Posts in Susan’s Musings

Bossy Women – Like Me?

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

I have been watching a lot of one particular daily TV show lately. I actually recommend this show to you, though I am not an objective observer. The show is Ancient Jewish Wisdom, hosted by my husband and me. While I think the content is fascinating, I was trying to track one specific feature.  Do I interrupt my husband too much?

Two—not one, but two—recent letters accusing me of exactly that precipitated my reviewing past shows. Both letters were from women and to be fair, we have received many more than two letters from men and women telling us how much they enjoy the on-air interaction between us. However—please pay attention here—to my recollection, we have never received a letter saying that my husband interrupts me.

Let me state right away, that we have taped close to 400 Ancient Wisdom Shows. That adds up to about 200 hours of talking. My perusal of a few shows reveals that as professional as we try to be, each of us sometimes interrupts the other. On balance, I’m sure I definitely break in to my husband’s words more frequently than he does to mine, but there is a simple explanation for that. (And it’s not what you think!)

The Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show is actually the second TV show we have hosted. The first was many years ago, on a local station out of Portland, Oregon. My husband was invited to tape a few shows there and we took the opportunity to drive there together from Seattle via the scenic route down the coast, rather than him flying there alone.  To my surprise, and perhaps a little dismay, when we arrived at the studio I discovered that I was expected to be part of the program as well.  Although I had occasionally filled in for my husband’s radio show, television was a new ballgame to me and not one in which I was sure I would feel comfortable.

After some back-of-room bargaining with my husband, I consented when he agreed that I could chime in whenever I wished, but he was responsible for ensuring that there was no dead air time. In other words, the onus was on him to keep the show moving.  To this very day we retain that arrangement whenever we appear in person together or tape broadcasts.  One of the results of this arrangement is that while I will frequently throw the discussion to my husband after I have said my piece, he rarely throws it to me because he has agreed not to catch me unaware. When I do have something to say (which is often!) I have no option but to fling myself into the conversation. Perhaps we should resort to a kick under the table, but I’m not crazy about that idea. Maybe we can come up with a more subtle clue.

Notwithstanding the dynamics of my own marriage, this idea of judging men and women differently is widely relevant. A few years back, the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote her book Lean In, encouraging woman to be aware and proactive in the business world. While I disagreed with a major premise of hers that a better world,  “…would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes,”  (and wrote about it here) I did find a number of the points she made to be quite valid. These include the idea that while an assertive man might be considered confident, an assertive woman might be considered aggressive. The exact same action that comes across as forceful in a man labels a woman as pushy.

I want to be clear that I give no credence to the claim made by Hillary Clinton supporters that she lost because she is a woman. Most voters who did not support her, including me, would happily have voted for a principled, competent, conservative woman. Like so much else in our culture (incredibly including a push back on the Lean In movement because it encourages women to help themselves rather than seeing themselves as victims who should demand privileges from government) this is a puerile, illogical and pathetic argument.

Nonetheless, the reality is that of course people do look at men and women through different lenses. There’s a very good reason for that—they are different! Sometimes being a woman is an asset and other times it’s a liability.  That’s true for being a man as well.

So, what do we do about the fact that people judge men and women differently and that can be unfair to individuals? Here is my suggestion: Live with it and deal with it. I know that the letters we receive come from affection for both my husband and me and wanting the best for us. By the grace of God, we live in a vibrant world filled with contrast and variety. We can each make an effort to respect all individuals and to be aware of our biases, but a world where we pretend that differences between the sexes don’t exist and any manifestations of those variations should be erased would indeed be a bland, colorless and miserable one.

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Heartbreak – an Unintended Consequence

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

When I was nine or ten, my friend’s mother delivered a stillborn child. I remember the shock and the discomfort of not being sure what to say. Over the next decade, as the risks of smoking during pregnancy received a lot of attention, I wondered what this woman, who often had a cigarette in hand, felt as she read those articles.

On a larger scale, part of growing up is accepting the idea that adults, rather than being all-knowing, make mistakes and have to live with the consequences. Since adults are parents, leaders, politicians and teachers, the victims of those mistakes are often the next generation. That is a harsh reality of life that inevitably affects all human beings in their personal lives. At its best it leads us to mature reflection on the importance of our actions and ideas. When, however, we rush instead to embrace revolutionary societal change, the tragic results can overwhelm us.

Journalist Abigail Shrier wrote a heart-rending piece about politically progressive mothers struggling as their daughters identify as ROGD – rapid onset gender dysphoria. These mothers, who actively embraced societal change on social issues like homosexuality and raised their children to reject rigid ideas of traditional right and wrong, suddenly find themselves heartbroken as their daughters, seemingly overnight, decide that they are actually male. These daughters are often anxious, unhappy and desperate to relieve emotional pain. While, as a society, we might well ask why our teens and young adults seem to be struggling so much, even a few years ago this would have been recognized as a cry for help. Not so today.

Our liberated society, rather than suggesting counseling (how judgmental!) or even slow and steady deliberation (We want change. When do we want it? NOW) rapidly offers these girls hormones and even surgery.  And these mothers stand helplessly by as they watch their daughters take irreversible steps that will shape the rest of their lives, cheered on by an adoring group of psychologists, professors and social scientists. In fact, in the eyes of the Left, if these mothers even question their daughters’ actions, they suddenly morph from being cutting-edge, progressive activists into being part of the deplorable nation. Ms. Shrier writes of how alone they feel, unable to share their anguish with others.

I am a mother. I feel no sense of schadenfreude when I read of these women suffering. I do wonder if they connect the dots. Do they realize that this tragedy is a natural next step of believing that traditional ideas are, by definition, archaic; that medical science should be subjective and politically influenced; and that social barriers must be shattered without ever expecting there to be unintended consequences? Do they celebrate as an increasing number of cities and states allow parents to register their newborns as gender-neutral or do they recognize that while they would have applauded this five years ago, maybe they would have been wrong to do so? Do they look in the children’s section of the library and feel queasy knowing that the ideas they avidly supported for decades will bequeath trauma on the young children being propagandized at every turn? Or do they protect themselves by thinking that everything they supported was correct; it is only now that things have moved too far?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do pray that these women find the strength to “come out.” Our culture is in desperate need of change. These mothers’ suffering can serve a purpose if they have the courage to follow in the footsteps of John Newton and declare, “I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.”

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How Did I Miss That?

January 2nd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

Some time, in the last few weeks, a major earthquake hit Alaska. It wasn’t out in the hinterlands, but close to Anchorage, and it wasn’t a tremor but rather registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. For those of you who have never lived in an earthquake-prone area, that is huge.

I randomly found out about it over a month later while catching up on a blog by a woman who lives in that region. How could this be? How could I be so out of touch with a major event that took place in my own country?

When I was growing up, my parents watched the nightly news on TV as well as getting a daily paper. As I recall, they could choose between three or four news shows over the course of an evening, but whether they chose the show with Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley, they would pretty much hear the same information that they would then read about in depth in the next day’s paper.


Merry Christmas (No Reply Necessary)

December 28th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

“Have a joyous Christmas.”

“Thank you and Happy Chanuka. Well, I guess that’s over now but I hope it was happy, I mean…”

I’ve had a few awkward conversations such as this one over the past few days. In my daily life I regularly interact with Christians. From the woman who leads the exercise class I attend to the checker at the local supermarket wearing a reindeer pin, many around me are celebrating a special, religious occasion.

They often know that I am not. For some reason that leaves them tongue-tied when I offer timely greetings. If you think about it, that makes little sense. When the coffee barista knows that it is my birthday because I am using my “free happy birthday” card, she wishes me good tidings on that day. I feel no compunction to say back, “and a happy birthday to you too.” That would be rather ridiculous.


Fasts and Feasts

December 20th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

This past Tuesday was a fast day in the Jewish calendar, a fact that probably never came across your radar screen. Truthfully, even most Jews were unaware of it, as only the relatively small percentage of Jews who observe their faith as their ancestors did make note of the day. 

While there are two major fast days during the year (Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) on which food and drink are prohibited for 25 hours, there are also four other fast days on which eating and drinking are prohibited only from just before sunrise until soon after sunset.  While certain special prayers are added on these days, we otherwise function as normal; going to work for instance.


Of Carob Trees and Loneliness

December 13th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

A story from ancient Jewish wisdom tells of a traveller who came across an elderly man planting a carob tree. Since carob trees can take more than twenty years to bear fruit, the passer-by suggested that the man’s work was pointless; he would no longer be there to enjoy the tree’s fruit. The older man responded that he was not planting for himself but for his descendants. Though he might not be a direct beneficiary, generations to come would appreciate his work.

I rarely hear concerns anymore about saddling our children with gargantuan national debt. Not only is the number incomprehensibly  enormous, but our universe as it relates to time has shrunk. Through ways both overt and subtle, our culture encourages us to live in the moment, and to elevate the fleeting over the long-lasting.

Two newspaper reports I read this week were not meant to be commentaries on each other, yet it is worthwhile to juxtapose them. One described how, as the baby-boomer generation ages, its members are more likely to be alone than the generations before them. Freedom not to marry, to divorce, to have few or no children seems far less promising to a lonely seventy-year-old than it did to a self-centered thirty-something.


Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

December 6th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.


This Agenda May Be Harmful to Your Health

November 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 52 comments

I originally started writing this with the intention of posting it on our website as a Practical Parenting column, but then I realized that the problem I’m describing actually affects all of us. While the examples I mention have to do with children’s literature, every detail of the culture surrounding us impacts us, often in ways we don’t recognize.

Some years ago, a member of the California synagogue that my husband and I led worried that she was exhibiting tendencies of paranoia. She revealed that she had multiple locks on her apartment door, wouldn’t open the door to accept packages, and was constantly looking over her shoulder on the street. After a bit of discussion, it became clear to us that she lived in a high-crime neighborhood and rather than being paranoid, she was simply being realistic.

Whenever I see the news, women’s magazines, children’s books or many other media, I find myself hyper-sensitive to underlying agendas. In Stalinist Russia, young students were told to place their heads on their desks after praying to God for candy. Not surprisingly, when they lifted their heads their requests had gone unanswered. Then they were told to ask Stalin for candy and once again lay down their heads. Not surprisingly, candy seemed to rain down as their teachers distributed it while the children’s eyes were squeezed shut.

That approach may have lacked subtlety, but the message was clear. In some ways, more delicately delivered messages can be more dangerous. We don’t even realize that our minds are being directed and our beliefs formed.


Abundant Gratitude

November 21st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

I hope that you are too busy preparing for a grateful Thanksgiving with relatives and friends to have time to read a long Musing. We are looking forward to welcoming two of our grandchildren (5 and 8) from out-of-town who will remain with us for the weekend after joining us for a Thanksgiving feast at the home of gracious friends.

Like many Jews around the globe, I utter a formal prayer of thanks for the privilege of living another day as soon as I open my eyes every morning.  Additionally, I have also been trying to highlight one aspect of my day for which I am  grateful before going to bed at night.

I would like to share three events in my life from the past week that illuminate why I am so grateful and humbled to live in this wonderful country.  My Musings often focus on problems, but I do believe that the number of Americans whose values I share is still larger than the number whose values I see as dangerous.  That’s why I am optimistic about this country continuing to flourish as a beacon of goodness around the world.


Which World Is Yours?

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

This week, at the intermission of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, MD, according to people in the audience, a man interrupted the show by standing up and yelling ‘Heil, Hitler,’ “Heil Trump’. Understandably, the audience was shaken and at least one woman said she expected bullets to start flying. That didn’t happen and the man was escorted out but not arrested.

I added the words, “according to people in the audience,” for one reason only. When I read the reports, more than one person saw the Nazi salute and heard Heil Hitler, but one man was the source of the Heil Trump citation. While I’m not attacking that man’s veracity, the political climate is simply too venomous not to tack on concepts like ‘allegedly’ on almost everything one reads or hears. The video from someone’s phone that I saw suggests that most people were unaware or unfazed by what was going on. It certainly isn’t a good thing, but is it an omen?  (more…)