A hypocrite in synagogue



It's become a weekly ritual for Saturday mornings. I walk with my older daughter and talk. She waits outside Starbucks while I go in to get a coffee. Then we walk some more, and part ways.

She has her synagogue, and I have mine.

This week we talked about morality. (When don't we?) I told her, "You have a halachic mind."

("Halacha" means "the system of Jewish law"; "halachic" means "in accordance with the Jewish legal framework.")

She does; she has a holy soul; she sees things in terms of black and white, you're either adhering to the Law or you aren't.

My thoughts were somewhat turbulent. "Here's what I can't understand. If there is only good and bad, how can there be two moralities?"

"I don't understand," my daughter said.

"Imagine a boy sexually molested in yeshiva," I started off. "He gets addicted to drugs, he totally rejects religion, he eats pig, he's not religious at all. But then he goes to rehab and gets his life back, and isn't religious but goes to synagogue maybe sometimes. I don't believe that G-d judges him for the bad."

"I don't either," she said.

"But that's not even a good example," I said. "Because something happened."

"Go on."

"Imagine that you're just a secular Jew," I said. "And you just don't believe in the halachic system, or you don't believe that halacha matters, compared with treating people with respect."

"Well there's no distinction between halacha and treating people with respect," she said. "You've always been lazy Orthodox."

I was silent. She had silenced me.

"I am a hypocrite," I said.

We walked and walked. The cars rushed by.

Finally we landed across the street from Starbucks. There were tables and chairs set up outside.

"Do you want to sit outside while I get my coffee?" I asked. On the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews stay out of stores.

"It's OK, I'll wait out here," she said. She leaned against the iron fence and looked up, and sideways.

(Orthodox Jews avoid ma'aras ayin, literally "appearance to the eye," meaning she wouldn't want someone to see her and think that she endorses shopping on the Sabbath.)

Outside, we kept on walking.

"Grandpa and I had a talk about this," I said to her. My father is an ordained rabbi. He told me a few months ago that I had strayed too far from halacha. And that I would die at an early age if I didn't clean up my act.

"You did? About what?"

"Grandpa said that everybody does their own thing in life, but there are certain basics you just have to keep."

"Oh."

We reached the intersection where we usually part ways.

"Well I'm going to go now," I said. "Have a good time in shul. I'll see you later."

"OK."

She hugged me, a deep and feeling hug. And walked away from me.

Later, I sat in synagogue and looked at the huge golden letters inscribed on the Aron, the "Ark," the place where the Torah scrolls are kept. "Know before whom you stand," they said. ("Da lifnei mi atah omaid.")

דע לפני מי אתה עומד

My younger daughter sits next to me in that synagogue and she happened to lean over that day and ask me, "Why did they write that over the Ark?"

It wouldn't occur to her to need that kind of reminder.

"Because people are arrogant," I said, thinking of myself. "They think that they can do things all on their own."

"OK, but I still don't understand why they needed to print it so big and right there," she said.

I looked at her and felt bad that she couldn't understand, but I could. Obviously the letters were aimed straight at me.

"The point is to remind you that you are nothing before G-d, and to remember that after you leave the synagogue and go about your business for the week."

The sermon ended that week with a story, a joke and a reminder.

"You can fool the rest of the world, but you can't fool yourself."

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All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me.

To Communicate Effectively, Begin With The Customer's Frame Of Reference

Two speakers, two topics, a different city than my own and a completely different type of culture than I have grown used to.

But their ideas were durable and resonant. They applied to my job, my program, my world.

More than that: The program I represent effectively answers some of the questions they raised. It offers a method of closing gaps in the system, gaps that they dwelled upon at length.

I found myself talking, not a lot but some. Explaining the connections between me and this place, this time.

And as I talked, I realized that the language I had available to me was applicable to my own frame of reference, that is to say - the world of science, the culture of Washington.

But these were people not of my world. I needed to get through to them.

And so I listened to the words that THEY used, and thought: There is a piece missing here. I'm doing things backwards.

Rather than explaining my world in my words, I need to explain their world to them using my frame of reference.

It was like somebody flipped on a gigantic light switch.

I further realized that it was not my job to push and sustain an outreach program of my own.

Rather, it is to ride the wave of momentum that ALREADY EXISTS out there. There is a huge natural flow of interest in disruptive innovation, in "Made In America," in bringing jobs home.

It isn't my job to think of new themes.

It is my job to LOOK AT WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ALREADY. Speak to that, fold in with that, ride the wave of that.

In short, to surf.

And then I realized the very big thing, the thing that has been eluding me all along, nagging at me, tugging at my brain and I haven't had words for it.

The meaning of "social" is not, as many think, "a range of tools associated with interactive, self-powered digital communication."

Well, maybe it's partly that. But that's not all of it. That's just the means.

"Social" is really about a different paradigm for marketing.

Instead of building desire where none existed before - instead of creating false need - it's about clueing in to the needs that people are articulating ALL THE TIME.

Really looking at them and paying attention to that.

And it's not about "owning" a particular and separate space from all your competitors.

Rather it's about JOINING and RISING ABOVE the competitive set so that you become a trusted part of the community, a wanted purveyor of things, services and ideas.

It was an eye-opening experience to go to that event yesterday. My Tweets went through the roof.

And I think my brain exploded along with them.

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All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

The Top 10 Mistakes DC Women Make When It Comes To Fashion


Yes, that's me with my astounding "Washington, DC" neon-handwritten wallet bag. And headphones.

I make no pretense to be stylish as I age. Frankly it's getting worse every year. But if I've become somewhat slovenly, maybe even a bit of a shlep, I am pointing the finger straight at this policy-oriented city in which I've lived and worked pretty much my entire career.

And not to pick on the women, but really - we can do better than this! We can. 

They are laughing at us up in New York.

Here are our top 10 fashion sins of late. I freely admit to most of them. May we repent and be forgiven:

1. Yoga pants outside yoga class, where your physical fitness level does not justify the exposure.

2. Pumps with a skinny heels. Yes, I'm talking to the ladies who get off the train at Pentagon City.

3. Sweatjackets, because you've given up.

4. Infinity scarves on women younger than 70.

5. Leopard leopard everywhere and not a drop to drink.

6. Sandals and no pedicure. Sandals and ragged toenails. Sandals in winter with open toes. 

7. Matchy-matchy costume jewelry, earrings and necklace.

8. Black on top of black "because it makes me look thinner."

9. Blouses generally. They never look good. Who even says "blouse?" 

10. ...and my all-time favorite, rhinestone lanyards with your government ID.

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All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me.