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Haunted by the Ghosts of the Past

We had lunch with some friends yesterday and spent much of the time recounting the good old days (not). 

As in:

"Things were somehow better then."

"True, but that's because nobody talked about anything."

As in:

"We didn't worry about pas yoshon, kemach yoshon, or checking the broccoli for bugs."

"That's because nothing was kosher. We were lucky to have Devil Dogs."

Yes, those were simpler times.

"Nobody told us when to be home."

"Nobody told us to wear seat belts."

True, but then again:

"Nobody cared when we got beat up every single day."

Child rearing and conflict resolution:

"They had the belt."

What were our parents worried about?

They were fucking struggling.

"I'm not paying that ganev (thief) at D'Agostino."

And they would spend double the money on gas to save three cents on milk.

The topic of sexual assault didn't even come up. Even now, even with all we know, we can't say the words out loud.

My husband said to me, "You're such an angry person."

And I said, "I hear the screams of the women in my head. I have since I was a child."

"You told me that already," he said. 

These words, from my daughter: 

"So many people are suffering, Mom."

"What do you mean?" I asked, curious. Each of us has something different in mind.

"I hear about a lot of girls who get married, and these guys, all they want is a slave." 

This doesn't negate the happy couples. But when it goes bad, it goes very bad, and the pain is impossible.

On a brighter note, at lunch, we noted that the younger generation seems to have a more sophisticated understanding of how to raise a family generally.

They actually sit down. They actually "talk things out." They have learned a better way of being.

All of us, at that lunch, are haunted by the ghosts of the past. Our own pain, and the pain of our parents, grandparents, extended family.

My own great-great-uncle and most of his blood relatives, taken out by Hitler's bullets. 

I think to myself, how is it that we escaped?

I think about what the Judenrat (Jewish police) told my Zayde: "We had to give somebody up."

There are no heroes in this world...nobody you can say is perfectly righteous...not even among our fellow victims in the Holocaust.

We are the survivors in a giant real-life version of The Walking Dead.

We go on as a personal act, and as a political one: "Hitler, you fucking lost."

Here's to a future where the children have no idea what the parents are talking about, when we talk about stuff like this.

Posted November 25, 2017 by Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Photo credit: Werner22Brigitte via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commonss).

A Different Brand for Shabbos

Sadly, for too many years, I thought of Shabbos as a burden.
  • How will we get home in time for Shabbos? Just use the 18 minutes.
  • What will we eat for Shabbos? Just buy something takeout.
  • What will we do all Shabbos? Just find something to read.
  • How will we sit through shul? Just talk to each other, like everybody else.
  • Where are you eating for Shabbos? I don't know.
The reason I thought of Shabbos as a burden was, for one thing, that it literally "interrupted" work. In a faithless world, work is what pays the bills - not the Hand of God.

Another reason I thought of Shabbos as a burden was the framework within which I learned what it means to be an observant Jew. It was very much a math equation: The fewer "things you did" on Shabbos--the more you oppressed yourself with restrictions--the more religious you were. 

I have since come to see that Shabbos is about stepping away from your natural disbelief in God. 

By that I mean that as a human being living in a material world, it is logical to focus on the things we see and hear and can touch as true. It is less logical to simply "believe."

Shabbos, as a method of religious practice, can be seen as a meditation on the true reality of the world. A world where God is in charge, and from God flows the blessings and the lessons (what we think of as punishments).

Those who read my blog are familiar with the fact that I (and the members of my family) have been seeing the number 613 everywhere for several years now. This is the number of commandments in the Torah.

The number is a reminder, a warning, a message and three years later I am starting to get it.

I now understand why for so many years I hated being a Jew. What they taught me in yeshiva, and in the culture I grew up in, had nothing to do with God. It had everything to do with following the Torah, which I do believe God gave us, but only in the way that we were told was appropriate.

When I tried to talk about God, the discussion was cut off. As if to insult me, once I was called a God-talker. 

We only do what's right, I was told. We only follow the Torah.

I think in a way this very artificial mode of living turned me into a brand kind of person.


Because a brand, essentially, is the artificial construct of a religion. You have a set of beliefs, a name, a picture, some words, and you put it together and follow. Ostensibly to make money, but it's really about more than that. It's about finding something to identify with, in the absence of a deep-rooted community and belief system of your own.

If I had been taught about God properly, I never would have turned to brands to fill that void.

It is God who powers all things.

It is God who gave us the Torah.

It is NOT idol-worship to focus your life on God, serving God, and all the behaviors that follow from that.

While religions and rabbis can quibble about exactly which thing we are supposed to do, and when and why, the bottom line is that Shabbos is about the full acknowledgment of Him.

It's not about who has the best recipe for Challah.

It's not about who can sit in Shul the longest.

It's not about who has the fanciest house, the most guests, and so on.

We should get back to ourselves as Jews, as people, as human beings. It's time to reclaim the essence.

Reclaiming can start with Shabbos.

However you do or don't observe, I hope you have a good one.

Posted Nov. 24, 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. CC0 photo by stevepb via Pixabay.

More Is Not Necessarily Better

I was standing in line last night waiting for a shwarma plate and as usual began to offer my opinions about how to run the business better:

·        Eliminate most of the menu - because 90% of the time, people are there to get either shwarma or falafel;

·        Except for expensive things like meat, let people put their own toppings on the plate - because it's time-consuming for the owner to ask me what I want, and it's more appealing to take your own toppings;

·        Offer an app so that people can order before showing up, or get delivery - because waiting is a pain.

It's not clear to me whether I think this way from a marketing point of view, a strategy point of view, a business point of view, and IT point of view or a writer's point of view. What's the difference? In the end, the idea is to focus. It's Pareto's Principle: 80% of the value comes from 20% of the work.

This reminds me of when I was a kid, growing up, and I used to visit my grandparents in the Catskill mountains once or twice a year. They would always have something called "Neapolitan" ice cream in the freezer. For those of you who don't know what this looks like, it's vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, living together in a gallon container in side-by-side blocks.

I would have preferred an entire container of chocolate, but the idea of Neapolitan is to give people a "choice."

In real life, of course, we all vied for the chocolate block first, the vanilla second, and left the strawberry for "somebody else." (Maybe you would have gone for the vanilla first...)

The point is, for whatever reason, it is common to believe that "more choice" is somehow more appealing.

It's not; what I find is that it's confusing. (Just try going to the grocery store, and getting a simple bottle of ketchup from among the many sizes, brands and flavors.)

The same thing tends to happen with technology platforms at work. It is hard for people to learn how to use a computer system. But things get even more difficult when you offer them multiple ways to do essentially the same thing. Just try to get a team together to decide whether to collaborate over a shared drive, SharePoint, a specialized collaboration system or a cloud-based tool.

Communication campaigns, of course, are notorious for changing "message" from one year to the next or even more frequently than that.

And the institutional arrangements that govern all this, aside from the normal human turnover, tend to be shaped and reshaped into blocks that have little or nothing to do with how the customer actually uses them.

Consultants, service providers and product developers make a living from all this confusion by calling it "competition," "innovation" and "growth." To some extent that is true; through an ongoing conversation about the best way to do things, improvements are made.

But we sacrifice something when we uncritically accept so much complexity in our lives.

The key from a leadership point of view is to integrate all things related to people, process and technology under a single dashboard, and to manage them as one cohesive unit.

How do you know when you're successful? Literacy in strategy, technology and culture goes up; productivity goes up; customer satisfaction goes up; and the results you've already clearly identified, for the audiences that you serve, are measurably better.


Opinions my own. Public domain. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.


Government Should Never Try To Be Cool

It’s understandable that government communicators might feel somewhat left out of the swing of things. It’s cool to push brands in the private sector!

But the public looks to government for “boring” stuff. In particular, three kinds of information:
  • Laws, regulations, policies, procedures, and other restrictions. 
  • Services and products available to them. (Free stuff, or stuff at reduced cost.) 
  • Justice, oversight and accountability. 
The public does not want Big Government getting in its way with preachy, money-wasting, vanity campaigns.

As such, the government should not be blogging, Tweeting, Snapchatting or Instagramming as though it were Kim Kardashian.

Better is to provide information in an open format. That way, the public can both access it and weave it into multiple communication feeds that are always traceable to the source.

This can be achieved through branding:
  • Conceive of the government as a single sources of information, e.g.
  • Build one website that aggregates all government information, e.g. using Eliminate all other websites.
  • Eliminate all social media channels but one official agency identity,
  • Create website feeds on by tag such that specialized audiences can lift and repurpose them.
  • Post data to information repositories (e.g. such that specialized audiences can lift and repurpose them.
Brands are singular, not multiple. The government has a wealth of information that the public needs.
The government should stick to its knitting.

Why doesn't the government streamline and standardize communication operations? A few reasons:

  • The common and mistaken belief that government "should tell positive stories about itself" - it shouldn't, that's not part of its mandate.
  • The common tendency to equate results with quantity of communication.
  • The human need to feel important.
  • Lack of skill around technology.
  • Fear of losing one's job by pooling resources.

It is not the public's problem that the government has these shortcomings.

To be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars is to ask the tough questions about how communication money is spent, and reallocate it accordingly.


Opinions my own. Photo via Pixabay (Creative Commons).