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Friday, January 30, 2015

I always want to get out of the Washington bubble and learn what real people think, so to speak. At times, I'll see sentiments like this:

"The events you see happening in this world are not as they appear. A small group of rich people controls the world, and what they want is a one-world government." 

Basically it's a conspiracy theory. If you add the words "Jewish bankers" after "rich" and subtract "people," the theory becomes an anti-Semitic stereotype.

As it happens, I came across the following sentiment the other day, which relates somewhat to the first one. 

"The only thing preventing world domination by the wealthy is religion."

And another concept:

"There will be a war in the End of Days, eventually followed by Judgment Day."

In my mind I put these ideas together. 

Absent Divine intervention, it is clear that we are headed toward some kind of explosive conflict in the world.

But G-d always creates a method by which we can avert the natural course of events.

Specifically, when we turn toward Him in faith, and pray for mercy, miracles happen.

What if the real war on terror had nothing to do with weapons?

What if people of all faiths and no faiths got together and decided to surrender everything to G-d?

This doesn't mean adopting each other's religions. It means ending religious war, ending war entirely, and turning to the One and Only.

It doesn't sound likely to happen. But we might want to consider, in a world that celebrates conflict, fighting, aggression, and attack - the strength it would take for all of us to put our weapons down. And pray.

___
All opinions my own.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Auschwitz memorial services are about remembering. Those who forget the past are doomed to see it repeat itself.

But the ultimate point of remembering is forgetting. We want to move on with life and deal with one another in perfect faith, like innocent children who haven't yet learned the terrible ways of the world.

G-d teaches us through example. We ask for forgiveness and are forgiven. It is as if nothing happened.

Unfortunately some people distort G-d's ways out of evil intentions. They deny the past and pretend all is well in the present.

Think critically, and do not be fooled.

___
All opinions my own.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Disclaimer: This toolkit is only a collection of suggested best practices. No warranty is expressed or implied.

Cyber security for social media should be the #1 concern of anyone communicating online in this way. A federal working group has developed an outstanding guide, useful to any public or private organization. I want to help promote this message and so am cutting and pasting the text below; also posted it to SlideShare. You can customize it for your organization.

DigitalGov's Justin Herman brought the federal working group together; congrats to him and the team: Alla Goldman, Information Sharing Environment, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Ashley Wichman, GSA; Dan Kenny, GSA Emerging Leader Program; me (I work at NIST); David Hamm, State of Minnesota; Debra Harris, Defense Finance and Accounting Services; Jacob Parcell, GSA; Jessica Milcetich, USA.gov; Jordan Higgins, Defense Intelligence Agency; Jody Bennett, Department of State; Justin Herman, GSA; Kat Mullins, USAJobs; Natasha Lim, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; Scott Horvath, U.S. Geological Survey; Travis Brickey, Tennessee Valley Authority.

Read the article here:
https://www.digitalgov.gov/2015/01/27/new-inter-agency-social-media-cyber-vandalism-toolkit-launched/

_____________________


Readiness, Recovery, Response: Social Media Cyber-Vandalism Toolkit
Version 1, released January 27, 2015 by DigitalGov

https://www.digitalgov.gov/resources/readiness-recovery-response-social-media-cyber-vandalism-toolkit/

Cyber-vandalism presents a serious challenge to online-based communication tools. Users need available resources to counter intrusions of social media accounts. This document provides guidance and security practices to federal, state, and local government employees. Suggestions and resources prepare users to respond to cyber-hijacking. and will empower digital users to make informed choices and enact future policy. This resource is a “living document” designed for continued contribution and expansion — if you have input please email Justin Herman.

Readiness: Phase 1

Cyber-vandalism occurs when an outside party, regardless of identity or motive, takes control of an agency communication channel and misdirects it. Incidents may contain information misleading to the public or threatening to an agent of the United States. Agencies should plan and train prior to an incident, and prepare approved processes and material for the recovery and response to cyber-vandalism.

1. Identify a social media stakeholder team to prevent and respond to cyber-vandalism

A direct chain of responsible managers should be aware of their roles in the potential response to any social media cyber-vandalism, including the necessity of quick, decisive action. This team should be connected by email, phone, text and any other appropriate means of communication. The team should include, but is not limited to:

1. Social media team
2. Program manager
3. Public affairs representative
4. General Counsel
5. IT Security
6. Senior leader/manager

2. Review Individual App/Platform Resources

Online-based communication tools offer resources, each with unique strengths and limitations. Awareness of this support and their unique characteristics is beneficial before an incident:

1. Facebook: Facebook Security Tips; Facebook Security Settings; Learnextra security features including approvals, notifications, trusted contacts and mobile security
2. LinkedIn: LinkedIn Safety Center; Prevention Tips; Password Guidelines; Frequently Asked Questions | Reporting Inappropriate Content, Messages, or Safety Concerns
3. Instagram: Instagram Privacy & Safety Center
4. Twitter: Safe tweeting: the basics
5. Google: Keeping your account secure
6. Hootsuite: Social Media Security

3. Establish Stakeholder Rapid Outreach Plan

1. Prepare a list of internal and external contacts and processes for a cyber-vandalism incident:
§ Who is the POC for the app or platform when an incident occurs (see Phase 2: Recovery for list)?
§ Who is the POC for cyber-vandalism of accounts in the Government (see Phase 2: Recovery for list)?
§ Who is on your social media stakeholder team?
§ Who are your key communities and audiences on social media and other channels you must alert?

2. Incorporate relevant contact information:

§ Emails; Phone Numbers; Social Media Handles; Hashtags; Listservs and more.

4. Create Communication Templates

1. Pre-populate different types of messages.

§ Emails; Texts; Social media posts and more.

2. Communicate essential information to convey the nature of the compromise, for example:

§ An account is compromised; An administrator cannot access an account; A username and/or password for an account is compromised; Information on the account is unauthorized.

5. Review Secure Social Media Best Practices Checklist

1. Institutionalize secure web standards, such as HTTPS, as a foundation for secure social media:

§ Using an URI scheme, such as HTTPS, establishes a fast, private, and secure connection due to its strong encryption benefits

§ Read Why We Use HTTPS in Every Gov Website We Make

2. Establish accounts with official .gov or .mil domains of full-time equivalent employees (FTE) .

§ Allow for more than one FTE to administer an account.

§ Designate an alternative as auxiliary support. Limit this designation to an individual essential to the operation and management of an account.

§ Clearly define the criteria for the administrator and alternative.

§ Provide adequate resources to the FTE administrator, including a mobile device and third-party management tool whenever possible.

3. Create a social media policy with standard operating procedures (SOP) for cyber-security.

4. Obtain approval from appropriate agency parties, including IT Security and General Counsel

5. Train stakeholders and others on the procedures and policies of social media cyber-security.

§ Require training before use of an account.

6. Use only authorized URL Shorteners, e.g. go.USA.gov.

7. Add all official accounts to the Federal Social Media Registry, verifying authenticity of ownership.

§ This tool, used by both Facebook and Google to verify accounts, tracks official federal social media accounts.

§ List Department of Defense (DoD) social media accounts in theDoD Social Media Site Registry.

o Per DOD Web Policy and DoDI 8550.01 , use DoD Social Media Registry submission form.

8. Follow best practices for secure passwords.

§ Guide to Enterprise Password Management (Draft) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology

6. Evaluate Two-Step Verification

This type of authentication verifies a user attempting to access a device or system. It requires confirmation of two consecutive, yet dependent, entries. It may not be applicable to those without mobile devices or in secure environments prohibited entry of such items. It may also require the use of third-party management tools to effectively allow multiple content coordinators.

1. Facebook: Facebook’s Login Approvals; ZDnet.com supplemental step-by-step guide.

2. Google and YouTube: Google 2-Step Verification.

3. LinkedIn: LinkedIn’s Two Step Verification.

4. Twitter: Twitter’s Two Step Verification Process.

7. Review Special Guidance Per Common User Responsibility


For Supervisors and Directors: Confirm policy is clear, accessible, and distributed among employees. Review, approve, and document all agency accounts regularly. Identify and eliminate rogue accounts. Instruct staff administering accounts to adhere to agency criteria and undergo training where appropriate.

For Social Media Managers: Make security a part of regular social media meetings. Conduct security checks on a regular basis. Regularly update passwords. Keep the list of social media accounts updated. Keep account manager contact information accessible and updated. Remove access for users who are no longer with the agency. Develop a secure method of storing account names, owners, and passwords.

For Social Media Coordinators: Use a protected, official government device. Use protected connections. Do not post from an open Wifi network. Use a work VPN, 3G or the work-connected Internet connection. Generally, use network locations with strong firewalls and on standalone equipment. Preview shortened links to see the address of where they lead. Review the URL of a website in the address bar. Make sure the websites you visit use HTTPS encryption. If you are unsure of a link, double click the lock icon on your browser’s status bar to display the digital certificate for a site.

8. Conduct Training on Secure Use of Social Media

Live training: Cybersecurity Online Learning (COL) program supplements mandatory FISMA security role-based training by offering in-demand cybersecurity workshops. The Information Assurance Branch, United States Department of State, offers monthly social media security online courses for free for anyone with a “.mil” or “.gov” email address, regardless if the applicant is an FTE, military, or contractor.

§ Department of Defense Social Media Security/Privacy Education & Training

§ Consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

§ OnGuardOnline.gov

§ National Cyber Awareness System

§ Antiphishing.org

§ Webinar: Operations Security (OPSEC) & Social Media: Balancing Security, Secrecy, & Transparency

§ Webinar: How to Recover from a Social Media Crisis

§ Webinar: How Government Can Prepare for and Respond to Social Media Hacks

§ Post: Beware the Cyber Security House of Horrors

§ Post: Twitter’s Two Step Verification Process

§ Post: Government Must Respond Rapidly to Social Media Hacking

Recovery: Phase 2

Alerts of suspicious activity on social media can come from anywhere, including social media itself. If the social media cyber-security stakeholder team or responsible manager determines an incident is in progress, remember that minutes and even seconds count. Within minutes you’ll need to alert internal stakeholders, alert outside stakeholders to help you regain control, and act to isolate the compromise.

1. Immediately: Alert your social media cyber-security stakeholder team, and CC them on following messages.

2. Attempt to change passwords to isolate the incident (steps 2 and 3 ideally simultaneously with two employees)

3. Contact the platform companies themselves and GSA to help regain control.

1. Contact Information to Recover Control After Cyber-Vandalism


1. Facebook: Online form for Facebook; Email government@FB.com; Email justin.herman@gsa.gov and betsy.steele@gsa.gov

2. Twitter: Online form for Twitter; Email: Gov@Twitter.com; Email justin.herman@gsa.gov and betsy.steele@gsa.gov

3. LinkedIn: Respond to and Report Various Issues; Email: LCSHelp@linkedin.com; Email: mcirrito@linkedin.com; Email justin.herman@gsa.gov and betsy.steele@gsa.gov

4. Instagram: Online form for Instagram; Email: government@FB.com; Email justin.herman@gsa.gov and betsy.steele@gsa.gov

5. Vine: Online form for Vine; Email: Gov@Twitter.com; Email justin.herman@gsa.gov and betsy.steele@gsa.gov

6. Hootsuite: Email: Support@hootsuite.com; Email sajji.hussein@hootsuite.com; Email justin.herman@gsa.gov and betsy.steele@gsa.gov

2. Audit your social media inventory

1. Audit your list of social media accounts, password holders, agency hosted websites.

2. Ensure no former employees, contractors or interns have access to current passwords.

3. Review any third-party app you use to monitor or post to social media, such as IFTTT.

4. Review your other digital services, including websites, for signs of cyber-vandalism and any vulnerabilities.

3. Confirm cyber-vandalism recovery process on different channels

Once securing your other accounts, release pre-approved initial messages alerting your communities that an incident is occurring and that steps are underway in order to recover cyber-vandalized accounts.

4. Initiate Restoration Activities After Regaining Account(s)


1. Archive cyber-vandalism messages.

2. Delete cyber-vandalism messages.

3. Stop all pre-scheduled messages.

4. Restore normal settings and features.

Response: Phase 3
Agencies must not only prepare for and recover social media accounts after a cyber-vandalism incident, they should also quickly and effectively respond to their stakeholders and audiences as soon as possible using social media in order to maintain trust in digital services. Initial responses to the cyber-security stakeholder team and the public should be within minutes of recovering control of your accounts.

1. Confirm Incident and Recovery

1. Cyber-security team confirmation: Send initial report of recovery to social media cyber-security stakeholder team.

2. Public confirmation: Distribute as soon as possible social media posts confirming the cyber-vandalism incident and your recovery of affected accounts. Announce a return to regularly scheduled activities.

3. Community confirmation: Deliver additional communication with pre-determined internal audiences and stakeholders to prevent the spread of rumors and misinformation.

2. Confirm and Verify Changes to Access


1. Review account holders.

2. Confirm verification of login status.

3. Confirm changes and updates of passwords.

3. Conduct a review of lessons learned

§ What type of response worked well?

§ Why did this work so well?

§ What did not work?

§ What unforeseen events occurred?

§ What changes will lead to a better response?

4. Apply data and analysis of outcomes to improving your program

§ Develop after-action report.

§ Ensure future relevance with accurate information.

§ Include lessons learned and best practices.


Monday, January 26, 2015


Weekends are for movies and if you don't know what to watch the next time you power up Netflix on your Roku, I would highly recommend "The Interview."

Unfortunately the marketing of this movie was so bad that they almost totally ruined my interest in it. But I should have known that if Seth Rogen and James Franco were involved it was going to be a certain kind of funny, and it absolutely was.

Here are 10 reasons you absolutely have to see this movie:

  1. James Franco's portrayal of the host, which is so funny and over-the-top it makes the movie.
  2. The screenplay, which is hilarious - these lines are so rich I can't quote them enough: "America tried that before and it didn't work." "That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it again."
  3. The intelligent worldview of the movie, which is that wars are just as much fought through communications as guns, that both are equally powerful
  4. The plot, which allows us to talk about real issues by combining reality and satire
  5. The focus on North Korean dictator specifically, which was highly imaginative and which allows us to look at him from a psychological point of view
  6. The psychological bent of the movie, which doesn't use action to cover a lack of thought 
  7. The empowering messages about women,  subtle and not-so-subtle: "It's 2014. Women are smart now."
  8. The overall message of the movie, which is that taking care of each other is the most important thing we can do on this planet.
  9. The cameos by Eminem, Rob Lowe and Bill Maher, which were very funny.
  10. Seth Rogen's portrayal of the Jew as Franco's moral conscience who's also lost his way because his job pays a lot of money, and Franco makes him feel loved and wanted.
As a side note there is a scene in the movie that involves a line that some would consider anti-Semitic (to the effect of "Don't shake his hand...he's a Jew.") I understood that line to be important to the movie, to have artistic integrity and to be perfect for the comedy.

Imagine what kind of world we would live in if we could not incorporate anti-religious messages - even if crude or insensitive - into art the same way we incorporate sexuality and violence. We would be starting down a path where the only end is bleak totalitarianism.

In any case this is a fantastic, funny, movie that is rare in combining true art with a truly important set of themes and messages about the world. I hope you take the time to see it, on Netflix or anywhere else.

___

All opinions my own.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


More than once I've used my blog posts to be a flaming kiss-ass. I'm not proud to admit it, and it's not that I do it intentionally, but it happens. Inevitably my misuse of my G-d given talent backfires, because someone always calls me out on it.

"You should stick to blogs on branding," a commenter recently said, "because when you write about Obama [note: I work for the federal government and have a vested interest in not getting my ass handed to me on a silver platter] you always put your foot in your mouth."

Specifically objecting to a previous post imploring the President to fight radical Islamic terrorism. Where I said:

"Only you, only you can do this."

The comment: "No, only G-d can do this. With your words you blaspheme G-d. Change it, so you won't be punished."

Fine, but I'm still gonna write about the stuff I'm writing about, I thought.

Even though I'm afraid.

I am afraid, like many Jews are afraid.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered.

But when the U.N. convenes a summit on the problem of global anti-Semitism, you know you're past the threshold when we could afford the luxury of silence.

This past week's Torah reading, Shemot, talks to this exact issue. The Jews' slavery in Egypt began with anti-Semitism and progressed to forced labor; there was quite a bit of run-up.

There was opportunity to speak up to Pharoah, to intervene and influence history.

According to the ancient rabbis, Pharoah's advisers were rewarded or punished because of how they reacted to his declared intentions.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald explains:

"The Midrash states, that in the 130th year of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, Pharaoh dreamed that, while sitting on the throne, he saw an old man before him holding a scale in his hands. On one side of the scale were all the elders, nobles and great men of Egypt, and on the other was a single sheep that outweighed all the great Egyptians. 
"Disturbed by the dream, Pharaoh awoke early in the morning and summoned all his advisors and wise men to help him interpret the dream. 
"Among those summoned were Balaam, the son of Beor, the great gentile prophet. Another was Jethro, the future father-in-law of Moses, and the third was Job, a man of great faith, who refused to curse G-d despite his profound losses and suffering. 
"The Midrash depicts Balaam as spewing venomous hate toward the Jewish people....
"Jethro spoke up, advising Pharaoh not to start with the Hebrews....he warned Pharaoh that any leader who had, in the past, confronted the Hebrews, had met a bitter end. 
It was up to Job to decide between the main royal advisors, but he chose instead to sit on the fence, saying simply that since all the inhabitants of the land were under Pharaoh’s sovereignty, it was up to the King to do as seems fit in his eyes....
Job is perhaps the saddest and most complex of the advisors. 
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his essay “Kol Dodi Dofek” (The Voice of My Beloved Knocks) takes Job to task for being silent before Pharaoh and not speaking up on behalf of the wretched Hebrew slaves. 
To paraphrase Rabbi Soloveitchik: You, Job, refused to intervene publicly with Pharaoh because you were fearful lest you be accused of dual loyalty. 
And so it was for the “Jobs” throughout the generations... 
How sad it is to see how often history repeats itself. Jews today have their determined enemies and beloved friends. But, most of all, we have those who are too fearful to speak up on behalf of justice, truth, and morality. 
We are indeed “a nation apart,” who, as the Psalmist asserts (146:3), must not rely on the goodness of princes or mortals.

Speak up, speak up, speak up, speak up, speak up.

___

All opinions my own.



Friday, January 23, 2015


Today I had to take care of a small errand and was struck by the inefficiency with which government works:

  • Before walking in the door, I couldn't figure out which instructions applied to me. I could barely even find them on the website.
  • The appointment system was telephone-based, a frustrating waste of time.
  • Once in the appointment all the forms were paper-based and an ink signature was required.
I am familiar with the government tendency to resist change and avoid new technology until it's absolutely impossible to ignore it.

  • Nobody wants to take a risk and get into trouble.
  • Nobody wants to get automated out of a job.
  • Nobody wants to collaborate if that means losing their power.
These are natural human tendencies and I totally understand them. But they're not productive for our society. In the example above:

  • How much time is going to get wasted manually reviewing and transferring the paper data to a computer system? 
  • How many dead PDFs are we going to create and then try to integrate into a database system down the road? 
  • How many records will we generate now, only to be completely befuddled later as to what matters and what doesn't?

A failure to streamline government is only going to further strain extremely large socio-economic problems that are about to get much, much worse:
  1. Automation will end most demand for human labor – manual, administrative, even customer service.
  2. The end of jobs will trigger a corresponding rise in need for social services.
  3. True competition will become impossible in an economy controlled by the wealthy and powerful few.
  4. Interconnected, integrated, interoperable, easily accessed Big Data will eradicate the possibility of privacy. 
  5. Small terrorist cells with dangerous weapons will finally be taken seriously for the grave threat they pose.
The way to handle these problem is fairly straightforward but will require a big change in attitude to adjust to. We're not going to be able to live the same way anymore. For example, kids aren't going to graduate college with the expectation of a job. It's just not happening. So here's what we as a society have to do in order to adapt. These are very broad general approaches, I'll leave it to others to figure out the details.
  1. Get ahead of the curve and stop reacting defensively. The risk of not acting is bigger than the risk of the status quo.
  2. Stop quibbling over details and unite around a broadly shared vision of progress. Nobody wins with all the divisiveness.
  3. Use commercial, off-the-shelf technology to the maximum extent possible. There is no excuse to be dragging our feet on this.
  4. Protect civil rights, dissent and privacy; promote transparency; form fully independent external bodies to regulate the regulators.
  5. Incorporate strong security practices into everything we do. There are a lot of people who want to foment and take advantage of chaos, to steal our freedom and our lives along with it.
Government workers secretly fear that their jobs will become irrelevant in the new economy. That may be true in some cases. But it's probably more true that our role will evolve:
  1. To rebalance major power inequities and promote national competitiveness through a whole-of-society approach to the major issues that confront us.
  2. To protect people's rights and make sure that vulnerable populations are supported.
  3. To maintain social order and prevent chaos from breaking out.
As we go about our day-to-day lives it's really easy to stick our heads in the sand and let others worry about the problems. But at some point you look around and realize it's you that's got the football. And that your standing there at a press conference, with no excuse as to why you've let it deflate.
___

Photo by Me and the Sysop via Flickr. All opinions my own.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


This is the United States of America, the greatest country in the world, the country that stands for freedom.

  • You can be born in this country or immigrate here and you are still equally American.
  • Blonde, blue-eyed does receive no technical favor.
  • Your gender may be male, female, a combination or a voluntary migration from one to the other.
  • Your political views are tolerated even if the main agenda item on your platform is how to build a better taco.
  • You can pray standing up, sitting down or never.
  • You can wear unusual clothes and stand up and sing the National Anthem in a football stadium.
  • You are free to live wherever you want, among whoever you want.

This is the greatest country in the world - the greatest civil society ever known. The grandest vision of humanity living side-by-side in total difference, yet not forcing homogeneity.

Other countries hold different distinctions. Israel is the Holy Land, at least to me; other countries may be more socially conscious, more innovative, more educated. But we stand for something: We pursue freedom.

In this country, we debate ideas and we speak the truth, our truth. We promote free speech, a competition in the marketplace of words: We don't put people in jail, or execute them, because they've made an insensitive joke.

We stay out of other people's business, unless those other people are infringing on someone's rights as they are defined by the laws of the country.

And we acknowledge that the law is not black and white but subject to interpretation. An evolving interpretation, because the law is not set in stone, either.

We are a democracy.

It is true, we have committed terrible sins on the way to becoming the envy of other civil societies, and unfortunately we still do. We don't live in a museum or an ivory tower; every day is a moment in a struggle over right and wrong and how we define ourselves.

But this is the greatest country in the world, anyway, and it is the brand under which we fight radical Islamic terrorists.

We should name them.

If there were a gang of radical Jewish terrorists blowing up magazines for publishing cartoons of Moses on the mountain, we would most definitely say who they were, and how they were justifying their attacks religiously.

If Catholic extremists were to bomb an abortion clinic we would most certainly name them.

It would go without saying that these individuals were perverting the essence of the faith to establish a deviant version of the religion. But this would still not negate their use of a particular set of religious principles to do so.

In any war it is important to establish what the sides are.

If you are fighting in a war, you will not win unless you believe that your side is right.

Make no mistake about it, we are deeply entrenched in a war, a war between two completely opposing ideologies of the world. Two visions of civil society, not of societies based specifically on religion.

The radical Islamic terrorist vision - as expressed in cults like Isis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood -  is that you eliminate all who refuse to bow down before the most extreme interpretation of the Koran. And while it may be true that most Muslims are not terrorists - any more than Jews or Catholics - many, many people within Islam support very, very extremist views. Or 800,00 of them would call in sick the day they held a rally in Chechnya to support the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

The American vision is that everyone gets a seat at the dinner table. That women are free. That all the colors of the rainbow and the cultures in the world and all the ideas and ideologies and all the religious squabbling - all of it can take place right here, and we shake hands and go home and come back another day to be a Nation again.

My doctor is a Hungarian immigrant and she complains that the male paramedics ought to show her more respect when they come with an ambulance to pick up the patient whose pulse has dropped. But they don't, because she is a woman. I say go sister and right on. I tell her she should be in the doctor's hall of fame, she is such a good doctor. (She is.) And she says, they won't put me there, I'm a woman and an immigrant, but let me tell you something, more women should be on that list.

I look at my doctor and think to myself, in the Old Country, we'd be sitting in the kitchen or the back of the synagogue barely able to read. And we come here and we can both get doctoral degrees and get professional jobs and participate in the rousing debates that are part of civil society.

This civil society, the greatest civil society in the world, the greatest experiment in diversity and inclusion, this belief in competing with each other but taking care, too. This mutual journey toward freedom.

This is what we are fighting for.

I can tell that the President deeply believes in empowering the disadvantaged, in leveling the playing field so that all willing people can compete, in making sure that rich people can't take advantage of the poor.

I agree with  him.

Also, I can tell that he believes in more than tolerance for other nations, other worldviews. He believes in a deep respect. He does not think the U.S. is somehow superior to other countries, other cultures, and other political systems, even those based on theocracy. He finds it morally repugnant to assert that you are better than anybody else.

Yes.

The President believes the U.S. has a debt to pay for the way we've thrown our weight around and trampled on native cultures.

Check, check and check.

Here's the problem though: Too much of a good thing. For whatever reason - because there will always be things we don't know and don't understand - the President has taken respect for other cultures to an extreme.

It's sort of like being a self-hating Jew. You can tell who they are because they say things like, "You can be anti-Israel but not anti-Semitic. Let me explain that to you." Or, "The Torah is barbaric." Or, "Jews can be the biggest jerks." Such people make exaggerated statements because they, themselves have a fundamental problem with the fact that they possess a Jewish identity. There is something about the religion itself, and their connection to it, that is deeply embarrassing.

That is the kind of feeling I sense in the President. I think he is a moral person who wants what is best for America. But I also sense his deep embarrassment at our past and current moral failings - the same way Jews are legitimately ashamed when they believe that Israel, or a fellow Jew, has besmirched their reputation by behaving immorally.

It is a painful truth of life that we all get forced to confront the things that are most painful. For this President, who is deeply respectful of and connected to Islam, the dilemma is that he must face radical elements within the faith - who use the faith, who can point to chapter and verse to justify their beliefs and behaviors - who seek to "punish" the U.S. so badly that they would eliminate our Nation altogether.

And they'd take Israel down along with it, probably first if they had their 'druthers. Because Israel is a gigantic, gigantic thorn in their side, with its insistence that you can preserve a religious homeland while also providing citizenship and freedom for all.

The clock is ticking on us all. Radical Islamic terrorists are sitting around and thinking about one thing, just one thing, day and night. Their brand is very sharp and clear and focused and they find it relevant and they fight for it, loudly and softly, explicitly and implicitly, with weapons of war and weapons of words, every minute of every second of the day.

Here is what happens when you ignore, deny, delay and appease terrorists.

You find out, four decades after you were born, what the great-aunts and uncles you never met looked like, because they were carted off to concentration camp and only one survivor had the resourcefulness to send their pictures to the historical society to preserve their memories.


Here is one of them, my great-aunt (RIP) Vicky Mandel, who died in 1944 in Auschwitz.

Do you think I really like sitting around writing these kinds of articles? I want to go back to writing brand research, to sifting out the equity in Coca-Cola versus Red Bull.

Nobody likes a war. We want to think about relationships, career, how to make a better smoothie, debate over whether the iPhone 6 is too big.

But we don't have the luxury of ignoring what is happening "out there." The war is on, and it's coming closer and closer to us every day.

Now, more than ever, we need the President to come down on the side of America's brand. To make a decision that the kind of freedom we have is worth fighting for, tooth and nail. That we must get into the dirt and fight these people, even if some of the things they say are true and even if we as a Nation have not been perfect. It's true, we have been far from perfect.

This is the greatest country in the world, not because of the things we've done but because of the ideals we stand for as a civil society. It is a country that allows me to write open letters to the President without sending the secret police to my door to arrest me.

The United States, at all times, needs the President. We need him to believe that our cause is just and true.

Freedom is the brand under which we fight.

Mr. President, please lead us in this war, with passion. 

Only you, only you can do this.  [1/25/2015 update: Removed this sentence in recognition of G-d's omnipotence; He is the Most Holy on High. I apologize for this wording.]

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All opinions my own.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2015 and I should be talking about his vision.

But instead I am thinking more about Malcolm X.

Both men were powerful civil rights leaders. But each espoused a different approach; whereas MLK believed in diplomacy, Malcolm X stood for directness.

(Including his open belief that Jews control the economy and are exploitive of African-Americans, for which he was called anti-Semitic, a charge he denied.)

From The Autobiography of Malcolm X:
  • "A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything."
  • "I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it."
Malcolm X was a Muslim and it is his pure sensibility I think we need today to confront the global war against radical Islamic terrorism.
  • He promoted tolerance as a general principle: "I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation - EVERY form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color."
  • But he would not be tolerant of people who disrespected him: "I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don't believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn't want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I'm not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn't know how to return the treatment." — Speech, Dec. 12 1964, New York City.
  • Finally, he refused to apologize for advocating self-defense: "There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That's a good religion." — "Message to the Grass Roots," speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965).
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uniquely understood that all people were the same under the skin, and so he approached racial problems from the lens of finding that common point.

Malcolm X believed we would find peace and harmony only by confronting the truth. And if the truth hurt people's feelings, well then that was just inevitable.

And if Malcolm X were still alive, he would tell the President loud and clear: Radical Islamic terrorists bear no resemblance to Islam.

Today I watched American Sniper in the theater, and the audience was at first completely silent as the credits closed, then spontaneously broke out into applause before leaving. 


The film is about American hero Chris Kyle and his resolve to fight against terrorists overseas, and to take care of his fellow veterans after coming home. 

Underneath the surface the message is that we aren't doing enough to get the job done and we aren't supporting our active-duty military or our veterans nearly the way we should be. 

Sadly, many complain about the moral dilemmas associated with war - they resist the military necessity to defend our nation - even as they take advantage of the freedom others earn on their behalf.

American Sniper is a blockbuster hit, it's earned $119 million since its short release so far, and if you watch the movie you will find out why: It defines what it means to be a patriot.

Today we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s commitment to realizing the dream of civil rights no matter how endless the march.

But we should also be honoring the prophetic vision of the man who was similarly assassinated as he was speaking for his people.

"If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary," said Malcolm X.

No matter how badly you want peace, it is simply not possible to achieve it with people who seek to kill you.

___

All opinions my own. Photo from the Korean War via Wikimedia. The title of this post has been updated.




Last night I had the chance to pick the movie (Netflix) and I went to the "Romantic Movies" section and Andy went "Oh, no...."
It was either this or "Jayne Eyre" and I went with this because KATE WINSLET. I say to Andy, "That's Kate Winslet, she was in 'Titanic,'" prompting Andy to say "I hated Titanic" but then, kindly "you did sit through the Zombie show."
The movie started off kind of slow but then again as Andy said, "high budget" and I got the feeling it was going to be good.
IT WAS GOOD. IT WAS TOTALLY GOOD.
I guarantee there is going to be a night when you're sitting around, feeling extremely female and feminine and romantic and womanly and you'll want to watch a truly quality movie on the caliber of "The Notebook" that makes you cry your bleeping head off.
WATCH THIS!
Andy was making jokes throughout the first part, i.e. "Look I've fallen in love with a criminal" and I was laughing pretty hard, but by the second part Kate Winslet was doing the true Kate Winslet thing...suffering and longing for love, love, love...crying for her loss and the shitty way the world has treated her (and I don't want to spoil it by saying more).
There is a feminist argument to be made here about how film directors punish women for their sexuality and I'm not going to ruin it and go there because...KATE WINSLET. If you liked her in Titanic and you liked her in Revolutionary Road you are going to watch this movie and CRY YOUR EYES OUT.
It is funny from a guy's perspective. Andy sees me sitting there and sobbing..he goes "I'm sorry the movie got you upset." And I'm like, "I'm HAPPY that I got to see it, but I feel SO BAD for KATE WINSLET."
It's a holiday today, you must watch. There.

P.S. Notes for marketers:
  • Focus on the celebrity: I watched this movie because of the Kate Winslet brand. It was "her" not the plot or the trailer.
  • Hyper-focus on your audience: You cannot go too far in tailoring your content. Understand and approach your audience with very thorough knowledge of their interests, needs, etc.
  • Think about the role of consumption influencers: I would not have paid to see this movie in a theater, because Andy and I pick the movies together. Thus some content is better tailored for a Netflix-type viewing environment, where each person can choose content more tailored to their individual taste.

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All opinions my own.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The fantasy and fallacy of courses in brand is that consultants work like The Wizard of Oz.
You think we stand behind a curtain, flipping switches and pulling levers, cogitating and ruminating. Until, like a pregnant woman, our water breaks. And a fully-formed, living, breathing brand pops out into the world, ready to "rock and roll" and accumulate more and more equity on behalf of its creator.
Ha!
The truth is, we consultants - client-side or consulting-side - are nothing more than teeny, free-floating space stations in an infinitesimal galaxy of stakeholder planets.
And there are many planets in your galaxy, even more than you know. Every time a resident of one of them utters a breath, your brand has been not just represented but re-created.
It's like a giant game of Operator. And the impact is magnified by every action these stakeholders take. Remember, it is the experience that defines the brand image in the customers' mind - talk is cheap, actions matter and people judge you by what you do, not just what you say.
Every supervisor, to staff. Every salesperson. Every chatty customer service rep. Every supplier, every distributor, every recruiter, every partner, every Wikipedia maven who edits your entry, every journalist and graphic designer and copywriter and public relations rep and subject matter and hired hand for the trade show.
All these people, all of them are the ecosystem of your brand. It is the least informed among them who will make the strongest impression.
So what then is the role of the brand specialist?
It is to bring together the various stakeholders and unite them around the cause. It is to shepherd the meaning of the brand among all its various interactions.
The chief brand specialist is always the leader, whether they like it or not and whether they know it or not. For your brand, that means you. For the nation, it means the President of the United States. For a company, the CEO. This is the person who stands under the spotlight at all times, whose every action is examined microscopically and from whom meaning is extrapolated to the larger group.
This person obviously cannot do it alone...being the star of the show they need a solid supporting cast. That is where you come in, if your job is explicitly defined as brand. You don't think up things and issue orders and snap your fingers to make the brand appear and dance a jig.
You serve the Chief Branding Officer.
And if you think that you can limit your role to anything in the realm of communications - branding, marketing, advertising, PR, sales, digital engagement, etc. - you are sorely wrong, wrong, wrong.
In this role you function much more like a senior business advisor, you must work together with the functional chief of staff or equivalent at the leader's roundtable. It is your job to look across the entire organization, to see where the business itself is working or where its effectiveness is blocked.
And you make sure that the functional issues are attended to, while also making sure the fundamental communications bases are covered, quietly supporting the leader in being consistent and relevant and credible. Working with the experts who actually know the work of the company, to make the message accurate. De-cluttering it visually and verbally to ensure it is simple and punchy and clear.
So your day-to-day life is not exalted, you aren't in a think-tank and you don't stand around brainstorming "concepts" most of the time.
The truth is you're just another worker bee, and if you're with the right brand you are swept up by its meaning, its potential to make a real difference in the world.
Holistic brand management is a process. You learn it by studying a little, and doing a lot. Your reward is having been a part of the journey.
___
All opinions my own. Photo via Wikipedia.


A classic Andy Blumenthal story. He wrote about it in his blog but I have to tell you how it went down from where I sat.

We go into the pizza place last night for fries. A bunch of teenagers sits right next to us and they are normal kids - loud.

All of a sudden a spitball lands on Andy's ear. You should have seen his expression, it was like WTF, and I could see he was a little bit startled. He picks up the spitball and we just look at it. 

I'm thinking, uh-oh because if you know Andy you know that sending a spitball his way is not a good idea.

I go "don't worry, they're just kids," etc. typical mom trying to keep the peace.

Suddenly he picks up one of my French fries and his hand is kind of wobbling...before I know it he lets his hand fly and the fries have landed in the kids' camp.

One of the girls in the gang must have said something, I didn't hear it or see her expression, but the Mashgiach (kosher supervisor - who is a kid himself not much older than them) comes running over to scold THEM for throwing food! He tells them they better pick it up.

Meanwhile Andy is laughing so hard his shoulders are shaking, and me and Rebecca Blumenthal are too, and we are laughing for what seems like forever.

Finally Rebecca says, "Dad, you are the coolest Dad ever. I love you."

It was a great moment.

__

All opinions my own.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dear Mr. President,

I did not want to write this letter.

For one thing, I am a civil servant, and I don't want to cause any trouble. For another, it's a heavy and upsetting topic, and I'd much rather kick back and relax on the weekend. Here's a third: I doubt my qualifications to speak to you. I'm not smart enough, not educated enough, and you have experts all around you, and updates 24/7/365. And finally, I am a Jew, so you might think that my agenda is only to help my people.

I will reach out to you anyway, Sir. In all these capacities, as the total person that I am. It is you who has the power and influence to fight back, and I believe the American people are waiting for you to do it.

Here is a little bit about me, Sir. My Hebrew name is Hadassah - born in 1971, the same year Starbucks was founded, on the Fast of Esther.

The Fast of Esther is associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim. It happened roughly 350 BCE, in Persia. Around that time, a Jewish man named Mordechai saved the king's life. His "reward" was the wrath of a royal advisor named Haman, who became enraged that Mordechai would not bow down to him.

Haman plotted against the Jews and almost succeeded in having them killed. But Mordechai's niece, Hadassah, interceded with the king, who was also her husband. Because of the way she handled it, the evil advisor was hanged.

Just like me, Hadassah was terrified to speak. She knew if she messed up what the consequences would be. So to bolster her merit, she asked the Jews to abstain from food for three days and pray. The Fast of Esther commemorates this.

It is in her honor, that I tell you the following story. Hopefully G-d will help me.

It's about a lesson a bedbug taught me. Or to be more specific, the existential threat posed to me by a bedbug. Which sheds light on the situation in which we find ourselves, with radical Islamic terrorism.

Exactly one year ago, my daughter woke me up in the middle of the night, screaming.

"Mommy, come here! Please! Wake up!"

I couldn't imagine what was making her scream like that and I came running into her room.

"Look! Look!"

She lifted up the sheet from her bed. At first, I couldn't tell what she was showing me.

"Is that dirt?" I said. It looked like the edge of the sheet had earth on it or something, like a lot of earth someone packed into the part where a fitted sheet gets tucked under the bed.

Then, the dirt started moving...independently.

"Oh my G-d," I said.

I didn't even know what a bedbug was. But it didn't take a genius to realize that our home had been invaded by thousands and thousands of bedbugs. And they were all over her bed.

All she saw at first was a single bedbug, crawling across the bed. But what lay beneath was an explosive nightmare of pestilence.

I thought I was so quick-thinking, grabbing that entire mattress and the sheet and taking everything downstairs. Back upstairs, I back-slapped and congratulated myself: "Well, we're done now, let's go to sleep."

But it wasn't over - not at all. It could have been over with pretty quickly, but I refused to admit that we had an infestation. And even when I did admit it, I refused to call in the big guns, i.e. a proper treatment company, and kept dealing with it "on my own."

Which of course, made everything worse.

By the time we finally got rid of them, we'd bought and discarded mattresses; washed and thrown out half our clothes; and spent a ton of money on two separate full treatments.

By the time I admitted how bad things were, we were on the verge of selling our apartment and starting over completely in another building.

That's what I need to tell you, Sir.

Radical Islamic terrorists really are an existential threat to this country. To every country that speaks in the name of freedom.

I know you want to handle things reasonably, and not get too dramatic. I know you believe we can win this thing by encouraging moderates to speak. That you don't believe in being direct and confrontational.

That's how I handled the bedbugs, at first. I didn't want to believe they were a threat; I didn't want to attack them full-on. I tried to use a "natural remedy."

But my efforts failed miserably. Until I went to war on the bugs, they kept on ruthlessly destroying me.

Radical Islamic terrorists are like bedbugs in every way. They mindlessly march forward hatefully, they multiply, they feed off of innocent people and they don't respond to anything except obliteration.

Mr. President, don't be like me with the bedbugs. I beg you, take the radical Islamic threat very seriously. You have a mighty gift of speech, expansive intelligence, the power of the pen and of the military, but most importantly you have the attention and respect of Congress and the people. Use these.

You know in your heart, Sir, that these people are an imminent threat to all we hold dear. They are not nice and reasonable and decent. All they want is to consume and to destroy - and they have no moral compass.

President Obama, in every generation there arises a threat like this. You have the power to take them out - please do it, with every weapon in your arsenal.

May G-d bless you and help you to do this.

Very respectfully,

Hadassah Miriam Rachel (Dannielle) Blumenthal

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All opinions my own.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015


"Radical Islamic" in quotes, because this is not true Islam, but rather a modern, manufactured, extremist and insane ideology that really exists to repudiate the lure of Western culture.
Focusing on these moronic types because they seem to be everywhere causing trouble in the world, whether it's knocking out Twitter feeds, kidnapping and raping women for sport, or cutting off people's heads as trophies.
Because they have targeted both America and Israel, the land of my birth and allegiance, and the land of my nation, which I love.
And because we can learn some very specific lessons from using them as an example of how the U.S. messes up when dealing with terrorists generally.
In this way: We are overly, slavishly, sickeningly polite, when a straight-on frontal attack is what's called for.
We think we are so smart, responding with "quiet" moves like sanctions and the like. We've become so politically correct about things, so Ivy-league educated, so postmodernist, so postcultural and postcolonialist, that we literally have lost sight of what is up and what is down.
It's very simple: You're not supposed to honor terrorists. You are supposed to kill them. They are not just "bad people," they are bad people on a mission to take away life, freedom, and humanity from everybody else.
The U.S. demonstrates flawed reasoning in dealing diplomatically with the fools who take the name of Islam in vain. They seriously believe that such idiots are worried about comics. They are not - believe me, they're not.
Religion for them is only a deception. They use it the same way they use women and little kids as human shields. Because they know you'll get scared to fight back - you'll run away.
A couple of thoughts about misplaced respect.
On Passover Jews read the Haggadah, which literally means "to tell." We tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we tell related stories and sing songs along the way.
Part of the service concerns the "four sons" who ask about the Jewish faith. There is the wise son, the simple son, the one who does not even know where to begin - and the rebellious one.
Re: the rebellious one - he is "wicked," and the father is to stand up and knock his teeth out.
For a long time this response bothered me. Surely the rebellious son is, deep inside, a very good child. Reach toward him, my instincts said, and perhaps he might be redeemable.
But the rabbis who wrote the Haggadah were smarter than me. They knew that there is a difference between questions asked out of curiosity, and daggers disguised as questions - pure hate.
The wicked child, even if this is a Jewish child, is the child that you must symbolically strike. The evil cannot run its mouth at the table, because it's only before long before the entire community is infected. Spirituality is delicate; it needs protection.
Here's another story.
The Torah tells of King Saul, who in ancient times was punished because he did not slaughter all the people of Amalek. Instead of listening to G-d, he showed mercy on the enemy.
Again, why the seeming cruelty? Why punish him for being a good guy, with a conscience?
The answer comes in another story about the same king. He was so jealous of his servant David, who eventually became king. Because David was the better warrior. And in his quest to murder David, and quench his jealous thirst, the king wound up killing an innocent town of Jewish priests.
So you see? When you follow your "gut instincts," or the fashionable thinking of the day, you may tell yourself it's smart and common sense. But it is also possible that you've lost your moral compass, and someone has to remind you of that - bring you back to Planet Earth.
I have no idea what the U.S. is thinking when it comes to terrorism. I don't know the story on the ground; I'm sure it's "much more complicated" than it seems on the surface. It always is, isn't it?
But there is one thing I know for sure. It is never a good idea to "respect" a terrorist, and it's just plan dumb to let them fool you into believing that they represent any kind of religion.
Sadly, some people are on this Earth just to do others harm.
And the appropriate response is to destroy them.
_____
All opinions my own. Photo credit: Johannes Grødem - Flickr: Day after Oslo bombing, via Wikimedia

That elusive, incredibly valuable quality we call a "leadership brand."
Really, what we mean is "charisma."
What is it? Who has it? How do you get it? Can it be taught, or bought? Or is it something you're born with?
As a little girl I used to watch Sunday morning political TV. I remember how the panel went at it on that show,The McLaughlin Group. And they would vote on the issues throughout the show, and at the end.
"Issue 1!" John McLaughlin, the host would say, and Eleanor Clift and John Buchanan would go at it.
"Issue 2!" then round and round.
Always McLaughlin would have the deciding vote, and always he'd be right on in my mind...because you know what? He was electable! Even though McLaughlin was a moderator, asking for the expert opinion of others, he was the real leader. He had that secret ingredient.
Very few people have true charisma, which is why so few are electable. In fact it is not something you can teach, buy or acquire. It is something you must be born with.
You know who has it? Which leader came to your mind when I asked? Yep, you guessed it - President Barack Obama. You can agree with his policies or disagree with them (and I am a super-supporter of Israel, so I've got a lot of concerns to be sure), you can criticize his performance on this stage or that, but it is undeniable that if the President shows up at your front door you are going to be elated.
When that doorbell rings you'll say, "Hello, Barry," as if you had known him all your life. Because he has the capacity to make you feel like a friend, and you'll get out there and play basketball with him even if you've never played.
Here's another leader who has it: former President Bill Clinton. Again, you may not agree with him; I'm not so old that I don't recall all the scandals that dogged him throughout his Administration. And I don't think we've seen the end of those. But similarly to President Obama, there is something about Mr. Clinton, when he shows up on TV, that makes you simply agree.
A third example, because not all leaders are Democrats: former President Reagan. Who did not laugh and enjoy Michael J. Fox's portrayal of Alex P. Keaton, the junior Republican wannabe who quoted all things Reagan to his former-hippie parents on Family Ties? It was Reagan whose charisma extended well past his own persona - he actually successfully branded the entire United States. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!" - what a priceless symbolic moment, and nobody else could have uttered those words in that way and generated such a level of patriotism.
We could go on here, and it could take all day. But the point is this: Very few people actually have any sort of charisma, much less the kind that would get them elected.
It's hard to admit that you're scruffy, unfunny and plain. But if you are, take a seat with the rest of us, and get on with your life and enjoy it.
Personal branding can take you very far. But the key is to amplify what it is that you have, not create whatever it is that you don't.
It's why women look better without an excess of makeup. We'd rather know the natural you, than have to find the real person among the layers.
___
All opinions my own. Photo by Connie Liegl / Flickr.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ridley Scott's "Exodus" may not be historically accurate on all counts. It is not supposed to be, and in changing the facts a little bit, it is extraordinarily effective. Whether you're Jewish or not it is impossible to escape the power of this film artistically, spiritually, and religiously.

Without giving away too much, the essence of the movie is Moshe's character. Christian Bale convincingly plays a man who is settled and happy in Egypt's royal palace at first, who thrashes and flails at the mere thought of being a Jew by birth. Yet by the end he finds ultimate meaning in leading the people - "my people" he now says - to the Promised Land.

We are introduced to G-d through the person of a child. Bale argues with Him forcefully and repeatedly throughout the movie: We're supposed to understand that Moshe has his own mind, wants others to do the same, and comes to G-d out of his own choosing.

G-d honors this, but He says to Moshe - don't write the Ten Commandments unless we're on the same page.

Moshe nods understanding and writes them.

The leader is worried about the prospects of the Jewish people. "What will happen when they're not running anymore?" he asks. Meaning, what will happen when there are "two Jews and three opinions," when the people are fractured. How will they be saved again?

That, right there, is such a powerful message of the movie and for Israel its main point.

The real threat to Israel's national security is the failure to acknowledge the Jewish religion as its foundation - to serve G-d the way we have been asked to.

Just as the Jews were liberated from Egypt through a series of miracles, we can only hope to obtain and retain the Promised Land with wildly out-of-proportion G-dly intervention and support.

But we've forgotten. We articulate the promise of the land to us, but we repudiate the rules of its giver.

Which are, that Israel it is a Holy Land and we Jews are entitled to it only in accordance with the tenets of observance to the faith.

Over and over again throughout our national history, G-d has hit the "eject" button specifically because we disgraced His name. Our holy Temples were destroyed as well, because we disgraced our kinship through baseless hatred to each other.

When we serve, we will be blessed, and when we don't we will be punished accordingly.

It is true, the modern State of Israel was formed by people who were not religious. In a series of miracles, that continue on to this day. I believe that G-d wants the Jews to settle it. But we have taken the liberty we've been given too far. With the arrogance of thinking we can totally disregard our Maker in the process, and just do things the way we want.

You can't separate Zionism from Judaism. The two are related, they are one and the same, they are integral.

When you realize this, it becomes clear that the enemy is really ourselves. It's the ego which says we are smarter than G-d, that the Torah is obsolete, and that we can make up our own laws to supersede His.

But it's not - and we can't.

Our failure to serve in the proper way, to honor the land's essential identity, is the root of the strength of the terrorists - those who seek to eliminate and eradicate the Jewish state and blow its people sky-high.

The battles appear to be happening on Earth, but they are really taking place in Heaven. As the representatives of our physical enemies say: "The Jews are not worthy of the Land," because we refuse to adopt a theocratic model of governance while they (so they say) are willing to.

If we would only humble ourselves and submit as a nation to the One G-d. If we would only, even in concept, admit that the Torah is the governing law of the land. If we would only honor spiritual leaders and the study of Torah instead of mocking them and spitting on it as a useless waste of time as versus military service and industrial work.

This may be very hard to comprehend, but in a sense Israel's national enemies are its best friends, because they remind us who we really are, when it is oh so very tempting to forget.

In the movie the Pharoah asks Moshe how his G-d can be a "baby killer." It reminded me of the war in Gaza last summer, when the terrorists (as usual) turned on their own people and then blamed the Jews and Israelis for attacking them. They are masters of this propaganda.

There are time when religious service calls you to pain, torture and death. It is extremely hard to understand. But we waste too much time deconstructing G-d's ways, too much time relying on our own ideas of right and wrong, as well as worrying about what the rest of the world thinks.

One thing I do know: There are enough deadly nuclear weapons pointed every which way in the world. A military war is worse than fruitless. It is absolutely crazy to play a game of chicken and tell yourself that G-d will really save you in the end. Why does it have to get that far?

If only we would bend our necks and accept the yoke of G-d. Take just a step in that direction, and re-establish Israel as a Jewish State in service of the One.

That is the real task which G-d has set for us. And strangely it seems easier for us to fight a bloody war than to submit to His supreme power over the world, over our lives and over the Land.

It is hard to submit, though. It's hard for me. I understand.

May G-d mercifully lead us to do the right thing, because we are a nation weak in our ways. May He help us to accept the yoke of nationhood once again, so that He delivers us from strife and re-establishes peace on Earth and in the Jewish national homeland, with a single snap of His fingers.

___

All opinions my own.