Posts in Susan’s Musings

Twinkling Talent

March 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

Please don’t tell the budding musicians in my family but, while I go to their first concerts out of love for them, the music isn’t all that great. Hot Cross Buns and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star grow old rather quickly, especially when played by novice violinists and violists.

This past Sunday, I went to a cello concert, once again motivated by love. This time, the performers, who only a few years ago debuted with the songs mentioned above, provided the audience with a rewarding musical experience. We heard the music of JS Bach and Saint-Saens, Bruch (my grandson’s piece) and Paganini. While not yet quite concert-level performers, these young teenagers’ playing revealed the hours of disciplined practice they have invested. It was a delightful ninety minutes.

There was much to admire. The teachers and parents’ dedication and the youths’ hard work and love for music all obviously deserve praise. But something else jumped out at me as well. The five young men and two young women who performed came from different ethnic, religious, economic and racial groups. In addition to their perseverance and talent, they shared something else in common, something that used to be taken for granted but no longer is. Looking around the audience of relatives and friends (and one woman I spoke to who came because she loves music), I saw mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And I realized that many teenagers today don’t have that extended family network to cheer them on.

There are the teens whose mothers decided to have a child on their own, depriving their offspring not only of a father but of one set of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well. There are the teens who had one parent walk out of their life when a marriage ended—and those whose parents never married to begin with—where one parent didn’t want the responsibility of a child. Certainly, there are fortunate teens whose extended families widen to include step-parents and additional loved ones, but they are outnumbered by those who have fewer adult figures in their lives than biology would suggest. In most cases, the missing figures are men.

There are more than a few foolish women who argue that men aren’t necessary in a child’s life. The entire (false) concept that pregnancy is an issue of “a woman’s body–a woman’s choice”  has been drilled into the culture suggesting that anything other than a man’s biological contribution is superfluous. The idea that any and every variation of family is equivalent is so widespread, that I rejoiced not only in the euphonious music but also in the web of love and support that surrounded these young musicians.

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Speak Up Before You’re Shut Up

March 7th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 33 comments

At a certain point in United States history, western expansion hit the Pacific Ocean.  Having built a country whose legends included families crossing the Atlantic in search of religious and economic freedom and sagas of thousands of ‘Pa Ingalls’ who kept moving west as previously sparsely settled areas were populated, this vast body of water presented a problem. Where could the rugged individualist now go?

I’ve got good news for those who dream of living back in the days when a man could grasp the reins of his life and determine his own destiny. Today, you don’t even need to leave your own home to do so.

Whether you went west on the Oregon Trail or followed the Gold Rush frenzy, one thing was always true. Even when embarking on the journey with a group, major decisions and responsibilities lay with the individual. Blind faith in an expedition’s leader was rare. Failure and success usually depended upon one’s own instincts, skills, hard work and family.

As America got older, that changed. Public schooling meant that parents didn’t have to teach their own, supermarkets negated the necessity for growing one’s own food and the wild success of the industrial revolution meant that most items could be bought rather than homemade. Political decisions too, migrated from community, to state, to Federal control.

All those developments, however, relied on a general trust in the infrastructure. While there were always shady characters in and out of government, in general, there was a feeling that the number of good people heavily outweighed the bad ones. That feeling is rapidly eroding.

It is becoming increasingly clear that many important elements of our livesamong them parts of government, the public educational system and large portions of the media—are no longer trustworthy. That is the bad news. The fact that the lies and betrayal are now blatant is the good news. It tells us that if we are being fooled, it is not the cleverness of the liars but our own decision to ignore reality slapping us in the face.

This past Shabbat, my husband was again the rabbi in residence for the Young Jewish Conservatives group at the huge CPAC conference in Washington DC. By arranging for kosher food, prayer services and other essentials, this group makes it possible for Sabbath-observing Jews to still attend CPAC.  It also attracts many who, although not necessarily Torah-observant in every aspect of their lives, are nonetheless eager to connect with other politically conservative Jews.

Each year we come away uplifted from these Shabbats. This year, however, more than usual, I sensed a palpable, vibrant activism bubbling to the surface. There seemed to be a recognition that, despite anti-conservative bigotry and hatred from professors, employers, family and friends, keeping one’s views to oneself was no longer a viable option. 

One of the speakers, who addressed the crowd at CPAC shortly before President Trump, was Brandon Straka. During the past few months, anytime I felt pessimistic about this country’s future, I would check out the #walkaway stories on Brandon’s Facebook page. In a movement he started less than a year ago, thousands of Americans have posted a video or written their story telling why they are walking away from the Democrat Party. Most of them voted for Barack Obama, a majority voted for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Yet, since President Trump’s election these citizens have become aware of how the Democrat Party is choosing to foment hatred, violence and divisiveness. They have found the media lies, hypocrisy and prejudice impossible to ignore. And these individuals are choosing to walk away.

If you aren’t familiar with this movement, take a moment to look it up. Watch Brandon’s interview with Mark Levin (who spoke powerfully for us at the Shabbat gathering and whose wife, Julie, and her mother, Sylvia, have for many years been among the guiding forces and inspirational energy behind the Shabbat event). Forward one or both links to a good person in your life who needs some shaking up. Those leaving testimonials aren’t venturing into unknown physical territory like the early pioneers, but they are bravely asserting their individuality in a way that the pioneers of this country would recognize and applaud.

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Time for Mass Resignations at Amazon?

February 28th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

There is a concept in Jewish thought that God judges us in the manner in which we judge others. If we overlook a friend who slights us, God will similarly overlook our slighting of Him. If we judge someone else’s actions in the most favorable light, God will  judge our actions in the most favorable light. If we go out of our way to help another person, God will likewise provide extra help for us. 

It would be lovely if our society adopted this idea. Anyone who insisted during the Justice Kavanaugh’s show trial that, “We must believe all women,” should be held to that standard even if they or someone they revere is accused. Meanwhile, in a similar situation, those of us who argued for upholding the rule of law and evidence would be given a fair hearing.

On this basis, those who claim that any whiff of sexism condemns a person to the dungeons should now fall on their own swords. I am talking about Jeff Bezos and anyone, male or female, in a position of responsibility at Amazon. I realize that Mr. Bezos is having a rough time because of  personal indiscretions as well as a change of business plans in New York. I don’t mean to pile on, but neither do I want to avert my eyes from egregious sexism at his company.

Where do I find this? Alexa. Having spent a few days in an Alexa dominated home, I watched how the machine is configured in a way that demeans women. I’m not talking about Alexa transcripts uncovered from thirty years ago (since the program didn’t exist then), but how, in 2019, Alexa is laying a misanthropic vision for the future.

Why is Alexa, or Siri for that matter, presented as female? This electronic wonder responds to commands issued to it. There is a most evident imbalance of power between the speaker and the machine. And the voice responding to instruction is female. Is a male voice too hard to simulate? Do we really think that the machine’s creators would have crafted a recognizably Mexican-accented voice, for example?

Could the brilliant coders not have devised a way for the machine to insist on the words “please” and “thank you” before fulfilling a request? If my grandson said, “Alexa, turn on the light,” couldn’t she have said, “What’s the magic word?” What if every other time he wanted something he first had to say, “Alexa, is there something I can do for you?” As it stands, my three-year-old grandson, representative of the next generation of boys, is learning to bark orders at women, to expect females to respond instantly to his every whim and never to consider a woman’s perspective.

While a bunch of white-garbed women made a ridiculous spectacle of themselves prancing arrogantly around at the State of the Union speech, surely the feminist standards they purport to uphold would be better served by destroying Amazon for this transgression? Keeping them out of New York City is small potatoes compared to completely eviscerating the company. As a side-benefit, this would bring many aspiring Socialists one step closer to their fantasies. Naturally, most Americans would be worse off and the economy might tank. But, hey, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. 

P.S. Lest anyone not catch the satire of the above writing, I do feel the need to add a conclusion. I think that Alexa actually represents one example of a  relatively serious problem in terms of our culture’s encouraging rudeness, self-centeredness and instant gratification. However, changing the voice to a male one would be equally problematic. All people should be treated with respect and suggesting that there are ‘loser’ groups who should be treated badly, whether they are women of color or white men, is a formula for failure.

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Eleanor’s Eleven Keys to a More Fulfilling Life

February 21st, 2019 Posted by Reading Recommendations, Susan's Musings 29 comments

Have you noticed how many books have a number in the title, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?  Or how many articles are enticingly entitled “The Top 5 Reasons We Fall Out of Love”?  We human beings love lists. Who wouldn’t be smitten with the idea that if I only do these seven or ten or fifteen things, my life will be better, my marriage will be stronger and my career will flourish? Of course, it is easier to read the ideas than to put in the hard work of executing them. And, of course, no list—even the most marvelous one—hits every area every time.

I recently read a book from decades ago, with a subtitle that still resonates today. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one of America’s most admired women, wrote You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life only a few years before her death (decades after her husband’s presidency). The advice she gives holds up rather well, though I think she would be shocked to discover that by today’s standards she might very well be considered a hard-core conservative rather than an icon of the Democrat Party.

As so often happens when reading a book from a previous era (the book was published in 1960), one is reminded that assumptions we make and things we take for granted aren’t necessarily writ in stone. In last week’s Your Mother’s Guidance column, Rebecca Masinter wrote about a Scriptural lesson on the importance of each individual feeling needed. Mrs. Roosevelt wrote on the same topic, in a way that I think sounds surprising to the modern ear.

Mrs. Roosevelt writes,

“One reason why we sometimes find less delinquency proportionately among the poor (my emphasis) is that the children have a greater sense of being needed in the family. They have a sense of belonging, of shared responsibility, of being an essential—and necessary—part of a component whole.”

In our day, we are strongly propagandized that crime is an inevitable consequence of poverty. Yet, it seems that this is not a given.

I find it fascinating that the Public Works Administration was a keystone of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the lack of available work during the Depression. The concept reflects the truth that money earned uplifts workers, but money given too freely corrodes the recipients. Yet, its policy grandchildren of today are a proliferation of public assistance programs that actually discourage working. Programs since the 1960s have had the  unintended consequence (or some will argue, the very much intended consequence) of penalizing those who marry and work while struggling financially. Children not only don’t feel needed in order to help the family survive, but these programs undermine the idea of family itself. Reliance on government programs rather than family members treats husbands and fathers as unnecessary. The birth of children, in and of itself rather than the efforts and help of those children, triggers the flow of so-called government money.

Our children used to joke that homeschooling was another name for child labor as their many hours at home gave them plenty of time to wash dishes, put away groceries, cook and clean. The line between schooling and home was difficult to delineate as we doubled fractions in recipes, compared prices per ounce in the market and recited poems while sweeping. There was plenty of time for everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that our children are amazed that their father and I actually function without them since they have grown up and established homes of their own. I think that Eleanor Roosevelt would have understood.

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Insensitive or Unforgivable?

February 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 58 comments

Starting in 1965 and continuing through 1971, Hogan’s Heroes was a popular TV comedy. Actor Bob Crane played Colonel Hogan, the highest ranking American prisoner of war interned in a German POW camp. Unlike the actual Nazis, the Germans in the show were invariably rather benign and clumsy oafs, continually being outwitted by their prisoners.

If Nazis and captured American military men don’t sound terribly funny to you, I agree. As a child, I was enough offended by the show that when an adult in my orbit enjoyed it, it seriously reduced my respect for that individual.

Now, decades later, I am rethinking my views. Increasingly, accusations are being hurled at people for actions they took decades earlier. Imagine if there had been a TV show that portrayed a Southern plantation in the 1850s where the Black slaves actually ran the show because the White masters were incompetent? Would one of the show’s actors or anyone accused of liking the show be electable today? I doubt it.

I still think that Hogan’s Heroes was juvenile and in poor taste. But, maturity has provided me with the ability to see that disagreeing with me is not automatically contemptible. One of the stars of the show was a man named Robert Clary. As a Jewish teenager, he spent a few nightmarish years in Nazi concentration camps. After his release from Buchenwald, he discovered that his parents and many other family members had been murdered in Auschwitz. Robert Clary did not think that the Nazis were amusing clowns.

Werner Klemperer, who played the German Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the show also had a Jewish father.  If his family had not left Germany in 1935, he too would have met Nazi standards for extermination.

John (originally Johann) Banner, who played the bumbling German Master Sergeant, Schultz, was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. They emigrated in 1938 to the United States, avoiding the fate of many of their family members who were murdered. Mr. Banner served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and told TV Guide, “Schultz is not a Nazi. I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in any generation.”

These are only three of Hogan’s Heroes actors whose lives intersected with the Holocaust and World War II. If you are shaking your head not understanding how they could participate in a comedy about the era, so am I. Despite reading their explanations for appearing in the show, I still don’t get it. I also don’t get how anyone found the show anything other than offensive.

However, I have no choice but to recognize that decent people disagreed with me. Pretending that those who watched the show were all anti-Semites is foolish. Jews and ex-GIs were not only among the actors but also among the audience. It is sophomoric and dangerous to suggest that it was o.k. for Jews and ex-GIs to appear in the show or find it funny but that anyone who had anything to do with the show who is not in one of those categories is a hateful human being.

I doubt that a show like Hogan’s Heroes would run on national TV today. Neither would a movie that featured blackface get made today. But, as much as I would like to see Democrat VA Governor Ralph Northam out of office, I fear that the forces urging him to resign care less about all Americans respecting each other as they do about political calculation; and it is a calculation that promotes hatred, resentment and victimhood. (It looks now like the press has decided to allow Governor Northam to tough it out—my point still stands.)

Here is a paradox. Until a few years ago, anti-Semitism and racism were declining. One of the factors in both their revivals has been that they have been turned into cudgels. Accusing someone of either “ism” became a weapon with which to destroy careers and lives. Because of the “isms” is has become impossible to have honest conversations about issues that affect and harm America and her citizens.

Today, the press and the expanding far-Left influence are out for blood rather than trying to create a nation of individuals who can live peaceably together.  By insisting that people identify by their nationality, bloodlines and genes (unless it has to do with specific approved gender issues, of course) we set ourselves up for loathing the other. We are all losers when we shut down free speech even of the juvenile, insensitive and offensive type. We imperil our society when we turn every single American into someone whose less than finest hours dangle over him or her like the sword of Damocles. 

Hogan’s Heroes isn’t going to be revived today, but we now have elected officials in Congress who speak positively about real-life, not fictional, people who want to wipe out the Jewish people. Today, we are judging people by their gender, racial and ethnic groups more than we did a few decades ago.

Is this progress?

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Winter White; Congressional Blight

February 7th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 66 comments

I have a book on my shelves titled, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. Anyone under the age of thirty could be forgiven for thinking that it is a contemporary political tome. It isn’t. Published in 1942, it is the story of two young women taking a European tour after finishing college in America in the 1920s.

My daughters grew up doing Rainbow Brite® puzzles and drawing pictures of nature’s colorful phenomenon. The rainbow’s vibrant appearance made it a popular theme for children’s parties and decorations. Today, the rainbow is a political statement.

I have a number of white articles of clothing in my closet. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the dominant color in the synagogue is white as Jews illustrate the idea of our sins turning as white as snow after we repent. I am drawing the line here. I am not surrendering the color white to today’s political resistance to the President.

The Democrat ladies of Congress made a clear statement at President Trump’s State of the Union Speech. It may not have been the one they were hoping to make. They looked arrogant and self-centered. Their attitude showed a lack of caring about minorities, and indeed all Americans, who are back at work in a growing economy. They were indifferent to young girls enslaved by human traffickers. They showed contempt for human life in its earliest moments. Their only celebration was of themselves.

These women do not represent me nor do they represent millions of other American women. However, do not underestimate the peril they present. In August 2016, I explained why I was supporting Donald Trump even though good and caring friends were not voting for him because they were uncertain about his stance on abortion. (https://rabbidaniellapin.com/what-trumps-abortion/)

The past two-and-a-half years have made clear what would have happened on this issue had Hillary Clinton been elected. The Democrat Party has transitioned from being the party of abortion to being the party of infanticide and euthanasia. It is  the party that fights free speech and opposes private property. It is a movement that denigrates traditional values and religion. Those of us who recognize the dangers of their ideas becoming more widespread have to focus completely on the patient in the emergency room—America—and stand up bravely, wisely and with steel-like resolve. We need to stop seeking perfection in our representatives (just as we do in ourselves) and get out our vote. At the same time, let’s go ahead and wear white— complemented by a bright red MAGA hat.

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Not an Army of One

February 1st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

For a few years, the United States Army’s recruiting slogan was, “An Army of One.” Unlike the slogan, “Be All You Can Be,” or other ones that were used for over twenty years, “An Army of One” was introduced in 2001 and retired only a handful of years later in 2006.

My husband and I were privileged to spend this week with senior officers and their spouses. We both had the honor of speaking at the Army’s 2019 Religious Leaders Symposium which gathered chaplains stationed around the world for sessions designed to equip them to better help their troops.

It became clear to us why, “An Army of One,” failed. Although it was probably designed to encourage young people to recognize how serving in the Army would benefit them and allow them to maximize their individual potential, it missed the boat. One of the strongest gifts of army life is that you are not alone; you are part of a community and family.

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When Did Maturity Become a Bad Word?

January 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

The teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School did not set out to become famous. Sometimes history forces us into positions we did not seek. We have no way of knowing if in time they will fade into oblivion or become leaders. Will they emerge from this experience with new strength of character or will they wilt from this trial? Will they continue to uphold the morals and values of their families or will they succumb to the lure of easy acceptance for those who kowtow to popular culture’s sacred icons? We cannot predict their futures any more than we can predict our own children’s or even our own.

What we can know is that they are growing up in a world that no longer values the idea of maturity. The word itself has become a buzzword for old age with all its negative connotations rather than a desired step of growth. For younger people, it has been replaced by ‘adulting,’ a word that implies tentative, halting steps to being responsible for oneself rather than a solidifying of one’s character and moral backbone.   

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Bossy Women – Like Me?

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 61 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!)

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Heartbreak – an Unintended Consequence

January 10th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 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.

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