Library Shaming?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

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

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

Years ago, as part of a program that helped a beleaguered New York City become a desirable location again after years of decay, the police department began cracking down on “small” crimes. They started fining and arresting people for jumping the turnstile in the subway, for blocking intersections with their cars rather than stopping at the red light before entering the intersection and they paid attention to littering. Lo and behold, when they enforced the law on minor infractions, an atmosphere of law and order prevailed that helped reduce major criminal activity as well. As things go, that style of policing seems to be out of vogue and New York is dirtier and more crime-ridden again, but the point stands. Sometimes, focusing on the micro-issues keeps the macro-issues under control.

Hence my sadness at hearing that an increasing number of library systems are choosing to forego fining readers for returning books after their due date. Recently, Chicago joined the list of cities determined to end “library shaming.” Inevitably, articles on the subject trot out middle-aged women who have avoided libraries since their ten-year-old selves  couldn’t locate their copy of Anne of Green Gables or sitcoms where characters wallow in shame decades after losing their copy of The Yearling. 

A spokesman for the Urban Library Council said, “We’d rather have you come to the library and engage in our services,” rather than feeling guilty. I admit to being a guilt-inducer of the highest order when my children were younger. I’m not saying for sure, but I might have implied that if books weren’t returned on time and in good condition, pictures of the miscreants would appear in the post office right under those featuring the FBI’s most wanted list. I wasn’t trying to stop my children from reading library books and, indeed, we took out —and returned—thousands. Rather, I was trying to instill the following messages that I had been given. 

  1. Growing up is about accepting responsibility in exchange for being granted more privileges. I recall practicing writing my name in cursive neatly enough so that it would fit on the small library card I desired. Even at the age of six, being allowed to take out books under my own name rather than having them taken out by my mother, signaled that I was getting older and more mature. I needed to prove that with the dedicated hard work of perfecting my signature. (Cursive, of course, is no longer a part of many schools. You will not be surprised to hear that studies show that writing in cursive plays a role in brain development.)
  2. I am expected to be a responsible member of society. My nation/state/city/neighborhood/family have so much to offer me. In return, I, too, need to give to them. 
  3. I must treat others as I want to be treated. If I want access to thousands of well-kept books, I need to treat them properly and return them on time so that others can have similar access. 
  4. I must be accountable if I mess up.  Did I take a book to the park and leave it there? Did I spill a glass of milk on a book? Did I lose track of when my book was due? I need to face the librarian and pay my fine. Wouldn’t we be better off if today’s children practiced owning up to mistakes from an early age on minor issues?  

I’m sure there were more lessons I learned as I was given the key to the wondrous domain of the library. My children learned those lessons too. I truly see the change in libraries today as a tragedy. Libraries shouldn’t be about inculcating children into the latest political fad (such as today’s Drag Queen Story Hours) or providing children with a place to play computer games. They shouldn’t be about a child’s “right” to books without any expectations. They should be about how reading opens millions of doors and how honored and grateful we should be to join the ranks of those granted such a powerful key. 

P.S. I was amused to see how many of my previous Musings mention libraries. Here are two of them from years past: A Library Love Letter and Frigates, Coursers and Librarians.

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She’s offering me security. Is that enough?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 28 comments

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

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

Francis H.

Dear Francis,

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

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

If you are even thinking of marrying a woman in the hope of her providing you with financial security then we ask you to consider that perhaps there has been a little role reversal going on in this relationship?    We ask you to consider whether, at this point,  you have  the backbone for really hard work. Marriages between younger men and older women are, of course, not automatically doomed, but five years is quite a difference and we detect a desire on your part to be taken care of rather than to be her provider and protector. How can you expect her to respect you when you confess to a lack of confidence when you are with her?  What exactly are you offering her? What do you bring to the table?  That is both a legitimate and an important question.

While it flies in the face of today’s dreadfully defective cultural norms, we would like to remind you that a woman brings herself to a relationship.  And her grateful  man, in turn,  brings his performance, his power, and his productivity.  She gives herself to her man. He gives her the world. Every dating website survey confirms ancient Jewish wisdom that women seek ambitious doers. They are right to do so.  While the whiny boys of our culture decry women as ‘gold-diggers’ and worse, real men recognize that women galvanize their drive.  This is why other than in a few outlying cases, married men vastly outperform their single brethren. 

You ask whether we think you should leave her and take your chances.  Those words you used strongly suggest that you view her as your lifeline to security.  Not good.  We certainly don’t suggest leaving her and “taking your chances.” What we do  suggest is breaking off the relationship and allowing her to find a man with something to offer her.  We suggest that you throw yourself into rebuilding yourself from the ground up physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. The very good news is that you wrote to us, indicating that you are well aware  that something in your life is off.  Reaching out for help is a wonderful first step You know that you are at a turning point and that you really  can have many productive and successful years ahead of you. We  suggest you avoid thinking of involving a woman in your life until you see concrete proof that you are on your way to being a new man. You can do this—go ahead and seize the opportunity.

Give it your all,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Save Civilization – Find a Father

October 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

Deaths by drug overdose, particularly from the class of heroin-containing drugs known as opioids are generally high. But there is one demographic that constitutes only 32% of America’s population but accounts for over 70% of opioid deaths—single men.  They do stand out, but there is another group that stands out even more conspicuously for deaths by crime, overdose, suicide and disease.  Their statistics are even worse than for single men in general.  This group is  men who are not fathers.  They are the most dangerous and the most vulnerable group in the United States. 

Not only are they vulnerable but by far and away, men who are not fathers and who never had fathers themselves, perpetrate most violent crime.  Mass shooters are overwhelmingly single men but there are exceptions. For instance, Stephen Paddock, the 2017 Las Vegas shooter, had been married twice and had a girlfriend. However, he had never been a father.  If instead of identifying them as single men, we identify  men who are not fathers, that pretty much covers all the mass shooters in recent American history.

For purposes of these statistics, father doesn’t mean any man who has impregnated a woman. It refers only to men who play an active role in the lives of their children.  And men who fail to do so are harming both society and themselves.  Nothing comes even close to restraining risky and self-destructive behavior in men than feeling responsibility for a child.  Unsurprisingly, the insurance industry knows that while some men buy life insurance when they marry, most do after the birth of their first child. 

In the late 1950s Japan implemented its birth-control program called the New Life Movement. By the 1960s it was in full swing and together with their enactment of the Eugenic Protection Act (legalization of abortion) in ten short years they had halved Japan’s fertility rate.  For a number of reasons aggravating the trend men stopped marrying, a pattern that continues in Japan to the present day. One unintended consequence is Japan’s contemporary plague of “kodokushi” meaning “lonely death.”  This refers to people  dying alone and being discovered in some cases, only weeks later. According to Tokyo’s Meiji University, almost all kodokushi cases involve men who never had children.

Men who become fathers, real fathers, are doing both themselves and society a favor.  Obviously no man becomes a father without the cooperation of a woman.   Not only is her compliance required for the biological process, but usually unless she promotes the role of the man in her child’s life, he will have none. 

Sadly, however, a woman becoming a mother is not necessarily doing herself and her neighborhood a favor.  It all depends upon the presence of a father.  Without the active involvement of the father, her chances of living in poverty and becoming dependent upon her fellow citizens through the welfare system are very high. Without the child’s father being involved in the day to day nurturing of a boy, her son stands a very high chance of criminal involvement.  Without the child’s father being involved in the day to day nurturing of a girl, she too faces challenges. These are, to quote someone-or-other, very inconvenient truths.  In summary, a shortage of fathers brings tragic outcomes.

So, I am not surprised that  although there are 1,534 verses in the Book of Genesis,  it takes  only 55 verses to reach the first mention of ‘father’ and ‘mother.’

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife…
(Genesis 2:24)

In other words, only about 3%  of the way into Genesis, we encounter the concept of establishing families.  We see emphasis  on mothers and fathers again in the Fifth Commandment:

Honor your father and your mother…
(Exodus 20:12)

And in other places like this:

Every man must revere his mother and his father…
(Leviticus 19:3) 

That seems about right for something as fundamental as family is to the human experience.  Now if secularists are right and Scripture is nothing but a compendium of ancient ramblings by a bunch of bored Bedouins, there is nothing more to say.  Life is too short to waste time analyzing something so trite. However, if this is God’s message to mankind, subtle patterns are important.  Which is to say that I am curious about why Genesis contains more than 90 mentions  of the word father but only 19  mentions of the word mother. After all, surely they go together?   To have one you need the other.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s message to mankind wastes no ink telling us things we already know.  A close relationship between a child and its mother is completely natural. Just visit YouTube to see baby giraffes or baby zebras being born and bonding with their mothers.  Fathers? Nowhere to be seen.  When we acquired our beautiful llama, Llucky, he was reluctant to leave his mother. He clearly knew or cared nothing about his father.  Sadly, as God’s message to mankind becomes less and less relevant in public policy and in social life, our human communities increasingly resemble nature. Children are born, bond with their mothers and know nothing of their fathers. (As society disintegrates further, we do even worse than nature, producing women who harm their own children.)

To teach us of this disastrous state of affairs, ideally before we fall off the cliff as Japan seems to have done, Genesis emphasizes the role of fathers five times more often than it speaks of mothers.  Yes, we get the role of mothers. Even nature in the wild gets the role of mothers.  But for a civilized human society you need fathers.  That needs to be emphasized. 

Far more than a father gives life to a child, a child grants life to its father.

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Recycle Your Recycling Ideas

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

One of the most influential lower-court judges in American history was Judge Learned Hand who served during the first half of the twentieth century. . If you know Hebrew, his name is an especially intriguing one. As my husband and I explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, the Hebrew word for child, Y-L-D, is composed of the Hebrew word for hand, Y-D, with the letter whose sound is ‘L’ and whose meaning is ‘learned’ in the middle. In other words, when all goes well and you are blessed, your children become extensions of you, extra hands that learned your teachings and can carry them forward. Alas, Judge Hand’s name did not come from his parents deep understanding of the Hebrew language but rather because Learned was his mother’s maiden name. Nonetheless, his name always makes me smile.

The above should give you some idea of the pride with which I read a letter one of our daughters and her husband wrote after hearing that two mothers of girls in their daughter’s class had spoken to the class about the importance of environmentalism and recycling. I have redacted identifying information and added some explanatory words in brackets, but I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Dear [names of mothers],

Thank you for your dedication to [name of school].  As you were introducing recycling projects through the school last year, I had some thoughts that I did not get down on paper till now and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I shared with you some of my thoughts on recycling.

I know that nowadays in the secular world, recycling is seen as the ultimate good project for the future of the world, and I do think recycling is fine as long as it is taught from an authentic Torah outlook.  I don’t know how it was introduced to the students, as my daughter wasn’t in class when the projects were introduced, but these are my thoughts on the matter.

My hope is that recycling can be taught within the framework of the following 3 ideas.

Recycling should not be taught as if it is a mitzvah. It is not. It may be good for the planet but I don’t think it can be considered a mitzvah unless Hashem [God] gave us the commandment as one of our 613 mitzvos. [a mitvah—plural, mitzvos or mitzvot—is often translated as a good deed, but that is incorrect. It is a deed that God commands, whether or not we, with our limited human understanding, think it is good or not.]  Non Torah-observant Jews call it a “mitzvah” as part of “Tikun Olam” [a favorite phrase of secular Jews that means improving or correcting the world. However, that phrase is taken from a prayer where it is actually followed by the words, “with the Kingdom of God.” In other words our obligation is not to fix the world based on our own ideas, but only on His.] which is simply a cloaking of their ideals in religious garb without any basis in the Torah.  To borrow the language of those who have abandoned our tradition is damaging to our tradition. 

In the secular world, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, people who don’t recycle are considered “evil” or “bad.”  I would hope that our children do not receive this message in any way, and are corrected if they put together a statement on their own, even if it is as simple as “It is good to recycle, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are bad.”  Or “Recycling saves the Earth, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are destroying the Earth.”

In the last century, there has been much emphasis placed on coercing people to do things based on fear.  Of course, this has spread to recycling as well.  Children’s books, television programs, etc, are full of the message that if one doesn’t recycle, the Earth will fill up with garbage and we won’t have anywhere nice to live or the Earth will fill up with garbage and the animals will die.  Sometimes the message is given in the reverse as in, “Recycle to save our planet,” which in fact teaches that the Earth is in danger and is meant to inspire fear among those who care about the Earth and their own lives.  I would hope that any recycling program introduced to [name of school] students does not have any element of fear.

Recycling is fine for those who are inclined to do so, but I honestly believe that the secular world has gone too far with the idea that if more people recycled, the world would be different. I think that sometimes it is hard to focus on what the Torah and authentic Judaism teach about the matter when the world is screaming differently.

In closing, I value our friendship and would love to discuss these ideas further if you would like.

[Signed by our own “Learned Hand” daughter]

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Find Yourself in a Fish

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

What a blessings it is to be able to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the very height of a furious storm that threatened the very survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.  Many victims of the Titanic drowned down in bottom decks of the doomed liner.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep. 
(Jonah 1:5) 

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges. 

God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet.  God dispatched him on a challenging mission to Nineveh.  Instead of confronting the challenge, Jonah elected to avoid it and attempted to escape to Tarshish.

Jonah represents you and me.  He represents leaders in politics and in business.  He represents parents and preachers.  Jonah had been given a life mission by God.  Just like each of us, he had been given the gift of a real purpose for living. 

From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission.  After all, if God is to be taken seriously then He must be taken personally too.  We must each distill our own life experiences and our own spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve. 

Life itself demands no less, but the search is challenging, even dangerous, and the mission, once found is always formidable.  Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality.  But Jonah preferred escape.

In reality, only one escape exists: view life as meaningless and seek solace in entertainment.  Distract ourselves to death.  Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life!  What that really means is affirm life.  But the only way to affirm life is by embracing your own moral mission with all its challenges. 

Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative.  It means abandoning your own great moral challenge. It means a life in which the dull gray monotony of existence becomes almost indistinguishable from death. 

Jonah tried to abandon his Divine destiny.  Instead of traveling to Nineveh as commanded, he attempted to evade his whole purpose for living by escaping to Tarshish.  Since evading one’s mission is an embrace of death, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship. 

When we try to avoid our mission, it is not because we consider the attempt to be futile.  It is because nothing has awoken us.  Only one thing could awake Jonah to his destiny and help him find his own redeeming mission in life:  three days in the belly of that fish. 

It was an unimaginable place of wet darkness where Jonah huddled among the giant pulsing organs of life.  Was this living cave to become a grave—the end of his life, or was it to become a womb—the real start of his life?  It could have gone either way.  The choice was Jonah’s to make. 

The one time in the Jewish calendar that the book of Jonah is read in synagogue is late in the afternoon on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  As the sun starts setting and the famous fast day is ebbing away we read:

Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city.  He made himself a booth there…” 
(Jonah 4:5)

It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, sometimes called Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths that commences just five days later.  Yes, the book of Jonah read on Yom Kippur really does hint at the forthcoming Festival of Booths.

As if to parallel that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation, the last word as it were, is that Jews ought to commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast.

The idea is that every day is connected to its yesterday and its tomorrow.  Rosh haShana, New Year, is linked to Yom Kippur by the Ten Days of Repentance.  In turn, Yom Kippur is linked to the next holy day, Sukot by the final reading of the day, the Book of Jonah. 

It is interesting that much of the information surrounding Jonah is disclosed in the tractate entitled Booths.  (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah Chapter V)  It is there that we discover Jonah’s identity and origins.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that he was the son of the widow who was Elijah the prophet’s landlady in the first book of Kings, chapter 17.   The lad had died and, in response to the entreaties of his bereaved mother, Elijah brought him back to life. Later in his life we encounter him as the prophet Jonah.  This helps explain why he seemed so fearless of dying during the storm.  After all, he had died once before and had been resuscitated once before—by Elijah the prophet. 

The lesson to be learned is that there are three avenues to finding our mission and thrilling to our purpose.  First, it can be dark and frightening days in the belly of the fish.  This is to say, some experience that has the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, we should relate deeply to the interconnectedness of days.  If today lacks clarity, know that tomorrow will soon arrive. Finally, rebirth is possible.  The old Jonah died in that fish, just as he did as a lad.  In both cases, he was restored.  Finding our purpose is the same as being restored to life.  And bounding out of bed each morning is a joyful reaffirmation of the life you live.

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How do you keep current events from getting you down?

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

Hello Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

I am generally an optimistic person, and the Jewish faith we share teaches us to be optimistic, even in difficult times. However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to feel optimistic about our country’s future, given the vitriolic, hateful language and actions employed on a daily basis against President Trump and conservative values in general.

This, combined with the lightning speed with which the PC forces are seeming to “have their way,” forcing us into either silence or acquiescence with things we are against morally and ethically, has given me the blues.

Do you see hopeful signs, and if so, where? Thank you.

Your friend and student,

Judy G.

Dear Judy,

We think you are speaking for many when you say that there are times that you find it hard to be optimistic about the future of the United States. As you also say, Judaism fundamentally teaches optimism, but it is not a “sit back and do nothing” optimism. The Torah demands action aimed at propelling things in the right direction.

If we may say, your own story, which you tell so eloquently (and humorously) in you wonderful book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi, is a large part of our answer. Could you ever have imagined writing the letter you just wrote us back when you were a devotedly liberal woman? People and their ideas are capable of change. 

Much of the reason you were liberal was because of a caring nature and because of your belief in core values, among them independent thinking, intellectual exploration and compassion. Back then you thought that those values belonged to the Left.  Today, however, it is clear that genuine liberalism is scorned by leaders of the  Democrat Party, colleges and media.

That very same media drives a great deal of the pessimism to which we  too easily succumb. They do not cover stories of Americans, young, old, male, female and of all religions and races who are horrified by the vituperation, hatred and lock-step thinking you describe. Many of them have a voter registration card with a “D” on it, but they are paying attention. It is incumbent on each of us to keep making connections and forming relationships, not in order to convert others to our politics, but to defy the fracturing of society that the extreme Left is promoting.

America has a tradition of religious Great Awakenings. The first played a pivotal role in the break from England while a later one was critical in leading up to the moral battle of the Civil War. We anticipate and pray for America’s third great religious awakening.  We do believe that returning to God must be part of any path to survival, and in America’s case that means a revitalized Christianity. And it is important to note that today, unlike in medieval times, a revitalized American Christianity is crucial for Jewish welfare. The threat against Jews today is not fervent, philo-Semitic, Israel-loving Christians, but America’s sinister slide into socialism advocated by the extreme Left.

Central to socialists in the Democratic Party is the idea of carving out special zones of immunity from the law and from Judeo-Christian values for selected groups. The resulting chaos of group violence, public filth and depravity and continued family breakdown imperils the survival of Jews and all other law-abiding Americans.  We are certain that only the revitalized faith of fervent Bible-believing Christians and Jews can slow down and stop this terrifying juggernaut of destructive secular socialism tearing down upon us.

This won’t be easy but a cornerstone of faith is the courage to stand up for what is right despite threats and bullying. We know that you and your family do exactly that and we believe that if enough of us do so, this nation will turn back to its founding promise. The American Alliance of Jews and Christians which we are privileged to serve, was founded to allow Jews and Christians to bravely work together to support those values on which this country was built.

Forming friendships and alliances with likeminded people is something important that each of us can do.  The Left focuses on fracturing a people into many separate groups in order to require ever larger central government and to ease its trajectory into tyranny.  Thus our antidote must surely be building community and connection.  Your uplifting book is helping to do that and we through our AAJC are dedicated to doing the same. 

The very ‘lightning speed,’ lack of tolerance and lack of restraint of the Left today, may well be the trigger that wakes enough up in order to start the process of restoring sanity. Like the proverbial frog who will allow itself to be boiled to death if the heat under the pot in which he sits is gradually raised while he will jump to safety if a blast of heat is applied, we have faith in American’s “jumping out” of the road to destruction as long as Americans are aware of it and courageous enough to stand for the truth.

Wishing you, your family, America and the world a blessed 5780,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Boys Adrift – a must-read book

October 6th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 7 comments

You have seen those ads for medications that ask questions such as:

  • Do you ever have trouble falling asleep?
  • Are you ever anxious?
  • Does the world ever seem like a scary place?

They might as well ask: Are you human?

I have two questions of my own:

  • Do you have any sons? Daughters? Students? Neighbors? Grandchildren?
  • Do you have a stake in the future?

The 99.9% of you who answered yes need to read boys adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Dr. Leonard Sax. It will not be a pleasant read. Not because the book is poorly writtenit is very readable. But the information it contains and the questions it asks will make you uncomfortable. Truth often does that. While I have a few quibbles here and there and would like to see further information on some of the avenues he explores, overall this is a valuable read.

Dr. Sax is a family physician and an author. I have not read his other books yet, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this one is only of interest to you if you have sons. That is a bit like suggesting to the rest of your body that it should ignore an infection in your finger. It can’t. The body is interconnected and a danger left untreated in one area doesn’t stay confined. Society is the same. We all have a stake in understanding the ways in which we are failing boys. Things have only gotten worse since the book’s 2016 date of publication.

On the plus side, if you do have specific boys under your influence whether as a parent or grandparent, a teacher, an employer or through your church, synagogue or community, this book will provide you with tools to improve the lives that intersect with yours. Whether discussing ADHD, girl-centered education or endocrine disruptors, Dr. Sax makes a compelling case that, as a society, we are on a dangerous path. Like me, you probably know amazing, mature and wholesome young men. Yet they don’t spontaneously erupt. The more aware we are of the pitfalls on the road that impede boys from turning into men we can admire and upon whom we can rely, the more we can actively intervene to help them achieve that goal.

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(Days of) Awe Inspiring

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.

If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her,  she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.

I did not follow the details of the trial, but at the end of it, after she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison, the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you,” and then asked for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. That act of grace and compassion took my breath away.

There are so many elements of the killing and what followed it that can and should be discussed in the larger picture of our judicial system, our police, racial tension and other matters. The judge’s actions after the trial, too, when she also gave Amber Guyger a hug along with a Bible, provide an opening for discussion. This exchange of ideas should not be the domain of internet trolls and angry, vulgar diatribes, but of actual meaningful conversations. As worthy as those conversations are, I am not going to discuss those matters here.

I simply want to say that in a society that sometimes seems to be full of incitement towards hatred from so many different avenues, Brandt Jean’s words and actions stand as a beacon of light. During this unique time of year, a period known as the Days of Awe, each of us who tries to maximize our opportunity is aware of not only needing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed but also of being in the position of granting forgiveness to those who have harmed us. In doing so, we are reminded that God judges us as we judge others. If we are quick to assume error rather than ill-will on the part of others, God will lean towards leniency when assessing our own actions towards Him. If we show compassion to others; God will similarly show compassion to us.

There are hurts that go deep beneath the surface and losing a beloved brother ranks high on that list. Mr. Jean’s largeness of spirit, fueled by his Christian beliefs, challenges us all to become greater people able to relate to others soul to soul. He is probably unaware of how the timing of his beneficence coincides with this period in the Jewish calendar when God judges all mankind, but for me and others the power of his lesson is truly magnified at this time.

P.S. Writing and speaking in public, as I do, is scary. Not only are mistakes “out there” even when later corrected, but each reader comes with his or her own perspective. At this time, I do ask forgiveness if something I wrote or said over the course of this year caused pain to any of you.

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We’re Moving Towards God, but Come from Different Faiths

October 2nd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 24 comments

Thank you so much for your podcast and your books, your work is tremendously enlightening and has enriched my life immeasurably.

I grew up as an atheist and discovered God as an adult. I am struggling finding the right path for me to learn about God and follow his teachings.

My own family background is Jewish on my mother’s side, but my husband comes from a Christian background (but secular). We have started attending church because he is now also yearning to follow God’s word. I enjoy church and Bible study but feel somewhat uncomfortable there due to my Jewish background. However, I want to support my husband and show a united spiritual front to our children, and I want my children to grow up in a Bible-believing community, instead of around the toxic secular values that my husband and I grew up with in school and society.

What is the right path for me?

Sincerely,

Anita

Dear Anita,

Thank you for your warm and encouraging words.  We really appreciate hearing that we are adding value to your life.  We think that you are a wise and courageous woman. We say this without knowing you because you understand the importance of presenting a united front with your husband and of giving your children a spiritual reality and a safe community.

Little did you or your husband think that it would matter that two people, both of whom came from families with a secular mindset, had different religious backgrounds. Yet, like most couples who have blithely ventured down these perilous pathways only to discover eventually that it does matter, you too have seen the same. It sounds like you are both on a growth trajectory and that takes honesty, courage and strength.

We encourage you to allow the process to play out. While there are huge theological differences between Torah observant  Judaism and Christianity which we’d never try to blur, the truth is that when contrasted with an atheistic or secular worldview, they have much in common.

We discourage trying to raise your family as both Jewish and Christian.  Sometimes house-bound people try to look at the beautiful garden outside from the windows in two separate rooms. Unfortunately they spend so much  time darting from room to room that they actually spend very little time gazing at the garden. Far better to remain in one room and derive all the benefit possible through the windows right there in front of you.

Nonetheless, this might be  an opportunity for you and your husband to become more familiar with both religions. We don’t know where you live, the ages of your children or what church you have found but many churches we know appreciate the Jewish origins  of their faith. You can supplement church and Bible study with some Jewish sources (perhaps online) and begin to get knowledgeable about Jewish holidays and practices. Maybe there is a local synagogue you and your husband could occasionally visit as well. As with churches, you need to be careful to choose your guidance carefully—there is a great deal of nonsense available out there and there are both churches and synagogues that sadly have little to do with the Bible and God’s dominion over the world.

The important thing is finding a faith family with which you can affiliate as a family and in which each of you finds individual fulfillment as well as that warm surge of deep inexpressible happiness when engaged in something meaningful together with your family.

Initially, simply accepting the idea that there is a Higher Authority and rules for living is a major step. Recognizing that those rules for how the world REALLY works are formulated in God’s message to mankind which he presented to Moses on Mt. Sinai is next.  You and your husband ought to engage in a weekly Bible study together and into which you can include children as they reach appropriate maturity.  Way down the road, it is entirely possible that members of your family might choose different paths and you will need to figure out how to make that work, but right now you are at the very beginning of your explorations.

Meanwhile, we applaud the steps you are taking and your commitment to your family and its exciting spiritual odyssey all together down one spiritual path.

May you thrive in your journey,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Yours, Mine and Our Sins

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

We are in the Jewish High Holy Day period that began with Rosh HaShana and reaches its climax next Wednesday on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time for intense introspection on one’s life, achievements, failures and goals. Simultaneously, it is a time for communal reflection and involvement. When we enumerate our sins on Yom Kippur, each individual has his or her own list, yet the format we recite is in plural language. Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.”

Isn’t this strange? Even orphans say, “We are guilty of not appreciating parents.” Even the most upright among us say, “We have stolen.”

This interaction between our unique lives and the larger community is one of the universal messages of Yom Kippur. It is a time to strip away the illusion that we are independent and self-directed and to recognize how much of the wrong way that we think and act is a function of following the crowd. It is a time to recognize our own responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others.  As we take an annual moral inventory, we need to assess with clarity the inescapable intertwining of our lives with the lives of the many different groups of people with whom we share life on earth.

After starkly facing our failings during this period, we emerge from the holy days with optimism and conviction. It is wrong to think of peer pressure only as negative. When we smile despite our pain, we also influence others. When we express gratitude and are gracious to others, the effects of that ripple outward as well. If we are courageous and cling to standards, immune to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, we make it easier for others to do so as well.

This is a good time of year to set the odometer back to zero and reject becoming ensnared in the failings of society, no matter how widespread they are. It is a particularly conducive time to commit to being leaders in exemplifying moral greatness.

Yom Kippur teaches us to work from the inside out, in contrast to tyrants who impose their will on others while indulging themselves. When we change ourselves, we change our families. When we change our families, we change our communities. When we change our communities, we change our country. When we change our country, we change the world.

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