Posts in Susan’s Musings

Which World Is Yours?

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 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 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? 

Leaving the words ‘Heil Trump’ aside, because they are irrelevant for my thoughts in this Musing, I am seeing a trend in the media of focusing on incidents that promote a theory that there is a major resurgence in white-supremacy activity. Is something really going on or is this like the summer of the shark attacks, where there was no increase in the number of people attacked but a large increase in the coverage given to those attacks?

I would like to know the truth, but there is barely a pretense that this is about anything other than labeling President Trump, and by association anyone who supports him, as racist and anti-Semitic. Quite frankly, I treat anything I hear on TV or read in most popular publications the way I imagine that Russians treated Pravda. If I sift through the propaganda and lies I might get an inkling of what’s going on, but I am being given thought-direction rather than unbiased information.

What I am being told is so different from the world in which I live. My world is a world of lots of those who would be (by those knowing nothing of their individual stories) labeled as privileged white men. I see their friends, co-workers and fellow church-goers and pastors whose skins are black, brown and yellow and about half of whom are female. It is a world where every Christian high school student I know reads The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, who is presented to these students as a role model.  Corrie ten Boom’s father and sister lost their lives to the Nazis while she, herself, was incarcerated in a concentration camp. Her Christian faith motivated her and her relatives to voluntarily put themselves in danger to save Jews under Nazi domination.

In my world, there is a movement known as the “Walk-away movement” filled with accounts of former Democrats who became sickened by the increasing hate within the Democrat Party. Their liberal leanings made them rebel against the assault on free speech, attack on the presumption of innocence and other ideas that used to be venerated within that party. Some recoiled at the growing racism and anti-Semitism of this political group that they used to respect. They question why we are once again counting how many drops of blood people have inherited from diverse ancestors. Many tell tales of being ostracized by former friends for having an opinion that goes against their previous conformity.  If you haven’t heard of this campaign, or the peaceful march they recently held in Washington, D.C., it is because it is, for political rather than factual reasons, deemed not to be newsworthy, much like the Gosnell movie I wrote about a few weeks ago. While on many issues my value system and many of these individual’s value system differ, we share in common a desire to treat others with respect and humanity as well as an appreciation of America. 

The many Christians I know, the diverse membership of the Walk-away Movement, and the courtesy and kindness I see in the supermarket and on airplanes show me a very different America from the one being highlighted in our universities and in the media. All these things are cause for optimism. What I don’t know is how to share my world with those who truly mean well, are kind and loving people, but who exist in their own bubble, thinking that they are informed while they are actually being deliberately misled.

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You Are Not a Cow

November 8th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 41 comments

A short while ago, my husband and I answered an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question about whether deciding not to have children was acceptable. I was struck by the many reader comments we received that were variations of, “Better not to have children if you can’t be a good parent.”

At the same time, on the advice of someone I respect, I picked up a novel aimed at young teens which dealt with a boy overcoming an abusive home. You may remember that I recently wrote a book review recommending a historical fiction book for even slightly younger children that shared a similar premise.

While I saw how engaging this second book was, it troubled me.  There is something wrong in presenting a dysfunctional view of family and society as the norm even if the underlying message is that tribulation can be overcome.  When popular literature and entertainment repeatedly emphasize  a theme, much more than just the intended message can get absorbed.

While the Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best families are often derided for being unrepresentative of anything other than white, middle class homes of the 1950s and 1960s, they were also aspirational models of marriage and parenting. Even if your family didn’t look like theirs, millions of kids were being told that happy healthy and fulfilling family life does exist. Compare the list of more recent years of Newbery Medal winners with earlier decades. The emphasis has changed.

When people wrote to us saying that if you couldn’t be a good parent it would be better not to have children at all, I think their unspoken message was that so many people are so hopelessly flawed that it would be best for them not to have children at all.  Even more disturbingly, they are also saying  that there is no need, or perhaps no ability, to improve oneself. 

Obviously, neither my husband nor I encourage abusive parenting. And we recognize that most of us automatically tend to repeat the behavior we saw as children, even when our memories aren’t positive. In a vicious cycle, the bullied often become bullies and abused children often grow up to be abusers. We are already a number of generations down the road of youth in our society growing up with  parents (or a parent) who failed to provide them with a psychologically and spiritually healthy home. Not surprisingly, many fear replicating that scenario.

I don’t think there is a parent on this planet who hasn’t at one point or another stopped him or herself and said, “Oh my goodness, I sound just like my mother – or father.” Many times, that’s a positive thing as we belatedly recognize our parents’ wisdom. But, sometimes it is a scary realization as we find ourselves repeating behavior that we know is wrong.

In the latter case, there are two ways of breaking the cycle with future generations. One is by not having children. The other is putting in the hard and often grueling work of consciously changing.   I know that most people live lives filled with a struggle to earn a living. For many of us, the hard work of building and nurturing relationships seems to grow each day.  It certainly can be overwhelming to think of adding another area of life that will demand time, effort and money.

Yet, by avoiding the growth needed to become a great parent, either by not having children at all, or by blindly relying on so-called ‘experts’ or upon  the latest fads informing us how to raise them, we stunt our own growth. One of my husband’s favorite sentences is that a cow will always be a cow and a camel will always be a camel, but a human being has the ability to completely change his or her entire being. One of the bravest things anyone can do is to look in the mirror, recognize the need for change and commit to doing so.

God’s very first message to mankind is usually translated as, “Be fruitful and multiply,” a poetic repetition of one idea. That isn’t what the Hebrew says. The first word in the Hebrew phrase “P’ru u’rvu,” does mean being fruitful and in fact, since P and F are the same letter in Hebrew, the English word fruit derives from the Hebrew. What does that mean? Well, when you plant apple seeds you do not shockingly find orange trees growing. When you plant corn, you don’t wake up to a field of wheat. Being a parent means passing on the genetic material that is there.

But God didn’t stop with one word. R’vu (the U’ of u’rvu means ‘and’) has a deeper implication than just multiplying. The word shares a root with ‘rabbi,’ a word that implies teaching, leadership and greatness. The implication is not only that we must teach and lead the next generation, but that in giving that command to man, God is telling us that becoming a parent means teaching and leading ourselves to become great people. We have the ability to transform whatever genetic, social, psychological and spiritual input we received as children and reach for greatness. Amazingly, our evolving understanding of epigenetics suggests that we can even change our genes themselves! Making the commitment to have children of our own is a most powerful fuel to drive that transformation.

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Animals make sounds instinctively.
Humans choose their words.

Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak


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Tragedy in Pittsburgh

November 1st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 76 comments

I feel the need to respond in three ways to the murder of Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. As a human being, as an American and as a Jew.

As part of humanity, the only proper response is sorrow. Each and every day, around the world, people do abominable things to each other. Sometimes it is to people they know, other times to strangers. Sometimes a specific group is targeted, other times attacks are seemingly random. As a member of the human race, one must sadly deplore this.

As an American, I grieve as I have grieved too many times in the past. It is a tragedy that human beings are targeted whether it is when they go to synagogue or to a Batman movie, to school or to a country music concert, to work or to church. I grieve that we do not know how to identify or deal with the dangerously mentally ill among us. I am sickened by those whose first reaction to the tragedy on Saturday was a political one. Their hatred of President Trump informed their first reactions and suppressed their ability to respond with love to the families and friends of the victims.

I worry about the ease with which malevolent ideas are spread on social media and also about the dangers of tampering with the First Amendment. I fear that we are incapable of having reasoned discussion about so many topics that need to be faced, not in isolation and not with arrogance but in one far-reaching conversation, including but not limited to: guns, social media, violent video games, abortion and the devaluing of life, the entertainment industry, the press, education, politics, and the place of God and religion in society. The litany is almost endless, but each area affects all others.

This massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue received attention for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, there have been many acts of hate in the United States that go beneath the radar screen. Did you read about Jewish photojournalist, Jerry Wolkowitz, who recently died after being beaten by Jamil Hubbard in New Jersey back in May? I didn’t think so. The prosecutor’s office said the victim was targeted because of his race. How many times have you read about white people attacking black people because they are black and black people attacking white people because they are white?  How about savages who attack people with disabilities? I could go on. All these things have been happening in this country for years and only a chosen few instances get media attention. There is a lot of hatred and anger out there and many people and institutions, including self-righteous ones, stir the pot and rile people up.

Upon rereading it, that last paragraph sounds depressing. Yet, with about 327 million people in the United States, the number of good people handily overwhelms the number of evil people. We do have to vanquish the latter, but we mustn’t allow their actions to define our nation. As an American, I refute the claim that the act of one venom-filled man turns a country into a seething cauldron of anti-Semitism.

I also reject that idea as a Jew. This is the third lens through which I view Saturday’s assault. If six degrees of separation apply to everyone, within the Jewish community there are probably two degrees of separation. While the families mourning in Pittsburgh today individually resemble countless families who have mourned at mass tragedies – and have much in common with those who have lost loved ones to individual but less publicized acts of violence – personally, this time, even though I know no one in that synagogue, they are my extended family.

Jews are a small group and for good and for bad we are responsible to and for each other. Neither God nor society ever lets us forget that. It is an amazing fact that as a Jew I can land any place in the world with a Jewish community and find people to whom I can turn in an emergency.   I may not share a language, level of religious commitment or culture with that community, but I will be embraced.

As part of the same package, over and over again in history, I will be considered the enemy and hated, regardless of any individual position or identification I make. People will seek my blood claiming they do so because I am a capitalist or socialist, too wealthy or too poor, too assimilated or not assimilated enough. Religious regimes and atheist regimes have tried to destroy us. The excuse is irrelevant; hatred is the common theme. That too is part of being Jewish. (One of the tragedies of Judaism over the past few hundred years is that too many Jews know little of the majesty, wisdom and joy of their heritage and know only its sadness and suffering.)

One of the reasons for this prolonged hatred is simply because we survive. As recipients of God’s promise making us His people, we are still here. That means that we have been persecuted in greater numbers in more centuries and more locations than anyone else. At one and the same time, the myriad various persecutions are horrendous and also attest to our eternal existence.

On a recent long drive my husband and I listened to a few hours of James Michener’s novel, Poland. It was eye-opening. The barbarism and terror under which people lived in Europe for centuries was brutal. The gratitude I feel for living when and where I do intensified with each chapter.

But we both were amazed at one particular part. As students of Jewish history we knew of the massacres of the Jewish community in Poland/Ukraine in the years 1648-1649. Under the leadership of Cossack, Bogdan Khmelnytsky, so many Jews were slaughtered so ferociously that the Jewish community still memorializes that catastrophe today. Here is what amazed us. Michener does mention the murder of the Jews, but it turns out that thousands of others, mostly Catholic Polish peasants, were also viciously massacred in vast numbers. Both my husband and I had been unaware that this was anything more than anti-Semitism as its worst.

Hatred of the Jew has been present since at least the days of ancient Egypt, but hatred between many groups of human beings has accompanied that pathology. It is simply a reality that while different groups will be targeted at different times and places, anywhere that hatred flourishes, if there is a Jewish community, it will be among the persecuted. 

Here is another truth. When hatred of the Jew flares, as it did in Pharaoh’s Egypt, in 15th century Spain, 20th century Germany or anywhere else, not only the Jews but the entire nation will end up suffering. Jews may be convenient scapegoats, but when they are banished or murdered the host country inevitably suffers. 

This too is a truth, though it is one that I suspect will cause offense to many of my co-religionists. As a group, we Jews are part of both the problem and the solution. If we were carrying out our mission to be a light unto the nations and to cleave to God with all our hearts, our lives and our resources, the world would be a place of peace and harmony. That is God’s promise in the Bible. If strife exists, we are failing.

Here’s the rub. We constantly argue among ourselves how to translate that mission into action. We passionately hold conflicting ideas. Most of us have immense trouble loving our fellow Jew, as we are commanded to do, while adamantly rejecting his philosophies and actions, as we must. On more than one occasion, Jews have been guilty of baseless hatred towards each other, We are a stiff-necked people as is evident by our survival, but we are also tenacious when we rebel against God and His directions, whether between man and his fellow man or between man and God. 

If we are created in God’s image rather than creating God in our image, then there is a right way and a wrong way to live. We are in this world together and ignoring wrong ideas ends up leading to misery and the acceptance of evil, not to a kumbaya moment. Sadly, on more than one occasion Jews, with all their power and might, have supported regimes which oppose God, such as Communist Russia, that then turn into governments that persecute Jews.

I was in a Torah class at my local synagogue two days after the killings in Pittsburgh. Before the class started, I heard a number of women saying to one another, “This reminds us that we can’t trust anywhere. Anti-Semitism has reached America now. It is time to leave. Just as Jews in the past decade have fled France, it is our turn now.”

I was appalled at both the inaccuracy and the ingratitude of that remark. Although I understood the fear and emotion behind their comments,  America uniquely has had the moniker among learned Jews as a, “Medina shel chessed,” or “Nation of Loving-kindness.” America was founded on a respect for the Judeo-Christian tradition, abandoning on a national level the animosity that existed towards Jews and between various Christian groups in Europe.  Certainly, individuals failed in this quest, but the nation’s founding documents and ideals upheld it.

I held off writing this because mourning and sadness in and of themselves were the necessary response right after the incident. Sadly, the news has been full of those, Jewish and non-Jewish, who have politicized this event. Once so much of that is out there, I feel obligated to counter that with which I disagree.

One perverted anti-Semitic man running amok does not change America’s soul. I do not see existential danger from individuals. I do worry about anti-Semitism among right-wing extremists, but as long as they stay extremists, it can be countered. They can cause a lot of pain and destruction, as Robert Bowers did, but they are marginalized and countered by tens of millions of good people.

Where I see the biggest danger coming from, however, is from the acceptance and mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in the Democrat Party. That is truly scary. Party leadership and icons embrace venom-spewers like Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. College campuses, bastions of far-Left thinking, are increasingly uncomfortable places for Jews who identify as such. There are an unprecedented number of candidates running for office in the Democrat Party about whom the case can be made that they hate Judaism (and Christianity). That worries me. And it saddens me greatly that members of my extended family, the Jews, are among that Party’s biggest supporters. There is nothing rational about anti-Semitism and there is nothing rational about the behavior of any Jew (including me) in any area of life where we exclude God’s guidance. In the absence of words thundering from Heaven telling us what we should do, each of us, deep in our souls has to answer the question whether we are motivated by our own egos and ideas or by truly seeking to act as servants of God.

May God extend comfort to the mourners of this and all other tragedies.

  *    *    *    *

Words matter greatly and the increased vulgarity and profanity in society
is not irrelevant to the spread of hatred.

It this is a challenge for you or someone you know,
we have a  teaching that can open eyes and hearts.

Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak




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Not Funny

October 25th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

When you eat only kosher food, as our family does, traveling has an added element of uncertainty. Will there be a kosher market or restaurant? What will the quality be? We are grateful that in the United States many national brands of crackers and other items are kosher and fruits and vegetable are easily accessible. Even so, after a few days tuna fish and peanut butter stave off hunger but don’t do much more than that.

To our delight, my husband’s recent speaking engagement was in a city that had a kosher restaurant. The place was clean and the food was delicious. What more could we ask?


The Gosnell Movie

October 18th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 31 comments

I did not want to see this movie. Despite its PG-13 rating, I knew that it would be distressing. How could it not be? Dr. Kermit Gosnell was a prolific abortionist sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. He was convicted for (among other things) murdering three infants and of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient at his clinic.

The reason that I am posting this as a Practical Parenting column as well as a Musing is that I recommend you take the parental guidance part of the movie’s rating very seriously. I would not have wanted to see this movie when I was pregnant or nursing. If my child’s youth group was going to see it, I would try, at a minimum, to see it myself first and decide if it is appropriate for my child. In Hollywood’s world, gore and violence are routine, so to them this movie may seem unremarkable, but the subject matter is mature and the visual impact is powerful.

The Gosnell trial is relatively recent history and the movie’s producers make clear that most of the material is drawn from transcripts and police reports. I knew of the trial and how unprofessionally the press tried to ignore it. It was a fight to produce the movie as well, and there is no question that there is a strong cultural attempt to suppress it. Each and every person who acted in or worked on the film is a hero because there will be ramifications to his or her career.


Ladies and Gentlemen

October 11th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 38 comments

Something has been troubling me throughout the #MeToo movement’s ascendancy and I’m sure that I am not alone. That our modern society has a problem in relationships between the sexes is not in question. Neither is the fact that historically there has been a power imbalance that allowed bad men to harm women more easily and frequently than bad women could harm men. This isn’t only a question of social and economic mores but also deals with the reality that, in general, women are physically less strong than men and, of course, are the ones who get pregnant. Despite the attempts of ideologues to deny it, most of us also acknowledge a reality of psychological and, for want of a better word, soul differences between men and women that leave women more vulnerable.


The Betrayed Conservative Woman Syndrome

October 4th, 2018 Posted by AAJC Happenings, Susan's Musings 109 comments

Like many others, I have been extremely emotional about the accusations surrounding Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. I am pretty sure, based on past history, that some readers of this Musing will agree with me, others will violently object to my words and a number of readers will remove themselves from our email list. I could easily write about something less controversial. I am not doing that because I think that our country is worth fighting for and sharing my thoughts is my way of doing that.

As always, whether you agree or disagree, as long as your words are polite (and follow a few other basic rules) your comment will get posted.  It is rare for us to delete a comment. So, if you disagree and your emotions are running as high as mine even if in another direction, I would appreciate the opportunity to hear them. We can only grow and expand our understanding when we talk to each other.

For a few short years, mothers possess mythical powers. We can sit at a traffic light with our toddlers and know exactly when to tell them to say, “Change light change,” to make the light turn green. We can announce that it will rain after lunch, go to the park in the morning, and then cozily sit inside reading books in the afternoon as they marvel at how we control the weather. We magically pull out a new box of cereal from the pantry when the old one is finished. Of course, our children soon grow a bit and learn that the only power we used in all those cases was that of observation.

I’m delighted that Lindsay Graham reacted to Democrat politicians with anger and disgust during the Judge Kavanaugh hearings. Orrin Hatch too has found his voice. At the same time, I ask, “What took you so long?” You see, I am one of the women Republicans are supposed to represent in Washington DC. And I, along with millions of other conservative women, have been angered and disgusted for decades. Mostly, our ire has been directed at Republicans for leaving us undefended and unrepresented. Where were your powers of observation until now?


Burying Justice

September 27th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 49 comments

I have a number of draft Musings on my desktop that I’ve started but not yet completed.  I am having trouble finishing them.   Some are frustrated and angry; others seek a glimmer of hope. I am leaving them for another time. You see, they are all predicated on seeing a future for the United States of America.  But today, I feel like I am attending her funeral. 

I hope and pray that tomorrow America rises from her knees.  Tomorrow I hope I shall see where and how I can fight and help us move forward, but today I am in mourning.  That is awkward, as right now I am in the midst of celebrating the Festival of Tabernacles/Sukkot, known as “The Time of Our Happiness.” It is the most joyous of the Jewish festivals and a rather demanding God insists that we celebrate it in happiness. 


The Daggers are Unsheathed

September 20th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 46 comments

On November, 29, 1981, my husband and I were sleeping on our sailboat, anchored  in Avalon Bay on Catalina Island. On that night, as we slumbered, we were just a few hundred yards from where Natalie Wood drowned under suspicious circumstances. The next morning, when we emerged on deck with our coffee, the tranquility of the bay was disturbed by a small fleet of police vessels.

About a year earlier on December 8, 1980, we were dining with friends at a restaurant in Manhattan when word arrived that only a few blocks away, John Lennon had been murdered. In other words, I was close to the scenes of at least one and possibly two crimes at opposite ends of the country, in surroundings starkly different from each other. If that isn’t suspicious, what is?

The above facts are bad enough, but I am sorry to tell you that as a third-grader, I participated in teasing an unpopular schoolmate. A few years later, I cheated on a test when a teacher let me take it home, trusting me to take it honorably.  While I am ashamed of both those things, there are other actions I have done or not done that to an even greater extent I wouldn’t want to see on the nightly news.


Let’s Hear It for Gender Quotas

September 13th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

California is moving towards requiring her publicly traded companies to enforce gender quotas on their boards. I am against quotas in general and find that, as with most social manipulation, the results are rarely those that are promised by their promoters. While I think there is every chance that this legislation will move forward, I worry that the biggest outcome will be more California businesses relocating to Texas. Unfortunately, the relocated management will then probably retain its destructive voting habits and continue to support the types of politicians and policies that made California uninhabitable. However, despite my usual wariness of quotas, and my concern that Elizabeth Warren is pushing for this on a national level, I am wondering whether my own family needs to use strong-arm techniques to get more equitable representation on our family What’s App chat. 


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