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The Anthropologist of Shul

My running joke is that it's my "secular New Year's resolution" to go to synagogue with the family. 

Of course it is easy to make this kind of resolution when a kabbalist tells your father that your ancestors on the Other Side are "pleading" with you "to come back to the fold."

And you get little reminders here and there in the form of seeing 6:13 on the clock at opportune moments - such as just before the Sabbath or when you break it.

It might seem like I've suddenly turned over this gigantic new leaf and embraced total religious observance fully, completely and in what you might think of as the extreme. However the kabbalist specifically said that I should take it slow, and I am taking it slow. 

I'd rather do baby steps and stand in each concrete movement forward for a good long while before attempting something else.

Just one less sin...just one less sin.

Shul has been the hardest step for me to take. Going to shul with the family was the request.

The other two areas are emotionally and practically easier somehow. I definitely resist full observance at the moment, but cognitively I can imagine the point at which I might get there.
  • Kosher - it makes conceptual sense to keep the body holy, and is not embarrassing. Nobody really observes if I make a blessing on my food, or what I choose to eat. (Although my workmates have noticed that I show up at lunch with tea and a bag of potato chips now.)
  • Shabbos - feels so healthy spiritually, emotionally and physically. It does good things for the family and we're all in it together. When it gets to be too much - and let me tell you that 24 hours with no computer is most definitely still too much for me - I read on the computer. But no writing, no posting. 
Shul is more of a challenge though. I just don't want to go...don't want to be reminded that I'm not "good enough," don't want to be confronted by fully observant people. I imagine what they think of me, a phony or lazy or some other adjective. I tell myself that only men are obligated to go, so technically it's not even required. 

But I'm going to make myself get up and go, with the family, as instructed. Even if it's half an hour.

Today I went and precisely after half an hour, though I didn't look at the clock, it proved too much for me. I hustled out of there and stood in the lobby. There were people I didn't know milling all around.

Crazy how you can live in a town for fifteen years of your life, call yourself Jewish and even somewhat religious, and literally not know anybody.

It wasn't as bad as I feared it would be. I introduced myself to several people. A few were cold and unfriendly, frankly...just as I had feared. But I didn't die: Another was kind, and warm and friendly. And I saw a couple of other acquaintances, who took the time to talk to me and wish me well.

To calm myself down, because I waited there for my husband for a while, I told myself I was the "anthropologist of shul," a tactic once recommended by a career counselor as a way of acclimating to a new agency. 

I noticed that there were all types of people in the synagogue that day. Some of them from America, some not. Some hyperactive, some calm. Some super-observant in dress, others moderate. Some talking about weddings, others about police brutality and civil rights, others bouncing their babies. Some very ill, and grateful not to be laying in a hospital bed or falling to the floor in a spasm.

We went to the kiddush and stood there. "It was a really nice service," my husband said. "I'm surprised you left there so early. Today it was lots of singing." 

It was true, they had a guest rabbi and the style of the service was more high-energy, more full of emotion. I loved how they sang to the Torah and danced in front of the Ark. I could really feel it.

I  felt bad, and admitted: "I was claustrophobic after half an hour, like always."

"I'm surprised."

"I was standing in the front row," I said. "There were no seats in the back. I felt smushed."


We stood there drinking orange soda.

"It's a nice synagogue," he said after a couple of minutes had elapsed. "A lot of nice people here."

I looked around at the group. It turned out that I did know a few people, after all. I saw the faces of those who were at his father's (may he rest in peace) funeral. Who stood in the cold on a Friday afternoon, made a minyan and selflessly shoveled the dirt over the casket.

"Yeah," I said. "It is. They are."

"You want to go?"


We walked out the exit and someone waved goodbye to us.

Maybe we don't ever get over our fears, our hangups and bad memories. But we go forward, we have to, right?

I understood then what my aunt said to me when we spoke on the phone this week.

"As you become more religious, don't go backward in time. Start completely fresh, like a child."


All opinions my own.

No, Government Branding Is Not A $$ Waste

Look...I totally get that you, the public are sick of us in the government wasting your money. I am a Libertarian, for crying out loud!
But when it comes to spending money on brand, I have to tell you, you're worrying about the wrong thing.
This is not to say we should throw the money out the window. I'm pretty well aware of the articles slamming the tens of millions of dollars we spend on slick graphic productions. I'm an anti-propaganda, open government advocate. And I worked as a brand consultant - you, the taxpayer most certainly can get soaked.
It's also not to say we should do branding wrong. The reality is that most organizations, government or not, still think of a brand as a pretty little logo. Yeah, sure they might have a brand reference handbook, a statement of cultural values, and other trinkets of goodwill.
But real branding is so much deeper than all of those things. So much more integrated. I feel like the Europeans understand that much better than we do here in America. (Although to be fair, there are some in the U.S. who have long understood.) Already ten years ago I read with appreciation about a more holistic approach: looking at the entire business as the brand, the critical role of employee communications, aligning the brand with corporate social responsibility, and so on.
The U.S. federal government has become much more brand-savvy. But it has not yet absorbed the fundamental basics of branding, which have much more to do with organizational development, frankly, than marketing.
We need to do better. But we will not do better without a significant, significant investment in the effort. It comes down to money, but it's not really about the money - in the end one actually saves on needless, duplicative and confusing expenditures.
I started out my branding career at Young & Rubicam, working in the Brand Futures Group (later The Intelligence Factory). That was all about trendspotting; it was all about consumer research, branding to the outside. Later, I learned the more holistic approach at The Brand Consultancy, as one of their consultants in Washington, D.C., and as the head of its international Institute for Brand Leadership. 
What they taught me at TBC, and what I learned from the experts at the IBL, is so very simple and so basic, but let's go ahead and shout it from the rooftops just in case.
In the government we promise to do so many things. But the most fundamental promise we make is to work on behalf of the taxpayer. We owe the American public a system that works, that is efficient, that is lean, that is fruitful, that serves them when and where and how they need it. We owe them a system that does not obey our stovepipes but rather conforms to the way they think and to what they need from a rationally ordered and civil society.
It would be great if one person alone could write a manifesto and have that transform the entire way that government works. But the reality is that to achieve a great brand you have to bring in resources, you have to work among the people on a massive scale and for a sustained period of time. You can never let up.
One final thought here...I'm currently addicted to the new show "Marco Polo" on Netflix. The show portrays Genghis Khan, how he leads, who he is, what he says in order to motivate the hordes to ride into battle and basically get their heads chopped off.
Genghis Khan, at least as he is portrayed in the show, is an amazing leader and a builder of the Mongol brand, although one might not naturally think of it that way. Every word he utters, every step he takes, every breath he breathes is about the higher order of the Mongolian people - their identity, their values, their meaning as a people. He welcomes all religions into the kingdom but tells his son, "You will lead as a Mongol and not as a Chinese man, or I will kill you myself."
In Judaism it is the religious custom to mourn a person who marries outside the faith - as if they had died. It is seemingly illogical to do this, right? After all, it splits up the family, causes rifts, and the Jewish person can and often does maintain their faith separately.
But there is a point to this belief, as unpopular as that may be: Religious observance is part of a total and holistic system. It is a brand. 
You can't pick and choose from among the fundamentals and still be in keeping with the brand, any more than you could pick apart the Starbucks mermaid and still call it authentic.
The lack of understanding as to what true branding is, is the reason why so much money has been wasted on so-called branding. It's why the public distrusts government efforts in this direction. And it's a shame, because we need to do a better job of making promises and keeping them.
All opinions my own. Photo by via Flickr.

"Save Penina's Children's Charity" - A Jewish Tragedy On Many Levels

So sad tonight to be writing this blog. It's actually painful to put my fingers to the keyboard.

Today an anonymous letter arrived in the mail. Related to my earlier blog on Pearl Perry Reich, it asked me to look into a supposed charity she promotes on her website. From what I can tell, this organization is run by her boyfriend, Shauli Grossman.

The letter asked me to help prevent a potential fraud perpetrated by Ms. Reich. But it seemed the underlying complaint also had to do with her open rebellion against Judaism, and specifically her immodesty.

I did go to check out her website, the charity, etc. and here is the information I could find. If any of it is wrong, please tell me.

  • Ms. Reich runs a website where she sells jewelry. There is a style blog on the site.
  • The same site has a tab that links to a supposed charity, "Save Penina's Children," which is supposedly no longer about her own children but more generally about protecting the right of parents and children to be together despite family religious disagreements. The charity page also has a blog.
  • I cannot find this organization in the IRS directory of tax-exempt organizations.

There are so many tragedies here.

  • It is tragic that the religious community could not find a way to retain and harness the talents of this obviously creative and caring person, and her boyfriend.
  • It is tragic that a dispute such as this had to go public and degenerate to such a level.
  • It is tragic that the children should be confused and hurt by the divorce, the fighting, and the different messages about religion.
  • It is tragic that Ms. Reich and her boyfriend did not receive more secular education. I can tell from the blog how much potential is there.
  • It is tragic that Ms. Reich's good intentions are going bad with the site. I don't believe she's trying to cheat anyone. I think she just doesn't know what she's doing.
May G-d bless and protect this woman, her boyfriend, and the Jewish community and help us find healing and peace. May He end the needless and baseless hatred that keeps us in exile.


All opinions my own.

Crisis PR: Alan Dershowitz

As a young person I thought about becoming a lawyer. One of the reasons was Alan Dershowitz. He was a textbook example of a smart Jewish kid who made a difference with his brilliant mind. My mother knew him as "Dershy," and though I'd never met him, it was almost like he was a part of our larger family.

As time went on, I chose another path and stopped following Dershowitz's career. But on the periphery I was always aware that he was a staunch defender of Israel. I was glad to have someone that smart on Israel's side, given the amount of anti-Zionism out there both among non-Jews and the Jewish community, frankly.

At some point I found out that Dershowitz defended a number of men who victimized women of many ages. Claus von Bulow, OJ Simpson, the Hasidic rabbi-pedophile Boruch Lebovitz, and more recently the pedophile pimp Jeffrey Epstein.

That sort of made me sick. The pattern of it.

Everyone is entitled to a defense in this country. That's what makes this country free. But there is something that bothers me about Dershowitz, who also wrote a book called "The Abuse Excuse." It's more than just the arrogance he clearly displays.

Somewhere, there is a line between doing your job and personally sympathizing for clients who are actually evil people. There is a line between not indulging victim behavior and insensitivity or even brutality towards those who have been victimized. I could be wrong, but I feel like Dershowitz crosses that line. Maybe in his mind.

Today he stands accused of sex with a minor, one of the victims of his client Jeffrey Epstein. As a Jew I do not want these accusations to be true. Forget that it will fuel the already raging anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism out there. It has to do with the fact that we are all one people, and what hurts one of us hurts everyone.

Did he do it? I don't know. I think he likes his station in life, and wouldn't do anything to threaten that. It seems unlikely that he would be so stupid. But well-respected people have been known to do stupid things that jeopardize their careers.

Arrogant people in particular are tripped up by their fantasies of infallibility.

If he is guilty, there is a videotape somewhere in Epstein's house, and legal wranglings aside, I believe that it will come out. The accuser is also writing a book; I don't know why she would pick Dershowitz to accuse, and I don't believe that sexual assault victims tend to fabricate accusations.

So...there we are.

Many have come to Dershowitz's defense, because of his efforts to support Israel. To me, the one has nothing to do with the other and in fact Dershowitz is harming Israel's cause right now by leaning on those loyalties.

Until he is cleared, his brand tarnishes the Israel brand and he really ought to step away from the whole Middle East fray.

In fact, from a personal branding point of view, it was probably not a good move to spend his career defending horrible people and then try to take on Israel's cause. Pedophiles and wife-beaters don't mix with the Holy Land.

Looking back on the past few days, because it's only been a couple of days since the story broke, I do think Dershowitz could have avoided this entire whirlwind. Most people would be predisposed to think him innocent. He could have acted normal - expressed sympathy for the victim, which she deserves, and let competent professionals advise him as to the right course of action.

But he acted arrogant, like a jackass, frankly. Threatening the accuser's attorneys, lambasting her as a liar, hastily scribbling an affidavit, and generally going over the top.

Here are two cents from from someone who cares about victim's rights, the reputation of Jewish people, the unity of the Jewish community, and the welfare of Israel. My personal opinion only.

Mr. Dershowitz, you seem like a bully. Rather than using your many contacts and legal knowledge to blanket the system with an attack on the victim and all who have represented her, back off. File whatever affidavits you need to file, but show some respect, too. This girl has suffered - your client took away her childhood. He probably destroyed her life.

Forget that you're a great lawyer. Now is the time to be a mensch.


All opinions my own.

"You Destroy Me, Or I'll Destroy You"

How much would you pay for your top competitors' playbook?
You can't even imagine getting your hands on it.
But if you could, you'd counter their every strategy.
It is routine for service professionals to give this kind of counsel. 
  • Lawyers prepare the opposing case. Behind closed doors, if they're defense, they fight like dogs for the prosecution. 
  • Doctors plot the likely course of the disease. They study the X-ray carefully, peer at the MRI, focusing on the invader's killer path. 
  • Military leaders probe with great depth the mind of the enemy. Study their weapons. Scope out the terrain. 
  • Football coaches know the strengths of the other team and each and every one of its players. 
  • Crisis communications advisers can spew forth in three seconds what the world likely thinks of their clients.

But not everyone is equally willing to listen. The arrogant ones, especially. "We (meaning 'I') don't have time," they say, "it's unnecessary and negative."
It isn't about the time, or the money, or the attitude. It's the fear of seeming imperfect, which leads them to falsely shout that they're fine:
"We don't waste time chasing others. Let's focus on leading ourselves." 
I bring up this topic because of a line in this book I had the chance to read over vacation, "Satan: An Autobiography."
It's an unusually titled book with an incredibly readable style. And the plot is equally compelling: an as-told-to from the perspective of the common enemy of humankind. He is the ultimate adversary of our collective business, which is staying alive and healthy and productive. 
He exists to tempt us - to bring us down.
What's amazing about this book is that the narrator tells us exactly how he does it. It is so easy, he says - all he has to do is puff up our egos. Which, in the end, aren't even who we really are. Instead the ego is a manifestation of him.
Our greatest fear, he notes, is that we will lose everything we have. We will lose our money and our homes, the people we love, our health, the respect of name it, if you can fear it, it's going to be taken.
This narrator, our enemy, literally reads to us from his own playbook. He says, you will lose all of these things. Unless you destroy me first. And then you will find peace, and I won't have to literally destroy you.
If you don't kill your ego, the devil says, I'm going to infiltrate your mind and mess you up real good. I'm gonna make you so stupid and greedy that you bring yourself down, and down hard, in the end.
* * * 
Yesterday we had shiva on the occasion of my father-in-law's passing. This is the Jewish ritual where people come to your home and comfort you for the loss. 
My father-in-law was not a trifling man, he was a holy man and I do not say this word lightly. He was completely selfless, he didn't know the meaning of the word ego, and in his life he gave and gave until he literally collapsed. 
Shiva goes on for hours and you wind up talking about other things.
One of the topics was the recent scandal of the D.C. rabbi arrested for peeping on women in the ritual bath.
[Let me stop here and say that 2014 was a horrible year in terms of men I respected being accused of sexual assault, whether it was Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, or this rabbi. And 2015 is not looking much better.]
Someone silenced the room with this remark: "What on earth would motivate someone to be a peeping Tom? I mean, couldn't you just go see a stripper?"
It was a valid question. A rabbi is the spiritual center of the community. Everybody respects him. Why would such a person destroy himself over something so incredibly stupid?
And someone else chimed in. "Someone who is incredibly arrogant. Who is always right, and nobody else."
Sometimes I reflect on this rabbi, who I did not know personally but who was, truly, venerated here in D.C. He converted my friend, who spoke so highly of him. His synagogue is devastated, decimated, trying to go on after this nuclear bomb of a scandal. His wife got up and walked out.
"You can't make this stuff up," said the first one. "It's something right out of a novel."
It's a painful novel, an unnecessary novel, a novel that never wanted to be written. Just like the one about billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who could have been remembered for helping poor young women instead of enslaving them. 
* * * 
My great-grandfather, Rabbi Dovid Garfinkel, was famous for his pessimistic saying: "Just don't make the world worse."
In my life I never understood how you could have this type of attitude. Why not tell people to make the world a better place?
Looking at the downfall of so many brilliant people carried away by their arrogance, I think I understand what he was saying. 
You will be tempted to "save the world" out of ego, not out of true greatness. Know that in advance, and don't think you're so great. Understand this represents your destructive capacity, and focus mostly on restraining yourself. 
If you do this, there is no limit to the true and infinite excellence you can achieve.
Photo credit: Adriel Hampton / Flickr. All opinions my own.

Bookmark This: "Century of the Self"

Just ran across this amazing 4-part BBC series available completely free on Vimeo. It is a study of the use of Freudian theory for the purpose of propaganda.

You can also see it as a series of 16 shorter clips on YouTube.

I really like the way Maria Popova summarizes the show in her weekly (free and excellent) newsletter BrainPickings:
" utterly fascinating four-part probe into the depths of consumerism and democracy. Though it focuses primarily on how those in power have used Freud’s theories to manipulate public opinion and perception, the series delves into the richest and most profound layers of 20th century culture, from the hidden mechanisms of advertising to the civil rights movement to the inner workings of political belief systems — all whilst managing to avoid the trap of conspiracy-theorism with incredible elegance and dexterity." 
"...reminiscent of Naomi Klein’s No Logo in its relentless investigation of the crafting of consumer culture, with all its whims and whimsy, only layered on top of the complex political, psychological and sociocultural forces that shaped it."
The series is worth viewing for students of psychoanalytic theory (obviously), sociology, mass communications, psychoanalytic theory, public relations, American history, and the Holocaust. I'm going to take the time. I hope that you will do the same and let me know what you think.

H/T to Infowars for sharing.

All opinions my own. No endorsement expressed or implied.

How You Treat Me When The Chips Are Down

"She has a million excuses for not wanting to get together with me," she said.
"Maybe she's actually busy," I replied.
"'s the same pattern, over and over again. When the chips are down, she's never there."
Because they've studied marketing, so many marketers are completely blind to Branding 101.
And the axiom: Our favorite brands are like our friends. There for us in bad times, not just sometimes but primarily.
I'll tell you a secret: American Airlines sucks. And if I have any choice about it, I'll fly JetBlue even if the fare is higher.
Here's why: Every single flight with JetBlue is like hanging out with your friends. On American you feel like a prisoner doing jail time.
Let's start with the employees, because they are the single most important part of every brand equation. JetBlue employees joke around. They give you PopChips and a drink. You get a TV for the duration of the flight. It's delightful to be on board - it's something to look forward to. Even if you're having the crappiest possible day of your life, a JetBlue flight is guaranteed to cheer you up.
On the other hand, American's staff looks and acts absolutely miserable. If you walk onto the flight depressed, the best you can hope for is to fall asleep until the very minute it's over.
I remember the time we landed in DC from Florida. The flight attendant said, "We are now landing" and then walked up and down the aisles, slamming the overhead bins loudly over our heads. It was so loud the passengers sat up like birds startled out of their nests: "WTF is going on?"
Another time, more recently, we traveled on Christmas Eve and the airline was so disorganized they changed the gate just before departure. We wound up at a "combined gate" where you had to either go left for Santa Fe (us) or right for El Paso. No less than three times I had to get up and figure out if we were in the right place, and the passengers were furious.
"Don't say anything too loud," someone warned me. "They will kick you off the flight."
I heard someone say, "Don't complain too loud or they will kick you off the flight."
There were the airline representatives, standing at the microphone reading out instructions. On top of the stupid gate arrangements, as we boarded they told us we'd have to "give them" our carry-ons - as in, no receipt whatsoever.
"I'm not giving you my bag," I said fearfully. I could just imagine showing up in snowy Santa Fe and being told they'd lost my stuff, or maybe even denying they ever received it, because - you guessed it - I had no receipt.
It was American's fault not to explain in advance that the plane to Santa Fe would be small, and we'd have to check our things. They could have supported their staff on communicating the gate change, so that the customers weren't milling around in the frustrated, fearful state they were.
I sat there and felt angry. It's 2015, they are getting tons of money from the customer, and they cannot get their shit together? They leave their brand ambassadors twisting in the wind, to be eaten by us starving wolves?
The only explanation: They may market themselves in whatever way, but whoever is in charge doesn't know the first thing about branding.
Life is full of big and little hassles. The stings are ameliorated a bit by the brands that cheer me up along the way.
Being my friend is the magic secret. Forget about airlines, which you fly because you have to. Think about the stores you visit "just for fun," even when there's nothing in particular you want to get. Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Nordstrom, Apple.
In Santa Fe we went to Kadima Levana's Oxygen Healing Bar. We didn't need anything, but we wound up staying for for hours. Kadima became a real friend, that is, we sat and talked with her and her family about important things, and nothing at all. She gave us her time and her ear, and she said "you'll pay me whatever you feel you can or need to." She said, "I want to build a community, and I hope you come back just to sit here."
Kadima has never been to a marketing class, and her beautiful hand-crafted space, full of homemade art, hand-crafted local remedies and soothing herbal drinks is my destination of choice in Santa Fe. (Here's a link to her site.)
Sometimes we hang out with people we don't like, just because we have to. Those companies aren't real brands.
Most of the time, we run toward people who make us feel welcome, for no reason at all than that we exist.
If you're building a brand, make your foundation on empathy and kindness. Make friendship your founding principle.
Photo by Mark Seymour via Flickr. All opinions my own.