Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Shavuot Ethnography

We come here every year and I can't keep track of the years anymore.

They all seem to blend in together. As every time, the routine is the same. I walk in with a big black knapsack, like a teenage runaway or a homeless woman, fearful of losing it and all that it contains.

At that moment when the fear wells up -- for I do recognize how odd it looks to shlep a backpack around in shul -- I always think the same thing: I trust in You, God, but I don't trust these people, or any people, to *not* steal my stuff.

It isn't a big synagogue, but it feels big. The room is divided in half. The Torahs are encased in a special holding container in front. Starting partway down the room there is a wooden divider separating the men from the women, as is traditional. The entryway is in the back.

I sit down, and it is just like I was there yesterday. In this synagogue there is a designated member of the congregation, a man, who traditionally gives the women a prayer book as well as a Bible. I personally find this tradition annoying. But it's kind of nice, because well-intentioned, and I gratefully accept the sacred texts when they are handed to me.

It is hard not to hold my iPhone in my hand.

Also, my eyes are bothering me. I feel a lot older than I did last year.

As usual there are more men than women in the synagogue. The few women that are there, are dressed to kill. Looking good, for Chabad women, is different than for other religious Jewish women; it seems like a value "baked into" the culture, just like making delicious food. It's not like they wear the most expensive clothes, necessarily; it is that they look completely stylish. I marvel at the heels and wonder how they not only walk in them, but also carry kids.

The Rabbi is praying with great joy and intensity. I feel happy to hear it.

The ceiling is painted as though it were the sky. The wall in front of me is painted to look like the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

I'm standing there thinking my own thoughts when the Rabbi's wife somehow appears at my side and greets me warmly with a one-cheek kiss. Let me pause here and say that I find the hello greeting altogether confusing as at my own synagogue, which is Sephardic, the women routinely do the two-cheek kiss, but to me it's either one cheek or a hug, depending on how both of us are feeling.

They're singing all the tunes I know. How I love the service at Chabad. It's like song after song, I am right there with them.

Also it is entirely possible to walk in at 11 a.m. and still participate meaningfully.

They come around with the Torah not once, but twice and each time there are two Torahs to kiss. I kiss them joyfully, directly. I chase them to kiss each one.

Midway through the service I start to feel suffocated. This happens to me every week, no matter where I go to shul. I leave to get a breath of fresh air.

And then return. Mercifully the pace is quick, and before long the service is over. But not before we hear the Ten Commandments, and the Rabbi tells us to imagine we are right back there at Mt. Sinai. I do as he says, and a wave of spirituality permeates my body. I genuinely feel it and it's the most amazing thing -- I can't describe it.

Back to reality, and the Rabbi makes the announcements. He announces that the Shavuot dinner will be held at 5:00, and there will be a "lavish buffet," and most importantly ice cream.

At this the crowd goes wild. I can literally feel a wave of joy in the room.

We attend the Shavuot buffet. It is similarly joyful, with great and generous servings of traditional holiday food; beautiful outfits; really nice decorations; and one thing I didn't mention before, which is  kids happily playing all over the place.

There is a palpable loneliness in the room, the loneliness of people who -- married or single -- never quite fit into a religious category or community. Whereas Chabad offers certainty, stepping outside it offers none.

The feeling of being outside and inside at once.

Always a little different.

Glad that Chabad exists, and is part of Jewish life everywhere.


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit

Monday, May 29, 2017

Remembering The Women Who Volunteered To Serve

"In an era of universal polemics and political unrest – with no thought of glory, with no fanfare or public notice – 265,000 women volunteered to go where they were needed, to do what was needed. The era was known as Vietnam, and these young women, most in their 20s, risked their lives to care for our country's wounded and dying." - "History of the Women's Vietnam Memorial," accessed May 29, 2017
The Vietnam War has such a strong negative brand that the very mention of it brings to mind unpleasant thoughts. So unpopular was this war that people routinely threw tomatoes at the faces of Veterans lucky enough to make it home, adding insult to injury.

Nowadays, we live in a very polarized environment, although my sense is that people are getting weary of it.

More than that, as much as they may loathe the politics of the "other side," there is a growing recognition that shutting people down just because they have different views does not make any sense.

Yesterday on CNN (not exactly a right-wing outpost), Fareed Zakaria said:

"American universities seem committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Conservative voices and views are being silenced entirely."

Is there perhaps a connection between the growing idleness of young people and their propensity for extreme opinions?

Right now, Census Bureau data shows, 1 in 3 adults age 18-34 live with Mom and/or Dad. Within that group, about 1 in 4 -- or 2,200,000 people -- aren't going to school and they aren't going to work.

What if, instead, those Millennials had something important to do, something that actually helped to make this country better?

The Vietnam Women's Memorial is not just a tribute to the sacrifice of female military volunteers.

It honors those who set aside their opinions to get the job done.

We need to encourage more of that. Much, much more.

On this Memorial Day 2017, to those who have served, thank you for your service.


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Simple Crisis Communication Template

Hope this is useful to you.
 By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Public Domain.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

When A Tagline Becomes Your Mission

Created in the early 1940s during World War II, Rosie the Riveter is my favorite advertising character of all time. And my favorite ad slogan is, you guessed it, Nike's 1988 line: "Just Do It."

Along the same lines, if I had to cite a book worth reading, it would probably be
Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Service. As you can tell from the title, the work is a discussion of practical reality: civil servants do their jobs amid a large, complex, and very confusing bureaucratic machine.

In my work life and in my personal life, I believe in the power of getting things done. So often we get bogged down in minutiae, in trivialities, in power struggles and petty politics and ruminations. We think about all the things that could possibly go wrong, and in the end decide to do nothing.

But there are people out there. They are real, they have needs -- they are hungry. Whether we are acting as partners, parents or professionals, we cannot ignore our obligation to them. Particularly when, as a matter of fact, the things they ask for are due.

If we ever had the luxury of sitting around wondering what to do next, that luxury has long since evaporated.

Look around you.

Stop complaining.

Get involved.

Set aside your fears, your disillusionment, your pessimism and your pain.

Roll up your sleeves.

The world needs you, and your spirit.

It's time to get into the ring.


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Management as a Mothering Activity

When I was a kid each set of grandparents (may they rest in peace) wanted to hear that I preferred them to the other ones. It rose to the level of a family joke that at every visit to the Catskills, Grandma would ask if I preferred the mountain air to Toronto. Meanwhile Zayde would ask me the same.
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
Just like the endless "favorite grandparents" discussion, men and women will never stop comparing themselves to one another when it comes to gendered skills. "Women are horrible drivers," some men love to say, "because they never look." Whereas "men are horrible drivers," according to the women, "because they are so goddamn aggressive."
When it comes to management I can honestly say that gender superiority simply does not exist. There are some men who are great, intuitively great, get-the-team-together-and-get-it-done types, and others who are abusive, self-serving, smirking control freaks. Similarly, some women use gender to pretend to be empathic and friendly, whilst circumventing your body to stab you right in the back. Others don't bother "acting feminine," they're just no-nonsense, competent, highly intelligent, productive people who know how to keep the trains running on time.
However, having watched some mothers in action over the past few days -- after many years of being away from little kids -- I do think that managers can learn a thing or two from them. As follows:
1) Mothers are extremely empathic. A good one sees, at a very deep level, what is going on. They don't just look at externals or metrics - qualitative and quantitative are all there, rolled into one.
2) Mothers listen to their kids. By paying attention to thoughts and ideas large and small, they validate the children's sense of self.
3) Mothers are always on duty. A child knows there is always somebody there.
4) Mothers have a "safety-first" mindset when it comes to their kids, and won't hesitate to yank a kid out of the way when they see trouble approaching.
5) Mothers are particularly good at helping kids to love themselves for who they are, rather than imposing an external set of rules or ideals on them as to "who you have to be in order to be accepted."
Applied to the workplace, I believe that a mothering ethic would enable managers to improve the performance of their employees significantly.
Whereas a fathering ethic involves mechanically considering the job first, and trying to "mush" the employee into a mold to match that, the mother focuses on the child first. This type of manager -- female or male -- considers the human being who is occupying the position, their health and well-being, and how to build on their strengths to achieve maximum productivity.
Along the way, this kind of manager listens to what the employee has to say, accommodates their quirks to some extent, but also calls them out when they're acting in a way that's inconsistent with the performance level they ordinarily deliver.
We would see a more engaged, more productive, more successful workforce if we spent more time professionally mothering our employees.
By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

First World Problems

The homeless lady looked at me.

So I looked at the homeless lady looking at me.

"You're crying."

"I know."

"Can you spare two dollars and fifty eight cents? The doctor said I need to drink coffee."

Annoyed at the distraction, I reflected that no doctor would ever say that.

You're a horrible person, I mouthed to myself in an imaginary mirror.

And then I said, "What else can I get you?"

She looked skinny, and hungry, and tired.

Her sleeping bag was next to her on the seat, with a backpack and her pocketbook.

Using the mobile app, I tried to order her some food. But there are so many Starbucks in the city, I had trouble figuring out which one we were at.

This was becoming an odyssey.

I picked up my computer, knapsack, phone and coffee and traveled to the counter to get our exact location.

"I have the flu," she announced as I walked away.

And then came back.

"Now I know where we are," I said proudly, and keyed our location into the phone.

"I wouldn't have stolen your stuff," she said, watching me approach, leaving me feeling ashamed.

"I'm sorry I didn't trust you," I responded, although of course it was perfectly appropriate not to trust a complete stranger or to leave my things laying out.

This conversation was not going well, and it was taking too much time.

We ended up ordering a bacon and cheese sandwich.

"I can't eat that," I pointed out helpfully.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm kosher," I said.

"What's that?"


"Oh. I have a Star of David tattooed on me near my kidney."

"You're kidding. Are you Jewish?"

"No, I'm a Baptist missionary."


"Do you want anything else?"

"A Danish?"

She kept on talking.

"Wait, what kind of Danish? Cheese or do you want a cinnamon bun?"


The order complete, we discussed how long it would take to get it ready.

"They look busy," she said. "Long line."

Ten minutes later, she got up and took her sleeping bag, knapsack and pocketbook with her.

"They said they're all out of the food."


"Yeah. You would've gotten shorted."

I went up to the counter and the food was sitting there.

"I'm sorry," said the barista. "She said that she was you."

At which I realized that they wouldn't give the homeless lady the food.

They didn't think a homeless person could afford a mobile order.

"It's her food," I said. "Sorry for any confusion."

Embarrassed, I sat down and she came by a few minutes later.

Again she started talking, and I sat there pretending to listen.

"How old are you?"

"46. How about you?"


She told me a lot of other stuff that made absolutely no sense.

And I realized God had sent her to stop me from crying.


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Before You Except After Me (Poem)

I had one more thing to say before you interrupted;
Now I've lost my train of thought.

Keep up with me, I have grand ambitions.

(You're a gem)

Did I mention that I had a job interview today?

Your profile picture, I don't know about that;
Seems like you've gained a little weight lately.

(Anyway, let's talk about me.)

I was published in The New Yorker, once;
They chose my poem out of piles. 

(Are you listening to a thing I say?)

...I think I will wear blue to the party. It flatters me.

(Where is your mind I'm speaking?) 

I have a grand, grand future. You're either on *that* train or you're out.

(Stop interrupting)

Get me some coffee while you're at it, my darling;
I'll be working on this for hours.

(And shut the door? Sorry, but you make noise.)


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Blessing Upon Seeing Israel (Poem)

What is Israel?
It's Jews who look like a salad of race, ethnicity & culture.
It's Rav Ovadia Yosef at the money exchange place.
It's cats with human souls.
It's 80 mph.
It's the truth.
It's security guards who check for weapons at the door.
It's Hebrew, Arabic and English together.
It's kosher McDonald's.
It's the Israeli flag flying everywhere. EVERYWHERE. 
It's girls with half shaved heads and purple hair walking barefoot on the overpass.
It's frum ladies hitchhiking in the middle of the highway. 
It's art museums, concert halls, and huge convention centers.
It's companies sponsoring civic spaces.
It's friends outside, relating.
It's grandmothers, mothers and fathers taking their kids to school with sippy cups.
It's huge ads.
It's soldiers right next to Peace Now.
It's Chasidim with old iPhones asking to borrow your charging cord. And you're low on juice but you lend it.
It's screaming, screaming babies and you say to yourself it's so good to hear those beautiful babies crying. HITLER, YOU LOST.
It's peace inside, because you know who you are and what matters in life.

And you will deal with all the rest.


By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit