Posts in Susan’s Musings

Shout Out

August 6th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

Human nature leads us to notice when things are wrong more than when they are right. If our throats are sore, our fingers achy or our stomachs disturbed, our bodies get our attention. Yet, when all our parts are working smoothly we must force awareness of that fact. A large part of the system of Jewish prayer does exactly that—reminds us to be grateful that we can stand, see and swallow.

On a larger scale, we take for granted countless blessings. We expect light to come on when we flick a switch and we assume water will pour out when we turn on the faucet. We quickly get irritated if any glitch affects thousands of normally smooth-running parts of our day.

Of course, I am prey to this human tendency as well. Many of my Musings highlight societal, educational and political failure. This week, I want to note three successes. They are not contenders for “success of the year award,” nor are they epic, grandiose or related to each other. However, this group of three represent people and companies doing the right thing, an accomplishment that is all too easy to overlook.

A. We had an ant invasion in our kitchen this week. Like King Solomon, I am a fan of ants in theory (Proverbs 6:6 & 30:24) , but not when they are crawling around my kitchen. A few years ago, when a similar incursion occurred, I searched online and discovered Terro Liquid Ant Baits©. This week, someone beloved to me graciously responded to my cries for help and brought home a well-known name brand ant trap. The ants just loved this product enjoying a feeding frenzy and then performing an ant victory dance on the kitchen counters. On my suggestion, my beloved went back to the store and purchased Terro. Goodbye ants. Problem solved and I gladly pass this tip on to you.

B. Answering the phone, I found a distressed daughter on the other end of the line. Montgomery County, MD, where her son is heading into his senior year at a Jewish religious school, had announced that like public schools, private schools could not open in September. While her son’s school did a stellar job creating online classes this spring, her son had absolutely no desire to continue in that format. As an experienced homeschooling mom, our daughter knew that she could create a satisfactory year for her son, but the hours of effort to do that in addition to everything else on her plate was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back—at least until she could regroup.

The school, like many other private schools, has already invested thousands of dollars and hours of manpower arranging for extra space, cleaning and procedures so that both staff and students would be safe. Yet, bureaucrats were treating administrators, staff and parents like recalcitrant children who needed to be controlled.

Within an hour Governor Larry Hogan overruled the county’s officials. Here is a shout-out to his leadership and sanity.

C. This week, millions of Americans worked hard, took care of their families and honored their common humanity. Actually, in spite of my earlier words, this success is epic and grandiose.

Let’s hear it for doing the right thing!


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Uncovering the School Cover-Up

July 30th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

Jason Gay is a talented writer and, despite a general apathy about  the topic, I sometimes do read his sports columns for the Wall Street Journal. His words are clear and witty, unexpectedly enticing me to spend a few minutes on matters of baseball, football and basketball.

Mr. Gay also writes on family issues and while his approach is often comical, a recent article left me more annoyed than amused. He lamented how poorly he was coping with his children  at home and how exhausted both he and his wife are. The idea that schools might not open in the fall loomed as an insurmountable challenge to him.

While I didn’t love the general tone of the piece, what particularly irritated me were two paragraphs in the middle.

“Let’s not ignore the serious problems we’re creating—how these issues with schools are causing learning gaps and putting disadvantaged children at an even greater disadvantage. Children who need extra educational support are in crisis…

‘Meanwhile, privileged families are creating their own little education yurts with tutors and tennis coaches and pastry chefs and widening the chasm between families who can and cannot bathe problems in money.”

Excuse me? Where do I even begin to list the many flaws in this?

Let’s look at his, “serious problems we’re creating.” The fact is, that schools have been creating serious problems for decades now that result in more “disadvantaged children.”

Society has been living a great lie—that the government can replace devoted parents. Do you want to have a child without a spouse? Go ahead! All families are equal. Do you want to invite a rotating cadre of boyfriends to live with you and your children? It will be the school’s job to see that your children are emotionally healthy. Are you an immigrant? The school’s job is to welcome your child but not to integrate him into American life or demand that he or she learn English—after all, every culture is equal and all languages are valuable. Do you tell your children that studying is a waste of time and model poor behavior and decision-making? Not to worry! The school will make your child learn as well as a child whose parents read to him and sit with her at healthy family meals.

We have prioritized imparting social and political views over education. We have treated students as bargaining pawns in union negotiations and destroyed what used to be an admirable public school system that produced literate, responsible and productive graduates no matter the poverty level in their homes. Was it imperfect? Yes. But there was no pretense that schools could and should fill every academic, social, emotional and psychological need.

Certainly, many children with special needs are more impacted by the closing of programs geared specifically to them. However, an incredible number of children who need “extra educational support” need that support because the schools they attend are awful and because we have devalued family and home life. We have pretended that having children is not the awesome blessing and responsibility it is, but rather one of hundreds of  “lifestyle choices.” The closure of schools has shone a light on how we have deemphasized the importance of being a parent and how unskilled even well-educated parents are in their most important task of raising the next generation. It did not create the problem.

I can’t ignore the disparagement of wealth that Jason Gay presents in the second paragraph I quoted. Money does not guarantee raising successful children—if it did, Seattle and Portland would most likely not be the disaster areas they are today. But for every parent who is hiring a pastry chef, thousands more are standing in the kitchen and baking with their children. Many more parents are reading stories and playing games with their children than are hiring private tutors. Not having to scramble to put food on the table so that you can spend time reading and playing games with your children is an advantage to which everyone should aspire rather than one that should be mocked.

“Bathe problems in money”? Really? Is it worthy of derision when parents delay gratification and work hard so that they can take care of their own children rather than expecting their fellow citizens to do so? If Mr. Gay’s children needed medical, educational or psychological help I imagine he would be happy to scrimp and sacrifice and utter prayers of gratitude for a saving account that would allow him not to “bathe” the problem in money but to solve, mitigate and deal with it.

I will still continue to enjoy Mr. Gay’s writing. But this article badly missed the mark.

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Masked Strangers: a COVID Cost

July 24th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 36 comments

Going to the supermarket, library or store used to be a social activity. I may not have known anyone but, invariably, I chatted with those around me. Perhaps we discussed whether this year’s corn was sweet or if we should wait to buy, maybe we bonded for a few fleeting moments over a shared delight in an author, or we might have exchanged eyeball rolls at the annoyance of a computer glitch that delayed checkout. These transient interactions acknowledged a human fellowship.

Now, those around me view me not as a source of information and camaraderie but as a threat. How dare you come near me while I am picking out peaches? Are you going to make me sick? If there are smiles, one cannot see them. I sometimes don’t even recognize the masked face of those I do know; I certainly don’t relate to strangers.

What a loss! This week, I was remembering a Musing I wrote eight years ago that highlighted how severely damaging it is when something severs human relationships. Whether casual, neighborly connections get cut or if deeper and more intense connections between friends and family are hurt, the results for society are deadly serious.

Here is some of what I wrote then that is even more applicable today.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of learning a specific portion of God’s word. In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known the young man who teaches Yosef since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books. In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as the government grows ever-bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support. As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can provide money and services, but not heart. It can provide a monthly check but it strips dignity. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker. It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient, while preventing you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other. The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives.

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

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Family No More?

July 16th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

This period of the Jewish year is a three-week-long time of sad introspection and mourning, starting and ending with a fast day.  As befits mourning, Jewish weddings, live music concerts, and other festive events do not take place during these days. The sad period of 22 days reaches its apex on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.

We focus on the many tragedies over millennia that have befallen the Jewish people during these three weeks. The ninth of Av was the date that ten of the twelve spies sowed fear about entering the land of Israel upon their return to the Israelite camp. Centuries later that date saw the destruction of both the first and second Temples, leading to an exile that continues to this day. It was also the date of the tragic outbreak of World War I in the 20th century.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us to think of ourselves as active participants in our fate, not victims. As such, our tradition attributes the destruction of the Second Temple not to Roman anti-Semitism, but to baseless hatred among Jews.  We brought it upon ourselves. Not surprisingly, many classes given during this time of the year focus on increasing sensitivity to others and repairing broken ties. While we are obliged to act with decency and courtesy towards all people, we are supposed to see our coreligionists as family. The underlying message is that family can be exasperating, thick-headed, and annoying but they are still family.

I don’t know if that message still resonates today. I have been re-reading Anne of Ingleside (from the Anne of Green Gables series) and Anne’s husband’s aunt is making her family’s life a misery. Aunt Mary Maria is critical, irritable and dour. Yet, she cannot be told that she has overstayed her welcome because—well, she is family. This conclusion doesn’t seem extreme in books written in the early 1900s. In today’s climate, she might never make it over the threshold.

At the same time as my relaxing reading takes me back a  century, I am also an avid follower of the #Walkaway movement. At this point, hundreds of thousands of individuals have posted videos or written testimonials about leaving the Democrat Party. Almost everyone has a tale of long-lasting friendships ending because of their political awakening and those are certainly painful. Worse, stories abound of people being told by parents/siblings/children that speaking positively about President Trump or Republicans is a reason for shattering family ties. Watching a young man sob as he tells you that his parents kicked him out of the house for acknowledging that he will be voting for President Trump is heartbreaking. This is not about politics; it is about religion.  Yes, the left is no longer a political doctrine about which friends can disagree.  It is a fundamentalist faith with its saints and its sinners, with its heroes and its heretics.  And as history reminds us, heretics must be destroyed.

My husband founded and served a beautiful synagogue in  California most of whose members grew up in homes that were emotionally Jewish but not committed to religious observance. As adults who found their way to my husband’s Torah classes, many of these young people began confining their diet to only kosher food, observing the Shabbat and changing their lives in hundreds of ways to align with Biblical requirements for Jews. Much of my husband’s time went to ensuring that relationships with their families remained loving and healthy. When one has found a new and electrifying relationship with God, it is easy to become overbearing and judgmental towards others. My husband repeatedly emphasized that a wonderful sister who craves a cheeseburger is no less wonderful once her newly kosher sibling rejects that religiously problematic food and considers it spiritually harmful. A father who drove you to the mall every Saturday when you were fourteen and now wants to drive over to see you on the day you have come to know as Shabbat, when using a mechanical vehicle is religiously proscribed, is still the same loving father he always was.

The media delight in telling us that religion and faith are ebbing.  That is not true for the destructive religion of Secular Fundamentalism which brings to life the worst manifestations of twisted religion—arrogance, false piety, wishing harm on apostates.  Yes, this is all alive and well in the political sphere. Perhaps the lessons of the three weeks when we focus on the damage done by not treating others with sensitivity and care needs a wider audience.

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The Who-Is-A-Nazi Parlor Game

July 8th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

For those of us under the age of 100, the name of journalist and radio commentator Dorothy Thompson may not ring a bell. Yet, when her picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1939, the accompanying article compared her influence to that of Eleanor Roosevelt. A few years earlier while working in Germany, Ms. Thompson had interviewed Hitler. Her uncomplimentary write-ups about him made her the first American journalist to be expelled from that country as the Nazis ascended to power.

This is to say that her article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1941 entitled “Who Goes Nazi” bears attention. Ms. Thompson creates an imaginary party at which she divides the mingling guests into four categories. She tags them as, “…the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers,” as well as those,  “who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.”

She asserts that being a Nazi is not a matter of nationality or ethnicity. She is using the word Nazi as a shorthand for those who, while they may be educated and sophisticated, are capable of and likely to buy into an ideology of hate, cruelty and destruction. In this experiment, Jews can be Nazis and Aryans can fall into her last, noble category. In an imaginary party that she posits, Ms. Thompson goes around the room, putting each guest into one of the four categories. While she elucidates her thinking throughout the article, she writes that she sees a generation rising that is ripe for becoming Nazis. As she says of this youth, “His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.”

Doesn’t that sound like a good description of many university students (and members of Congress) today?

While Dorothy Thompson is long gone, Professor Robert P. George is, thankfully, alive and active. A professor of jurisprudence and the director of the James Madison program at Princeton University, you would do well to become familiar with his writings.

My husband is honored to consider him a friend, and recently Professor George shared his own experiment. He sometimes asks his students if, had they been white Southerners before abolition, they would have participated in the fight against slavery.  Amazingly, each and every student insists that he or she would have done so.

With more maturity, wisdom and honesty, Professor George knows that this is rubbish. He proceeds to tell them that he will accept their answers if they can point to a situation in their own lives where they risked social alienation and professional and economic damages for standing up for unpopular victims of injustice.

That is the equivalent of asking them to follow in the path of John Adams defending the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre or of those who provided a safe space on the Underground Railway in the 1800s risking jail, physical harm and/or damage to their property. In today’s terms, it might mean being one of the tens of thousands who post their messages on the #Walkaway movement page. Getting applause by virtue signaling that you are racist because of your skin color or that you support BLM doesn’t cut it.

The question is not why all good people did not assist runaway slaves or hide Jews during the Holocaust. I certainly do not know that I would have done so. Not surprisingly, in Nazi-occupied Europe, people’s responses differed in countries where the penalty for hiding Jews was jail vs. countries where the penalty was being sent to a concentration camp or watching your children murdered before your eyes. While I venerate those who risked their lives to save others, I do not know if I would rise to their level. I think it more likely that, especially as a mother having to put her children’s lives on the line, I would not. I’m not being modest; I’m being honest. However, that is highly problematic. What in blessedly quiet times is prudence may, in momentous times, be cowardice. What calls for discretion in quiet times can demand reckless courage in consequential times.

Recently, author Izabella Tabarovsky wrote about an oft-shared quote by Sergei Dovlatov. He was a Soviet dissident before the communist regime collapsed. (Full disclosure: I had no idea who he was until I read her article.) It seems that Mr. Dovlatov’s words are often quoted pointing out that cursing Stalin for his murderous and evil regime is fine, but Stalin could not have done what he did had millions of ordinary people not been willing to denounce their co-workers, neighbors and relatives.

Neither Hitler nor Stalin nor Mao built their following by saying that they wanted to murder millions or that their policies would lead to ruin and poverty for their nations. They spoke of valor and brotherhood, of fairness and undoing the wrongs of the past. Step by step, they built a culture of fear and punishment.

I recently read a question from an individual who didn’t know how to respond to a message from senior management announcing that, on a specific day, everyone at work would wear a t-shirt the office was providing that said, “Black Lives Matter.” The writer was asking what he should do. He judges the political BLM movement to be anti-American, anti-freedom and dangerous. Yet, not wearing the shirt would most likely damage his chances for promotion if not altogether cause him to lose his job. Most of those who responded to his dilemma urged him to call in sick. I certainly do not have the moral fortitude or virtue to recommend that he take a stand, but I fear that all of us are increasingly being called upon to do exactly that.

I don’t risk my job by writing these words, though admittedly, during the Obama administration the American Alliance of Jews and Christians and we personally received more tax audits than one might expect. Paraphrasing Dorothy Thompson, people with dark skin can be racist and those with white skin can champion true freedom and love for all. Among those who speak of an end to racism are those who are actually saying, “I suffered and now it’s my turn to make others suffer.” There are also those who see a vehicle they can use to advance their personal fortunes. These are not the majority by any means, but their violence and evil are enabled by those who do not speak against them.

Were she alive, Ms. Thompson might call these haters the “natural racists.”  Many more people fall into the category of those, “whom democracy itself has created, [and] the certain-to-be fellow-travelers…” As Sergei Dovlatov pointed out, just as slavery and Jim Crow laws existed for too long because even those who were horrified by them did not necessarily speak up, the cancel culture that is poised to end freedom of speech and expression in America cannot win if only the truly racist, power-hungry and hate-filled advocate for it. That, my friends, lays the burden upon us.


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Carl Reiner’s Privilege

July 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 58 comments

It is refreshing to read the obituaries for 98-year-old Carl Reiner. Not only does the Hollywood figure leave behind seemingly genuinely mourning family and friends, but the words describing the entertainer’s life do not include the following: COVID-19, Biden/Trump, sexist, racist or privilege. It is the omission of the last word that I would like to discuss.

Had I been asked to define the word privilege a few years ago, I would probably have replied ‘honor,’ as in the sentence, “It is a privilege to meet you.” Similarly, I would have thought of a student being told that she has the privilege of representing her school at an event. In both cases, the privileged individual feels humility at an honor bestowed on her, whether or not the opportunity was random or hard-earned.

Times change and words change with them. The word privilege is now supposed to denote an undeserved, unjust and unacceptable advantage for which one needs to apologize or preferably grovel. There is male privilege, white privilege, and rich privilege. More categories exist and even more will surely be added. The ones listed above could all be applied to the life of Carl Reiner.

Let’s look at the privilege that Carl Reiner had. In 1922, Mr. Reiner was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents. He had the privilege of growing up in a free country that wasn’t about to turn into a Nazi tyranny that would have automatically slated him for death. He had the privilege of having parents who, if they were at all similar to the immigrant parents of that generation that I knew, were hard-working, felt a deep gratitude to America and prioritized and treasured education for their children. He had the privilege of growing up poor in a country that allowed its citizens to work their way up the ladder.

Carl Reiner had the privilege of capitalism. He started working full-time at the age of 16 when, as a young high school graduate (whose education would probably run circles around today’s Liberal Arts Ph.D.s. ), no one suggested that college was a right to be demanded regardless of whether or not his parents could afford to send him. He had the privilege of living in a country where millionaire politicians did not insist on a minimum wage that would have led the company that hired him as a shipping clerk to reject a young, inexperienced worker who could not yet provide enough value to earn a higher salary.

Mr. Reiner had the privilege to benefit from a free, WPA government-sponsored acting class and he was then privileged to serve his country during World War II.  After the war, Mr. Reiner had the privilege of resiliency. When, due to worries that he was “too Jewish,” he was rejected for the starring part that he wrote for himself and that was based on his life in what became the popular The Dick van Dyke Show, he did not don the mantle of victimhood and cry “anti-Semitism” but instead played a smaller role in the series he produced and for which he wrote.

So much privilege. It went hand-in-hand with hard work, marriage and family, being a good friend and, by all accounts, rejoicing in life.

My daughter, Rebecca, recently wrote in her ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column of my own Great-aunt Charlotte, who, like Mr. Reiner, lived a long life. Even when she no longer recognized those around her, Aunt Charlotte remained steadfastly pleasant and grateful. Was she privileged? Privileged to have a mother die giving birth to her, to have her only brother taken overseas at that time by their grandparents, to be sent at age eleven from Europe when her father died to join this unknown brother in America, tearing her away from the step-mother who had loved and raised her? Was she privileged to come at that awkward age to a country whose language she did not speak? She was certainly privileged that no one pitied her and excused her from learning English so that I knew her as a highly articulate and learned woman able to fully participate in American society.

There were many tragic events in Aunt Charlotte’s life that could have led her to bitterness and anger. Yet she and Carl Reiner shared a truly great privilege. They were raised to believe that not everything was going to go their way, but that their response to life’s events was something that they could control. They were not raised to envy those who had what they did not, but rather to be grateful for what they did have.

If you are alive and breathing you are privileged. Every single individual has inborn advantages and disadvantages and others that emerge during his or her lifetime. We could probably list thousands of categories and futilely try to provide an accounting (maybe a scale from 1 – 5?) for each individual in each category. Successful people will not spend their time on such nonsense. I have met recent immigrants along with other people in all their wondrous variations including color, health and economic situations. Those who are successful, like my Aunt Charlotte, take all opportunities to be grateful for their own blessings and work to increase those. That is a privilege, indeed.

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Ennui For Me

June 26th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 41 comments

You know you’re in for a rough time when you hear a speaker begin his speech by saying, “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking.” I hope that this Musing isn’t an echo of that as I say, “Unaccustomed as I am at having nothing to say…”

As an introvert, the increased isolation engendered by COVID-19 has been less burdensome on me than on my extroverted friends. We do not have a house of young children needing almost-constant attention. My instrument for work, otherwise known as my computer, is readily available and my husband and I enjoy each other’s company.

What I have noticed, however, is that I am beginning to bore myself. The news rotates on a cycle of Coronavirus, protests, violence, racism and perfidy. Hypocrisy and lies are constant. How much more is there to say? Opportunities to speak to regular people are limited and most politicians and pundits are predictable and amazingly disconnected from reality.

I am disappointed that, in confusing and momentous times, President Trump,has so far failed to address the nation as a strong leader. While he could not say or do anything that would result in the press or many Americans treating him fairly, he could and should have provided his citizens with straight talk and with uplifting inspiration.

I am disappointed at how many gullible people think that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for Joe Biden. That demands a naiveté that historically leads to disaster The media’s failure to report on almost unimaginable excesses occurring in academia, CHOP, what used to be known as the free press or other Leftist enclaves means that those pronouncing that a “normalcy” and “return to respectability” will accompany any Democrat power are deluding themselves.

There is absolutely nothing new or insightful in what I just wrote. As I said, I’m beginning to find my own thoughts tedious. I enjoy engaging with you through the comments section and I appreciate ZOOM get-togethers with family and friends, but I am more than ready to meet you again in person and feel the energy and vitality kindled by being around large groups.

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American Blessings

June 18th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

It is terribly easy to become convinced that evil lurks in every heart and that cross-cultural friendships are impossible. Many rabble-rousers and politicians get rich and powerful by convincing us of such. One of our daughters mentioned that, as summer weather descended, her children (age nine and under) were playing daily in a local park. Each day, she said, different neighborhood children are there, including children of all religions, colors and ethnicities. Shared water balloons and nerf guns forge friendships. She was having difficulty reconciling the normality and community togetherness that she was witnessing in the park with the hatred presented in her morning newsfeed. Her words reminded me of the Musing I am copying below that I wrote a number of years ago:

For most of my childhood, my grandparent, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in the same, general area. Even those who moved “far away” were usually within an hour’s drive. Family relationships were augmented by neighbors who became friends, the relationships often emerging more from proximity than from shared interests. One of my closest companions, from even before my memories start, was JoAnn who lived down the block. We had a lot of fun, but we didn’t have a lot of choices. It would never have occurred to our mothers to make playdates and arrange transport for little girls. They unlocked the door in the morning, expected their daughters back for lunch and supper, and assumed that they would find companions without leaving the block.

My friendship with JoAnn was a weekday one. Saturday was my Shabbat and Sunday her day for church. I went to a Jewish school; she to the local Catholic one. Our differences went beyond religion, though. I was an avid reader while JoAnn’s mother coerced her into reading anything at all.  JoAnn enjoyed fixing hair and trying out new styles while I wasn’t terribly interested in fashion.  Had we met in the classroom or at a camp, we probably never would have gravitated to each other. But for those many years during which we were too young to venture far, we played hopscotch and stoop ball and spent many summer days splashing about in her four-foot-deep plastic pool. We rode endless circuits around the block on our bicycles and, if memory serves me right, more than once we saved civilization from utter destruction in our roles as intrepid spies. (I never watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but JoAnn’s mother was a fan.)

We knew each other’s families. JoAnn and her siblings rotated spending evenings with her grandmother, and I joined her in visiting the black-clad, elderly widow who knew as many words in English as I knew in Italian. I knew more about communion and convents than most of the kids in my class and JoAnn knew more about less popularized Jewish festivals, like Shavuot or Shmini Atzeret, than did the majority of Jews.

All the families on our block were either Italian-Catholic or Jewish. Across the street lived an older Jewish couple. For many years their youngest daughter was a favorite babysitter for many of the families on the block.  After her marriage, this young woman and her husband took an apartment next door to her parents.  A few years later, we were all shocked when her father had a heart attack while driving home and died.  Jewish burials take place as quickly as possible, and within 24 hours matters were arranged. I was considered too young to go to the funeral with my mother, but old enough to stay home alone. Our ex-babysitter’s toddler was sent across the street to JoAnn’s house.

About two hours after my mother left, JoAnn came running down the block. Their young Jewish charge was hungry and her mother, knowing that it was Passover and how the food restrictions on that holiday are extremely serious, was hesitant to give him as much as a fruit from her kitchen. I solved the problem by sending over kosher for Passover food, but it wasn’t until years later that I recognized and appreciated the sensitivity and respect which JoAnn’s mother exhibited. 

People endlessly talk about multiculturalism and the need for valuing all ethnicities, races and religions as if America in decades past was a hostile and evil nation for all but a select few. To speak that way is an insult to so many who, like the people on my block, treated each other with dignity, were quick to help one another, and who created safe and secure neighborhoods for their children.

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FRIWAFTT or Still Writing

June 11th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 46 comments

On one of our family boat trips in the Pacific Northwest, we were deciding whether or not to travel a passage that was described as stunning but needing cautious navigation, when my husband blurted out, “F.R.I.W.A.F.T.T.” Responding to questioning looks, he explained to our family, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

That pretty much explains why I want to continue the discussion about the racial crisis roiling our country. It certainly would be easier to write a Musing about a book I have read, about summer’s approach, or about ZOOM friendships, but it would be cowardly. Like most people, I find it uncomfortable to be disliked, especially by those who previously liked me. It pains me to know that my words are a source of pain to others. Yet, I am going to write. Let me first explain why I started writing my Musings.

I loved being pregnant. Whatever I was doing, whether it was eating or sleeping, reading or daydreaming, I was being productive. How can you beat the accomplishment of, “Take a nap and build a kidney!” As a mother, and particularly as a homeschooling mother, I had no questions about whether I was engaged in a worthwhile activity. Partnering with my husband and God to produce human beings whose presence would make the world a better place seemed an eminently profitable endeavor.

Along the way, I also taught adult Bible classes, supported my husband’s work both in the Jewish community and outside of it, welcomed hundreds (thousands?) of people to our Shabbat table and stood alongside friends as they built their own homes and families.

One day, as inconspicuously yet dramatically as the sky lightens in the morning, many of those roles had disappeared or minimized. What was I to do now? I discovered that I had absorbed a great deal of wisdom along the way and that, perhaps, I could use that on a larger scale than before to benefit others in a world that seemed increasingly confused and wrong-headed.

Doing so entails risk. One of the major perils is being wrong or, of being right but expressing those ideas in the wrong way. Surely, one can do less harm by just staying quiet? The Bible rejects that argument. While there are innumerable rules defining incorrect speech and warnings about misusing one’s tongue, withdrawing from society and staying quiet when words and actions are needed is not a preferred choice. When I chalk up the gifts God granted me, they include a certain ability to formulate thoughts and express ideas with words. At a time when I do feel that the promise of America is being closed off, choosing to ignore that gift is not an option.

I know that the minute a Musing touches on the issue of race, some readers feel alienated and reject both my words and me. There are many wounds out there and ripping off the bandage hurts. But not ripping it off allows the infection to fester. Our society is being pushed, pell-mell, to do something—anything. We did that with health-care and other issues as well. The result is often less fairness, more pain and more suffering. So staying quiet isn’t an option.

My hope is that others will engage with me, letting us both expand our understanding. I appreciate that many have done so. As a female and a Jew, I don’t accept the argument that only Jews can speak about Jews and only women can speak about women. Similarly, I don’t accept the idea that only dark-skinned people can speak about race. If that were all true, we would need to separate all human beings from one another, because none of us share the same experiences, backgrounds and identities. We would need to go back to measuring percentages of racial make-up and to defining ourselves by material rather than spiritual criteria. The trick is to communicate and relate despite our differences, not to use those differences as excuses for alienation.

Having said that, I find it interesting that there are many Black voices being raised that do not agree with the agenda of BLM, but they are being silenced and hidden. You have to put in the effort to find those voices whereas Leftist voices get front-page treatment. (Here are three examples of counter-PC views: and, There are many more articles and videos for those who look.

After that rather long introduction, here goes.

In the past week, I heard from two friends (one Black and one White—and I hate that I need to describe them as such) as to why they support the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” While I think that I could have a polite discussion with each of them as to whether or not that is a good phrase to champion, I don’t actually think that opportunity exists anymore. Because there is an organization called Black Lives Matter, using the phrase provides support to that organization whether it is intended to do so or not. Making support for that organization the defining feature of a person’s character seems counterproductive to me.

My grandfather was a kind and gentle man. He valued other people and went out of his way to show appreciation for all. Once, towards the end of his life when I was visiting him in the hospital, a cleaner, a Black man, came in to mop the floor. My grandfather conversed with the man and thanked him. After the man left, my grandfather said to me, “We need to thank everyone who does something for us no matter how big or small that thing is.”

Yet, this same grandfather often used the word “shvartze” to identify a black person. An immigrant to America, he occasionally lapsed into Yiddish and in Yiddish, the word “shvartze” means black. My grandfather used that word in exactly the same way that he would have identified someone as a redhead or tall or wearing glasses. “See if you can ask the shvartze nurse for some more water.” There was zero malicious intent or judgment in his words.

Over the years, that word has taken on the connotation of a slur. If someone in my generation uses it, good people need to object. Why and how it turned into a slur is irrelevant. The fact that it technically means ‘black’ is irrelevant. What matters is that good people should neither use that word nor allow others to use it.

I can hear the argument that the phrase “Black Lives Matters” in and of itself has value. In my mind, that is now irrelevant. Intentionally or not, regretfully or not, it has been tainted by association with approval of violence, promoting hatred based on race, opposing traditional family and society and expressing more of a desire for revenge than for rapprochement. There were many peaceful protests over these past weeks. They received very little press. If the Black Lives Matters organization had been front and center condemning and opposing violence and looting, I would have a different opinion of them. If everyone who wore a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt had stood to protect lives and property, I would have a different opinion. Maybe in some localities, they did—if you have specific examples to relate, I’d like to hear of them. If they rejected and stood against Antifa, I might have a different opinion. If I knew where the enormous sums BLM is receiving were going and approved of those efforts and places, I might have a different opinion.

I don’t think all—or most—of the people chanting the slogan or joining marches where that phrase is given center stage support anarchy or the end of having local police forces, just as I don’t think that my grandfather looked down on anyone when he spoke. I do think many supporting BLM are good people who are hurting, but I think they are being manipulated and will be among those who suffer if BLM gets more power. History is full of similar examples. In this case, those words are muddying the waters and causing unproductive distance rather than leading to solutions and progress. The phrase has become an albatross rather than a dove.

A few years ago, anarchy was let loose on city streets and violence and looting erupted through the vehicle of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The immoral participants were largely White. Along with many others, I was appalled at both the behavior of the rioters and the cowardice and sniveling acquiescence of politicians, pundits and academics as they genuflected before uncivil and illegal behavior. Lives were lost and much property was destroyed.

When similar behavior but under other auspices is taking place today, do I have to ignore it because it is being done under the banner of “justice” or “against racism”? Or because a larger percentage of the hoodlums (though by no means all) are dark-skinned?

A discussion of injustice and of racism needs to be just that—a discussion. Unpleasant truths on all sides need to be aired. When some voices are muted by being fired from their jobs for presenting facts or they are threatened with violence, no good person’s cause is being advanced. When statistics are manipulated and when inflammatory rhetoric incites anger, no good person’s cause is being advanced. When uncomfortable questions are forbidden and when destroying people’s livelihoods replaces arguments, no good person’s cause is being advanced. 

I believe that most Americans want to live among people who share their values. Overwhelmingly, those values include a belief that excessive and prejudicial  (let alone illegal) force by police is wrong. Overwhelmingly, those values include a respect for law and order. If we cannot understand who, in the short space of a few days, manipulated us as a nation that shares a common ground of being horrified at what happened to George Floyd, to a people divided and facing the specter of destroying our civilization, we face a future that is bleak indeed. For that reason, I keep writing.

The Ignored, Honorable Majority

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 75 comments

Lord Acton’s words, “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” are often quoted. The sentences that precede that one are less known. Here they are:

“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that.”

Since Lord Acton lived from 1834 to 1902, much has occurred since then, a great deal of which validates his warning.

As threats seem to surround us from every direction, gangsters are very much in evidence. Whether they are those in the Chinese government who chose to allow a deadly virus to spread, rogue policemen who misuse their positions, news reporters who sift, choose and outright lie to promote their agenda, or politicians who sit in their luxurious, protected castles looking scornfully down at lives their policies are ruining, gangsters abound.

Every decent human is revolted by the death of George Floyd. Every decent human being is revolted at how that death has been used to excuse looting, violence and anarchy. I think that actually describes most of us. Decent human beings, unfortunately, are not being given attention. If we consider ourselves in that camp, we must struggle against being manipulated by those who aren’t.

In the now-defunct Soviet Union, people knew that the official newspaper, Pravda, was full of lies. We do not have an official newspaper or news organization in the United States, but we are certainly being fed lies every day. The anger industry serves no productive purpose. The evidence of our eyes that shows us hard-working, good Americans of all backgrounds working and living together in harmony is nowhere to be found in the fractured and hostile picture painted by the elite.

Ancient Jewish wisdom equates acting while one is angry with idol worship. You are allowing an alien entity to control you. Since anger breeds on itself, one of the steps towards maturity is learning to respond to difficulties and even to injustice with a reaction other than anger. Even if we agree with someone’s position, the minute fury enters the conversation, everyone involved has lost. When anger is justifiably felt—and abuse of power is a justifiable cause—it should be accompanied by an internal warning that action is needed, but nothing should be said or done until one’s rational mind is once again in control.

For a protest to be productive, there must be a finite and reachable end goal. Desegregating schools; giving women the vote; and demanding that a foreign policy acknowledges humanitarian aims are all protests that brought results. Yet, much that is objected to today is amorphous. The war on poverty, the war on drugs, and yes, war on income inequality or war on racism do not fit the parameters of having measurable outcomes. That leaves the good intentions behind those wars ready for manipulation by gangsters.

The policeman who, allegedly (let’s remember that in the American system he too must be considered innocent until proven guilty, no matter how overwhelming the evidence) murdered George Floyd has been arrested and will be tried for his crime. Because he was a policeman, his sentence should be greater than that of a civilian who murders, and his partners must be held to account for not stopping him. Police policies need to be continually reassessed. Yet, there are many unanswered questions none of which will be addressed by anger. We do not even know if there is any reason to assume that this policeman’s behavior was racially motivated. Heartbroken people marching peacefully in the streets will not answer the question of why a reprobate cop was still on the beat. Targeting all police for attack only ensures that honorable people are discouraged from joining a police force and evidence shows how reducing police presence has real and deadly consequences. Probing questions about abuse of power, misguided union policies, flaws in psychologically evaluating public servants, corruption and lack of oversight won’t be tackled by shouting slogans and certainly not by destroying neighborhoods.

There have been demands in the past that honest and intelligent individuals must recognize have not led to any improvement. There are many more Black mayors, police chiefs, DAs, principals and teachers and lawyers than there were a few decades ago. With great optimism, the American people elected Barack Obama, largely because of his color rather than in spite of it.  The thinking that this would be a path towards viewing every citizen as an American rather than an individual defined by his or her color seems to have been completely wrong. At the close of his presidency, there was more divide in America, not less. As promoted and defined by the elite and the troublemakers, the racial divide in this country is getting worse, not better. Strangely, their pronouncements and edicts are at odds with the camaraderie and friendship that takes place in businesses, churches and neighborhoods all over the land. There is a disconnect between what we are being incessantly told and lectured about and what many decent people of all backgrounds experience.

I cannot imagine any of my Black friends wanting me to excuse violent and immoral behavior by their children any more than I would want them to excuse such behavior in my children. If there are two looters, one white and one black, it would be the epitome of racism to say that because of the color of his skin, one looter’s behavior is acceptable while the other one’s behavior is criminal.  There is absolutely no excuse for viciously attacking innocent people or their property. Only very confused individuals think that tolerating, allowing and condoning thuggish behavior will lead to greater amity between human beings.

There are tough and uncomfortable questions that need to be asked and discussed. These include policing and justice, dead-end schools and the parents who want a better future for their children yet continue voting for politicians who crush options to the status quo, the removal of God from society and how that’s working for us, outside agitators and disparate treatment of citizens. None of us have a complete picture; we need each other’s input. Humility, openness to the opinions of others and astute, logical thinking are required to produce any sort of useful answers. Posturing, over-generalizing, uncontrolled anger and self-interest are all impediments. There is much wrong in this country and around the world but there is also much right. Giving control to gangsters, whether through laziness, cowardice or virtue-signaling and allowing them to set an agenda only leads to more suffering and hatred. This is true whether those gangsters are masked or wearing suits or uniforms, tossing bricks at windows or sitting in the halls of academia and power.

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