Posts in Susan’s Musings

Of Carob Trees and Loneliness

December 13th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

A story from ancient Jewish wisdom tells of a traveller who came across an elderly man planting a carob tree. Since carob trees can take more than twenty years to bear fruit, the passer-by suggested that the man’s work was pointless; he would no longer be there to enjoy the tree’s fruit. The older man responded that he was not planting for himself but for his descendants. Though he might not be a direct beneficiary, generations to come would appreciate his work.

I rarely hear concerns anymore about saddling our children with gargantuan national debt. Not only is the number incomprehensibly  enormous, but our universe as it relates to time has shrunk. Through ways both overt and subtle, our culture encourages us to live in the moment, and to elevate the fleeting over the long-lasting.

Two newspaper reports I read this week were not meant to be commentaries on each other, yet it is worthwhile to juxtapose them. One described how, as the baby-boomer generation ages, its members are more likely to be alone than the generations before them. Freedom not to marry, to divorce, to have few or no children seems far less promising to a lonely seventy-year-old than it did to a self-centered thirty-something.

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Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

December 6th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.

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This Agenda May Be Harmful to Your Health

November 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 52 comments

I originally started writing this with the intention of posting it on our website as a Practical Parenting column, but then I realized that the problem I’m describing actually affects all of us. While the examples I mention have to do with children’s literature, every detail of the culture surrounding us impacts us, often in ways we don’t recognize.

Some years ago, a member of the California synagogue that my husband and I led worried that she was exhibiting tendencies of paranoia. She revealed that she had multiple locks on her apartment door, wouldn’t open the door to accept packages, and was constantly looking over her shoulder on the street. After a bit of discussion, it became clear to us that she lived in a high-crime neighborhood and rather than being paranoid, she was simply being realistic.

Whenever I see the news, women’s magazines, children’s books or many other media, I find myself hyper-sensitive to underlying agendas. In Stalinist Russia, young students were told to place their heads on their desks after praying to God for candy. Not surprisingly, when they lifted their heads their requests had gone unanswered. Then they were told to ask Stalin for candy and once again lay down their heads. Not surprisingly, candy seemed to rain down as their teachers distributed it while the children’s eyes were squeezed shut.

That approach may have lacked subtlety, but the message was clear. In some ways, more delicately delivered messages can be more dangerous. We don’t even realize that our minds are being directed and our beliefs formed.

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Abundant Gratitude

November 21st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

I hope that you are too busy preparing for a grateful Thanksgiving with relatives and friends to have time to read a long Musing. We are looking forward to welcoming two of our grandchildren (5 and 8) from out-of-town who will remain with us for the weekend after joining us for a Thanksgiving feast at the home of gracious friends.

Like many Jews around the globe, I utter a formal prayer of thanks for the privilege of living another day as soon as I open my eyes every morning.  Additionally, I have also been trying to highlight one aspect of my day for which I am  grateful before going to bed at night.

I would like to share three events in my life from the past week that illuminate why I am so grateful and humbled to live in this wonderful country.  My Musings often focus on problems, but I do believe that the number of Americans whose values I share is still larger than the number whose values I see as dangerous.  That’s why I am optimistic about this country continuing to flourish as a beacon of goodness around the world.

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Which World Is Yours?

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

This week, at the intermission of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, MD, according to people in the audience, a man interrupted the show by standing up and yelling ‘Heil, Hitler,’ “Heil Trump’. Understandably, the audience was shaken and at least one woman said she expected bullets to start flying. That didn’t happen and the man was escorted out but not arrested.

I added the words, “according to people in the audience,” for one reason only. When I read the reports, more than one person saw the Nazi salute and heard Heil Hitler, but one man was the source of the Heil Trump citation. While I’m not attacking that man’s veracity, the political climate is simply too venomous not to tack on concepts like ‘allegedly’ on almost everything one reads or hears. The video from someone’s phone that I saw suggests that most people were unaware or unfazed by what was going on. It certainly isn’t a good thing, but is it an omen?  (more…)

You Are Not a Cow

November 8th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 43 comments

A short while ago, my husband and I answered an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question about whether deciding not to have children was acceptable. I was struck by the many reader comments we received that were variations of, “Better not to have children if you can’t be a good parent.”

At the same time, on the advice of someone I respect, I picked up a novel aimed at young teens which dealt with a boy overcoming an abusive home. You may remember that I recently wrote a book review recommending a historical fiction book for even slightly younger children that shared a similar premise.

While I saw how engaging this second book was, it troubled me.  There is something wrong in presenting a dysfunctional view of family and society as the norm even if the underlying message is that tribulation can be overcome.  When popular literature and entertainment repeatedly emphasize  a theme, much more than just the intended message can get absorbed.

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Tragedy in Pittsburgh

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

I feel the need to respond in three ways to the murder of Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. As a human being, as an American and as a Jew.

As part of humanity, the only proper response is sorrow. Each and every day, around the world, people do abominable things to each other. Sometimes it is to people they know, other times to strangers. Sometimes a specific group is targeted, other times attacks are seemingly random. As a member of the human race, one must sadly deplore this.

As an American, I grieve as I have grieved too many times in the past. It is a tragedy that human beings are targeted whether it is when they go to synagogue or to a Batman movie, to school or to a country music concert, to work or to church. I grieve that we do not know how to identify or deal with the dangerously mentally ill among us. I am sickened by those whose first reaction to the tragedy on Saturday was a political one. Their hatred of President Trump informed their first reactions and suppressed their ability to respond with love to the families and friends of the victims.

I worry about the ease with which malevolent ideas are spread on social media and also about the dangers of tampering with the First Amendment. I fear that we are incapable of having reasoned discussion about so many topics that need to be faced, not in isolation and not with arrogance but in one far-reaching conversation, including but not limited to: guns, social media, violent video games, abortion and the devaluing of life, the entertainment industry, the press, education, politics, and the place of God and religion in society. The litany is almost endless, but each area affects all others.

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Not Funny

October 25th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

When you eat only kosher food, as our family does, traveling has an added element of uncertainty. Will there be a kosher market or restaurant? What will the quality be? We are grateful that in the United States many national brands of crackers and other items are kosher and fruits and vegetable are easily accessible. Even so, after a few days tuna fish and peanut butter stave off hunger but don’t do much more than that.

To our delight, my husband’s recent speaking engagement was in a city that had a kosher restaurant. The place was clean and the food was delicious. What more could we ask?

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The Gosnell Movie

October 18th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 31 comments

I did not want to see this movie. Despite its PG-13 rating, I knew that it would be distressing. How could it not be? Dr. Kermit Gosnell was a prolific abortionist sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. He was convicted for (among other things) murdering three infants and of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient at his clinic.

The reason that I am posting this as a Practical Parenting column as well as a Musing is that I recommend you take the parental guidance part of the movie’s rating very seriously. I would not have wanted to see this movie when I was pregnant or nursing. If my child’s youth group was going to see it, I would try, at a minimum, to see it myself first and decide if it is appropriate for my child. In Hollywood’s world, gore and violence are routine, so to them this movie may seem unremarkable, but the subject matter is mature and the visual impact is powerful.

The Gosnell trial is relatively recent history and the movie’s producers make clear that most of the material is drawn from transcripts and police reports. I knew of the trial and how unprofessionally the press tried to ignore it. It was a fight to produce the movie as well, and there is no question that there is a strong cultural attempt to suppress it. Each and every person who acted in or worked on the film is a hero because there will be ramifications to his or her career.

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Ladies and Gentlemen

October 11th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 38 comments

Something has been troubling me throughout the #MeToo movement’s ascendancy and I’m sure that I am not alone. That our modern society has a problem in relationships between the sexes is not in question. Neither is the fact that historically there has been a power imbalance that allowed bad men to harm women more easily and frequently than bad women could harm men. This isn’t only a question of social and economic mores but also deals with the reality that, in general, women are physically less strong than men and, of course, are the ones who get pregnant. Despite the attempts of ideologues to deny it, most of us also acknowledge a reality of psychological and, for want of a better word, soul differences between men and women that leave women more vulnerable.

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