Posts in Susan’s Musings

Love Yourself – Forget the Neighbor

September 12th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

The impetus for this Musing came from two disturbing clips I heard on National Public Radio’s This American Life program.  Each on its own is minor, but I wonder if, together, they do represent a larger issue.

A little background. My preferred exercise class is a twenty minute drive from our house. This travel time is perfect for listening to podcasts and This American Life is in my rotation. Each week’s episode has a specific focus and listening for few minutes usually tells me if it will be a worthwhile investment of my time. The show gives me insight into the lives of Americans I might not otherwise meet and topics  I might not encounter.

Two of the shows I recently heard revealed a common problem. It didn’t have to do with the topic of either show, but each show included a throw-away statement that caused me to gasp. Both shows were repeats having first run a few years ago, but I doubt that the troublesome attitude has improved over the intervening years.

The problem was insufferable self-centeredness. Most troublesome was that the hosts interviewing each of the individuals involved didn’t seem in the least bit troubled. They seemed to accept their subjects’ words as perfectly reasonable and possibly even amusing.

Show #1: The idea here was to place reporters at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway and have them interview drivers utilizing the rest stop as well as employees of the various franchises. At the time of the taping, the franchises brought in foreign students to work. While they weren’t paid much, they were provided with housing and their visas allowed them time for a month of travel after working for the summer, making it an appealing deal for these young adults.

In the specific portion that troubled me, one of these employees was talking about wild parties taking place in the lodgings. He seemed completely unfazed by the neighbor’s complaints. His interviewer asked him if he was worried that the apartment complex where he and his peers were being housed might not accept temporary workers the next year. His casual response? Why should it worry him since he isn’t planning on coming back?

Show #2: The next extract that bothered me came from a show about Americans living in Paris. A very articulate and professional-sounding lawyer was interviewed who expressed shock at how people in Paris objected when she jumped to the front of the line at a movie theatre. Why did this shock her? Because, she explained, as a Black woman in America, she regularly intimidated white people in line when she jumped to the front and they hesitated to call out her bad behavior. She went on to say how she appreciated the lack of racism in Paris, sounding completely unaware that her behavior back in the States  relied on and exasperated dissension between the races. Having used her race to unfair advantage and specifically to cause fear among those of other races, she seemed blithely oblivious to the idea that she was among those causing others of her race to be viewed negatively. The interviewer chuckled at her story.

What do these two snippets have in common? Utter self-absorption. Not caring that your behavior is going to make things more difficult for other people. Not caring that rowdy late-night party behavior interferes with neighbors who depend on getting to sleep or that students just like you who hope to come to the United States on a similar arrangement will be less welcome. Not caring that people waiting in line will need to stand around longer if you jump the line and not caring that others who share your skin color might be viewed with suspicion and distaste because of your behavior. Other people are irrelevant; only you matter.  And in neither case did the interviewer express the slightest bit of discomfort with these stories.

I am quite sure that traveling students and African-American readers of this Musing might be squirming with discomfort. These stories do not represent them. They probably feel the way my husband and I felt reading the article about Americans of Jewish descent advocating abortion and  that led to our writing this week’s Ask the Rabbi column. Wouldn’t it be better to ignore this bad behavior by those with whom we are instinctively identified and hope that no one notices? That is one approach and it has a lot in common with the proverbial ostrich whose head is in the sand. I’m choosing to point it out because without awareness there can be no change.

Apathy to “the other” is not commendable but it is understandable. Refusing to recognize that our behavior affects those with whom our lives intersect is unfortunate, but it is human nature. Having it pointed out to you and simply not caring, or boasting about it, seems to be another level entirely.  In a world that has excised, “Love your neighbor as yourself” from the education of our youth, what can we do so that self-absorption doesn’t reach a new low?

What essential messages emerge from the Hebrew word for:



What about Socialization

September 5th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 31 comments

Today’s Musing is actually a triple-header. It was inspired by an Ask the Rabbi question. In order not to make that answer too long, I intended to follow up with a Practical Parenting column. Finally, I decided to bundle all my (our) reflections  into one Susan’s Musing.

Here is Dave’s Ask the Rabbi question and our answer:

Greetings Rabbi and Susan,

I’m a long-time listener and grateful beneficiary of Ancient Jewish Wisdom, the Podcast, Thought Tools, Susan’s Musings and your books.

My question is in regards to the most recent podcast on “Dealing with Death.” In it, Rabbi, you mention that most mass-shooters are basically lonely men; unmarried, childless, disconnected, involuntarily celibate, etc. I completely agree. However, you mention that if these men were more connected to family, friends, sexual relationships, etc., the problem would be virtually resolved.

When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about homeschooling. As a homeschooler (which as I understand your family did also), I often find myself defending our decision to homeschool against naysayers who argue that my children will not receive the necessary social skills they’ll need to function in society. Usually, it goes something like this: “You’re sheltering your children; they’ll never make any friends being cooped-up in your house all day.” Surely they’d receive all their “necessary social skills” in public school. I was the product of a GIC [Government Indoctrination Camp] (one of my favorite acronyms or yours, I must tell you) and will never be an apologist for them. In retrospect, it seems that being forced to go to a place with thousands of my peers every weekday provided harmful “over-socialization” if there is such a thing.

I remember from my school experience is that there wasn’t much learning going on. Instead it was an utter fashion show. I spent every day being hopelessly obsessed with girls, the latest loud music and my own popularity. Now twenty-five years removed from high school, I can’t think of even one life-affirming or life-enhancing connection that remains.

Still, it seems that homeschooling is antithetical to your point about mass-shooters needing more connections. Is this a legitimate disparity, or one of life’s many paradoxes? Furthermore, I’m sure you and Susan heard the same objection to homeschooling. How did you defend your decision?

Thank you again for all you and Susan do. It is more valuable to Christians like me than you might ever realize.

Dear Dave,

You are presenting us with quite a dilemma. The problem is not that we have trouble answering your excellent  question, but  that we struggle to answer it sufficiently briefly.   When we launch into the topic  of homeschooling, it is hard to get us (especially Susan) to keep it short.  [Let it be noted as I (RDL) often do, that one of the many, many great kindnesses that Mrs. Lapin has extended to me has been homeschooling our family.  I cannot overstate how much of my current familial satisfaction is due to those many years our family was all together in our own homemade school environment. Though I immodestly claim “we homeschooled” it is in the same spirit that I claim “Between us we changed about 30,000 diapers.”   True but hardly the whole truth.] For today, however, our solution is to partially answer your question here and then Susan will continue answering.

If your children are actually “cooped-up in your house all day,” we might  be concerned. Somehow, we doubt this is the case. We feel confident that like most of the millions of children being homeschooled, your children do field trips, outings, and perhaps co-op classes with dozens of other homeschooling families.  Additionally they probably attend family gatherings and enjoy playing with neighborhood and church friends, some of whom probably are sentenced to GICS .

A troubling book, Educated, by Tara Westover, describes her upbringing as the daughter of a severely dysfunctional and abusive father who hid many of his activities under the guise of homeschooling. While that book would seem to be an argument for forcing all children into school, to be fair one would also have to read, A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. This harrowing book describes his experiences with a severely dysfunctional and abusive mother. He did go to school and for years teachers never followed up on the many overt clues suggesting that he needed help. 

Of course, one can also read stories that are sadly available about bullied students and abusive teachers. In other words, it may be a tragic reality, but it is a reality that sick and evil adults can cause great pain to children. Children can also cause a great deal of pain to other children. We do not order society on the basis of assuming that most adults are sick and evil or that any gathering of children will be a replay of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Following that train of thought is futile.

Back to your family. Most homeschoolers we know have a wide variety of activities outside the home and are also part of  the larger homeschooling and general community. They also have extremely strong relationships with their parents and siblings. As your memories from school remind us, being around others of exactly the same age as us does not necessarily help our social skills.

If a teenage boy, in particular, whether he is homeschooled or in a conventional school, has no friends, a poor relationship with his family, is broody and disconnected from all other people spending most of his time alone, we would worry. However, suggesting that homeschooling leads to that conclusion has nothing to do with how the world REALLY works.

In love with lifetime learning,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Did I (Susan) have more to say on the topic? Of course! Here are a few more of my thoughts:

Tell people around you that you are even thinking of homeschooling and before long someone—or many—will exclaim, “But what about socialization?” Most veteran homeschoolers will burst out laughing at that question. Often, their children are busy with so many social activities that they struggle to find time for basics like math. Nevertheless, let’s take a deeper look at the question.

Why don’t we start by looking at the Bing online dictionary definition of the word. My search yielded the following:


[ˌsōSHələˈzāSH(ə)n, ˌsōSHəˌlīˈzāSH(ə)n]


  1. the activity of mixing socially with others.
    “socialization with students has helped her communication skills”

       2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
      “preschool starts the process of socialization”

      3. organization of an industry or company according to the principles of socialism.
      “planned economic growth was accompanied by the socialization of agriculture”

One could argue that many professors at university schools of education hew most closely to  promoting definition #3. Many parents, seeing polls showing that after  years of indoctrination in school a shocking number of young adults think socialism is preferable to capitalism, could understandably decide  to homeschool precisely to counteract the effects of socialization.

Yet, most people (perhaps naively) are referring to definitions #1 and #2 when they question homeschooling. Let’s deal with those in reverse order.

I disagree entirely with the example for the definition that reads, “ the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” First of all, in my homeschool we would capitalize the beginning of a sentence. More importantly, the sentiment is far more troubling than the grammar. Society has many  very unacceptable ideas today. The less exposure to them that children get, the better off they are.

Even if positive values are being imparted, preschool, which today generally starts between the ages of three and four, should not be the beginning of learning how to interact with others. That process must begin three to four years earlier. A newborn is completely self-centered. A three-year-old should not be. During that interval of time, little ones should learn many lessons as they recognize that they and their mothers are two separate people and that screaming and crying are not the only responses to discomfort. By three and four they should have been introduced to ideas ranging from standing to the side when waiting to enter an elevator out of consideration for those exiting, to sharing toys with and offering a drink to visitors. If none of these and myriad other ideas are not already familiar by the time a child enters preschool, that poor preschool teacher is facing an overwhelming task.

However, definition #1 is probably what most people have in mind when they question homeschooling. Their imaginations travel to a lone child sitting in isolation, looking longingly out as apple-cheeked and cheerful children prance happily down the block looking forward to a day of education and fun. Seriously, other than pictures of Dick and Jane in the appalling primary readers that helped pave the way to wide-spread illiteracy do either of those images seem realistic?

Most homeschoolers are involved in all sorts of activities ranging from karate to volunteering in old-age homes, from orchestra to geo-caching. There is a major difference however between these social interactions and those in school. The partners in these activities tend to span a greater age range than is found in the classroom. More like real life, you could say where your co-workers and friends are not all born within the same year as you. Rather than taking your social cues from other ten-year-olds, homeschoolers have the opportunity to model themselves after older peers and to be a model to younger ones.

Not every school is a den of bullying and not every homeschooling family reflects the finest character traits. But if socialization means learning to mix socially with others and to cooperate and function in group settings, then parents should feel confident that those skills can be learned both within the school setting and outside of it.


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Values Change – So Let’s Change Values

August 29th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 38 comments

We are coming to the end of a week of Grandma Camp, where I have been  doing crafts, playing games, reading stories and enjoying the company of five charming young ladies. I have had little time to write. Instead, I’m going to throw out an idea without elaborating on it, in the hope that you will mull it over, discuss it and draw your own conclusions.

An unsurprising, yet still disturbing, poll  this week revealed that younger Americans value patriotism, religion and having children substantially less than their elders and less than their elders did at their age. What do they value? Tolerance. (It is worth mentioning that a strong argument can be made that college students and those in their twenties today constitute one of the least tolerant generations in decades.)

A different article I read focused on how bus ridership in Los Angeles is decreasing despite great infusions of cash spent building a larger system. Naturally, this concerns Phil Washington, the chief executive of L.A. Metro. His solution  has been implemented in other cities: drive people onto public transport by making driving less comfortable. In other words, cause pain to those who insist on using their own cars or any form of non-public transit. He believes that people’s minds must be changed when it comes to how they think about transportation, saying, “Sometimes you have to tell people what’s good for them.”  This is the eternal elegy of the career bureaucrat. 

Here’s my idea. Let’s leave people to decide for themselves how to get from point A to point B, but let’s work on changing people’s minds on what values matter. Rather than closing down traffic lanes, we might all be better off if we closed all colleges for a few years and worked on revamping public education from pre-school up.

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Come Out Fighting

August 22nd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 46 comments

A funny thing happened on the way to last week’s Musing. Actually, it wasn’t funny and neither is it rare. My thoughts, the ones that seemed so organized in my head, did not translate well onto paper. What was unusual was that the deadline for publishing the Musing loomed so close last week that I had to abandon my efforts.  Instead, I took one part of what I wanted to say and built the Musing around that, specifically my conviction that any gun control legislation must be linked to legislation that attacks a sacred cow of Democrat politicians. Otherwise, any changes will be a disaster for both the country and the Republican Party.

I’m going to try again to expand my ideas. Some of you were appalled that I might even consider red-flag legislation. I am aware of the potential abuse of those laws and how dangerous they could be. However, I do believe that refusing to discuss those laws or other gun-control measures puts conservatives in a losing situation. Those concepts sound so eminently reasonable to any voter for whom 2nd Amendment rights are not a priority. Faced with a picture of mourning families and media that only presents the side of the story that fits its agenda, many citizens cannot even imagine what there  is to discuss. 

It is almost impossible to underestimate the ignorance of the American populace. I don’t even mean this as a slur. Personally, I am juggling a marriage, a family, friends, a profession, a ministry and a slew of other responsibilities. There are tons of important issues of which I am relatively ignorant. It is almost impossible to keep up with everything that affects my world. The lack of honesty and professionalism among the current crop of reporters and information gate-keepers makes understanding complex issues even more difficult. We have to actively search out opposing viewpoints rather than assuming that they will be given fair treatment. Second Amendment rights are not most American’s priority.

For years, Republican candidates and politicians resembled Charlie Brown when Lucy yanked the football away from him at the last minute—over and over again. They would submit to interviews and then be shocked when the reporter blindsided them with an accusation, often on an unrelated topic. They naively thought their views were being sought, when in actuality the goal of the interview was to destroy their credibility. One of the key factors in President Trump’s successful campaign was his refusal to be put on the defensive. Instead, to the cheers of millions, he played offense. He set the agenda. 

Here is what I wish Republican politicians would do. Instead of going on the defense when told, for example, that 97% of Americans favor some change in gun registration, they should counter by saying, “You know, 97% of Americans reject the dismemberment of perfectly viable babies in utero, let only leaving a baby born as a result of a botched abortion to die, also known as infanticide. Both violent crime and these abortions show a disrespect for the life of ‘the other.’ Let’s make a joint statement that we need to move back to a time when Americans valued life. Let’s link a revision of any gun laws to a revision of abortion laws. No good person wants someone to mow down a room of people and no good person wants a baby killed. Let’s have a conversation about these things.”

Incredible as it may sound, i believe that, due to the extreme Left’s infatuation with abortion, Democrat politicians will run from this issue as if they were vampires being pursued by large heads of garlic. If by some miracle, enough politicians were open to linking these two issues, we would actually open the door to a valuable discussion of the spiritual ills this country is facing. Either way, every Republican and conservative politician would never respond to a question that includes the name of the NRA without introducing the name of Planned Parenthood. Rather than being painted into a corner, they would come out fighting. 

That is part of what I wanted to say last week although I didn’t manage to do so. I believe that it is illogical and historically inaccurate to think that acts of violence targeting large groups of innocent people will end because of the  implementation of stronger gun control measures. We need to create the opportunity to explain why that is. If the media has its way, only those who already agree with me will ever hear the reasoning behind that thought process. You don’t get that opportunity by allowing guns to be isolated as an issue as if they are the sole factor in the sad story of violence. 

P.S. I did hear back from Senator Lindsay Graham’s office saying that he only has time to read messages from citizens of S. Carolina. That is perfectly reasonable  (except that he keeps asking me to contribute to his campaign). Any of you from his state are free to share my words with him.

P.P.S. I apologize. I was unfair to Sen. Graham. Here are the exact words from his office: “Due to the large volume of mail I receive, I regret that I am only able to respond personally to inquiries from South Carolinians.”

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Dear Senator (Lindsey) Graham

August 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 56 comments

Dear Senator Graham,

I’m going to get right to the point. Do you remember how during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings the veil over your eyes lifted and you realized that some of your esteemed colleagues on the Democrat side of the fence were willing to use vile and underhanded methods to achieve their goal? Keeping another Trump nominee from getting on the Supreme Court was so crucial that they trampled honesty, integrity and the Constitution.

Many in the media and many in Congress have spent every day since President Trump triumphed over Hillary Clinton doing whatever they could to get him out of office. Millions of dollars have been wasted , government institutions have been badly damaged, flagons of ink have been spilled and venomous and vicious words have been hurled like grenades  trying to undo the last election. I’m not positive you and some of your long-time colleagues understand that you are as hated as the President. So are those of us  who voted for him. Some of you may wake up every day saying, “If only we had a more diplomatic president with more gravitas, this extreme hatred of conservatives and Republicans wouldn’t exist.” Please, please channel back to the Kavanaugh hearings and realize those views are mistaken.


Nothing Positive on the Horizon

August 8th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 31 comments

If you watched the recent  Democrat debates, you could be forgiven for thinking that the United States of America is beset by an evil and malevolent force, the National Rifle Association. Candidate after candidate spoke of the NRA as a dark and sinister organization responsible for violence and death. 

In the week after the debates, two tragic mass shootings, not to mention other “regular” gun deaths, spotlighted these remarks. As I write these words, my membership renewal notice from the NRA is on my desk.

I’d like to explain why I intend extending my membership. Of course, there is no amorphous blob “THE NRA.” It is a membership organization that represents millions of Americans. We are hunters and non-hunters, old and young, male and female, and made up of individuals belonging to many religions, colors, ethnicities and backgrounds. 

Here’s the salient point: Leftist media and the Democrat candidates on those stages present a picture of  a spectrum with kind, loving people who intelligently support gun control on one end. In this mistaken view, the opposing side must be made up of cruel, hateful and stupid people who support the NRA.  (Alternatively, and since casting millions of Americans as Deplorable didn’t seem to work so well last election cycle, they present the NRA as if it has a life of its own, rather like Athena who sprouted full-grown from Zeus’ head.) 


Guest Musing: Could Refraining from a Physical Relationship Cause Harm?

August 1st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 37 comments

I was sorry to read about Josh Harris’ impending divorce and his move away from Christianity. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, in 1997, as a young man, Josh wrote an influential book about courtship called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He then served as a pastor for many years. Every divorce is sad (even when necessary) and when children are involved this is even more so. Similarly, it is disturbing to hear about anyone moving away from a relationship with a faith that has so much to offer.

I thought that there was a great deal of insight in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, though over the years I have heard pushback against it. Josh Harris even repudiated his own writing. As I see it, people can twist any idea, taking it to an extreme or misusing it. That doesn’t necessarily make the original idea valueless.

My husband and I were proud, a few years back, to publish a book by Jerusalem-based relationship expert, Gila Manolson. Her book explored the physiological and psychological effects of touch and why and how prematurely introducing touch into a relationship can be a mistake. I asked Gila to comment on the response of those who married before sleeping together or possibly even kissing (most unusual in our day) and then, when their marriages did not work out as planned, claimed that they would have done better had they, indeed, shared a physical relationship before their wedding night. What follows is her response.


Back to you, Mr. President

July 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 93 comments

As the massive Republican presidential candidate field narrowed down in 2016, I wrote quite a few Musings sharing my thought processes. Donald Trump was not a natural choice for me, though by the time election night came I was fully on board. This time around, only a few avid never-Trumpers are even thinking of a Republican primary challenger and some of those are openly declaring  that they would prefer a Democrat to our current President. I think they are grossly mistaken and astonishingly self-destructive, but they aren’t interested in listening to me. However, some of you might be.

I spent a lot of time during my most active mothering years trying to convey the power of speech to my children. One daughter had a hard time understanding that if she lashed out at a sibling with cruel words, by the next day she might have forgotten her hurtful outburst , but her sibling hadn’t. Other children found my recommendation that when something went wrong they should say, “Dearie, me!” laughable (o.k., it was laughable) but they knew that I had better not hear them saying anything stronger. Name-calling, gossip and crude language was absolutely frowned upon in our house.


This Women-for-Trump Group Isn’t for Me

July 18th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 45 comments

For years, mainstream media has pretended that women make up a monolithic, liberal group. A number of years back, one could expect most articles concerning women to include a quote from a NOW (National Organization for Women) spokeswoman despite the fact that it represented its members only, not the totality of women. Conservative women’s groups, no matter how large, were routinely ignored. Today there is still a pretense that abortion rights are a united liberal “woman’s issue” even though the majority of women are not in favor of the radical abortion policies the Left is increasingly espousing.

Portraying President Trump as an enemy of women is part of this media lie. As a female supporter of the president, I would like to add my voice to those women brave enough to make their stand public, despite the bullying that often follows. I eagerly clicked on this article: Women for Trump -There’s No Conceding the ‘Women’s Vote’ to Liberals in 2020.

Unfortunately, I can’t march in this particular parade. As one of their “selling points,” this group mentions President Trump’s support for paid family leave. While it doesn’t diminish my support for the president’s other policies, one of my biggest concerns is how to make sure that the president and members of Congress know how many women think this legislation would be a terrible idea. I certainly do.


Memories and Unanswered Questions

July 11th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

This has been an unsettling week for me. A number of years ago, my mother’s sister passed away, the last of the five siblings. This month, her children sold my aunt’s house and one of my cousins had the unenviable job of cleaning it out. In the garage she found a few boxes that had been moved there from our grandparents’ apartment over forty years ago when my grandmother died. It became a running joke that each summer my mother, her sister and sisters-in-law would say they were going to sort through things, and as each summer ended, the boxes remained untouched.

Untouched they are no longer. My cousin sent some of the contents to me including postcards exchanged when my grandparents were courting, photos that span decades and a meticulously kept address book.

All these things have thrown me for a loop. I was very close to my grandparents; to this day I can instantaneously recall their phone number. My grandmother died shortly after I graduated college and my grandfather a few years later, so they were an important and loving presence through my growing up years. Now, decades later, I am seeing them in ways I never did before.