Sunday, July 30, 2017

In Judaism, Missing The Forest For The Trees

“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 Jews.”

Growing up, the reason I gave myself for hating being Jewish was of course the hypocrisy of Orthodox Judaism.

That some people were privileged over others.

That some voices mattered, and others didn’t.

And, perhaps worst of all, that one’s level of spirituality seemed to be judged in the wrong way altogether.

The more you kept Shabbos and kosher and covered your body to the floor, well the more religious you were, right?

Except that sometimes, these very same people were mean, spiteful, crooked, hateful people. People who didn’t deserve the brand they wore.

Worse yet, as I got older, much older, I learned that the child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church was also rocking the Jewish rabbinate.

It was a shit show, and by 2009 I was all but done.

I didn’t want to be associated with religion.

And when I thought of “coming back,” I responded to myself that my faith was too far gone.

But then one day, I saw a short video clip. It was powerful. It turned me around — a short clip by Pastor Joel Osteen, “Children of the Most High God.”

In it, the pastor tells us that God values us no matter who we are, or what we feel, or what we’ve done — just because they’re us.

The same message as Rabbi Friedman — we are Jews no matter what we do, because we’re Jews.

How we handle that birthright is up to us.

Which brings me to the lesson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, may he rest in peace.

You can be an angry Jew who repudiates his or her Judaism all the living day.

Or you can be an engaged Jew.

One who tries, in her own way, to live the values other people don’t.

Posted July 30 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The author hereby releases this blog into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own and do not represent any other individual, organization or entity. Photo credit: aamiraimer/Pixabay (Public Domain).

Friday, July 28, 2017

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 pot milchig, one fleishig and one pareve again?

Nothing unless you have the mindset of a kid: "Nobody gonna tell me what to do."

Uh, that ship has sailed! Lots of people do in fact tell me what to do every day and that my dear is called LIFE.

So, at this time we have achieved partial victory, in the form of a kashered oven & microwave. (Even if we have to re-kasher the microwave after reheating food from the outside.)


Thank you HaShem for the great blessing of life and the chance to learn on this Earth.

I enjoyed making Shabbos food last night.


By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

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 tell them to cut it out.

Thank God, my survival instincts kicked in.

I walked back across the street, away from the kids. And got home as quickly as I could.


Entering into conflict is a choice. 

It may not feel like a choice, but it is.

Here's what recent training taught me to do:
  • Expect conflict to occur.
  • View it as a potentially positive development, one that can spur growth through change.
  • Also view it as a potentially negative development, one that can escalate harmfully.
  • Stop and think about the fact that you have a choice.

In the end, you can walk away, you can fight to win, or you can find a middle ground.

But you are never, ever the victim -- unless you  choose to think of yourself that way.

Posted July 28, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. This post is public domain.

Left Needs Right. Both Need Civil Servants.

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 need to elicit opposing views.

Sometimes I visit 4Chan, Reddit and Voat. The conversations going on there are incredible. Hordes of anonymous users contributing content, weeding out fake news and disinformation, a gigantic colony of ants ferreting out any possible nugget of data or insight.

Social media, in its purest form, creates an entity larger than itself. Not the “hive mind,” which implies the death of individual liberty. But it does represent the “integrated mind” of a culture, one which can absorb but not drown its wildly divergent parts.

But what of the civil servant in all of this? Where do they stand in any diagram of the relationship between elected officials and the public?

Put simply, the two are yin and yang. Although I think we tend to forget that.

The politician is there (theoretically, at least) to get results for the people. All the people, not just the ones who elected them.

The civil servant is there (also theoretically) to carry out the functions of the government agency in which they serve, be it federal, state or local.

Yes, the real world makes mincemeat of our ideals.

But even in a perfect one, the politician and the civil servant will never see things the same way. Not at all.

What’s more, they aren’t supposed to.

There is an intended tension between the group elected to “make transformational change” (of whatever kind) and the group hired to keep the transformational change agents from blowing everyone up in the process.

And I think, at some point, all of us have forgotten that.

Because (and at what point this happened I’m not sure) the politicians seem to have decided to simply work around the civil servants as much as possible.

While the civil servants seem to have decided that they know better than the President. And that the administrative, unelected state is a somehow a legitimate entity in its own right.

Both sides, I think, have gone off the rails.

As a rule, extremism is never good.

It pits people against each other unnecessarily.

It distracts us from our common goals.

And it stops us from fighting our true common enemy, corruption — the carbon monoxide of democracy.


Posted on July 27, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The content of this post is hereby released into the public domain. Photo credit: congerdesign/Pixabay (public domain).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nobody Has Time For Your Nonsense

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 organization (e.g., is it worth it). 

Because the bottom line is — nobody wants to hear it.

Category I. Denial (a.k.a. “Nothing To See Here, Let’s Move On”)
  • “Historically we’ve never done things that way.”
  • “Communication doesn’t deal with policy or legal matters. ”
  • “We don’t need social media in our news clips. Nobody reads Twitter and Facebook.”
  • “Don’t you think you’re being a bit melodramatic?”
  • “Why do we have to talk about this if nobody asked?”
Category II. Stall For Time 
  • “Why don’t you ask X for permission and tell me what they say?”
  • “Our partners have to agree to that first.”
  • “Above my pay grade.”
  • “I don’t know who’s in charge of making that decision.”
  • “Would never get past the lawyers.”
Category III. Blame Lack of Resources
  • “Can’t afford it.”
  • “Don’t have time.”
  • “We already have a strategy.”
Category IV: Invoke Superiority
  • “I’m the expert. I don’t need you to tell me how to communicate.”
  • “Our stakeholders have their own way of thinking about things.”
  • “Why on earth would we ever say bad things about ourselves?”
  • “That’s not what communication is.”
  • “That’s an oversimplification.”
Category V: Attack The Communicator
  • “You have no business writing up that kind of concept and submitting it.”
  • “You do realize this is the government, right?”
  • “You do realize we’re a private company, right? Why do I want to promote the ideas of other people?”
  • “Why don’t you work on your Microsoft Word skills first?”
Posted on July 25, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain. Public domain photo by annca via Pixabay.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

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 brainstorming and piloting innovative ways to better serve our customers.
  • We could hire more people to fill short-staffed positions.
  • We could spend more time developing our skills and abilities to align with best-in-class public and private sector organizations.
  • We could spend more time actually talking to our colleagues, and building the informal social glue that keeps an organization running smoothly. 
  • We could reduce the soul-crushing misery of dealing with the consequences of unintended miscommunication.
Do you agree with me that email is often a huge waste of taxpayer money?

By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This post is public domain.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What The Rebbe Taught Me

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 want to do. And they have a mystical explanation for everything.

Anyway. I still remember the gorgeous fliers from the Chabad youth organization, “Tzivos Hashem.” It’s hard to explain the meaning of this term without it sounding a lot like Jihad. But in fact it means “those commanded by God,” but which I take to mean something like “the army of God,” united in promoting observance of the Mitzvot.

The Rebbe taught me that serving God is, first and foremost, a war. As the truly observant Muslims say, this is not a war of weapons. But rather it is a spiritual war. Satan presents you with a vast array of temptations, from the subtle to the obscene. You are on this Earth to recognize what is happening and fight back.

Your sense of the spiritual reality of this world makes you more than a fighter with yourself. You must see the truth that lies beneath material things, and fight the devil there as well. Remembering that the devil is not apart from God, but is a servant of him as well, and has been empowered specifically to make learning hard for you.

If it isn’t a difficult lesson, you will not retain it.

The Rebbe taught me to smile. I remember going to Brooklyn on a Sunday, to Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, where he received so many people patiently.

The Rebbe gave out dollar bills. Can you imagine such a thing? In a world where charities take your money, he was giving you some.

The Rebbe handed me a dollar and he looked into my eyes, this piercing look, this look that makes me tremble even today and my eyes begin to water and tear.

For I remember how deeply sad I was, how despondent and aimless and cynical. The world seemed like a terrible and lonely place, even then, and I could not figure what to do with myself.

The Rebbe said, in Hebrew, “BeSever Panim Yafot,” which means, literally, “Have a Pleasant Facial Expression.”

Reading that it looks like a Chinese fortune cookie, sort of, but I understood what he meant.

You’ll get a lot further in life, fighting your spiritual war, if you present yourself in a way that is pleasing to other people.

It’s hard to believe this was almost thirty years ago, that I met the Rebbe. It feels like just yesterday.

Today is July 20, 2017. The ills of this world concern me again, very deeply, more so I think than ever.

It is tempting to fall into despair, depression, a constant worry — a sad face.

But every day I think of what the Rebbe said, and I feel his blessing upon me.

We must fight this earthly war, this spiritually based war, with confidence and positivity.

Not anger.

Not sadness.

And definitely not hate — hate is not at all spiritual.

I do believe we can win this thing, together, as a single force of humanity. Not believers in my-religion-beats-yours. But simply the ones who see Him behind all things on this earth.

The Rebbe taught me to believe that all things are possible.

With fear of God, and positive action and prayer, we only need unite.


By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. This post is hereby released to the public domain.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Most Hated Job In Government

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 used to describe someone who markets a product or service by generating fake buzz.
  • "Trolling" is when you get paid to aggravate somebody else expressing their opinion.
Let us be clear: The government should not be paying shills, astroturfers or trolls.

It is, in fact, illegal for the government to spend appropriated dollars (i.e. tax money) to propagandize its citizens.

But public relations, properly done, is not about lying.

You heard me right: It's not.

The job of a public relations (what we call in the USA "public affairs") specialist is to translate official activity such that the public can understand it.

The difference between providing information and providing translation is that you are explaining what's going on in terms that the public can understand.

Unfortunately, over the course of many decades, government public relations specialists have been used, abused, and kicked around.

As a result, the integrity of government communicators is constantly questioned. When they're only transmitting what has already been approved by others in the agency.

The U.S. government is fortunate to have many laws, policies and standards that apply to official communication.

But that framework is only as good as its enforcement.

If you're hating on government public relations specialists, your anger is in my view misdirected.

Always look at the system.

Never at a single person.


Posted on July 16, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The author hereby releases this post into the public domain. Public domain photo by whitfieldink via Pixabay.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reclaiming My Right To Wear Nice Shoes

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, and my closest aunt took great interest in me.

They asked me how I felt all the time.

If I had any sort of “funny look” on my face, they wanted to know immediately what the problem was.

My clothing was a source of great concern.

And my weight. I remember when my aunt told me I was looking heavy.

The shame, already suffocating, fairly overwhelmed me and I immediately began starving myself — as best I could— for six long years, till high school graduation.

I was so obsessed with how I looked, because they were.

Always theatrical, I joined the local Y and began performing in plays. And at camp, too.

I loved it.

My father was constantly taking photos, he always had. It was an extremely intrusive experience.

But at the same time, I basked in the sunlight of the public glare.

Looking back on it now, I understand what happened to me.

I took the trauma of being turned inside out by those who were closest to me, and my natural propensity for attention-seeking and entertaining others, and embarked on a life-long journey to control and portray my own image to the world.

It’s been a lot of years since I was a kid. Decades since that starved-out photo of me at high school graduation.

In the intervening time, I definitely went through a long phase of “secondary shame,” a polite way of saying that I dressed awfully.

All of it just became too loaded a topic.

But then I took a job where everybody else was dressing really, really well.

No matter what their job level, you could see that they took great pride in getting dressed in the morning.

I think God sent me to that place for a lot of reasons.

But one of them was to confront the shame and the ghosts of the past.

To reclaim my natural inner love for looking good — not Barbie-doll good, but good in the sense of self-respect. Of caring for myself enough to enjoy the feel of buying and wearing clothing.

And yes, nice shoes.

Every day, not just on work days.

Every day, including today.


All opinions my own. Photo of me, by me. This post is available for reuse under Creative Commons license 3.0.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Blame The System, Not The Person (Usually)

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 personal rookie mistake, NOT BEING CLEAR.)

--The second is to focus on building trust within and between work units. You do that by ending the "gotcha game" and taking an attitude of collaborative problem solving.

At the end of the day, you have to spend time with your employees if you want to generate results. Keep in mind, you are supposed to be motivating them, not doing the work for them. (Another personal rookie mistake - MICROMANAGEMENT.)

You spend that time wisely by sitting down and respecting their wisdom and experience. You ask for their input -- what is impeding results here? How are you and I contributing to that problem? How can we work together to fix it? And what will be the result if we can't or won't?

Unfortunately there will always be situations that deviate from the good nature and common sense of most people. If you as the supervisor recognize that such a situation is occurring, the best course of action is to reach out for assistance early and often. Do not try to fix those kinds of problems alone.

Finally, no matter what, remember that we are here on this Earth to learn. When you do your best, you will still fail and that is the way you're built as a human being.


All opinions are my own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Image via Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Why I Don't Believe In Goals

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.
I had to be honest.
“No,” because when I was young I had only one goal in mind: To be a “big career person.” As in a:
  • Lawyer
  • Fashion designer
  • Magazine editor
  • Maybe, a famous writer
  • Or something involving a creative field
“No,” because none of those goals happened.
I thought, in a swoosh of thought, of all the women I knew who had become “big career people.”
None of them made the choices that I did.
They didn’t get married young and then stay home with the children.
I looked at my daughter, my beautiful flesh and blood.
And before I could think, the words came tumbling over themselves.
“When I had you, my entire goal became you.”
A day or two before, my other daughter had asked me what it feels like to be pregnant.
“Did everybody treat you better?”
“No, not really,” I said. “I had to do everything just the same as though I weren’t.”
I remembered throwing up all the time, in little baggies that I used to take on the commuter bus.
In the bathroom at work.
At home in the toilet.
All the time, all the time, I had the worst morning sickness.
But I loved it, every second of it.
“Being pregnant is the best feeling in the world,” I said to her.
It is.
It actually is.
“Because you have a human life inside of you. Nobody else can ever know how that feels.”
She looked at me.
“When I was pregnant with you and your sister, those were the happiest times of my entire life.”
Though I was sick as a dog, that statement remains true.
When you fall in love, when you have kids, when you’re doing what you’re really passionate about, time stops.
When you’re doing what you need to do to survive, you aren’t operating according to a five-year strategic plan. You’re living.
I once had a dream that I could live my life based on some abstract goals.
But in the living of it, goals have become largely irrelevant.
The most I can do, experience has taught me, is try to make a difference where I land.
By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Photo by Hermann via Pixabay (Public Domain). The author hereby releases this work into the public domain.