think the other pull may even be stronger. Akin to how soldiers in a unit bond together and support each other, she wants to provide relief to her ex-co-workers who are in the trenches.

As her mother, I am proud of her desire to contribute. My husband and I raised her to be a giver rather than a taker and she is living the teachings she absorbed. But, as her mother, I desperately want to protect her and our grandchildren. I am censoring myself not to plead with her to stay home and I admit to being grateful that she wasn’t on active duty when this plague broke out. Even some of her fellow nurses are telling her not to come back—lack of safety precautions for them is even worse than we are reading. America is failing to take care of those who take care of us.

Despite being strongly patriotic, none of our children enlisted in the U.S. military. There were good and valid reasons for their not having taken that path. Nevertheless, while we have always supported and appreciated our troops—even before 9-11—we haven’t laid awake at night worrying about our own child in a war zone. Now, with a son on the medical front line and a daughter considering stepping in, we are left praying for their safety and that of their comrades as we move into the back seat and respect their convictions and their need to make their own momentous decisions. 

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The Wrong Medicine?

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 1 comment

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.

I, too, have succumbed to the lure of easily available entertainment. After years of neither watching nor even having a TV in our home, now movies and shows are showing up on my phone and iPad! I admit that some evenings (perhaps too many) I now watch something instead of reading. As my husband teaches, the word amusement derives from a-muse, with the ‘a’ serving as the word ‘not’ as in atonal or amoral. Since the word ‘muse’ is an old synonym for ‘think,’ amuse literally means “not thinking.” Books can take me out of my world as well, but it takes more work and concentration to lose oneself in a book than in a multi-colored, fast-moving digital world.

I understand and empathize with parents whose children are going stir-crazy. If the parents are both working from home things are even more complex. But, maybe, just maybe having the kids home is an opportunity for boot camp to cut down on screen time. Life may be more miserable for a few days as children go into withdrawal, but re-learning how to play, putter, create and entertain ourselves using non-technological means is a worthwhile endeavor.

At the risk of sounding like a visitor from the 19th century, I’d like to share my experience at home a number of years back with six children who had chickenpox. They were all under the age of twelve (the baby did not get it at the same time). We were blessed with a yard so they could run around a bit, and I put other responsibilities aside to make “Mommy Camp” my focus. We did lots of arts and crafts, read hundreds of stories and played endless board games. They also created their own worlds: they were spies and parents, storekeepers and teachers. We did have a new device—a magical machine known as a VCR that could play movies. We acquired the tape of Mary Poppins, and for five days, the children watched a portion of the movie each evening while I relished making supper without help. When the twenty or thirty minutes of watching was over, no one nagged for more. They were overflowing with gratitude and excitement at what they had just experienced.

That scenario seems ludicrous today. But I would suggest that if your children constantly nag you to watch more videos and play more games online, then increasing the hours in which they do so will end up making them and you more miserable, not less. Technology, screens, TVs and other devices function in some ways like drugs do. What sufficed to give a high yesterday is no longer enough today. The more they (and we) watch, the less capable they (and we) are of keeping ourselves happy, of daydreaming, of being creative with the resources around us.

A few days ago, one of my daughters whose children have very limited screen time, received delivery of a new refrigerator. Four of her children, ranging from fourteen to four disappeared with the huge cardboard packing box. Hours later, they were still in the basement—or more accurately, they were in outer space. Just like children from a generation or two generations ago, one box and four imaginations served to provide a bonding experience that will give them happy childhood memories for years to come. I’m pretty sure those four are watching and playing online more than usual these difficult weeks. But their starting level was very low. For some children who were already spending too much time removed from the world of spontaneous creativity, perhaps this is a chance to reverse the trend rather than succumb and surrender.

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.

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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.

It concerns me that a chasm seems to exist between a large number of people whose paychecks come from money taken from taxpayers by the government and those who work in the private sector. I have sympathy for my local librarian as I do for my local shoe store owner. The private school teacher whose school shut down needs to feed her family just as much as the public school teacher who is also sitting at home. The business owner who is watching his sales plummet needs to pay his mortgage just as his state Senator does.

In other words, I have a sneaking suspicion that we are NOT all in this together. Some government workers are being paid while staying home. Others, like mail carriers and police and firemen are working under more difficult circumstances. Many of us in the private sector are reluctantly home while some industries will get a boost from this event. Doctors and nurses are seeing the exacerbation of problems they have known about for years yet been silenced from mentioning because they are politically incorrect.  If those making policies and decisions that affect all of us felt the nail-chewing, lie-in-bed-worrying anxiety of their constituents, their edicts and suggestions would be more helpful.

I don’t have the answers. I do worry that describing certain industries as too vital to fail or treating government workers differently than those in the private sector or trying to put band-aids on some areas but not others, or looking to cast blame on the wrong places, will slow our recovery. If this virus and its accompanying economic plight can turn us away from the “me” and “special-interest” and identity politics Balkanization virus that has overtaken our society, we can be healthier after it passes (as it assuredly will) than we were before.

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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.

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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What’s Your College Admission Scandal?

March 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.

There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.

It is no secret that many parents arrange to get their children labeled with a ‘disability’ so that the kids will be given accommodations. These may range from being prescribed stimulating drugs to being given extra time during a test. If that is something that never crossed your mind, how about excusing a child from a family occasion so that he or she can study? While missing some events may be appropriate, is it possible that we sometimes enlarge the window to include times when our teens would be better off hearing that they need to be there no matter what? Maybe getting a lower grade or burning the midnight oil or missing out on partying with friends would help them recognize that sharing in family joys and sorrows is part of being a good and connected person? Maybe juggling a job alongside school would teach teens lessons as, or more, important than the facts they are learning in class?

As well-intentioned and loving parents, we can easily give a damaging message to our children when we venerate school above almost all else.  After all, we don’t tell ourselves that we should only focus on one thing. We expect ourselves to balance conflicting needs including career, spouse, children, extended family, community and associated responsibilities and we call that having a well-rounded life. Why would we deprive our young adults the same opportunity? Telling a teen that this time of life is meant only for studying, participating in activities that pad college or graduate school applications and, incidentally, having a good time, promotes egocentrism, entitlement, immaturity and vanity. Not incidentally, those four paths usually lead to miserable lives. Let’s not wish that on the young people we love.

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A Mother Gives Life

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

I would like to share a story with you from a friend (with her permission), a mother in Jerusalem. I have added translations for Hebrew terms and some other clarifying information in brackets. 

On the other side of my wall, there is a shiva [week of mourning] taking place for my 84-year-old neighbor, Yosef, [Josef] who passed away last week.

When we moved into our home 4 years ago, Yosef’s wife of almost 60 years was already very ill, and within a few months she had passed away. She died from a foot infection, a common and often fatal complication of diabetes.

Yosef grieved terribly after his wife died. But he was still sharp as a tack. Whenever I’d run into him I would ask which of his four awe-inspiringly dedicated children he would be spending (or, depending on the day of the week, had spent) Shabbat with. And whenever he told me that he was going to his daughter,  I would say, “In Maaleh Adumim?” And Yosef, who had spent most of his life teaching grammar, would correct me: “Maaleh EDumim! EDumim, not ADumim!” [Think – you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to, but where only one is correct. It’s a grammatical rather than an accent thing.]

Within a year after his wife died, Yosef’s condition had visibly declined. He stopped correcting my Hebrew grammar, but not because my Hebrew was suddenly grammatically correct. One day, on my way out to run errands, I saw Yosef waiting by the sidewalk. His son was coming to pick him up, he told me. But when I got back home an hour later, Yosef was still waiting there. It turned out Yosef had gotten the day wrong.

Two years ago, on the way out to the light rail, I thought I heard a soft voice. I looked around and saw Yosef sitting on the ground by his house. Yosef told me that he had been on his way to the corner store, but had fallen and hadn’t been able to get up. He had been calling out for help for a long time, he said, but nobody had heard him. Yosef’s voice, which for decades had commanded a class of 35 Israeli high-school students, had become so weak that it was nearly inaudible.

People who knew Yosef when his wife was healthy told me how things had once been. What a lovely, lively person she had been, always ready to lend a helping hand when a neighbor or family member was in need. But now, Yosef’s wife was gone. And, in a way, Yosef was too.

Around a year and a half ago, a caretaker moved in to take care of Yosef. Yosef could no longer walk or remember much about his life.

Last week, Yosef and his children marked his late wife’s 4th yahrzeit [anniversary of death], and two days later Yosef passed away as well. From a diabetic foot infection, just like his wife had.

Before I left for my trip last week [the author – and mother of a large family – went to visit one of her daughters in India], I made a detailed schedule so that everything and everyone would be taken care of. And, more or less (or maybe less or more) things functioned as usual while I was away.

But the day after I came home, and took [my son] to gan [kindergarten] for the first time, his teacher told me, “Good you are back! [He] just wasn’t the same when you were away!”

When a mother is in the home, I was reminded, she doesn’t just provide food, clean clothing, and reminders about tomorrow’s swimming class and zippering up coats. A mother, more than anything or anybody else, has the ability to transform a 4-walled structure from a house into a home. She doesn’t just nurture her family, the shiva [mourning] next door has reminded me, she gives life.

Keep the Good, Leave Out God

February 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

While driving to my exercise class the other day, I was listening to a religiously agnostic podcast host grapple with the challenge of filling the void left behind when taking God and faith out of life’s equation. Recognizing the benefits of community and support that often stem from religious affiliation and acknowledging the increase in isolation, pessimism and depression among today’s youth, he wondered how to achieve all the advantages that  faith brings while leaving God and His direction out of the picture. His words reminded me of historian Will Durant’s quandary at realizing that the “advances” he enthusiastically promoted as an atheist might be leading people and society in the wrong direction.

I could facetiously suggest that I too would like results without signing on to programs. Weight loss and toning without needing to exercise or diet come to mind. Or perhaps intellectual achievement without having to work my way through difficult literature or math classes. Certainly, many people would opt for close and loving relationships with their children, yet are overwhelmed by the hours generally needed to develop that.

Yet, it makes sense to most people that eating cake rather than kale and choosing couch-surfing over cardio isn’t going to work. It seems less inevitable to most that lasting marriage, community and prosperity have trouble existing outside of a faith-based structure. In addition, even those who don’t exercise or eat healthily tend not to have a deep aversion to the idea of doing so. In contrast, many who were raised within a faith and left their roots ooze bitterness and animosity. Unlike Mr. Durant, whose Catholic upbringing was in a warm and nurturing environment and whose atheism stemmed from intellectual questioning, others (including my podcast host) are “chased away” by family dysfunction, leadership hypocrisy or twisted authority. It isn’t hard to see how, in their eyes, religion is something to be avoided and eroded.

These wounded souls raise a valid point. After all, one of the reasons I am so frustrated by the rise of positive feelings towards socialism among the young is that it betrays tremendous arrogant ignorance. When faced with the failures of socialism (unfortunately, they often don’t even know about those), they reply, “Well, it just hasn’t been done right.” Am I sounding the same note when I sympathize with those betrayed by parents or authorities in church or synagogue but insist that they do not represent faith properly?

Here is why I think not. There are not dozens of countries that have tried socialism with the majority of them forming thriving societies and one of two failures. There is no long-lasting successful socialist society. Even the much-touted Scandinavian countries that lurched left rejected that course and moved back towards capitalism when the results were not as promised. However, there have, over centuries, been untold numbers of high-achieving, healthy homes and communities based on Judeo-Christian faith. Have there been disastrous ones along the way? Yes. But, the core of the faith communities carried on and prospered. The United States itself was established by the descendants of those who left England because they rejected what they saw as an impure version of the church, hence their name, Puritans.

There are many ideas that unite people, religion being one. The venom felt today by Leftists for those who reject their doctrine is as strong as that of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition against those whom she saw as heretics. I worry that humans cannot survive long-term without belief. Professing atheism will work fine for some individuals and suppressing the traditional Judeo-Christian presence in society may seem to yield a viable path in the short term. My concern is that it will only yield a dangerous, violent and ultimately unfulfilling new Godless church as its replacement.

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Your Children, Their Values?

February 23rd, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

During the almost two decades that I homeschooled, I tried hard to let my friends whose children were in school know that I wasn’t judging them. And, I usually wasn’t. I was too busy being hard on myself and wondering if I was making the right decision. When mothers would say to me, “I wish I could do homeschool, but…” I responded that it wasn’t for everyone and that there were many good educational paths.

In hindsight, my husband and I are thrilled that we homeschooled. Of course, our children missed out on certain positive experiences, but that is part of real life. Since no children are always in the perfect class in the perfect school with the perfect teacher, everyone misses out on certain positive experiences.

However, hindsight has also revealed how too many of my peers didn’t realize that the messages their children were receiving in school frequently ran counter to the family’s values and beliefs. They thought their children were learning math, literature, history and science; they didn’t realize that these were being packaged in an anti-faith, anti-patriotic and anti-family container. Even if the early years’ teachers were neutral, their children were ill-equipped to counter the hard-sell propaganda on college campuses.

(more…)

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