A Woman Was Crying To Me In Shul

She said that there was a sisterhood meeting. Did I go?

"No. I hate the sisterhood meetings."

She said that they had read "All Who Go Do Not Return," by Shulem Deen. Had I read it?

"Yes, it's a great book."

She confided in me: "I feel just like him inside," she said. "I want to have faith, but I just can't."

I took her hands in mine. They were so warm.

I looked at her, in her eyes. They were welled up with tears.

The rabbi was about to make kiddush. He makes kiddush for the whole community every week.

Then they wash for Motzi, and then we eat a meal together.

I looked at my friend, in her eyes. And I saw myself there.

In her eyes I felt the wash of pain that only someone who has struggled with faith can feel.

I remembered being forced to be religious.

And I remembered how I threw it all away.

I remembered how I cried to even set foot inside of a shul.

And I how I couldn't so much as open the prayerbook.

I held her hands in my hands. And I looked into her eyes, her swollen eyes.

And the thought of that moment makes me cry, too, because of the pain of another human being.

And I said to her, and this was God speaking into my ears, that what He wants is not the perfection of your actual faith.

What is dear to Him is the struggle.

And I know she understood what I meant to say, because as my Zayde (a"h) once told me, "words that come from the heart go into the heart" as well.

When I was unreligious a lot of people wrote me off.

Today I am more religious, but not the kind of religious that an Orthodox Jewish person would accept.

I am "whatever kind of spiritual." It isn't good enough. But it's me.

What I want to say to you is this. A Jew is always a Jew and has the soul of a Jew, no matter who they are and no matter what they do in life.

"You can run away from a lot of things," my mother always says. "But you can't run away from yourself."

A Jewish soul will always yearn in its deepest reaches for God.


All opinions my own.

A Muslim Uber Driver Defends The Jews

It was late and the DC streets were twisty. We sat huddled in the back, scared, because you never quite know if you're safe in the cab.

The driver got lost in the middle of the ride and for a few moments I was more than scared, I was terrified.

We sat there holding our iPhones in our hands, silently tracking where the car was as versus the route, trying not to let the driver see. In between I checked the dashboard GPS. It seemed like we were OK.

"Confusing streets, right?" This is me attempting to make sure we're not getting lost on purpose. "It's so much easier to navigate New York."

My fellow passenger caught on. "Yeah, I hate how confusing DC is."

The driver chimed in. "I hate DC! These streets are just impossible."

In fact it is true, if you try to get around these side street in the city without having walked it on foot, good luck to you. And especially at night.

"Where are you from?" I asked the driver.

"Wisconsin, originally Afghanistan. Now I am in Virginia."

I don't know why I did this next thing, but I did.

"I am not a big fan of Virginia," I said. "I'm a Jew."

At this the driver turned around. "Come again? What was that?"

"I'm a Jew," I clarified, "and Virginia is very Christian. I'm not sure they like Jews over there."

My fellow passenger mouthed silently, "What the hell are you doing?"

And I mouthed back, "It's fine," although truthfully I didn't really know if it was fine. I had opened my mouth spontaneously, going only by my gut instinct.

She was looking at her iPhone frantically, as was I. I did not know where the hell we were. I had a 60-65% comfort level at that point, which is not high.

So we tried to pretend that the comfort level was actually 90%, because sometimes when you get nervous you actually can create the very problem that you fear.

"Oh, that's not true," said the driver. "There are lots of Muslims in Virginia."

I wasn't quite sure how the presence of many Muslims was intended to make me as a Jew feel better.

"There are all types of people there."

"That's very interesting," I said. "I did not know that."

In fact I did know that, but I didn't really want to get into the shifting demographics of Virginia State. Mostly I was keeping an eye on the map.

"I believe that we are all from the same God," said the driver. "A lot of Muslims don't like Jews, and even my family doesn't say anything when they start to put the Jews down. But I always defend them."

That would be us.

"Well, thank you," I said and at that my fellow passenger laughed, startled.

"I don't believe in keeping silent about things that matter."

At this I was absolutely amazed.

The driver went on to talk about how the Palestinian conflict never seemed to end, how it seemed crazy that they couldn't make peace over there, and how his home country of Afghanistan had been wracked by war for decades.

He said that he had left Afghanistan in the late 1970s, after the Soviet invasion, which the United States helped the Afghans to resist.

"Was there ever a time of peace in Afghanistan?"

"No, no. As soon as we got the land, the leaders started fighting among themselves, and they never stopped until the Taliban took over."

By now we were on the main road, although the route we took was really nutty. It is hard for me to fathom how complicated a simple short trip can get.

But the driver seemed like he was just doing his job.

"I believe what it says in Isaiah," I said at some point, "that in the Messianic times all the people who believe in God will worship Him together. It will be a New Age."

The driver did not seem to find this idea all that interesting. And there were a few minutes remaining within which to fill the silence.

"So who did you vote for in the election, if I may ask?" It seemed like a safe enough topic now.

"Not Hillary," said the driver. "I cannot stand that Hillary Clinton. She is awful."

My fellow passenger and I looked at each other and laughed. This seems to be the common refrain: "I can't stand Hillary," and then "Trump."

"So you voted for Trump then," I said.

"Yes, Donald Trump. I like that he says exactly what he thinks - he doesn't hold anything back."


"Did you hear him on that news interview the other day?"

"The one where he said we're a bunch of killers?"

"Yes," said the driver. "I loved that! He said Putin is a killer, and we're not so innocent either."

"I think it's very carefully calculated," I said to the driver. "He doesn't just make it up off the top of his head."

Silence then. "Maybe."

We had arrived at our destination.

"Do you know why I'm a Republican?" said the driver. "I get all these people in here, and they talk to me about 'I hate Trump this,' and 'I hate Trump that,' but do you know why?

"Tell us."

"Because the immigrants come in, and they work hard, and then they still take the government money. The Democrats always give out the goodies, but the Republicans don't let them get away with that stuff."

I was so relieved and grateful that the ride was over, we were safe and the trip was uneventful.

"Thank you very much," we said, almost in unison.

"You're most welcome," said the driver. "I guess I have trouble with directions, because I am used to driving in my hometown."

"Afghanistan?" I asked.

"No, my hometown in Wisconsin."


All opinions my own.

"Building Bridges" Between Civil Servants & The Incoming Trump Administration


The following are my notes on "Building Trust with New Leadership," an event cosponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and the Federal Communicators Network that focused on helping civil servants work effectively with the new Administration. The event is availabl free for viewing on Vimeo

As always, in attending such events and sharing information and opinions on social media, I am independent, meaning that I do not represent my agency or the federal government as a whole. These notes are public domain and may be freely reproduced and distributed. 


Executive Coach Michelle Woodward

Theme 1: Teamwork

Based On "The Five Behaviors Of A Cohesive Team" [TM] by Wiley Workplace Solutions & Patrick Lencioni

  • Results: 
    • "If you can do trust-based conflict, then we can get to commitment to the same goal. Then we can hold each other accountable without people being attacked. Once you have all that, that's when you get to results."
  • Disagreement:  
    • Myers-Briggs personality type influences how we approach one another: Thinkers need justice, feelers need harmony. 
    • Aim to "build bridges, not burn bridges." 
    • "Appreciate the opportunity to learn where the other person is coming from." 
    • "Appreciate the opportunity to learn what you could have done better
  • Trust: 
    • "Stick to the issue at hand."
    • "Offer and accept apologies without hesitation." 
    • "Own an apology." 
    • "Be genuine." 
    • "Be consistent." 
    • "Be present in this moment not the last Administration." 
    • "Accept questions." 
    • "Give others the benefit of the doubt." 
  • Office Gossip/Office Politics:
    • "Sometimes gossip is 'important information' but 'if I wouldn't say it to you, I wouldn't say it about you'" - differentiate between information and words that are "hurtful or mean"; mean words don't build trust.
    • "You can either get enmeshed in that or step back from it."
    • Keep your ears open but don't get engaged in all that hoopla."
    • If there's a meeting that you should have been in - "give the benefit of the doubt" - "small corrections" - say "Hey X, that meeting is in my programmatic area, I believe I should be included in those meetings" and "9 times out of 10, X will say 'Thank you.'"
  • Coping:
    • First understand reality - "good to know" - then try to change reality (paraphrase); "when you see this is the lay of the land, step back, say 'good to know, they're showing me exactly who they are, who can be my ally'?"
  • Understanding Others:
    • “Find out - what motivates people? 
      • "Quality time" 
      • "Words of affirmation" 
      • "Take something off their plate" 
      • "Gift" (comment from DB: obviously “gift” here means something small and thoughtful, e.g. the speaker mentioned chocolate chip cookies; not an illegal or unethical one.)

Theme 2: Self-Management 

Based On The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

"This is really on you - these four agreements are agreements you make with yourself that can help you." Paraphrased:
  • Keep your word; don’t use words to say back things about yourself or gossip.
  • Remember that others act because of their own perceptions and motivations, not because of you – it’s not personal.
  • Don’t assume anything – ask first, communicate so that you can avoid unnecessary “misunderstandings, sadness and drama.”
  • For your purposes, doing your best is the equivalent of excellence; there is no abstract high mark you always have to meet (because that is humanly impossible).

Theme 3: Managing Stress

  • "Units of energy" - if you're spending 60% spun up about office politics or office gossip, can't get things done. Keep a time log.
  • Breathe - breathe in the feeling you want (e.g. happiness) and out the feeling you don't want (e.g. sadness)

Audience Q&A

  • Fear of the New Administration:
    • Question: “I work for an agency that was in love with the last administration and is very scared and worried about the new one. How to handle?” 
    • Answer: “Stages of grief. You may be orbiting anger for a while, but hopefully you get to acceptance. I wouldn't rush anybody through the stages, because it's a profound change. Also don't make assumptions about who these people are or worry about what could possibly happen. Focus on right now, what's the reality, what do we know so far? If you want to be active, think about how can you effectively talk to allies about supporting the work of the office?
  • Opposition/Disagreement (Related To Above Question; Coping With Negative Emotions/Reactions To Or Disagreements With The New Administration)
    • "Be an activist within the rules of your organization. Overall think about how can I greet these people, see them for who they are, build trust, because wouldn't it be awesome if you could turn them around into allies.” 
    • "All of us need to understand what is our breaking point. What is the point at which we're not going to provide tax returns of enemies. I would recommend each of us search our own heart, and our own values and say - (what are the things about which) I can't compromise." 
    • "I do think you can be people of conscience and do your work well."
  • Battling Perceptions:
    • Question: “How do you counter the (perception that all feds are obstructionist because of the) "alt' or the "resistance,” e.g. the Twitter accounts that have been stood up, this is not like anything else we’ve seen in the past. 
    • Answer: “You don't want to be ‘tarnished’ that you’re ‘subverting or obstructing,’ say ‘don’t tar me with the same brush.’” But “we are in uncharted waters, this is unusual.”
  • Chain of Command:
    • Question: What do you do when “political appointees came in and asked for ideas” (but) “other people in the office are going to say you should've come to me first; how do you handle not violating the trust of your own people in your organization by expressing your ideas to them?” (e.g. the chain of command). 
    • Answer: “My thought would be, rather than going around your direct supervisor, saying to your supervisor can we go in together." Separate comment from the audience: “Not always does your leadership want these ideas to go forward.” Presenter comment: “It always comes back to you. Dn't gossip."
  • Getting "Shot Down":
    • Question: “What do you do when your good idea is automatically shot down?”
    • Answer: “Find out what motivates them (fear, or need information) and respond directly to that.” “Say - "I've got your back" (not going to do anything to hurt you).” Audience answer: “Focus on what problem you're solving rather than how you're feeling about it.”
  • Hitting A "Brick Wall":
    • Question: What if you’re not getting anywhere? 
    • Answer: "If you feel like you're hitting a brick wall, go back to trust" and "If they're just a closed person, just say 'good to know.'"
  • Dealing With People Who Just Want To Win:
    • Question: What if "all they care about is 'victory?'" 
    • Answer: “Again, (say to yourself) ‘good to know’ then ‘what do I want’; also ask ‘How am I getting engaged here’ or ‘affected’ (by what’s going on) - you may need to ‘call a break’; if you have trust you can say, ‘is this about winning or about finding the solution?’”
  • Exclusion: 
    • Question: “Please talk to ‘practices of exclusion’ that can ‘mess with trust’ and ‘dissemination of information’ - where ‘other groups of people know information before other groups know it.’
    • Answer (from fellow audience member): “(You have) so many opportunities to advocate internally" - "they (leadership) don't know that information they share to senior management does not cascade down."

Audience Comments

  • Conscience: 
    • “Marion Wright Edelman once said, ‘Be a flea on the big guy.’ Whenever there's a need to say the truth, do it."
  • Trust: 
    • “Last administration the "trifecta of evil went behind closed doors and started this culture of fear" saying they were ‘evaluating projects’ - nobody wanted to reveal anything." 
    • "They were ‘egotistical micromanagers who ‘all had a different perception of what the agency should be doing or where we were going’ and ‘used the workforce against each other’ for ‘four years.’" 
    • "(Then) ‘new leadership, completely empowering’ and there was ‘hesitancy about being able to trust’ because ‘in the past the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.’ ‘Just wanted to point it out because this trust issue is really really critical." 
    • "Sometimes we're beating our heads against really a solid wall. (But on a) positive note - it will change. People will cycle out, it will change."
  • Buy-In: 
    • "Convince them it was their idea and then give them credit" (semi-humorous)
  • Service: 
    • "Use a debrief from prior Administration - what was helpful to them?" (Generally they want "more involvement" from the civil service)

All opinions my own. These notes are public domain and may be freely reproduced and distributed.