Posts in Susan’s Musings

The No-Musing Musing

January 23rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

This may be the shortest Susan’s Musings I have yet written. I love writing and I love the links that my writing forge between us. I feel like I know those of you who frequently comment even though we have never met in person, and I am thrilled when some of you come up to me at events where my husband or I are speaking—or even at the airport.

I have often written about homemaking and building a family being a full-time-job. This week has served as a confirmation. On Sunday, I pulled out my recipe files and planned dinners for the week. Tonight will be the first one we are actually eating.

Our children are grown, and we are blessed to live near many of those adults and their own little ones. This week, while I did what I could, I also turned down a few requests for help and, after offering rushed good wishes, I wasn’t able to stay and celebrate with our nine-year-old birthday girl.

I won’t even mention laundry and tidying, but I have also not had the chance to join my husband for a quick chat or drive. I haven’t caught up with all our further-away children by phone or paid attention to my friends. 

What have I been doing? Working, of course. Now, my work is in our ministry and done largely from home which means that I am feeling only a tiny percent of the tug-of-war that many women feel when they head out to their jobs in the morning. I also believe that my work is important and consequential. Even so, while I am incredibly excited about two projects on which I am working, I’m not happy that pretty much everything else has gone by the wayside—including having time to think about and compose a Musing.

(In just a few days we will be telling you about how you can participate in our online Master Class, based on updating our 1999 book, America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival. I hope to share about the 2nd project shortly thereafter.)

Thank you for your patience.

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She Said – He Said: A Tale of Lizzie and Bernie

January 15th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 34 comments

Little Lizzie and Bernie had a playground spat.

“He said that I couldn’t  be president because I’m a girl.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Did not,”  and so on and so forth.

I’m sure some advice in the kindergarten teacher manual recommends how to deal with “he said”-“she said” arguments, but here’s a memo to these presumed grown-ups acting like overgrown toddlers.

You both sound ridiculous!

In the long-ago distant past when I was a child (it wasn’t actually that long ago, but the memory of college-educated American seems to be about ten-minutes-long these days) there was a popular riddle.

“A child is rushed into the operating room after being in a car accident.”

“The surgeon enters the operating room and exclaims, ‘I can’t operate. This is my son.’”

The surgeon is not the boy’s father. How can that be?

The incredibly elusive answer was that the surgeon was the child’s mother.

Have you heard that riddle being told lately? Neither have I. The instant response today would be, “Duh – it’s his mother.” (Or maybe, “Duh, it’s his stepmother or his other dad or….”) Female physicians are part and parcel of the landscape rather than an aberration. Someone should tell that to Senators Warren and Sanders.

Somewhere between my childhood and today, I recall reading—and being terribly annoyed— by an article about women in Congress in Good Housekeeping magazine. If memory serves me, either Senator Susan Collins (Republican, Maine, 1997-present) or Senator Olympia Snowe (Republican, Maine, 1995-2013) spoke of feeling a sisterhood with her female Democrat colleagues to the point of being more likely to support legislation proposed by one of them. I was indignant. Senators are supposed to represent ideas, not gender affiliation. If anything, those words made me less likely to vote for a female, not more. I want my elected officials to examine, analyze and vote based on the legislation itself, not based on feelings of kinship with the person bringing it to the table.

I had a similar negative reaction to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s words while campaigning for Hillary Clinton, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” If women vote based on such foolish criteria then we should re-examine whether they indeed deserve the vote in the first place. Even Ms. Albright doesn’t mean what she says. Had, for example, Nicky Haley been running on the Republican ticket we can be pretty sure that she wouldn’t have advocated sisterhood. Sarah Palin certainly did not get the support of woke women just for having an  Xtra chromosome.

Here’s the rub. All three Senators I mentioned (Warren, Snowe, and Collins), as well as Ms. Albright, are—how to put this tactfully?—on the older side. Their age is showing. Any assumption that a substantial portion of Americans would not vote for a woman is highly anachronistic. Elizabeth Warren is out-of-touch with reality in many ways. Channeling victimhood for being a woman is one embarrassing example.

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Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go

January 9th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

For thirty years, Sue Shellenbarger has been writing the Work and Family column for the Wall Street Journal and I have always enjoyed reading her words. This past week, she penned a farewell article summing up what she sees as advances for working parents as well as areas where she sees problems looming.

I found the piece depressing. Perhaps the sidebar to the article helps to explain why. It highlighted four questions asked of mothers and fathers in a recent poll. They were asked if:

Being a working parent:

  • Makes it harder to advance in your job or career.
  • Has created a need to reduce your work hours.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at work.
  • Has caused you to turn down a promotion.

In each of these four questions, the percentage of mothers answering in the positive is larger than that of the fathers. This seems to present an underlying problem for Ms.Shellenbarger, revealing that things haven’t advanced as much as she would like over the past thirty years.

I come from a different perspective. I wouldn’t see it as an advance for the answers to be more 50/50. I actually would have liked to see the questions phrased differently.

Being a working parent

  • Makes it harder to devote the time needed to being as good a parent as you would like to be.
  • Has created a need to reduce your time with your children.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at home.
  • Has caused you to turn down participating in important events, like family meals, with your children.

I think the best world is one in which a man and a woman (married to each other) support themselves and their children financially, emotionally and spiritually. The most important thing isn’t being able to manage having children without interfering with one’s paid work, but being able to juggle everything as a family. I see it as a step back to assume that the largest chunk of both parents’ time should go towards their careers and the role of government and  business is to enable that to happen.

There are all sorts of reasons for mothers to work. Some women have a passion or talent that they want to express. Others are working because they need the money. That doesn’t mean that they hate their jobs or get no satisfaction from their work. It is important to make the best of our circumstances. Yet, I suspect that many working women would have a passion for building a home and raising a family were that to be socially acceptable, esteemed and economically feasible. They don’t need universal access to cheaper childcare or stronger maternity and paternity leave policies or women being given an advantage when looking for a job so that companies can boast (or meet requirements) for gender-equity. What would serve them (and most children) would be a return to a society that views a married couple having children as the preferred norm and enables that choice. If women do choose to work, rather than being forced to do so for economic reasons, perhaps they might willingly and thoughtfully turn down a promotion or reduce work hours rather than being compelled to do so by an unbending work environment. Returning to a society that values the work involved in creating a home and raising a family as well as participating in an active community and neighborhood life would meet their needs.

Yes, times have changed and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Yet, I don’t see women, men or children being happier and healthier today. Instead we see a rising rate of anxiety, depression and suicide. Is this related to our “improvements” in facilitating divorce, single motherhood and career-oriented women? Is suggesting that we can “have it all” leading to more satisfied lives or just to more unhappiness and resentment? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I think the question is worth examining before we assume that continuing on that path is the only way to go. 

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Worry Less About anti-Semitism

January 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

Was the attack in Monsey, NY, on December 29, 2019, an anti-Semitic attack? How about the increasingly frequent attacks on Hasidic Jews, as happened recently in Jersey City or the numerous incidents that are taking place in Borough Park, NY, or the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, 2018, or the synagogue attack in Poway, California in April, 2019?  The answer is both yes and no.

Yes, these are anti-Semitic attacks because the victims are easily identified as Jews and the words shouted and backgrounds of the attackers reveal that they chose their victims for this very reason. So why do I say that the answer is also no? That is what I intend explaining in this Musing. This is a difficult piece for me to write. There is absolutely no way in which I can treat the topic comprehensively .  Furthermore, there are many ways  in which my words could inadvertently hurt. I intend this, ideally, as a starting point for discussion rather than a finished piece. I am writing it because America is in crisis. If the American experiment fails, Jews around the world will be among those who will suffer, but in no way will they be the only casualties. My hope is that my words—and those my husband added while editing—might clarify the struggle.

Anti-Semitism—which I’m defining as singling out Jewish people for hatred— has existed since at least the generation of Jacob and Esau. Jacob received the covenantal blessing and continued the spiritual line of Abraham and Isaac. His brother Esau and Esau’s descendants, especially grandson Amalek, swore enmity to their cousins. One of the reasons that anti-Semitism is such a phenomenon  is because the Jewish people are eternal. Other people and nations eventually exit the stage of world history, but the Jews endure. We also spread out around the world as prophesied in Genesis 28:14. This means that Jews constantly maintain their presence as targets of  hatred, year after year, decade after decade, century after century and millennia after millennia. Amalek too has a spiritual component, but this destructive identity rests on different people and different nations at different times.

This spiritual dimension does not in any way legitimize  the hatred, however it does point to the fact that there is an unnatural and spiritual makeup both to the survival of the Jewish family and to the hatred of it. Any analysis of anti-Semitism that does not take this spiritual component into account is going to be lacking. For example, the great historian Paul Johnson wrote an excellent piece about anti-Semitism in 2005, yet he neglected the spiritual underpinnings. He recognizes that the hatred is irrational saying, “I would call it [anti-Semitism] an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.” Understandably, as a historian, he didn’t discuss God’s unique relationship with the Jews and how this affects anti-Semitism as well.

However, many open-minded students of history would conclude that God has a covenant with the Jews and that because of that covenant no matter how many are murdered, as a people we do and will survive. That covenant also means that God holds us to a strict standard and, as He promises and warns in Leviticus 26, how we behave results in things going well for us or in great tragedies befalling us. Is this blaming the victim? No, it  is reality. Often the victim is indeed complicit in his own misfortune.

As Mr. Johnson articulates, nations that succumb to the hysteria of anti-Semitism end up being diminished themselves.  Whether we  consider  ancient Egypt or Rome or whether we  talk of Spain in the late 1400s or Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany or Islamic  countries today, God does, to paraphrase Genesis 12, curse those who curse his people. When God wishes to punish his children, He doesn’t need anyone’s assistance. Those eager to kill Jews who rush in saying, “Me, me, I’ll wield the sword,” and volunteer to be the instrument of punishment end up suffering even to the point of disappearing.

However, this does not let the Jews off the hook either. If we were faithful to God, no person or nation on earth could or would touch us. However, this refers to the people as a whole, not to individuals. In most generations, a minority are faithful while many more fail in that task or even actively  rebel. We  had to wander in the desert for forty years so a generation could die out before entering the land of Israel under Joshua’s leadership! The rejection of God’s will featured throughout the book of Judges did not cease when Biblical times passed.

Much ink has been spilt in trying to define who is a Jew. Are we a genetic group, a nation, an ethnicity, a religion? The baffling answer is all of those and also none of the above. The best I can offer is that there is a spiritual link marking those whose ancestors stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai (and ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the ancestors of all converts to Judaism were there as well) that is incredibly difficult to shatter.

Nazi Germany declared that having one Jewish grandparent made you eligible for extermination. Were you raised as a Christian with Christian parents? That was irrelevant. Yet it touched a truth. People consider themselves Jews and are considered by others to be Jews no matter what their beliefs or whether there is any relationship between them and the Torah or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sometimes, the only relationship there is goes back generations or it is one of brazenly rejecting God’s presence in their lives. Other times there is intense fealty to one portion of God’s message but a spurning of the whole picture. Whether one is ignoring the guiding principles governing the relationship between man and God or man and his fellow man, this picking and choosing doesn’t end well. 

Jews are meant to be a light unto the nations and they were given powerful tools with which to influence the world. Here is the catch: those tools can be misused to influence the world in the wrong direction as well. Let me offer an example my husband uses based on an idea taught to him by his uncle, one of the 20th century’s prominent rabbis. Someone riding a bicycle can stumble and fall. He will harm himself but no others. Most often, the damage to his body will be minor. That same individual  who has an accident in a car can be more severely injured and can also injure others. He can go further and more comfortably than on a bicycle, but the downside is more serious as well. What happens if we now envision the individual piloting a commercial plane?  He can transport himself and hundreds of others to locations thousands of miles away quickly and comfortably. Yet, an accident is likely to cause the death of everyone on board. In the same way, fire is a powerful force for good as well as for destruction and nuclear power can do both more good and more harm than fire can. Jews are the nuclear power of the world, both for good and for bad. As a group Jews are intensely involved in the entire mosaic of both human greatness and human failing.

The United States of America is a unique and amazing country for reasons that do not belong in this essay. One of the reasons it has achieved such greatness and has been such a  blessing to the world is the safe haven and many opportunities it has offered its Jewish population. Yet those same Jews that have helped propel the country to greatness also have among their number  those who have been encouraging secular socialistic  policies that, if unchecked, will destroy America. Jews have been both a light to the nation and a heart of darkness. That is how  spiritual reality works: it is a powerful tool for good and a powerful tool for bad. 

People as disparate at President John Adams and historian Thomas Cahill recognized that ideas that civilized people share such as the value of each and every human life, justice that neither tilts toward or against the rich or the poor, and the importance of education entered mainstream thought through God’s chosen people. As a vessel for God’s wisdom, the Jewish people are invaluable. Yet, individuals are as human as members of all other groups. It would be nice, but completely unrealistic to assume that external religiosity is a foolproof indicator of goodness, but it isn’t. Many of those Jews who contributed great scientific, economic and social gains were a generation or two removed  from  Torah observance. There is no Moses or prophet available today to vet our thoughts and actions telling us if we are on the right track or heading  for doom. But, we all can and must do our best to measure ideas against an unchanging moral code and beware those who seek to replace God’s vision with their own.

When anti-Semitism is unleashed, those most easily identifiable as Jews often suffer the most. As an example, Leon Trotsky was one of many Jews in his generation who abandoned the faith of his fathers, embracing Bolshevik atheism in the early 20th century. As part of this rejection of his religious heritage he changed his name from the Jewish-sounding Bronstein to Trotsky. His motivation may well have been a belief that religion, economic differences and nationalities separated people and were obstacles to a utopian society. Even the best motivation does not shield anyone from horrific unintended consequences. The Russian revolution he  helped foment did not lead to peace on earth as promised and, in fact, it led to tremendous persecution against the Jews and the deaths of innocent millions. A story relates that when the chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Jacob Maze, appealed to Trotsky to speak out against that anti-Semitism (and was rebuffed), the rabbi said, “Trotsky makes the revolutions and the Bronsteins pay the bills.”  In other words, Jews who revolt against God and His Torah initiate actions that result in tragedies for the Jewish people. When that happens, those most recognizable as Jews are often the first to pay the price. For this reason Hasidic Jews (often mistakenly referred to in the press as “ultra-Orthodox) and a Reform Temple in Pittsburgh are both targets.

However, I think it is a dangerous mistake to fixate on these attacks as anti-Semitic. Doing so suggests that they should be dealt with in isolation from similarly deadly attacks on churches, on concert-goers in Las Vegas, attacks on white people by black hooligans or on colored individuals by neo-Nazis, or on Amish schoolchildren or first-graders in a public school.

It is long overdue that we Jews stop viewing ourselves in an isolated way as victims in America.  A Barnard College student was murdered by vicious thugs in Manhattan just at the time of the Jersey City massacre. A Texas church was shot up at the same time as the recent Monsey attack.  It is not as if every non-Jewish citizen is living in a cloistered cocoon of tranquility, and only we Jews suffer.

Liberalism, promoted, encouraged, and financed by too many Jews for the past fifty years has, over the years morphed into Leftism. The overwhelming majority of individuals supporting those ideas did so with benevolent motivation and the desire to help make a better society. Yet, taken to an excess, as it has been, this has largely been responsible for the collapse of civilized conduct on the streets of American cities. Today, the more Leftist a city and the more secular, the more anti-Biblical behavior is tolerated including assault and murder.  Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle do not even take sensible precautions to prevent human excrement on the sidewalks.

It is not hard to see that there are more acts of violent anti-Semitism and violence in general in New York and Chicago than in Dallas and Salt Lake City, cities in which the restraints of religion still exert cultural sway and where liberal Democrat ideas have not been in charge for over more than four decades.  The far-Leftists (including both non-Jews and Jews) increasingly in control of the Democratic Party even shamefully refuse to condemn the openly anti-Semitic members in their ranks. As ancient Jewish wisdom predicts, those who show kindness without the balancing arm of firmness and rules as instructed by God, end up inflicting cruelty. Over many  years, Jews and non-Jews whose values have been sculpted by secular fundamentalism blame all manner of causes rather than taking an honest look at the failures of the policies they supported that have led to suffering for so many.

Jews who do strive to follow Torah rules are not guiltless either. Too many have assumed that as long as they have their own schools and communities, the precipitous decline in civilization didn’t really impact them.  This latter group needs to join the general outrage at the collapse of the culture which has been going on for half a century rather than maintaining a parochial focus on anti-Semitism. Yes, there are very disturbing attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, but to pretend that the mind-addled predators that attacked Jersey City or the mad Monsey murderer are avid followers of the rabid writings of Joseph Goebbels is to miss the point.

As difficult as it is to understand or accept, many of those who led and participated in torturing and murdering Jews under the Nazi regime were decent husbands, fathers, professionals and members of their community. That is not so for today’s anti-Semites. It’s not as if absent their Jew-hatred, the attackers in Pittsburgh, Monsey or Jersey City were model citizens.  At the present time Jews are collateral damage rather than the bullseye of the target in the collapse of American civilization at the hands of secular Leftism. 

If you wake up one morning to find that the food in your fridge is spoiled, the lights won’t go on and your house is freezing, it would be a futile mistake to call a refrigerator repairman, an electrician and a heating company. You might look around and see that your neighbors are having the same difficulties as you are. The problem isn’t personal but a massive breakdown of your city’s electric grid. Expending money and effort on the symptoms isn’t going to solve the problem.

America has a systemic problem. About half its populace rejects the Judeo-Christian values and founding principles on which the nation was built. Effort expended on dealing with the symptoms, among them anti-Semitism, rather than on recognizing the source of the problem may serve as a band-aid but will not be effective on a large scale.

Did the attacks in Monsey or in Borough Park or Pittsburgh target Jews? Yes. Are proclamations against anti-Semitism, the dangerous focus on hate crimes, getting increased funding for security or political posturing the answer? None of these popular prescriptions are solutions to the problem.

What can we do? Certainly, prayer and repentance are elements, but action is necessary as well. Each American needs to take a stand in today’s world. To do so, we need to be informed and being informed today means searching for information as the media is untrustworthy. 

In 1999, my husband and I wrote a book, America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival. It was a best-seller and stirred great response, both positive and hateful. The American Alliance of Jews and Christians is one of the outgrowths of the book as it argued that Jews and Christians must come together, not theologically, but politically.  It attempted to answer the question of why Jews were so liberal when so many liberal policies were either in rejection of God or with complete unawareness of the reality of unintended consequences. The book pre-dated 9/11 and so many other historic changes in the world. It is time to bring it up to date so it may serve as a tool in today’s battles.

We are considering a 15-week-series discussing and updating the book as well as joining together to find solutions to today’s problems. Make sure you are on our mailing list so that you will hear as details become available. Head to Friends of Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin on Facebook, comment on this Musing or shoot an email to admin@rabbidaniellapin.com  to let us know of your interest.

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Faith and Faithlessness

December 26th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

As a fan of all types of puzzles, I enjoy seeing both jigsaw puzzle pieces and words fall into place. The separate become connected and the random suddenly makes sense. I tend to follow the same steps when reading, looking for patterns that tie disparate topics together.

As such, when I recently read two disturbing articles within a few pages of each other in my morning paper, I viewed them as a pair rather than individually. The first relayed a distressing tale of women who, after testing for genes associated with a highly increased cancer risk, chose to have mastectomies and hysterectomies as a preventative measure. Increased data recently revealed that their risk was much lower than they had been told. It was too late to undo the emotional or physical pain they underwent and those whose decisions included having no more children had no way to reverse events.

The second article spoke of the growing estrangement from organized religion among the young. It featured families for whom Christmas always meant attending church and how they are coping when adult children wish to join their parents for the holidays, but not attend services with them.

What is the connection?

I do not know if they still do so, but insurance policies used to have an exclusion for “acts of God.” Perhaps they have renamed that clause, but the idea was that certain freak weather occurrences can neither be predicted nor prevented. As a populace becomes less religious and even agnostic or atheistic, the idea of an “act of God” necessarily becomes incomprehensible and even unacceptable.

As someone who does believe in God, I would like to point out that I, along with many others, see “acts of God” all the time in a positive sense. Every baby conceived and every baby born is an act of God. Every time I open my eyes and see, use my ears to hear, or walk on my feet, I recognize an act of God. Yes, a monsoon in Oklahoma would be an unusual and unexpected—and painful—act of God, but when doctors have given up hope for a patient who then has a complete recovery that too is an unusual and unexpected—and joyous—act of God.

In other words, while faith does demand that we put forth effort and run our lives in accord with sense and knowledge, in the final analysis having faith means recognizing that God has the final say. I must work diligently, but I cannot guarantee economic success. I must devote great effort to raising my children, but I cannot guarantee they grow up physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. I need to take care of my body, but I cannot guarantee that I will be healthy.

As God moves out of the picture, as the second article I referenced reveals, people come under great pressure in regard to what happens in their lives. If there are no “acts of God” the thinking easily follows that someone—either oneself or others—is accountable for all of one’s problems. Everything, from the straws we use in our drinks to mapping our genes to the most minute decisions of our lives demand intense concentration, for we are responsible for everything. Needing to be all-powerful and all-knowing, or conversely, a victim of circumstances with little or no ability to direct one’s own fate, is exhausting and depressing.

Here is an example. Most people today will affirm that having as many children as God gives you can be overwhelming. But they are less likely to recognize that it can also be an overwhelming burden to decide everything about children on one’s own; how many children, at what stage of life, under what circumstances, with or without a spouse, at what financial and emotional cost for procedures, how to respond to the results of (often flawed) prenatal testing , etc., etc., etc. Believing in God and having guidance from a competent faith leader provides a framework for making those decisions rather than needing to rely solely on one’s own feelings and thoughts or on current trends. The action taken may even be the same, but acknowledging a spiritual aspect provides greater elucidation of the decision being considered as well as a recognition that we can only do the best we can with the tools that we have; we are not going to be omniscient. Taking God out of the picture doesn’t make the decisions easier. The same is true in other areas of our lives. Rising levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness that we are seeing today suggest that the secular path society is following has troubling side effects.

Yes, religious leaders and institutions of faith can and have failed. These failures can range from criminal activities to those of human frailty and foolishness. It is crushing to feel betrayed by one’s faith or those who represent it. Yet, today, we act as if the failures are universal, ignoring the positive, the life-enhancing and the successes of faith and faith communities. Perhaps Bing Crosby portraying a priest in movies such as The Bells of St. Mary or Spencer Tracy’s depiction of (real life) Father Flanagan in Boys’ Town showed only a positive side of faith, but focusing only on the failures presents just as much, or more, of an unrealistic and false picture.

Having God in one’s life, both when times are good and when they aren’t has provided direction, strength and comfort to millions through the ages. As the unfortunate women in the first article I read discovered, science and technology aren’t flawless and the blood of millions murdered under atheist regimes refutes the idea that getting rid of God leads to a happier and kinder world.

I am not urging those without faith to fake it. And, there are those who have studied, struggled and concluded that God doesn’t exist. Yet there are also too many who pat themselves on the back for being enlightened and scientific in rejecting God and the faith of their ancestors, but who too often are instead spiritually ignorant and uneducated. Sometimes they have, unfortunately, met charlatans or incompetent representatives of religion. However,  if they went for mental or psychological counseling and met someone incompetent or deeply flawed, they would look further rather than decide that the entire fields of counseling or medicine are  Irreparably tarnished by the malefactor.

Rejecting faith in response to societal encouragement for doing so, as happens today on college campuses and in many corners of society, isn’t an independent and courageous action, but simply “going with the flow.” As someone who lives a fuller and happier life because of my faith, I feel a deep sadness for those who are unaware of what they are missing by ignoring this dimension of life and worry about a world where fundamental principles bestowed by Judaism and Christianity are rejected.

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The Candyland® Congress

December 19th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

When trying  to evoke what a tough mother I had been, my children sometimes mention that I often ruthlessly defeated them when we played Candyland®, a game that appeals to the five-and-under crowd. Clearly, only the most heartless mother would fail to manipulate the cards allowing her toddler to jump ahead by drawing Queen Frostine.  A compassionate mom   whose child picked Plummy, a card necessitating going back almost all the way to the beginning, would lovingly say, “There, there, don’t worry. You can pick again.” I was not that mother.

It’s easy to divide  the country into liberals and conservatives, pro-2nd Amendment or gun seizers and larger government advocates vs. those who champion personal responsibility. But maybe the country also divides into those whose mothers (and teachers and coaches) always let them win and those whose mothers and mentors tolerated frustration and tears, teaching their children to withstand the disappointment of sometimes losing.

Too  many Americans  fall into the wrong category.  They believed the rhetoric telling them that Barack Obama’s election was a sea change for positive  transformation  and that those marching leftward would never lose an election again. They celebrated when the Judiciary forced anti-God morality on their fellow citizens. Surrendering the ability to think for themselves and ask questions, they only pay attention to that which (as my husband would say) massages them with warm butter. They cannot have fairly and squarely lost the 2016  election, because they are not supposed to ever lose. The world owes them happiness and respect.

To be honest, I sometimes did use sleight of hand to allow my children to win Candyland®. Often, the game just had to end so life could go on. But, I did not do that too often. Yes, the game helped teach counting and colors. More importantly, it taught sportsmanship and the idea that even after a crushing defeat, you don’t throw the cards across the room and have a tantrum, instead you pick up the pieces and try again.

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No Growth Allowed

December 12th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

On April 29, 1986, a catastrophic fire erupted in the main downtown Los Angeles Public Library. By the time the fire was under control, tens of  thousand of books had been destroyed, including irreplaceable historical documents. Many firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, and it remains the worst library fire in United States history.

Last week, in December 2019, I saw a video of a respected community leader pontificating foolishly and revealing that he had no idea of the seriousness of the question he was asked.  Watching  the clip made me feel embarrassed for him and for the community he represents (of which I am a member) .

What does a giant library fire have  in common with a dignified leader slipping on a verbal banana peel? 

When the Los Angeles library burned in April 1986, my husband and I had five children under the age of five. The 29th of the month fell out during Passover when family and communal demands rocket sky-high. In addition to leading our flourishing Jewish congregation near the Los Angeles beachfront, my husband was running a business. We were busy.

Along with everything going on in our own lives, the frenzied 24-hour news cycle was not yet in existence. Since we did not watch television in our home, we would not have seen the library fire on the news.  Internet news sites were not to come into existence for nearly another decade, so while personal computers were around, they were not delivering a constant stream of information. Surely, we must have heard about the fire via radio or newspaper? Surely it had to have been a topic of conversation after synagogue services? Neither my husband nor I have any recollection of this inferno.

A well-known saying claims that a picture is worth a thousand words. That is certainly true, not only in conveying ideas but also in influencing how memorable those ideas are. This is true whether what is caught visually is profoundly true or misleading, representative of a greater reality or an inconsequential outlier. Video is pictures on steroids.

The ease with  which every step and word today is caught on video magnifies the impact enormously. There is not a one of us who has not said foolish, hurtful or false words. Sometimes we realize our mistakes ourselves, sometimes others point them out to us. We have an opportunity to grow from our blunders and, if we are fortunate, we can undo some of the damage we may have wrought.

Yet, today, our missteps remain frozen in time. If reporters and activists bent on malice and  mischief  comb through old yearbooks looking to destroy political opponents, what hope do those growing up today have? Anyone and everyone around them can capture their lives on ubiquitous cell phones. Privacy is increasingly non-existent both as a concept and as an actuality.

Perhaps the day after the community leader’s ill-conceived remarks, his wife, colleagues or even some of his students offered differing views to him. Maybe he will take steps to be more careful in the future or even to apologize and speak publicly on the same topic in a more thoughtful way.  In the “olden days” we would have called that maturation, repentance and moving forward. Yet, because of the existing video clip that was distributed around the world almost instantaneously, words at an event that I did not attend will most likely stay in my memory in a way that a raging blaze did not.  The damage from a misspoken or mistaken word—even an uncharacteristically malicious one— can set aflame far more than stacks of book in a treasured building.

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Deadly Doctors and Murderous Aunts

December 4th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 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.”

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