Monday, February 27, 2017

We Have Done our Children a Disservice!

Do we provide a proper and appropriate education for our children?  My girls are in college, have decided on the initial direction of their lives and are starting to focus on their futures.  Am I too late to start having these types of thoughts? 

Gab was a good student, she went to school and worked hard to achieve good grades in preparation for college.  Bec, while also a good student, always questioned why she had to learn the things that made no sense, would not have benefit on her future and wasted her time.  This was true for secular and religious education, with religious being harder to explain to her, as the time was limited, and the curriculum a bit repetitive.  Yes, each new High School year started with a couple of weeks review.  Hebrew School had the same holidays to review each year.  I am now at a point, with one child ready to graduate college and the other half way through her higher educational time period, to evaluate what we put our children through.  As Andy Andrews says, “The goal is not to raise great kids. It's to raise kids who become great adults.”  Based on those two sentences, as parents, we need to ensure that what our children learn and experience provides them with the appropriate tools for the future. 

Hut, Hut, Hike!  I feel like a Monday morning quarterback, recapping the big game including the would have dones, the should have dones and the overall better strategies.  My girls have turned out GREAT, so I cannot (and will not) complain.  But, can we tweak the experience for the next generation?  Yes.  As always, change is difficult, but sometimes, we fall into the routine of maintaining the status quo.  I was recently given the explanation that we only have a set amount of time, so there are some things we have to sacrifice to teach other things.  What if they are the wrong things and who makes those decisions?  If the expected results were not reached, they were not correct.  As a project manager, one of the things we do after a project, is to evaluate the project, talk with our customers to see what their experience was like, and review our outcomes.  I could say, we finished and delivered what we said, but that is only part of the story.  To borrow a line from Paul Harvey, “…the rest of the story…” is what can make the difference to future projects, provide proper expectations, help teams pull together and enhance user experiences.

As adults, in any endeavor we undertake, we consider the results we want, what we have to do to get the results and track our progress on obtaining those results.  We need to be as diligent with our children’s education. Many of us move to a town with a good school (or send to private) and send them to the religious school that is part of the institution we belong to; this, however, is done with broader strokes.  I remember going to Hebrew School and spending a significant amount of time watching filmstrips (I am dating myself) and the occasional spitball zipping through the air.  Okay, I can read Hebrew, but I never learned to translate nor to talk the language.  Minus the filmstrips (and hopefully the spitballs), plus some different experiences, both girls can read Hebrew, but they never learned to translate nor to talk the language.  They have had a similar experience to what I had.  If you ask them what they should have learned, they can tell you versus what they did not.

While we provide a home that values a strong education, we must also understand the curriculum for our children.  Education is always a hot topic, but we cannot always rely on a “what was good for me is good for you” attitude.

Monday, February 20, 2017


My grandfather grew up in a small village in Austria, today it would be located in the Ukraine.  Life might have been tough for a Jew in that part of the world, during the early part of the 1900’s, but, life was simpler compared to today.  I remember one of the stories that my grandfather told me revolving around religious practice.  Each Saturday morning, they would go to Shabbat services – the entire village.  Afterward, there was a meal where the community would sit facing the dais where the community’s Rabbi would speak / educate the community for hours on end.  In another story, my grandfather and his sisters would help the community in preparing for Passover – their job was to put the perforating holes in the matzo.  This was their fabric of life in Europe, not to dissimilar to the many generations that preceded them.  They lived a spiritual life, they were educated in their rituals and daily, this was their practice.  I was even told that there was a prayer when you finished in the bathroom and a blessing to wash your hands.  As Grandpa explained, this is so that we remember to do all of these things.

Are we as a population still spiritual in terms of the way that has been defined in previous generations?  Most of us have gone to some type of religious education (i.e., Sunday School) as children.  Heck!  We even sent our children.  This is a great way to learn the history, traditions and, in some cases, culture of who we are from a religious point of view.  Napoleon Hill, In Think and Grow Rich, refers to the Infinite Intelligence, his wording for a higher power.  When we pray, we ask externally for help, guidance and support.  In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell talks about that spiritual presence being inside us, comparing our relationship with our higher authority using the symbolism of Yin and Yang, where, conceptually, a piece or recognition of “G-d”, in a small way, has to be internal, otherwise we cannot recognize each other.
If we have any belief in the two outstanding thought providers above, do we need organized religion, the related institutions, and practices / beliefs developed thousands of years ago?  As the future president of my synagogue, I should be answering with a resounding YES.  As someone searching for answers, it might be more of a maybe?  If I commune with a “higher authority,” live a life with good morals and values, help others to achieve goals and meditate on finding a guiding path, what does organized religion offer me?  Does it provide answers?  Or, does it help us to find ourselves?  Moses, in my mind the greatest of biblical prophets, is often referred to as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher. There is the phrase, finding one’s yogi or guru, which is a person to follow and learn from.  In both cases, these teachers provide an education on ideas and have the ability to lead their people on a guided path, which is true of most leaders that have had some revelation.

In my grandfather’s youth in Europe, society was homogeneous; there really was no secular versus non-secular until you left the village.  In Skalat, everyone was Jewish, everyone learned the same way, everyone practiced religion the same way.  It is noted that many of the religious traditions and basic ideas are taken from the different groups of ancient people, and transformed for a new peoples.  Living where I do, we are a “melting pot” of peoples, ideas and background – a great way to learn tolerance and appreciate others.  We no longer live in the Skalats of our ancestors.  It might sound like heresy, but, it just might be time to take the 1500 – 2000 year old practices and provide some updates.  Do we all need some connection to spirituality – YES.  Do we need a new way of passing on where we came from – YES.  Grandpa’s youth had no cars, no telephones, no radios, no television, and no computers.  Today, we live in a different, smaller world and we need to recognize that so that we can prepare to face tomorrow…

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Disruptive Factor - Learning to Love Change in My Life

Where's My Kitchen?!?

My morning routine during the week is simple:

  1. Wake up early
  2. Go downstairs to exercise for 15 – 20 minutes
  3. Shower
  4. Put up the hot water for tea
  5. Get myself ready for the day (brush teeth, shave, put on some clothes)
  6. Make eggs for breakfast
  7. Write while eating
  8. Clean up breakfast
  9. Finish getting dressed, and,
  10. Leave the house to go to work.

I like the routine and the habit.  During the weekend, there is some variation, for example, I go to the gym and I do not go to work.    Whether I am fully refreshed from a good night’s sleep, or exhausted, the routine is repeatable and varies very little.  That is until the morning where my kitchen disappeared!

That is right, the kitchen sprouting legs, got up and left behind a gaping hole!  My morning routine items 4,6,7, and 8 had been disruptive.  Like some kind of spreading thought, the soft flooring from the living room and den decided to follow the kitchen out the front door (in defiance by not sneaking out the back door); there went morning activity #2.

We have held onto our kitchen and den for over 17 years.  We were comfortable in our environment.  OK, so the den had a spackle spot in the ceiling where a hole existed for a few years.  The kitchen had the same from water damage that was first patched four years ago (not painted) and then fixed after the roof was done a year and a half ago (not painted).  We knew where the tape needed to be replaced on the cabinets where the laminate was peeling away and when to push down the linoleum floor when it curled up near the counter by the sink.  The final straw was the last two months using a reading light instead of replacing the overhead.  Even an advocate for change sometimes feels comfortable where he is at. 

We have lived in this house for over 17 years, and the truth is that the kitchen / living room and dining room were the only rooms that we did not touch, renovate or update.  As you can see from above, to say it was time is an understatement!  We are not the only ones to experience this, but living out of a single room, using a microwave to cook, opening the fridge which is next to the TV and a few feet from the couch is weird.   This has been a challenging, disruptive period in our lives; but as with any change, we reminded ourselves of why we were going through this, what the goals were and the future benefits. 
Looking out the new window

Monday, February 6, 2017

Meaningful Rituals

Early in my life, in fact very, I went through the ritual Brit Milah, the Jewish ceremony of circumcision.  I know there have been the outcry of many groups about the mutilation, etc., blah blah blah.  In religious terms, this signifies the covenant made between G-d and Abraham.  At eight days old, I have no recollection of the event; feel no after effects and all functions as it was intended to.  We are not the only group that goes through this ritual, there have been tribes throughout time and around the world that have this ritual, done at different points in the male life, with different meanings, and tied to different cultural stories.  Why do I open with this ritual?  As it ends up, most people know about ritual.  If I were to talk about the ritual of washing one’s feet before entering a building, you might not be able to relate.  Most importantly, the ritual is tied to a story we learn, has a meaning behind it and reminds us of who we are.

Aside from the circumcision, there are some rituals along the way of life.  In 2017, I have begun to wonder if out of the rituals that are still practiced, do they have relevance to us, do they have meaning to my children, and what purpose do they fulfill.  I understand that 2300+ years ago, a nomadic people develop the stories that helped to describe their lives and practices.  The rituals pertained to those people at the time.  In Judaism, the Torah provided the laws and base rituals.  After the Diaspora, when the Jews became dispersed into the world, the “close knit” people could no longer rely on the leadership of the country / religion. A group of people got together to, for lack of a better word, design how the religion would carry on.  New rituals, practices and understandings were added.  For the next 1800 years, this worked as designed.  In the last 150 years, the development of technology, the change in homogenization of people, and the accessibility to information and things have drastically changed the environment we live in. 

My grandfather told the story that his father came to the United States to earn the money to bring his family over.  When it was time to leave their little village of Skalat, they said goodbye to everyone they knew because of the hardship and length of travel, they expected to never again see the family and friends they were leaving behind.  Today, you hop on a plane and in six or seven hours you can cross the Atlantic.

I remember my first PC, which I bought shortly after I started working in 1985.  You had to start the 286 computer with a disc, there was 36K of memory available, Windows did not exist, and I had no dial-up ability (no internet yet).  The advances in hardware were battling the advances in software, where technology fought to improve to handle the newer programs being written in some weird game of leapfrog.  If I were to pull out the old DOS-based system, I would not be able to run the applications I rely on, communicate with the world, or…there is not or!  I would have a large paperweight taking up space.  Change was required to keep up with the environment.  Some of our rituals have gone the way of the 286 – they had a place in time, they served their original purpose, and, are not known by our children unless they are reading history books on the subject. 

I am now left with the question - How can we update our rituals to make them relevant and meaningful to the next generation?