Posts in Susan’s Musings

Let’s Talk, You Evil Bigot

February 13th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Not everything can be resolved through discussion. As my husband says, if the Pope and Planned Parenthood sat down over coffee, they will never agree about abortion.  Yet, our society seems to be moving towards the ridiculous extreme that nothing can be solved by discussion. It seems that ad hominem attacks, ascribing the worst possible motives and being unable to conceive that anyone with whom you disagree is acting in good faith are all now normal.

This idea struck me forcefully this week after seeing reactions to the half-time show at the Super Bowl. I did not see the show myself (or the game), but there wasn’t any factual disagreement about the provocative nature of Jennifer Lopez’s performance. In a column I read on a site aimed at mothers, one woman wrote that the show was soft porn and unsuitable for a sports event targeted towards families. She did not call JLo horrible names, she did not say that anyone who enjoyed the show was a pervert, she simply said that this was inappropriate for any society encouraging more respect for women.

The comment section exploded. “You sound like the epitamy [sic] of helicopter mom [sic],” “It was the best halftime show of my life,” “Stop with the closed mind…” came from one side. Naturally, a few people took the opportunity to bash President Trump and anyone who voted for him, though he was never mentioned in the article. On the other side, many thanked the author for her words and shared her views.

A conversation it was not.

I have been reading a book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. I haven’t read enough yet to recommend the book, but in the early chapters, the authors expand on a principle of ancient Jewish wisdom that my husband and I often discuss: our feelings follow our actions far more than our actions follow our feelings. In other words, people who give up smoking often feel more ardently anti-tobacco than they ever were before they abandoned the habit.  As the authors show, the more extreme our behavior, the harder it is for us to admit we are wrong. If, like so many Leftists today, someone supports movements claiming that President Trump is a dangerous man who must be stopped by any means before he destroys the planet, then it follows that the individual must drop friends and shun relatives who support the president. Only bad people would vote for someone who is so menacing. If these friends or relatives try to engage him in a fact-based conversation, he will not respond to the facts but will hunker down in his convictions. Thinking of himself as a good person is dependent on believing his thesis. Otherwise, he is a bad person for having destroyed relationships, insulting and offending people who meant a great deal to him.

Just like a serious illness causes one to forget minor health issues, the irrational hysteria about  President Trump is masking the lack of calm conversation on all issues. If mothers, whom one can assume all want a safe world for their daughters, cannot discuss a halftime show without fury, how do we begin to restore civil conversation to society?

Could it be that the women who saw a 50-year-old star “strutting her stuff” as a form of female empowerment, know deep down that asking a 16-year-old boy watching the show not to have sexual thoughts about the girls in his class the next day is akin to asking a giraffe to burst into song? Anger has always masked insecurity. Conversing with someone caught in the throes of passion has never been possible. If actions beget fury, then, indeed, about half of us are forming a culture where discussion is impossible.

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Psst! Want to Join a Conspiracy?

February 6th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

I don’t want to be responsible for starting a new conspiracy theory, but have you noticed something strange about the language that newspapers are using when talking about Bernie Sanders’ campaign?  Democrats can certainly be concerned that his decades-long socialist leanings might not be acceptable to many Americans. That is a valid and reasonable point for the press to make.

Yet, I saw two stories and neither phrased the potential problem in those terms. A news article in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 4, 2020, speaking of Bernie Sanders’ popularity read, “That has triggered concerns among centrist Democrats who worry Mr. Trump would use [my emphasis] Mr. Sanders’ political identity to damage the party’s prospects in Midwestern battleground states…” Similarly, a CNN article I read expressed concern that President Trump would “take advantage” of Bernie Sanders’ socialist leanings to turn voters against him.

Maybe I speak a different language than these erudite, university-educated, elite reporters, but in my book, the words “taking advantage” and “using” have mostly negative connotations. I might “take advantage” of someone who leaves the room to get a drink in order to cheat in a game or I might “use” a false piece of gossip to undermine someone’s job opportunity. However, if someone is clear about his views, let’s say openly advocating for open-marriage, and I share that information with a woman set up on a blind date with him, I’m not doing anything underhanded or nefarious.

Senator Sanders’ willingness to share his views openly allows Americans an opportunity to see what policies he is likely to support. Donald Trump has lived up to his campaign promises in a way that many previous presidents have not. Both these men deserve commendation for honesty and consistency. Too many politicians obfuscate, confuse and outright lie.

A Trump/Sanders showdown would indeed give Americans the chance to vote for men advocating sharply divergent policies. Isn’t that the point of an election? No one would be taking advantage of anyone by pointing out that the election pits capitalism against socialism, providing an opportunity for Americans to make a clear choice.

So why did the Wall Street Journal and CNN both couch what President Trump might say in negative terms?  Conspiracies suggest people making nefarious plans in clandestine cellars. That type of secrecy isn’t necessary when the mainstream press, educational and entertainment industries share biases that infiltrate everything they do. It is our job to remain alert and recognize when we are being manipulated, even if it doesn’t involve sunglasses or spies.

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The Royals and Me

January 29th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Initially, I didn’t think that Harry and Meghan’s choices had much to do with me. Yes, like many other people, articles about England’s royal family catch my attention, but I don’t particularly seek them out. My limited interest in TV means that I’m not sure if Meghan Markle’s show Suits was about a) a law firm b) a fashion house or c) neither of the above. I had not heard of her until she got engaged to a prince and I have too much going on in my own life to spend even a few minutes obsessing about hers. However, I have been rethinking my initial reaction.

I have to admit that as soon as the ex-HRH (his/her royal highness) couple began showing up on the Saanich Peninsula, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, I started paying closer attention. That is my family’s “happy place” where we have spent many wonderful summers, and we really don’t want it to get a lot of attention. But that wasn’t what made me change my mind.

An article contrasting Kate Middleton’s and Meghan Markle’s adjustment to life as a royal set me thinking. While neither grew up in the palace, Kate accepted her chosen life circumstances and has been graciously enhancing the monarchy while Meghan has taken a  different direction. Perhaps, the contrast between them isn’t as disassociated from my life as I first thought it was.

Like all of you, I am the daughter of a king—or to be more exact, the King. Sometimes, that can feel restrictive. He has definite ideas about how I should behave in all areas of my life. While He has no paparazzi aiming to catch me unaware, all my actions are recorded on a Heavenly Hard Drive and may be accessed in the future. As His child, my words and deeds reflect upon Him. That’s a rather heavy load to carry.

Of course, there is another side to the story. The relationship comes with big perks. Choosing to live under His wing has blessed me in numerous ways, including most importantly, in my family life. While I have missed out on certain things in order to participate in His preferred engagements such as the Shabbat and Biblical Festivals,  the payback for doing so has provided immense compensation. Being part of a chain that reaches back through time provides a sense of security and belonging. 

Still, I have a feeling that I don’t always accept my position with a full complement of grace and gratitude. Part of me sometimes chafes at not being free to call my own shots. Do all the small details including how I dress or how I spend my free time always need to fit into a bigger picture?

To be accurate, my situation parallels Harry more than his wife. I was born into a family that took Judaism seriously. Though I know many who have heroically adopted observances such as keeping the kosher dietary rules, prayer and the Shabbat, as well as the laws governing interpersonal behavior, I personally was brought up in that path. My choice was to embrace the role and seek fulfillment in it or, alternatively, to opt out.

The comparison only goes so far. In searching for a life-mate to marry, my starting point was someone who walked the same road. I wasn’t looking to influence someone to join my lifestyle but seeking someone who had already made that commitment on his own. While the number of potential suitors wasn’t enormous, it was certainly larger than the number of born-and-bred royals out there. There is also no concept in my world for  “an heir and a spare.”

Nonetheless, we are meant to learn from everyone and everything that crosses our path, and that must include prominent people such as Queen Elizabeth and her descendants. All of us are born into certain families and circumstances. We are born into the circle of those for whom a faith-connection is primary or are surrounded by those for whom faith is a minimal or negative association. Sometimes, sadly, we end up with an aversion to God based on the imperfect humans who represent Him to us.

In the final analysis, we do have choices to make. Seventy or so years ago, there is no doubt that most of the British public felt hostility towards King Edward VIII for walking away from the throne. (Of course, it was a gift of God that he did so considering his Nazi sympathies.) Today, attitudes are more evenly split on the question of applauding or denouncing the Sussexes. Much of that reflects changing views about responsibility and obligation. Yet, rather than being a topic for twittering gossip, the actions of this young couple can actually initiate reflection with which we can examine —and improve—our own lives.   And meanwhile, if they left British Columbia for some big metropolitan area, this princess would applaud.

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The No-Musing Musing

January 23rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

This may be the shortest Susan’s Musings I have yet written. I love writing and I love the links that my writing forge between us. I feel like I know those of you who frequently comment even though we have never met in person, and I am thrilled when some of you come up to me at events where my husband or I are speaking—or even at the airport.

I have often written about homemaking and building a family being a full-time-job. This week has served as a confirmation. On Sunday, I pulled out my recipe files and planned dinners for the week. Tonight will be the first one we are actually eating.

Our children are grown, and we are blessed to live near many of those adults and their own little ones. This week, while I did what I could, I also turned down a few requests for help and, after offering rushed good wishes, I wasn’t able to stay and celebrate with our nine-year-old birthday girl.


She Said – He Said: A Tale of Lizzie and Bernie

January 15th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 34 comments

Little Lizzie and Bernie had a playground spat.

“He said that I couldn’t  be president because I’m a girl.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Did not,”  and so on and so forth.

I’m sure some advice in the kindergarten teacher manual recommends how to deal with “he said”-“she said” arguments, but here’s a memo to these presumed grown-ups acting like overgrown toddlers.

You both sound ridiculous!

In the long-ago distant past when I was a child (it wasn’t actually that long ago, but the memory of college-educated American seems to be about ten-minutes-long these days) there was a popular riddle.

“A child is rushed into the operating room after being in a car accident.”

“The surgeon enters the operating room and exclaims, ‘I can’t operate. This is my son.’”

The surgeon is not the boy’s father. How can that be?

The incredibly elusive answer was that the surgeon was the child’s mother.

Have you heard that riddle being told lately? Neither have I. The instant response today would be, “Duh – it’s his mother.” (Or maybe, “Duh, it’s his stepmother or his other dad or….”) Female physicians are part and parcel of the landscape rather than an aberration. Someone should tell that to Senators Warren and Sanders.


Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go

January 9th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

For thirty years, Sue Shellenbarger has been writing the Work and Family column for the Wall Street Journal and I have always enjoyed reading her words. This past week, she penned a farewell article summing up what she sees as advances for working parents as well as areas where she sees problems looming.

I found the piece depressing. Perhaps the sidebar to the article helps to explain why. It highlighted four questions asked of mothers and fathers in a recent poll. They were asked if:

Being a working parent:

  • Makes it harder to advance in your job or career.
  • Has created a need to reduce your work hours.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at work.
  • Has caused you to turn down a promotion.

In each of these four questions, the percentage of mothers answering in the positive is larger than that of the fathers. This seems to present an underlying problem for Ms.Shellenbarger, revealing that things haven’t advanced as much as she would like over the past thirty years.

I come from a different perspective. I wouldn’t see it as an advance for the answers to be more 50/50. I actually would have liked to see the questions phrased differently.


Worry Less About anti-Semitism

January 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 52 comments

Was the attack in Monsey, NY, on December 29, 2019, an anti-Semitic attack? How about the increasingly frequent attacks on Hasidic Jews, as happened recently in Jersey City or the numerous incidents that are taking place in Borough Park, NY, or the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, or the synagogue attack in Poway, California in April 2019?  The answer is both yes and no.

Yes, these are anti-Semitic attacks because the victims are easily identified as Jews and the words shouted and backgrounds of the attackers reveal that they chose their victims for this very reason. So why do I say that the answer is also no? That is what I intend explaining in this Musing. This is a difficult piece for me to write. There is absolutely no way in which I can treat the topic comprehensively.  Furthermore, there are many ways in which my words could inadvertently hurt. I intend this, ideally, as a starting point for discussion rather than a finished piece. I am writing it because America is in crisis. If the American experiment fails, Jews around the world will be among those who will suffer, but in no way will they be the only casualties. My hope is that my words—and those my husband added while editing—might clarify the struggle.

Anti-Semitism—which I’m defining as singling out Jewish people for hatred— has existed since at least the generation of Jacob and Esau. Jacob received the covenantal blessing and continued the spiritual line of Abraham and Isaac. His brother Esau and Esau’s descendants, especially grandson Amalek, swore enmity to their cousins. One of the reasons that anti-Semitism is such a phenomenon is because the Jewish people are eternal. Other people and nations eventually exit the stage of world history, but the Jews endure. We also spread out around the world as prophesied in Genesis 28:14. This means that Jews constantly maintain their presence as targets of hatred, year after year, decade after decade, century after century and millennia after millennia. Amalek too has a spiritual component, but this destructive identity rests on different people and different nations at different times.


Faith and Faithlessness

December 26th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

As a fan of all types of puzzles, I enjoy seeing both jigsaw puzzle pieces and words fall into place. The separate become connected and the random suddenly makes sense. I tend to follow the same steps when reading, looking for patterns that tie disparate topics together.

As such, when I recently read two disturbing articles within a few pages of each other in my morning paper, I viewed them as a pair rather than individually. The first relayed a distressing tale of women who, after testing for genes associated with a highly increased cancer risk, chose to have mastectomies and hysterectomies as a preventative measure. Increased data recently revealed that their risk was much lower than they had been told. It was too late to undo the emotional or physical pain they underwent and those whose decisions included having no more children had no way to reverse events.

The second article spoke of the growing estrangement from organized religion among the young. It featured families for whom Christmas always meant attending church and how they are coping when adult children wish to join their parents for the holidays, but not attend services with them.

What is the connection?


The Candyland® Congress

December 19th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

When trying  to evoke what a tough mother I had been, my children sometimes mention that I often ruthlessly defeated them when we played Candyland®, a game that appeals to the five-and-under crowd. Clearly, only the most heartless mother would fail to manipulate the cards allowing her toddler to jump ahead by drawing Queen Frostine.  A compassionate mom   whose child picked Plummy, a card necessitating going back almost all the way to the beginning, would lovingly say, “There, there, don’t worry. You can pick again.” I was not that mother.

It’s easy to divide  the country into liberals and conservatives, pro-2nd Amendment or gun seizers and larger government advocates vs. those who champion personal responsibility. But maybe the country also divides into those whose mothers (and teachers and coaches) always let them win and those whose mothers and mentors tolerated frustration and tears, teaching their children to withstand the disappointment of sometimes losing.

Too  many Americans  fall into the wrong category.  They believed the rhetoric telling them that Barack Obama’s election was a sea change for positive  transformation  and that those marching leftward would never lose an election again. They celebrated when the Judiciary forced anti-God morality on their fellow citizens. Surrendering the ability to think for themselves and ask questions, they only pay attention to that which (as my husband would say) massages them with warm butter. They cannot have fairly and squarely lost the 2016  election, because they are not supposed to ever lose. The world owes them happiness and respect.

To be honest, I sometimes did use sleight of hand to allow my children to win Candyland®. Often, the game just had to end so life could go on. But, I did not do that too often. Yes, the game helped teach counting and colors. More importantly, it taught sportsmanship and the idea that even after a crushing defeat, you don’t throw the cards across the room and have a tantrum, instead you pick up the pieces and try again.

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No Growth Allowed

December 12th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

On April 29, 1986, a catastrophic fire erupted in the main downtown Los Angeles Public Library. By the time the fire was under control, tens of  thousands of books had been destroyed, including irreplaceable historical documents. Many firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, and it remains the worst library fire in United States history.

Last week, in December 2019, I saw a video of a respected community leader pontificating foolishly and revealing that he had no idea of the seriousness of the question he was asked.  Watching the clip made me feel embarrassed for him and for the community he represents (of which I am a member).

What does a giant library fire have in common with a dignified leader slipping on a verbal banana peel? 

When the Los Angeles library burned in April 1986, my husband and I had five children under the age of five. The 29th of the month fell out during Passover when family and communal demands rocket sky-high. In addition to leading our flourishing Jewish congregation near the Los Angeles beachfront, my husband was running a business. We were busy.

Along with everything going on in our own lives, the frenzied 24-hour news cycle was not yet in existence. Since we did not watch television in our home, we would not have seen the library fire on the news.  Internet news sites were not to come into existence for nearly another decade, so while personal computers were around, they were not delivering a constant stream of information. Surely, we must have heard about the fire via radio or newspaper? Surely it had to have been a topic of conversation after synagogue services? Neither my husband nor I have any recollection of this inferno.