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Why It's Hard To Do Employee Interviews Well

Awhile back, Steve Crescenzo came up with the idea of the “C.R.A.P. Awards” to designate worthless employee communication that says nothing, means nothing, and interests no one. (This article is worth a read.) A couple of problems:

#1: Getting approval
  • Social media is simple and reductive. Subject matter experts think in complex terms and prefer to have all the technical angles of their work represented.
  • What the public finds interesting about employees, may actually be offensive to them. 
#2: Sensitive or confidential material
  • A lot of the interesting stuff about what people do cannot be shared with the public
  • Stereotypes abound about government/corporate secretiveness, so content that purports to "reveal" may seem like propaganda.
A better approach might be to engage the external public with your mission, using techniques you can actually execute on social media without too much hassle. These ideas are adapted from the excellent infographic now posted at Contently:

#1: Give people an understanding of your mission in the context of what they already know.

Take a picture of something or someone you work with, and tie it to a day or topic of broad interest.
#2: Give people a chance to take a photo of themselves in the context of your mission.

Ask the public to take photos of themselves interacting with you, with hashtags. The purpose is different than what’s illustrated here though – instead of expecting praise you should expect a lot of complaints. Overall the purpose is to connect and build trust – so the fact that anyone takes the time is actually OK.

#3: Give people something to do that relates to your mission.

Put the public into your mission by giving them something to customize and post.
Photo by Scurzuzu (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Why Zionism Is Continually Under Siege

Zionism is incomplete without the Jewish religion: The Torah teaches us that if we don't deserve the land, we will get kicked out. The problem is, any prescriptive statement of any kind is automatically rejected because we are first and foremost a critically thinking people and we value disagreement. 

On the ground, the not-very-workable solution has been unwinnable theological debates about what "the Jewish state" means. 

Failing the resolution of those, we focus instead on common ground: the easily unifying matter of survival. 

Above it we construct an accompanying narrative of freedom, empowerment, civil rights, inclusion. 

But the human systems that have been made up to establish a civil state don't work fully. Precisely because they're human-made, when they need to tie back meaningfully to the Torah - meaning, Divine decree. 

In other words the Constitution of Israel is simply the Torah. And the truth is it ought to be a theologically-based state, although how that is implemented would require a lot of discussion. 

We didn't want to do that or we weren't able to. And so we find ourselves in a mess today. Where major issues pertaining to the Land's administration are decided through a civil political system, rather than by unifying under religious law. (Again, which is subject to interpretation.)

This is the problem when you try to get things done without truly grappling with the major overarching "big picture" questions. You avoid certain topics, and your enemies gladly take them up and use them against you. As in the multitudinous array of lies and propaganda hurled at the Jewish people and the State of Israel - deception, manipulation and smear tactics of every kind.

Why does G-d not defend us? How can this type of thing go on?

I think it goes back to why we got exiled from the Land on the first place. We learn from our rabbis that the reason was not a failure to keep the Sabbath, nor did it have to do with decadence.

Instead the problem was "sinas chinam" -- bitter, baseless, hatred from one Jew to his fellow. 

For this behavior, we learn that G-d decreed, "You don't deserve the land and you don't deserve to worship Me in My Holy Temple. I am sending you into exile."

The fact of the matter is that there have always been Jews in Israel. Even after we were dispersed we remained there. But the notion of a Jewish "state" rather than simply dwelling in the Land became important in the context of ruthless anti-Semitism. With enough brutality, even before the Holocaust, it became clear that there really was no alternative but to conceive of a land where we could settle and defend ourselves as necessary.

The problem was and is -- and we cannot ignore this problem no matter how hard we try -- we haven't resolved the hatred and we haven't acknowledged G-d. 

Instead we congratulate ourselves for our fine military power and talk against our fellow people, just as in the past.

Salvation for Israel and the Jews worldwide will come when we faithfully acknowledge and return to our Creator and truly make our peace with one another as well. 

Doesn't mean being an extremist fundamentalist nutball. Does mean just a little bit of changing our natural desire to be completely free of dominion or subject to association with those whose look or manner is completely off-putting.

Paradoxically the more you serve G-d and take your place in the community, the better able you are to relate to the world at large.

Every single step in this direction is good.

Photo by Steven Dubois via Flickr. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

"Doctor, I'm In Love With A Sheep"

In Woody Allen's 1972 film "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask," Gene Wilder (pictured) plays a doctor whose patient brings an odd complaint:
"Doctor, I'm In Love With A Sheep."
At first, the doctor is shocked when the man blurts this out. He tells him to go see a psychiatrist. He threatens to call the police.
But then the patient puts his sheep in the doctor's hands, and the doctor also falls immediately in love.
You know Gene Wilder. He was Willy Wonka. Always saying some condescending thing. And now he is a meme.
The genius of Woody Allen is that he chose exactly the right actor to portray a man whose veneer of civility is very thin. Beneath it is a raging sea of passion...and when he meets Daisy the sheep it is all unleashed.
In his hypocrisy the doctor is a lot like Woody Allen himself. He can only love a passive thing, a helpless thing, a thing that cannot argue back. 
In the movie the doctor lavishes attention on the sheep. He gives her a diamond necklace. He hangs it around her neck.
But there is no meaningful interaction. In the end he is talking to himself.
In real life, Woody Allen took up with his married girlfriend's adopted daughter. A daughter he had known since she was 13. Eventually he married her. 
His adoptive daughter also accused him of molesting her as a child.
And there is a recurring theme in his movies (most famously Annie Hall andManhattan) of the character who can only find satisfaction with a much younger and relatively inexperienced woman.
As a filmmaker his adult self takes over, and he lambastes the silly doctor who can only "love" an animal.
But this isn't about the films of Woody Allen. Not really.
Marketers have for eons shared this same model of communicating with "the consumer."
They stereotype her ("her") as the bored and helpless housewife, brainless but for the massive amount of advertising (useless diamond necklaces) they lavish on her, along with product samples of course.
The sea change we are seeing is that consumers have long thrown off the idea that they should be silent, innocent, passive sheep who follow the advertiser to the slaughter.
Instead they are actively engaged with the products that they purchase. They want to co-create them, they want to know how the employees are treated, they want to know whether the labor practices are fair, and on and on and on.
Rather than finding a kind of power in taking over the customer's life, the marketer must share that power with the customer. In effect take the customer behind the camera lens.
It's easy to like the fantasy of being all-powerful. And Woody Allen portrays that desire well.
But for a marketer to be successful nowadays, it's more important to address the customer's humanity. To speak to their inherent desire to be treated as people, with consummate dignity and respect.
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Screenshot from "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask" (Woody Allen, 1972) via the Web (source unclear). 

Bruriah & the Yeshiva World's Struggle With Women's Equality

The high school I attended - Bruriah, in Elizabeth, New Jersey - was a same-sex girls' yeshiva. It was somewhat liberal in yeshiva circles, in that we were encouraged to actually study English subjects. But it was backward in that the only way we could study the Talmud was off a xeroxed sheet of paper, because girls and Torah study were thought not to mix.

The name "Bruriah" comes from the legendary Talmudic figure, widely acknowledged for her brilliance, married to the saintly Rabbi Meir

But their relationship is not so simple to understand.

According to one version of the story, the popular version floated in my time, Bruriah challenged the idea that women are easily seduced ("light-minded"). To prove her wrong, Rabbi Meir had one of his students seduce her. After which she killed herself, and Rabbi Meir ran away from Israel to Babylonia.

As a teen I accepted this without really thinking much about it. As a 44-year-old it doesn't make sense.
  • First and most obviously, the arrogance and pettiness of the characters in the tale don't match the continued legacy on the ground. My school was named after her; there is a well-regarded charity named after him - her was known as a miracle worker, very literally. (My grandfather and my father had a tradition of regular contributions to the worthy charity of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, and so does my family.)
  • Second, there is no husband who wants his wife to sleep with another man. Period.
  • Third, it is a historical fact that Bruriah's father, Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon, was wrapped in a Torah and burned to death by the Romans for teaching the Torah in public. Bruriah's mother was sold into slavery. So the alternate version of the story makes sense - that Bruriah's sister was remanded to a brothel, from which Rabbi Meir saved her, after which the family fled to Babylonia.
Nevertheless the story about Bruriah's seduction continues. Some argue that it's anti-feminist; but it's well-known that the other rabbis respected her. One famous quote by Rabbi Joshua, who took her side in a debate: "Bruriah has spoken correctly."

The enduring lesson, then, seems to be that "G-d punished her for speaking badly of the sages" - that even if she was technically right, the attitude was all wrong.

Why spend so much time talking about this person? 

Because the debate over Bruriah explains a lot about why Judaism is in such a sad state today. She challenged the men, and legend has it that she was punished; the fact that we cling to that myth suggests a desire among the religious also to punish women who dare to be free and equal.

It's a tendency that's gotten worse in recent years. As sociologist Sam Heilman documented meticulously in The World of the Yeshiva (published in 2000), the American Jewish Orthodox community lurched heavily rightward toward the end of the 20th century, adopting a model of observance that was extreme when compared with the modern Orthodox world that predominated before it.

Chiefly, "yeshivish" was a rejection of the values of Modern Orthodoxy. And I lived through that transition; slowly I watched as fundamentalism took over and the notion of balancing a secular and religious life was viewed as "hypocritical."

Simultaneous with the rise of yeshivism, the Hasidic world exerted its influence and turned more and more extreme. My Zayde and Bubbie were Holocaust survivors, and if you look at the family pictures from the mid-1900s they look very much like any ordinary American in dress. Now, they are blurring the women's faces out of newspaper photos.

Why did Jews turn toward such fundamentalism? 

One word: Feminism.

The civil rights movement represented the breakdown of ideas about segregation being "right." Jews were all over civil rights - we were heavily represented in the marches.

The antiwar movement - no impact whatsoever.

But the notion that women should attain the same level of education as a man; could hold an equally powerful job; in essence didn't need a man telling her what to do in life -- this was an unbearable challenge to the social order.

I remember growing up we went to Zayde and Bubbie's house in Toronto. Zayde showed the utmost respect for my Bubbie. But he also called her "wife," and we took turns helping her serve the food at the Shabbos meals. I can only imagine what would have happened if she'd said, "You know what, husband, f*** it, I don't feel like cooking this week."

A parallel ritual at Grandma and Grandpa's house in Monticello, several times a year; we marveled at Grandma's cast-iron-pot-noodle kugel and hand-ground chopped liver and egg. My grandfather kissed the ground she walked on, and she had her own job as well. But it was unthinkable for Grandma to make a move without Grandpa; if she would have said, "You know what, Murray, I'm becoming a Hasid" I think they would have argued till the ends of the earth, because there were certain things that "the man of the house just decides."

Feminism brought these hidden tensions to the forefront. My aunt Renee got a Ph.D. and served as the token feminist at Grandma and Grandpa's Shabbos table, debating my father vociferously. My uncle Jay, equally a feminist, backed her up.

But when we went home, male domination ruled the day.

No matter what anybody said, I always knew that feminism was morally right; religion can never be about one person dominating another. The only subservience a human has is to G-d.

But the fundamentalists of the world, Jewish and otherwise, base their entire social system on the subjugation of women. The modern Muslim, for example, bears no resemblance to the caricature that is ISIS, but guess what? The entire Islamic State is a system of rape. (Forced "marriage" to 10 year olds????)

Unfortunately, extremism always leads to abuse: The same people who preach intolerance for adultery and homosexuality, whipping the crowds into a frenzy, are the ones who victimize their followers.

A Muslim colleague said to me once, "really religious people never have trouble with one another," and the same is true when it comes to when it comes to reconciling with one's own faith. Too many spiritually oriented Jews have been silenced, marginalized and excommunicated from the community by elders who abused them and threw them away, either to hide the evidence of their crimes or to silence the genuine questions that would undermine the little dictatorships they've set up in the name of serving G-d.

And too many women have been turned off and turned away by a made-up, misogynist, insecure, artificially male-centric system of radicals, who by and large only feel comfortable with women if they exist to serve as two-dimensional cartoon figures.

It is time for Jewish women to lift the curse of Eve.

We can do it respectfully - we should not denigrate our Sages - but it is time to stop conflating "subservience to men" with "subservience to G-d."

In the words of Tova Bernbaum, writing at (the observant)
"Yes, G-d relegated Eve to a lesser social status and said that she'll endure painful childbirth, but that does not imply a divine commandment to accept less pay for the same work, or refuse epidurals. G-d said that this is a curse -- something negative, reflecting the negative change that occurred in creation with the first sin. In other words, something to change. 
"Fighting inequality, arguing your point, revolting against the old guard -- this is the stuff Judaism is made of. G-d doesn't want a nation who will take its curses lying down. If He did, He wouldn't have chosen the Jews."
So feminism and Judaism absolutely can coexist.

I would argue, in fact, that the religion won't survive without it.

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

Rape on "Game of Thrones" - Essential To The Plot & the Characters

Rape is omnipresent on "Game of Thrones."

Many have opposed these scenes, such as Senator Claire McCaskill; various women's groups, like the National Organization for Women and the anti-domestic violence organization Safe Horizon; the feminist website Jezebel (last year) and this year; women's pop culture site Mary Sue; and Vanity Fair

Basically, they argue that the GOT rape scenes:
  • Are unnecessary; don't enhance the plot
  • Turn rape into entertainment
  • Promote rape
  • Normalize rape as somehow consensual
  • Upset rape survivors
The website published an anonymous response to the show's most recent rape, that of Sansa Stark, titled: "A Rape Victim Speaks Out On The Sansa Scene." An excerpt:
"The way this show uses women, makes them one dimensional, either masculine and strong, or feminine and victims, it is the opposite of the books I read and love."
It's well known that Hollywood is indeed a sexist place, whether you're working behind the cameras or in front of them (just ask Maggie Gyllenhaal). It seems to me that nearly every mainstream movie or television show I watch exploits women in some way. Even the "good" ones.

For example, tonight my husband and I watched Elysium. It's a very moral movie, reminding us of the unfairness of that breach between the super-rich and the rest of us. But of course, there's a punch to a woman's nose, a constant threat of rape, and lots of semi-dressed girls lounging all around the "good guys" while they're waiting to fight.

And who can forget the rape scene in Death Wish? It's about as exploitative as can be -- purporting to be on the side of the victimized women, but somehow, creepily, perpetuating their (our) powerlessness. The attacked females after all are scarred for life, but Bronson's revenge gives him power.

But "Game of Thrones" is different. Women and men both suffer on the show -- nobody gets a free pass -- because it is a show about the brutal exercise of power, and its plotline remains utterly faithful to that; nobody escapes the turn of the sword.

Literature is not supposed to make us feel good. It is not supposed to alleviate prior trauma. It is not supposed to be politically correct. It is supposed to be authentic to the experience of the characters.

And so, as both Slate and The New York Post noted, the critics of rape on GOT are "missing the point." The former points out that the scenes are done "with appropriate gravity: as an act of war," and that they are easily situations that the female characters could anticipate. And frankly, as the Post notes, the GOT "world...based, partly, upon actual history — is a dark place in which women are used and abused by men on a nauseatingly regular basis."

I would even go so far as to argue that GOT's insistence on historical authenticity is in itself a feminist act. The show refuses to play nice; it shows us the hypocrisy and the corruption of life under patriarchy in the Middle Ages.

Frankly it shows that patriarchy is as bad for men as it is for women.

So the underlying question is this. Which is the more feminist act? To "rewrite" history such that it makes us feel good?

Or to show it, as ugly as it was?

If we want to be empowered, it's better to face facts. So I would rather start with the latter.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Promotional HBO photo via "Sansa Stark" page on Wikipedia.

5 Reasons Facebook Is The New LinkedIn

1. People prefer to do business with people they connect with emotionally. Your postings on Facebook reflect your feelings.

2. People prefer to do business with people they trust. An authentic presence on Facebook shows that you are a real, trustworthy person, rooted in relationships and community. 

3. Facebook is easy to use and friendly, while LinkedIn can be difficult to use and feels elitist. The future is about including all, not leaving people out.

4. Facebook provides a lower barrier to entry for honest comments. It is less uncomfortable to be yourself in this environment, where everyone seems to be chiming in and having their say.

5. People increasingly get their news from Facebook, but not from LinkedIn. It is the equivalent of the civic commons, and going forward the line between work and life will be virtually erased.

I am on Facebook at If you're not insane, feel free to reach out and friend me.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

A comment on the New York Times story about Jonathan Rosenblatt

My husband saw the New York Times story on the screen and immediately gasped. "Oh my G-d. Rosenblatt." 

I knew right away.

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt was the rabbi of the shul we attended, the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York. He was the officiating rabbi at our wedding. And unfortunately, he also took Andy to the mikvah for a quote, "ritual bathing which he said was needed before marriage."

For a few years now, I have watched the stories come out in the media about rabbis and pedophilia. I had hoped that it was just one person here and there, and finally it dawned on me that something much more pervasive was going on. On top of that, it's also become very clear that the Jewish system of rabbinic ordination and supervision, as well as the educational system, have failed our children utterly, with offenders protected by the system while victims were punished and expelled. 

I count myself lucky that the negative experience I had with a perv-y rabbi (Mordechai Sevy) was limited to said rabbi "hugging" me. But unfortunately, the negative impact from the experience affected me terribly for many years, and hurts to this day. For a small child can intuit, but not comprehend, what's happening when someone "creeps out" on them, and unfortunately I self-blamed, shamed, and felt lousy about myself for a very long time after fifth grade.

In any case, we are discussing this story at Failed Messiah and I wanted to share my comment there below as well, in case you're following this story and it could be helpful to you:
"Pedophiles typically 'groom' their targets in five stages:
1. Find someone vulnerable
2. Learn more about them
3. Give them what they need (e.g. a shoulder to lean on...)
4. Lower their normal inhibitions about nudity
5. Attack 
"It is not surprising that a rabbi would be helpful to his victim. In fact that's the only way he'd get away with it. 
"It's also not surprising that we still have so much denial going on. Nobody wants to believe this stuff; it's disgusting. 
"But it flies in the face of reason to defend Rosenblatt for having 'searching conversations' about spirituality WITH 12 YEAR OLD BOYS WHILE THEY ARE NAKED IN THE SHOWER. 
"Anybody who has been to yeshiva knows that you're not supposed to discuss holy subject matter in the bathroom, period. 
"And anybody who's spent even five minutes reading the paper over the past five years has seen the explosion of reports of sexual abuse against children by the point where even the most Orthodox among us say, please go to the police. 
"It is not clear what help can be given to survivors of past abuse, other than love, acceptance and support. It is however clear that going forward, we have an obligation to our children to be very, very, very careful about who they are spending their time with and under what circumstances. 
"And you don't have to be a genius to know, that if a grownup is trying to get a kid alone and naked, ROUTINELY, that person should not be teaching, coaching, counseling, or clergy-ing that child, anytime, ever."
It is heartening that the observant Jewish community is waking up and taking action. It's not necessary to provide a laundry list of names, but the most fundamental level of understanding has finally been reached that sex abuse is a crime to be reported to the police.

There is also a watchdog and social services organization called Jewish Community Watch.

And though I'm still pretty angry and hurt inside, I have come to a realization. Bad Jewish leadership made me run away from religion for such a long time, as if to save myself. But what I really want and need is to go back into the faith, and help rescue it from the bad people who have led it astray.

I'm happy to see that there are many good rabbis, men and women, who will not tolerate the destruction of our people from the inside. 

I intend to serve as a microphone to amplify their efforts.

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