Posts in Susan’s Musings

Deadly Doctors and Murderous Aunts

December 4th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 23 comments

One time, two of our young daughters went to some friends’ home for a sleepover. For some inexplicable reason, these girls’ usually responsible parents decided that watching the 1944 black and white movie, Arsenic and Old Lace, was a suitable evening activity. Twenty years later, that supposed comedy, with its murderous elderly aunts, still gives our girls nightmares.

Laughter often springs from a contrast between reality and what we are seeing. Surely, Arsenic and Old Lace could only be seen as a comedy by viewers who did not actually suspect that their sweet, unassuming aunts had scores of bodies hidden in their basements. As young girls, our daughters apparently were not completely clear that the movie didn’t depict reality.

Motivated by a misplaced sense of compassion (not to mention insanity) the two sweet, loving aunts in the movie murder lonely old men who are visiting them. Seeing the film as humorous, even if it is dark humor, presupposes an understanding of the sanctity of life. That is one of the values that Americans used to share and increasingly don’t. 

Without that, Arsenic and Old Lace is no longer a comedy but a nightmare.

With little fanfare, a number of ‘medical aid in dying’ laws have recently gone into effect or will shortly do so in the United States. These allow physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients. The laws contain numerous clauses designed to ensure that patients are thoughtful, competent to make such decisions and not being influenced to do so by others. Reality suggests that meticulously crafted laws are no match for human ingenuity, mendacity, carelessness and evil.

Europe is ahead of the United States (though ahead seems the wrong word to use) when it comes to physician assisted suicide and voluntary, non-voluntary, or involuntary euthanasia. I doubt that the relatives of those murdered, or who, as the official report euphemistically labels it, died by “a disregard for human life” at Gosport War Memorial hospital in the United Kingdom, would find Arsenic and Old Lace funny. The individual stories of the over 450 hospital patients who were given deliberately dangerous drug doses  between 1988 and 2000 leading to their deaths, certainly isn’t even  slightly funny. Rather, they are tragic. 

Official government reports of this National Health Service monstrosity use terms like, “unsafe care” and “professional misconduct.” That is using language to mask truth. It is not neglect or even misconduct to deliberately inject a patient with a dosage of medicine meant to kill him. It is murder.

This as well as other stories from Europe that suggest similar problems, contradict  the progressive narrative. They receive little play in the United States. Universal healthcare is promoted as leading to better health care, not administrative overreach leading to horrific deaths. Advocates depict physician assisted suicide only as a compassionate and caring act, not one easily subject to diabolical abuse.

In the real world, people get very ill and too frequently suffer months and years of physical and mental torment before dying. Those who love them suffer in agony with them. The lure of ‘medical aid in dying’ and euthanasia is a siren song whose appeal is incredibly tempting for good and caring people. Yet, as the Gosport tragedy reveals, interfering in life and death is one of those areas where we humans desperately need a Higher Power to separate Good from Evil.

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A Tale of Two Bettys

November 29th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

Some people impact the world by appearing on a public stage; others impact the world through the quiet example of how they live. This week, I along with hundreds of others, bade farewell to a diminutive giant of a woman whose everyday behavior inspired  those privileged to know her to become  better versions of themselves.

Betty Cahn and her husband, Joe grew up knowing that they were Jewish but, especially for Joe as a fifth generation Reform Jew, largely ignorant of the full scope of what that meant. After Mr. Cahn’s service as an officer in the US Navy during World War II, he and his wife followed a trajectory similar to that of thousands of their peers, including raising their two children. However, at a time when most of their contemporaries began looking forward to retirement, Mr. and Mrs. Cahn were introduced to Torah Judaism. Invited by a friend to a class given by my father-in-law, they attended and loved it. “Coincidentally”, at the same time their grown son developed a newfound interest in his faith. Within a short time, Mr. and Mrs. Cahn stopped by the synagogue on the beach in Venice, California, that my husband founded together with Michael Medved. The Cahns added  my husband’s weekly Bible class to their schedule and Mrs. Cahn joined my class for women as well. Within a short time, they were not only our students but our neighbors as they embraced Sabbath observance, keeping kosher and many other features of an authentic Jewish lifestyle.

Our synagogue at that time was composed largely of singles and young couples. To an outside observer the Cahns would have seemed an anomaly, decades older than almost everyone else. That observer would have missed Mr. and Mrs. Cahn’s youthful quest for knowledge, their excitement as they embraced each new day and their gracious personalities that quickly made them popular guests and hosts for Sabbath meals. To the great benefit of the young marrieds in our community, including my husband and me, they set an example of a couple who, after decades of marriage, were passionately in love with each other, with life and with their religious faith.

Mrs. Cahn (only in the past few years did I begin to call her Betty) was one of the most upbeat, optimistic and grateful women I have ever met. Whether she was facing a medical crisis or a family disappointment, she always chose to focus on what she had rather than on what she didn’t. Forming a special relationship with our daughter Rena from the time Rena was seven, I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who could have been a better role model for a young girl.

Mrs. Cahn had a cousin, also named Betty. This Betty was in many ways her polar opposite, achieving fame through being discontented and writing a book about it, The Feminine Mystique. Cousin Betty Friedan co-founded the National Organization for Women, setting in motion a movement that in many ways has upended and uprooted lives as dramatically as Mr. and Mrs. Cahn uprooted their own, but in a diametrically different direction. In later years, Ms. Friedan herself bemoaned some of the extremes that her  movement birthed.  While gentle would be one of the first adjectives used to describe Betty Cahn, abrasive was often used for the other Betty.

Betty Cahn’s name did not feature in  newspapers and her face did not appear  in magazines as did her cousin’s. Yet both women left a legacy. As she advanced into her tenth decade her vision and hearing diminished, but her smile and warmth did not. When she died this past week, her son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lost an important person in their lives. Yet, many others also shed tears and escorted her to her final resting place in Jerusalem, next to her beloved Joe. Her zest for life, appreciation of her husband and marriage, and her delight at the gift granted her of the Torah and a relationship with her Creator, set up ripples that continue to expand through the lives of those of us who were privileged to call her our friend.


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A Child’s Guide to Impeachment

November 20th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 45 comments

While I do try to keep up on politics, I have not followed any of the House impeachment hearings. Obviously, I haven’t written about them either.  At home I have a shelf of classic children’s stories that explains my nonchalance.

The Little Engine That Could tells the story of a train loaded with fruits and vegetables, toys and books that cannot make it up a steep mountain incline. Forced to stop, it pleads with other locomotives passing by for help so that the children on the other side of the mountain will have what they need. Along comes an arrogant train, a down-in-the-mouth train and others who refuse the small train’s supplications. Finally, a small engine comes along and is moved by the plight of the toy clowns and stuffed dolls. Repeating the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” the engine’s dedication and devotion to the task at hand allow it, despite its small stature, to pull the  train over the mountain.

As praiseworthy as the train might be, and as much as I may have read the story countless  times in the hopes of teaching the importance of persistence to my children, people can be dedicated and devoted to wrong causes as well. Since election night 2016, many Democrats have remained single-minded in their resolution to get rid of  President Trump by means other than electoral. The facts, the truth, precedents  and reality have little to do with their constant impeachment mantra, “We think we can, we think we can, we think we can.”


The non-Grandmother

November 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

What kind of grandparent are you? Alternatively, what kind of grandparent do you picture yourself being in the future? We have all read of the different styles of parenting. Like the bowls of porridge that Goldilocks tasted, we are told that authoritarian parents are too rigid, permissive parents aren’t rigid enough and authoritative parents are just right. But what about grandparents? Those categories aren’t necessarily relevant.

I ask this question because over the past few years I have noticed that many of the grand-parenting experiences of my friends and relatives are completely different from what we saw growing up.

Here are the three kinds of grandmothers that I see: .

  1. The grandmother who is in the role of mother
    2. The non-grandmother
    3. The more-or-less traditional grandmother

The saddest type of grandmother-mother is the result of tragedy. The parents are no longer alive, or they are ill or missing in action. The grandmother steps in and for all intents and purposes replaces the mother 24/7.

The type of grandmother-mother that I see more commonly, however, is not the result of tragic circumstances but of choice. I am seeing women in their fifties and sixties retiring from their jobs in order to take care of their grandchildren so that their own daughters can focus on their careers.

Some of these women  were stay-at-home moms themselves. They are now putting ‘all-those-things-I’m-going-to-do-once-the-kids-are-grown’ on the shelf and instead they’re digging out Candyland® and Play-doh® once again.

In most instances I’ve observed, the daughters are professionals. After years of training, they  earn good salaries  but their jobs also demand long hours of work and their student debt is often staggeringly high. Even if they are married to hard-working and productive husbands, making a decision to stay at home now would precipitate  an economic crisis. Did the daughters say, “I’ve signed baby up at a wonderful daycare,” and their mothers responded by insisting that they would take care of everything? Did the daughters plead with their mothers, eventually wearing them down? Was the decision somewhere in between? I don’t know.  However, providing the bulk of childcare for a toddler or school-age child is a big responsibility. The treats and surprises that grandmothers love to deliver must fall into second place behind those parenting realities such as nutrition, manners and discipline.

I am also seeing more and more peers falling into the non-grandmother group. They raised their daughters to be career-minded women. They gave their girls pep talks on how they could be anything they wanted to be and encouraged them to set their sights high. They urged their girls to establish themselves in a profession and enjoy a variety of experiences before “settling down.”  What the mothers didn’t realize is that they failed to impart to their daughters the wonder and fulfillment that can come from being a wife and mother.

Some of these mothers themselves didn’t start their families until they were in their late thirties. If they had one or at the most two children at that point and their daughters behave similarly, simple mathematics decrees that the years available for grandmother-hood are limited. They are hurting now, but it’s as if they never looked down the road to see the path that they were constructing.

I do see this phenomenon much more among my less-religious friends than among those who are traditionally connected with their faith. Whether Jewish, Catholic, or Christian, those of us “mature” ladies who went against the cultural messages beamed out since the Sixties often had had more children than the 2.1 fertility replacement rate. We also saw raising these children as our main profession (even if we worked outside the home) and the major source of blessing in our lives. With God’s grace, many of us successfully transmitted that message to our own daughters and we gratefully reap the rewards.

This means that we fall into category number three. While our lives obviously don’t mimic that of our grandmothers, in many cases, as it relates to our grandchildren, they aren’t that far off either. One of my young granddaughters said this to her mother regarding a standard Grandma Camp lunch offering: “You’re so lucky. You could have a chocolate spread/marshmallow fluff sandwich for lunch whenever you wanted!” She did not understand why her mother burst out in hysterical laughter. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that when my mother and her four siblings were growing up in a small apartment in the aftermath of the Depression, there wasn’t an entire drawer filled with comic books as my cousins and I enjoyed at our grandparents’ home.

There are so many by-products of the belittling of marriage, motherhood, and large families that emerged in the past few decades. Among them is that, at the same time as people are often staying vibrant and healthy to an older age, they are missing out on one of the greatest gifts of those advancing years.


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Change of Heart

November 7th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

This week, the young granddaughter of a friend of mine had a heart procedure, part of the continuing treatment of a condition with which she was born. Within 36 hours, she was home from the hospital and smiling. While I don’t know the particulars of her medical circumstances, I think it fair to say that had she been born in an earlier  time she might not have survived the challenges she faced in infancy. Certainly, the continuing care would not have had her so quickly back at home and feeling well. God’s mercy is good and we are grateful for His medical messengers.

Working on our own hearts, however, has not become any easier over the generations. Whatever our flaws, be they a tendency to anger, to envy, to vanity, to holding grudges, there has been no advance in technology that allows us to quickly overcome our internal adversaries. The list in the previous sentence could be much longer and each individual’s particular challenge presents in a slightly different way. Not only is there no quick fix for our character flaws, but our hearts and minds rationalize our shortcomings so that even acknowledging the existence of our defects requires real  courage and honesty.


Tempest in a Handshake

October 31st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

Writing and speaking in a public forum is exhilarating. That means it is both exciting and terrifying. When my husband or I put something out before a listening or reading audience, we sometimes find ourselves completely off target in how we think it will be received. It is as disconcerting to see stony faces after making a joke as it is to get laughs after saying something serious. 

When we publish our Ask the Rabbi column each week, we are occasionally taken aback at the lack of interest in what we thought was a fascinating question or, conversely, immense interest when we didn’t expect it. This week’s question was an example of the latter


When Satire Becomes Reality

October 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

What adjective is associated with British humor—or humour, to spell it more appropriately? Surely, the answer is ‘dry,’ though other than saying that one knows it when one hears it, I’m not sure what the technical definition of dry humor is.

However you describe it, my husband is a master at it. For this reason I don’t get surprised when a rather large percentage of listeners to his podcast don’t recognize when his broadcast  is in parody mode. Our children and I have had our turns of belatedly realizing that our legs were being pulled with such craftsmanship that we had no idea we were participating in a parody.

Like many Jews, our family has just concluded a month full of holydays. We have spent an amazing amount of time praying, eating and enjoying the company of relatives and friends. The days between the holydays were filled with preparation for the next special day as well as trying to keep up with ministry and business on a three-day-workweek schedule. Between not wanting the external world to intrude on these festive days and not having enough hours for everything I needed to do on regular days, I spent much less time than usual following the news.


Library Shaming?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 39 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. 


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.


(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.