Posts in Susan’s Musings

Biden, Bullies and Bahrain

September 17th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

These days, it’s pretty difficult to tell what is satire vs. what is news. So, when I read advice in a major publication that anyone interested in law and order should vote for Joe Biden because otherwise the streets would be torn apart by riots, my first response was to chuckle. Then, when I saw the author, I realized that he was serious. In other words, “You’d better vote like I want you to or I will rampage through the streets.”

Obviously, this is the advice we give kids all the time when faced with a bully. “Give in.” Everyone in the class should hand over his allowance to the bully because, if not, he will make your life miserable. Is a co-worker sabotaging your work? Hey—just let him do better than you or he might threaten you even more. (Yes, that is my tongue bulging out my cheek.)

This is the policy that until now most American presidents took with the Palestinians as well. You raise your children to blow themselves up as long as they take others with them? We’ll grovel so that maybe you’ll blow up fewer of us. It worked exactly as it works with the schoolyard bully, leading to a stronger and more implacable enemy.

This week, President Trump’s unconventional leadership resulted in an unprecedented breakthrough with peace agreements between Israel and Bahrain and Israel and the United Arab Emirates. More treaties are expected. Had something like this happened under any other president there would be universal acclaim. Instead, petty minds carp about not enough people wearing masks during the ceremony marking the occasion.

For decades, Palestinians have been used by the countries around them. Rather than being given a helping hand by “cousins” who amassed untold wealth, they were condemned to poverty and told that they could never succeed because of Jews, Zionists, the American Satan and Israel. Complicit in their victimhood, they elected corrupt government after corrupt government, where leaders lived like kings while too many of the ruled huddled in hovels seething in hatred.

Now, some of these “cousins” are recognizing that the world has moved on and that the tactics of the past no longer work. That is a huge step forward, even if it is unfair to those in whom they bred hopelessness. However, it does finally provide an opportunity for the Palestinians to assert their own willingness to aim for a better future rather than drowning in the failed past to which their corrupt leaders condemned them.

Perhaps most incredible, as the Arab world takes steps forward, rising leaders in the Democrat Party right here in the United States are supporting similar policies to those that have subjugated the Palestinians. These policies breed resentment, jealousy and violence.  Like a spiritual dark cloud, the worst of human nature moves from one area of the world to another. Vote for Biden or I’ll tear your neighborhood apart? One can only pray and work hard to ensure that there are enough Americans willing to stand up to bullies.

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Ready to be Uplifted?

September 10th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Are you ready for a story that will make you happy?  From our youngest days, my sister and I knew Cousin Mae as one of my mother’s closest relatives. Mae and my mother had grown up together and still talked regularly, sharing good times and bad. In 2000, when we were sitting shiva* for my mother, Mae, of course, was right there. However, she didn’t expect the shocking revelation that my aunt shared. It seems that we actually aren’t related to Mae! Since her last name was the same as my mother’s maiden name, they grew up thinking they were cousins, but in actuality, the relationship was of the heart, not of blood.

Nonetheless, I am still in touch with Mae, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year. In the summers, she spends time in an apartment near the beach in Long Island, NY, enjoying walks on the sand and the cool Atlantic Ocean breezes.  A few days ago, two men knocked on her door. They were the local lifeguards, Jake (22) and James (24) and they came to tell her that the water was warm and the day beautiful. Would she like to go in the ocean? Absolutely! After her dunk, while one of them helped her out of the surf, the other ran to get her towel so she would be warm. What wonderful and generous actions by two wonderful and generous young men!

In other good news, I came across a web-magazine that has me feeling optimistic. Brittany Hugoboom shared her story on #Walkaway, describing the hostile reaction she got from her peers in the modeling business when she interviewed Candace Owens and Tweeted against child porn. She mentioned that she had started an e-magazine, Evie, so I looked it up. I am not the intended reader; that would be women aged 18-34, “…who are tired of having to go to trashy or politically biased publications just to get quality reads on health, beauty, relationships and more.” I was delighted to see articles honoring ideas about women and men that used to be overwhelmingly shared, but that are only found now in religiously oriented publications. I don’t necessarily share all the ideas expressed, but for many women in their late teens, twenties and thirties, these time-tested views are radical.  I love that above the area where you can leave comments, it says, “Keep it classy. Keep it kind.” The fact that young women are producing content like this is uplifting indeed.

Hope you are as inspired as I am by these two stories.

*For seven days after the burial of a close relative, Jewish mourners step back from their usual lives, remaining at home while friends and relatives visit, providing support and consolation.

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They Confuse Chaos with Compassion

September 3rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

You have most likely heard the adage, “If you’re not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” The quote, in various versions, is attributed to many people ranging from a Frenchman in the 1700s to Edmund Burke, King Oscar II of Sweden, Georges Clemenceau and (seemingly incorrectly) Winston Churchill.

The opening half of the sentence makes sense in some circumstances, but it can also cover a multitude of sins. Yes, compassion is a wonderful trait in younger people as it is in older.  But it is a poor roadmap for making important decisions in both private and public life.  As the young grow and mature, they ideally become wiser and discover that feelings do not necessarily translate well into policy. They shouldn’t lose their heart but, instead, learn to channel their emotions towards endeavors that actually yield results.

But young people have other things tugging at them as well. Among them are hormones raging in their bodies, the insecurity of discovering that they haven’t yet conquered any mountains and the strong desire to be part of a crowd. All those things make them susceptible to joining mobs.

It is not compassion that is motivating those cursing and threatening their neighbors or destroying property and looting. Kind hearts do not wish police officers dead or want to subjugate those of a certain color. Kind hearts do not break the windows of shopkeepers and steal their goods.  They don’t behead statues of saints in Catholic churches or deface historical monuments. Those rampaging in Portland, Kenosha and many other cities, are more akin to those who uncovered witches in the 1600s, tracked down escaped slaves in the 1800s, betrayed hidden Jews in Nazi Europe and enlisted in Mao and Stalin’s ranks in the 20th century. They are high on power and disorder, not on empathy.

They are also the natural outgrowth of the adults in their lives, parents, teachers, university administrators, reporters and government officials. Some of these older people know exactly what they are doing and benefit from manipulating hordes. Others have no idea that they are being used, naively trusting the same players they have trusted for decades, unwilling to recognize that the world has changed.

Ancient Jewish wisdom describes with horror a world where those in leadership are compared to dogs. Just as dogs seem to be run ahead of their owners, these “elder statesmen” and “opinion-makers” want to believe (or at least want us to believe) that they are the ones setting policies and running things. In reality, just as the dog turns his head occasionally to make sure he’s going in the right direction, so too have those who should be older and wiser abdicated their responsibility as adults, taking orders from those they should be leading.

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Timely Honesty

August 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 12 comments

One of the gifts of the Jewish calendar is that it keeps us in touch with the cycles of the moon. This Thursday and Friday, August 20 and 21, as the moon wanes away to nothing and then a tiny sliver of moon reappears and begins to grow again, we usher in the new month called Elul (Eh-lool). Among other things, this monthly cycle reminds us that as we go through difficult periods we should seek solace from knowing that just as the moon wanes and waxes so do our lives; better times will return.

The month of Elul begins a forty-day period that culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the time of year set aside for introspection, evaluation of the previous year’s triumphs and failures, and an opportunity for repairing damage and committing to doing better in the coming year. Those words are quick to write, but the concept is difficult to act on. It takes humility and honesty to confront our failures.

Not believing in coincidence, I was blown away when I just “happened” to download a “random” book from my library, written by Mitch Albom, whose Tuesdays with Morrie was a best-seller a number of years back. This book, Finding Chika, chronicles the author and his wife’s experiences running an orphanage in Haiti after an earthquake devastated that area. The book focuses on one little girl, Chika, who came to live with them in the United States when she was diagnosed with a difficult and terminal illness. As they supported her through this traumatic period of her short life, they became her parents in every way other than legal adoption. As she became sicker and died, their hearts broke.  Their misery was no less than it would have been had she been their natural child.

Mr. Albom writes the book through “discussions” with Chika after she died at the young age of seven. The whole book is a moving and inspiring refutation to those who think that goodness is extinct.  However, the part that made me think of  Elul and astounded me with its honesty and self-scrutiny had less to do with Chika and was, instead, a shockingly revealing self-evaluation by Mr. Albom.

In one of their after-death conversations, Chika asks her stand-in father why he and his wife did not have children of their own. His answer is brutal and includes sentences such as, “I have always warned you about being selfish, Chika, but that does not mean I was not selfish myself.” He explains that despite appreciating and loving the woman in his life, he delayed marriage to her. Then, despite not marrying until their late thirties, he resisted having children. There were so many more important things like enjoying time together and advancing careers. After waiting too long and finding that science cannot create life on demand, Mr. Albom grieves at sometimes finding his wife crying over their childlessness. Having a too-short window into the blessing of a child as the terminally ill Chika brings a unique love into their orbit, he writes,  “To this day it pains me. There are many kinds of selfishness in this world, but the most selfish is hoarding time, because none of us know how much we have, and it is an affront to God to assume there will be more.”

I was almost embarrassed reading this section of the book as if I had voyeuristically peered into someone’s life. Writing those words acknowledging the loss caused by his selfishness is brave and even heroic. God does not always grant children to those who desperately want them, but, increasingly, our society promotes having and raising children as among the least important and fulfilling of activities. I wonder if the twenty or twenty-five-year-old Mitch would have been strong enough to overcome his own leanings and ignore the anti-marriage and anti-family cultural messages surrounding him if somehow he could have read the words he later penned.

There are many pieces of wisdom that we only understand long after we need to implement them. Few five-year-olds brush their teeth because they intellectually comprehend the value of dental hygiene. They do so because their parents inculcate a habit and supervise until they can be trusted to follow through on their own. It is the rare teenage driver who thanks his parents for a curfew, for not allowing him to drive his friends home late at night or for insisting that he pay for his own insurance. Years later, he might appreciate his parents’ foresight. And when religion and culture encourage you to marry and have children when you are young even if that precludes (pre-COVID) exciting trips abroad, acquiring expensive toys and devoting oneself single-mindedly to career advancement, you might not recognize the gift until years later.

I thank Mr. Albom for his searing honesty and for acknowledging the pain of not always being able to undo every mistake once we later recognize its impact. I hope that his words hit home for some young readers so that they do not find themselves following in his remorseful footsteps. And I appreciate his modeling for me the humility and proper frame of mind in which to usher in the period introduced by the arrival of Elul.

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One More Opportunity

August 14th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 42 comments

Four years ago, I wrote Musing after Musing as I thrashed out my views on candidate Donald Trump. I wrote as a means of clarifying my own thoughts and many of you honed my internal conversation by adding your own ideas in the Musings’ comment section.

After the election, I wrote this piece. I think the ideas in it are still relevant and true, though my words, “Can we now [that the election is over] have a respectful conversation?” clearly were naive. If anyone was prescient enough to see how the vitriolic hatred of the Left would magnify over the past four years, it wasn’t me.

Before this pandemic, I would have rated President Trump’s presidency as an A—.  I don’t know if it is possible to have a higher score. I am disappointed in his handling of COVID-19 and I also feel that he squandered a political opportunity to present himself to the whole nation as a statesman.  The truth is, however, that  I do not know that anyone would have handled this unprecedented crisis any better. Certainly, many would have done much worse. Nonetheless, I must now change my rating to B+. That still earns him my enthusiastic support.

I pray that God will give our country another chance, but I do want to repeat my call to us, America’s citizens. Yes, voting in elections matters tremendously, but our daily conduct and willingness to stand up for and convey our principles matters even more.

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Shout Out

August 6th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

Human nature leads us to notice when things are wrong more than when they are right. If our throats are sore, our fingers achy or our stomachs disturbed, our bodies get our attention. Yet, when all our parts are working smoothly we must force awareness of that fact. A large part of the system of Jewish prayer does exactly that—reminds us to be grateful that we can stand, see and swallow.

On a larger scale, we take for granted countless blessings. We expect light to come on when we flick a switch and we assume water will pour out when we turn on the faucet. We quickly get irritated if any glitch affects thousands of normally smooth-running parts of our day.

Of course, I am prey to this human tendency as well. Many of my Musings highlight societal, educational and political failure. This week, I want to note three successes. They are not contenders for “success of the year award,” nor are they epic, grandiose or related to each other. However, this group of three represent people and companies doing the right thing, an accomplishment that is all too easy to overlook.

A. We had an ant invasion in our kitchen this week. Like King Solomon, I am a fan of ants in theory (Proverbs 6:6 & 30:24) , but not when they are crawling around my kitchen. A few years ago, when a similar incursion occurred, I searched online and discovered Terro Liquid Ant Baits©. This week, someone beloved to me graciously responded to my cries for help and brought home a well-known name brand ant trap. The ants just loved this product enjoying a feeding frenzy and then performing an ant victory dance on the kitchen counters. On my suggestion, my beloved went back to the store and purchased Terro. Goodbye ants. Problem solved and I gladly pass this tip on to you.

B. Answering the phone, I found a distressed daughter on the other end of the line. Montgomery County, MD, where her son is heading into his senior year at a Jewish religious school, had announced that like public schools, private schools could not open in September. While her son’s school did a stellar job creating online classes this spring, her son had absolutely no desire to continue in that format. As an experienced homeschooling mom, our daughter knew that she could create a satisfactory year for her son, but the hours of effort to do that in addition to everything else on her plate was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back—at least until she could regroup.

The school, like many other private schools, has already invested thousands of dollars and hours of manpower arranging for extra space, cleaning and procedures so that both staff and students would be safe. Yet, bureaucrats were treating administrators, staff and parents like recalcitrant children who needed to be controlled.

Within an hour Governor Larry Hogan overruled the county’s officials. Here is a shout-out to his leadership and sanity.

C. This week, millions of Americans worked hard, took care of their families and honored their common humanity. Actually, in spite of my earlier words, this success is epic and grandiose.

Let’s hear it for doing the right thing!

 

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Uncovering the School Cover-Up

July 30th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

Jason Gay is a talented writer and, despite a general apathy about  the topic, I sometimes do read his sports columns for the Wall Street Journal. His words are clear and witty, unexpectedly enticing me to spend a few minutes on matters of baseball, football and basketball.

Mr. Gay also writes on family issues and while his approach is often comical, a recent article left me more annoyed than amused. He lamented how poorly he was coping with his children  at home and how exhausted both he and his wife are. The idea that schools might not open in the fall loomed as an insurmountable challenge to him.

While I didn’t love the general tone of the piece, what particularly irritated me were two paragraphs in the middle.

“Let’s not ignore the serious problems we’re creating—how these issues with schools are causing learning gaps and putting disadvantaged children at an even greater disadvantage. Children who need extra educational support are in crisis…

‘Meanwhile, privileged families are creating their own little education yurts with tutors and tennis coaches and pastry chefs and widening the chasm between families who can and cannot bathe problems in money.”

Excuse me? Where do I even begin to list the many flaws in this?

Let’s look at his, “serious problems we’re creating.” The fact is, that schools have been creating serious problems for decades now that result in more “disadvantaged children.”

Society has been living a great lie—that the government can replace devoted parents. Do you want to have a child without a spouse? Go ahead! All families are equal. Do you want to invite a rotating cadre of boyfriends to live with you and your children? It will be the school’s job to see that your children are emotionally healthy. Are you an immigrant? The school’s job is to welcome your child but not to integrate him into American life or demand that he or she learn English—after all, every culture is equal and all languages are valuable. Do you tell your children that studying is a waste of time and model poor behavior and decision-making? Not to worry! The school will make your child learn as well as a child whose parents read to him and sit with her at healthy family meals.

We have prioritized imparting social and political views over education. We have treated students as bargaining pawns in union negotiations and destroyed what used to be an admirable public school system that produced literate, responsible and productive graduates no matter the poverty level in their homes. Was it imperfect? Yes. But there was no pretense that schools could and should fill every academic, social, emotional and psychological need.

Certainly, many children with special needs are more impacted by the closing of programs geared specifically to them. However, an incredible number of children who need “extra educational support” need that support because the schools they attend are awful and because we have devalued family and home life. We have pretended that having children is not the awesome blessing and responsibility it is, but rather one of hundreds of  “lifestyle choices.” The closure of schools has shone a light on how we have deemphasized the importance of being a parent and how unskilled even well-educated parents are in their most important task of raising the next generation. It did not create the problem.

I can’t ignore the disparagement of wealth that Jason Gay presents in the second paragraph I quoted. Money does not guarantee raising successful children—if it did, Seattle and Portland would most likely not be the disaster areas they are today. But for every parent who is hiring a pastry chef, thousands more are standing in the kitchen and baking with their children. Many more parents are reading stories and playing games with their children than are hiring private tutors. Not having to scramble to put food on the table so that you can spend time reading and playing games with your children is an advantage to which everyone should aspire rather than one that should be mocked.

“Bathe problems in money”? Really? Is it worthy of derision when parents delay gratification and work hard so that they can take care of their own children rather than expecting their fellow citizens to do so? If Mr. Gay’s children needed medical, educational or psychological help I imagine he would be happy to scrimp and sacrifice and utter prayers of gratitude for a saving account that would allow him not to “bathe” the problem in money but to solve, mitigate and deal with it.

I will still continue to enjoy Mr. Gay’s writing. But this article badly missed the mark.

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Masked Strangers: a COVID Cost

July 24th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 36 comments

Going to the supermarket, library or store used to be a social activity. I may not have known anyone but, invariably, I chatted with those around me. Perhaps we discussed whether this year’s corn was sweet or if we should wait to buy, maybe we bonded for a few fleeting moments over a shared delight in an author, or we might have exchanged eyeball rolls at the annoyance of a computer glitch that delayed checkout. These transient interactions acknowledged a human fellowship.

Now, those around me view me not as a source of information and camaraderie but as a threat. How dare you come near me while I am picking out peaches? Are you going to make me sick? If there are smiles, one cannot see them. I sometimes don’t even recognize the masked face of those I do know; I certainly don’t relate to strangers.

What a loss! This week, I was remembering a Musing I wrote eight years ago that highlighted how severely damaging it is when something severs human relationships. Whether casual, neighborly connections get cut or if deeper and more intense connections between friends and family are hurt, the results for society are deadly serious.

Here is some of what I wrote then that is even more applicable today.

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 learning a specific portion of God’s word. 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 the young man who teaches Yosef 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 the government grows ever-bigger, family and friendship ties 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 provide money and services, but not heart. It can provide a monthly check but it strips dignity. 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 preventing you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is 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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Family No More?

July 16th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

This period of the Jewish year is a three-week-long time of sad introspection and mourning, starting and ending with a fast day.  As befits mourning, Jewish weddings, live music concerts, and other festive events do not take place during these days. The sad period of 22 days reaches its apex on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.

We focus on the many tragedies over millennia that have befallen the Jewish people during these three weeks. The ninth of Av was the date that ten of the twelve spies sowed fear about entering the land of Israel upon their return to the Israelite camp. Centuries later that date saw the destruction of both the first and second Temples, leading to an exile that continues to this day. It was also the date of the tragic outbreak of World War I in the 20th century.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us to think of ourselves as active participants in our fate, not victims. As such, our tradition attributes the destruction of the Second Temple not to Roman anti-Semitism, but to baseless hatred among Jews.  We brought it upon ourselves. Not surprisingly, many classes given during this time of the year focus on increasing sensitivity to others and repairing broken ties. While we are obliged to act with decency and courtesy towards all people, we are supposed to see our coreligionists as family. The underlying message is that family can be exasperating, thick-headed, and annoying but they are still family.

I don’t know if that message still resonates today. I have been re-reading Anne of Ingleside (from the Anne of Green Gables series) and Anne’s husband’s aunt is making her family’s life a misery. Aunt Mary Maria is critical, irritable and dour. Yet, she cannot be told that she has overstayed her welcome because—well, she is family. This conclusion doesn’t seem extreme in books written in the early 1900s. In today’s climate, she might never make it over the threshold.

At the same time as my relaxing reading takes me back a  century, I am also an avid follower of the #Walkaway movement. At this point, hundreds of thousands of individuals have posted videos or written testimonials about leaving the Democrat Party. Almost everyone has a tale of long-lasting friendships ending because of their political awakening and those are certainly painful. Worse, stories abound of people being told by parents/siblings/children that speaking positively about President Trump or Republicans is a reason for shattering family ties. Watching a young man sob as he tells you that his parents kicked him out of the house for acknowledging that he will be voting for President Trump is heartbreaking. This is not about politics; it is about religion.  Yes, the left is no longer a political doctrine about which friends can disagree.  It is a fundamentalist faith with its saints and its sinners, with its heroes and its heretics.  And as history reminds us, heretics must be destroyed.

My husband founded and served a beautiful synagogue in  California most of whose members grew up in homes that were emotionally Jewish but not committed to religious observance. As adults who found their way to my husband’s Torah classes, many of these young people began confining their diet to only kosher food, observing the Shabbat and changing their lives in hundreds of ways to align with Biblical requirements for Jews. Much of my husband’s time went to ensuring that relationships with their families remained loving and healthy. When one has found a new and electrifying relationship with God, it is easy to become overbearing and judgmental towards others. My husband repeatedly emphasized that a wonderful sister who craves a cheeseburger is no less wonderful once her newly kosher sibling rejects that religiously problematic food and considers it spiritually harmful. A father who drove you to the mall every Saturday when you were fourteen and now wants to drive over to see you on the day you have come to know as Shabbat, when using a mechanical vehicle is religiously proscribed, is still the same loving father he always was.

The media delight in telling us that religion and faith are ebbing.  That is not true for the destructive religion of Secular Fundamentalism which brings to life the worst manifestations of twisted religion—arrogance, false piety, wishing harm on apostates.  Yes, this is all alive and well in the political sphere. Perhaps the lessons of the three weeks when we focus on the damage done by not treating others with sensitivity and care needs a wider audience.

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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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