Posts in Susan’s Musings

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.

Winston Churchill recognized the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as the turning point in efforts to beat back a Nazi regime that was spreading darkness and evil across Europe. Like so many of their generation, President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, who came to honor him this week, answered the call to defend their country and its ideals. Comrades who did not survive the war were not granted the same opportunity for sterling careers, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Veterans likely felt the need to be worthy of the blessing of life so many of their peers were not granted.

Whether we think of the Maccabees 2,179 years ago or Americans joining the Allied forces seventy-seven years ago, war takes a devastating toll. Later generations reap the rewards of victory, frequently not only taking those rewards for granted but often despising them. This year Chanukah and December 7th overlap and our focus has been drawn by the funeral of President Bush to the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Let us resolve to provide whatever light we can in what often seems like a dark world, as we keep in mind the greater vision and ask God to redeem us once again.

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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.

One of our granddaughters attends a Jewish elementary school. She and her classmates were assigned a book report on a famous personality. The teacher distributed biographies and our eight-year-old brought home a book detailing the accomplishments of Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space.

Thankfully, our wonderful daughter, the young student’s mother, looked through the book, Who Was Sally Ride? by Megan Stine before her child did. She wasn’t surprised by the feminist emphasis as that was to be expected and relevant to the story. However, the final paragraphs made her send the book back to the teacher with a note explaining that this was not suitable for her daughter or, indeed, for anyone in the school.

Discussing Dr. Ride’s death from cancer in 2012, the author mentions the astronaut’s desire for privacy concerning her illness as well as about her relationship with her long-time friend, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  The penultimate paragraph cites the ubiquitous and anonymous “some” who were disappointed that Sally Ride was not open about being homosexual.  While the book could have sparked many conversations about science, space, physics and women’s liberation, our daughter did not want to be manipulated into a discussion of homosexuality.

To her distress, the teacher acknowledged (in what seems to me to be an admission of having fallen down on the job) not having read the book and replaced it with a biography of Marie Curie from the same series and by the same author. Alas, this was not necessarily an improvement. On page 84, the reader is introduced to Paul Langevin, the married student of Marie’s dead husband, Pierre. According to Ms. Stine, the scientist probably didn’t intend to fall in love with a married man, but she “followed her heart,” leading to great happiness (followed by difficulties).

Once again, our daughter would have been happy discussing many topics including radium, the Nobel prize, science, and women in science with her eight-year-old. She didn’t want to be led into a discussion of adultery and certainly didn’t appreciate the unstated message conveyed to young people that following one’s heart is just something we do. 

In 2002, The New York Times shattered a boundary when they began listing same-sex couples in the wedding section, changing the name of the section to Weddings/Celebrations as same-sex marriage was not yet legal. Today, to most people under a certain age, any hesitation to celebrate these unions seems ridiculous. There is no longer even an agreement that adultery is a reprehensible activity.

My personal moral system on some issues is out of step with today’s dominant culture as well as with a number of things our country has legalized.  I think this is true for many of you as well.  As a mother, I always monitored my children’s reading. However, I used to be on the lookout for things such as calling friends insulting names or rudeness to parents being presented as normative. The ground has shifted enormously today. Those concerns still matter, but only a few decades ago I was able to assume that biographies were relatively innocent. Parents and teachers today need to be even more vigilantly on guard. In fact, all of us would do well to ask ourselves after everything we read, listen to or watch, “Was there anything in here that tried to nudge me away from what I know is right towards accepting what I know is wrong?”

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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.

  1. On Thursday night, my husband and I were privileged to be invited to a house-warming for Pastors Liz and Larry Huch’s new home in Texas. These courageous and visionary  leaders of New Beginnings Church, along with the people who surround them, give us hope. Their guests, of course, represented many races and nationalities, unlike the stereotype I read about in the mainstream media, but don’t recognize. Strong in their Christian faith, on the following Sunday, members of this church donated their fourth ambulance to Israel’s emergency medical response organization, Magen David Adom.
  2. On Sunday night my husband and I were guests at a banquet for B’nai Zion, an Israeli organization that funds a major hospital as well as a number of other charitable initiatives in Israel. The honorees were two couples, both devoted Christians. One of the couples, Pastors Cyd and Ricky Texada, are long-time friends of ours and we look up to them and their senior pastors as examples of loving-kindness and steadfastness.
  3. While we were traveling, our office received a phone call from a man we have not yet met.  Pastor Mark J. Pudlowski was calling with a sense of urgency to ask for my husband’s advice. It seems that near where he lives in Pennsylvania there is an old Jewish cemetery that is no longer in use, is somewhat hidden, and that has been neglected for many years.  He wanted to know if it would be offensive in any way for a group from his church to go in and clean up the cemetery. Not only is it not offensive, but it is a warm and loving action to take.

A few weeks ago, a lone and bitter man killed eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue while shouting his hatred for all Jews. Many of the doctors and nurses who treated him for his wounds at a nearby hospital were Jewish.

The murderer’s vision of America is not the America that I know and love. The hate-filled college campuses that spread resentment and violence are not the America that I know and love.

There will be many days in the year ahead to fight for certain ideas and against others. The United States is in a tug-of-war for her soul. For one beautiful American day, let’s focus on what is good and right and much more common throughout the land than we often realize.

I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving and may you always have much to be grateful for in your lives.

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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 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.

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Tragedy in Pittsburgh

November 1st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 80 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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