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Showing posts from July, 2017

In Judaism, Missing The Forest For The Trees

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“If someone is studying Torah and fails to hear a baby’s cry, there is something very wrong with his learning.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, z”l, founder of Chabad, considered the largest Jewish religious organization in the world, whose primary purpose is outreach. Read the story behind the quote here. Being a Jew is not something you can run away from.

You can trust me on that, because when I was a kid there was nothing I wanted more.

“No, no, no, I’m not a Jew, I’m a person,” I screamed, not to others but to myself in my own head. I hated the concept of being forced into the box, or was it the cattle car, where so many others had died.

“I’m a person!”

The educator Rabbi Manis Friedman (who happens to be a Chabad rabbi himself) gives a good talk on this.

Bottom line is, if you’re a Jew, you’re a Jew, regardless.

There’s no such thing as a “religious” Jew or an “unreligious” one.

There’s only how many commandments you keep.

Or as he puts it, “The Torah wasn’t given to Orthodox Jew…

Notes From The Great Kashrus Experiment

Funny how things come full circle.

I grew up in a kosher home and struggled with a more liberal definition of what I could eat.
I remember the first time I ate pizza from "the outside." It "tasted" so good to be "free," but you know what it wasn't even good! (Ben Yehuda pizza fresh from the oven - WOW!)
So my kids grew up in a kosher home, but we weren't "fanatical about hechshers" if the ingredients were kosher. We ate out, just kept it vegetarian and no trafe fish.
Of course all this hassle is partly because outside NY/NJ your kosher choices are limited. Super limited. But it's also a bit of rebellion.
Now it seems worthwhile to keep more strict kashrut at home. So that my kids can eat with us.
Oh and also because my daughter Rebecca said to me, flat out, "I don't want to hear about any more '613s' unless you do something to be more religious." 
In the big scheme of things, what exactly is so hard about labeling one …

Anxiety About Conflict Brings About Conflict

My subconscious belief has always been that conflict is a monster. A hideous monster. One that we should avoid at all costs. 
So that the moment any hint of conflict appears, we must make every effort to get rid of it.
A further hidden belief was that conflict is so intolerable, so awful, that we must surface it immediately the moment any hint of it appears.
That by surfacing it, we would somehow inevitably "discuss" it and "negotiate" it and finally, in the end, make it go away.
To operate your life in such a manner is of course extremely dangerous.
Not all conflict must be articulated!
You have to pick your battles.
Reminds me of a story - one time, a long time ago, I was walking home (this was in the Bronx) and passed a gang of young teens roaming around the street, yelling and fighting and generally making trouble. 
Of course, conflict is intolerable, right? (At this point you are allowed to start shaking your head...) So I started to walk up to this gang, prepared to …

Left Needs Right. Both Need Civil Servants.

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A post like this should begin with a clear articulation of who you are and what kind of bias you’re bringing to the discussion.

So let me put it out there, briefly: Libertarian; MAGA; civil servant. (Of course, all opinions are my own…yada, yada, yada.)
I vocally support President Trump online, which frequently leads to responses like this:
“TRUMP MUST GO.” (Facebook)  “How far does he have to go until u say enough is enough? Hes a sexist, lying, transphobic, anti Muslim idiot. WHAT MORE EVIDENCE DO YOU NEED.” (Twitter) Do I have to agree with every single thing that other people post? Do they have to agree with me? Of course not.

The free and open exchange of ideas is what made America great in the first place. And attempts to take away that freedom of speech — which regularly occur in every organized group known to humankind — never end well.

In a healthy society, robust debate promotes advancement in every respect. So we need more than just stressed-out tolerance; we actually nee…

Nobody Has Time For Your Nonsense

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I’ve heard a lot of excuses for bad communication in my life. (Branding, communication, public relations, marketing….call it what you want, it all comes down to the same thing.)
The bottom line is this. If you’re paying another human being, or a group of human beings, to make words and pictures and moving digital things on your behalf — to make you look good — then it does not behoove you to dismiss the expertise of those very people. 
Because the people out there, you know, the great unwashed masses, they don’t care about your excuses or why you couldn’t get past yourself to do the right thing.
And when it comes to communication, that thing is always to express the totality of the organization. 
The good, the bad, and the ugly, from the fun and fluffy ribbon-cuttings to the boring, incomprehensible financial disclosures.
So if you are saying any of the following things to your communicators, either expressly or implicitly, you might want to reconsider the utility to your organizatio…

Taxpayer-Funded Email

According to research cited in The Washington Post last year, office workers spend an average of 4.1 hours checking email every day. That's half the workday!
Citing a different study, the article states that the average employee absorbed no less than 90 incoming emails per day in 2016.
In my book, email is a productivity-killer, particularly in the federal workplace, for a few reasons: You're expected to respond to incoming inquiries right away. The capacity to take time out to reflect is blocked, and strategic thinking is frequently interrupted. It wastes time as there are frequently too many people on the To: and Cc: lines.Due to the impossibility of reading body language, minor misunderstandings are magnified by our imaginations.The time it takes to resolve a matter balloons as inquiries sit on someone's desk rather than being discussed, researched and resolved.
If we stopped relying so much on email, we could re-allocate our time and money: We could spend more time brainsto…

What The Rebbe Taught Me

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I was five years old and we lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. The year was 1976.

My father wouldn’t stand up for the photo of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z”l. It was a practice the local Chabad community had adopted. My father said it was idol worship; he was right.

But I was a disciple of the Rebbe.

Not in the way that the true Chabadniks were, okay? I didn’t go to one of their schools. and I wasn’t fully religious, even back then. Always I held a part of me in reserve. I’ve always felt, “What I do with religion is my choice; I will not be a robot.”

We lived in a townhouse apartment and my best friend lived across the way, in an identical brown brick structure that was nauseatingly bland.

I remember this friend with great joy. Her family was lovely. My mother was friends with her mother and my dad was friends with her dad. They were true disciples.

The thing about Chabad is they’re relentlessly positive. They keep Judaism authentically. They don’t push you to do what you don’t …

The Most Hated Job In Government

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In an uncharacteristically direct comment, my friend asked, somewhat rhetorically:

"The government does not need PR people at all, do they?"

"What do you mean by that?" I replied.

"Just give out the information," said my friend. "Don't pay people to lie."

It's common to hear (I hear it all the time) that civil servants are lazy, overpaid and incompetent.

And when it comes to government public affairs specialists, there is an accompanying stereotype. All of us, the lot of us, are not only lazy, overpaid and incompetent, but also a gang of bought-and-paid for, lying propagandists.

Since PR has such a sleazy reputation, it's inevitable that people don't like PR people very much, and the anger is magnified on social media:
"Shill" is the derogatory term used to describe an individual, paid or sponsored (e.g. an intelligence agent) who solely represents one side of the story. "Astroturfing" is the derogatory term …

Reclaiming My Right To Wear Nice Shoes

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It took me a long time to get to this place.

When I was a little girl, my family atmosphere was fairly flooded with a heavy and toxic cloud of pain, that felt a lot to me like shame.

I never was sure what exactly we’d done wrong. But there sure did feel like something.

My father struggled with the clothing he wore to work. He dressed like…well, like someone who was born in Eastern Europe, had been raised by Hasidim and adopted a semi-American look.

He wears a very standard outfit of dark dress pants, white shirt and tie.

People used to joke “hey Alex, can’t you relax?” and the answer, pretty much, was no, never although I don’t recall him saying that out loud.

His closet is stacked neatly with white shirts, one on top of the other, dry-cleaned and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

My mother did not like to get dressed up.

For her, it was an aversion.

But she took great pride in me. She did.

And she took me constantly shopping.

When I was a little girl, my mother, my grandmothers, …

Blame The System, Not The Person (Usually)

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How can you manage employees effectively, meaning that they deliver results? This question was posed to a broad audience. Here is the answer I shared.

Based on my experience as a supervisor, I begin with the assumption that failure to be productive at work is generally **not** the fault of the employee but rather reflects a flaw in the system. Examples of systemic flaws include a poorly functioning technology, a stovepipe that creates red tape, and yes, a corporate culture that excessively punishes trivial mistakes.

That said, as we all know, we can't just sit around and wait for the perfect system to emerge. So in my work with employees I try to figure out how we can be productive given the limitations that exist.

Through trial and error (nice way of saying I freely admit I have messed up at this at times!!!), I have found that there are two other things I can do to make a difference.

--The first is to make sure that my expectations are very clear and very realistic. (This is my pers…

Why I Don't Believe In Goals

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All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord Of The Rings I had an unsettling interchange with my daughter the other day.  She was trying to decide between two apartments and had drawn up a list of pros and cons for each.
When she was done, she showed me the list and asked me if I agreed with her assessment.
“Yes, this makes a lot of sense,” I said. And it did.
And then she turned her face to look at me.
She looked at me intently.
“Mom, have you achieved your goals in life?”
Not an especially startling question.
Startling nevertheless in the way it makes you think.
All at once, time collapsed.
And I found myself thinking over 46 years on this earth, in the space of about 3 seconds.
“No.”
I had to be hone…