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5 Ways to Avoid Christma-fying Your Hanukkah

Monday, December 15th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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It’s fairly obvious that we Jews just don’t get Christmas. Don’t believe me? Check out BuzzFeed’s attempt to get Jews to decorate Christmas trees. (“Who’s Noel?” “Is that like, ‘grassy knoll’?”) Yet, every year we Jewish Americans wrestle as a people over whether or not to incorporate Christmas traditions into our own Hanukkah celebrations. It’s tacky. It’s trite. And it’s really, really lame. Here are five Hanukkah/Christmas hybrids that all Jews need to avoid this holiday season.

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Should We Care When Our Political Leaders Fail?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See the first four parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” “Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power,” and “Should You Trust Your Gut or God?“ Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts hereWarning: some spoilers about season 3 discussed in this installment.

Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.

Zephaniah 3:1-4

Our culture has a seemingly natural distrust of people in power, but that wasn’t always the case. Before November 1963 we put great faith in our political and spiritual leaders. Those pre-’63 figureheads like JFK, Ike and FDR, Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham are still heralded as role models of moral society. Today’s faith is different. We look for hypocrisy and mock it intensely. All spiritual leaders are televangelists skilled in chicanery. Our politicians are now supposed to be our messiahs, and when they fail we as a nation fall into despair and chaos. When did we forget God, and why does it matter that we’ve left Him out of the equation?

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Should You Trust Your Gut or God?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See the first three parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” and “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.

The idea of Olivia Pope is one of a woman who trusts her gut instinct so implicitly that she bases her every decision on it. As a result she unwittingly justifies a range of crimes, puts her life and the lives of her employees and friends at risk, and helps terrorists escape the country. Sometimes listening to your gut just isn’t good enough. Which is probably why God provides a wise alternative in Torah: the prophet.

Biblical culture believes that God speaks to human beings. Sometimes this is done in a group setting, like when the Israelites entered into a covenant with God on Mount Sinai. Other times this is done on an individual level, as when God called out Abraham, spoke to Moses through the burning bush, and when God speaks to His prophets. Given that God spoke to His priests through the long-ago destroyed Temple, Rabbinic Judaism tends to view prophets as the stuff of biblical history, despite the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward [after the restoration of Israel], I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

The Spirit of God in prophecy, known in Rabbinic Judaism as the “bat kol,” is highly regulated by Rabbinic law and culture:

In any event, the consensus in Jewish thought is that no appeal to a heavenly voice can be made to decide matters of halakhah where human reasoning on the meaning of the Torah rules is alone determinative. In non-legal matters, however, a Bat Kol is to be heeded. …In modern Jewish thought, even among the Orthodox, claims to have heard a Bat Kol would be treated with extreme suspicion and dismissed as chicanery or hallucination.

But is it really wise to always trust your gut?

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12 Steps for a Perfect Pop Culture Christmas

Friday, November 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.

12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.

Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?

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A National Call for Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.

So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.

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The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See the first two parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.

The husband/wife relationship is central to feminism. Historical, first-wave feminism studied matrimony in terms of legal rights. Contemporary, second-wave feminism approaches marriage in terms of sexual and economic power. Biblical feminism seeks to understand the spiritual relationship between a husband and wife, and how that spiritual relationship manifests into physical action. To do so, we must begin at the beginning, with Genesis 3:16:

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

“Rule over you” is a phrase that sends chills down any feminist’s spine. But, what does it truly mean? A study of the original Hebrew text provides radical insight into one of the most abused verses of Torah:

This brings us to perhaps the most difficult verse in the Hebrew Bible for people concerned with human equality. Gen 3:16 seems to give men the right to dominate women. Feminists have grappled with this text in a variety of ways. One possibility is to recognize that the traditional translations have distorted its meaning and that it is best read against its social background of agrarian life. Instead of the familiar “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing,” the verse should begin “I will greatly increase your work and your pregnancies.” The word for “work,” izavon, is the same word used in God’s statement to the man; the usual translation (“pangs” or “pain”) is far less accurate. In addition, the woman will experience more pregnancies; the Hebrew word is pregnancy, not childbearing, as the NRSV and other versions have it. Women, in other words, must have large families and also work hard, which is what the next clause also proclaims. The verse is a mandate for intense productive and reproductive roles for women; it sanctions what life meant for Israelite women.

In light of this, the notion of general male dominance in the second half of the verse is a distortion. More likely, the idea of male “rule” is related to the multiple pregnancies mentioned in the first half of the verse. Women might resist repeated pregnancies because of the dangers of death in childbirth, but because of their sexual passion (“desire,” 3:16) they accede to their husbands’ sexuality. Male rule in this verse is narrowly drawn, relating only to sexuality; male interpretive traditions have extended that idea by claiming that it means general male dominance.

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Please Stop Worshiping ‘Bad Boys’

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

In one of his most memorable roles, as the eponymous character of Tim Burton’s 1990 film Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp plays a semi-human manboy with shears for fingers, stuck in eternal youth as those around him wither. I thought of this film last week, as I watched a fifty-something Depp, drunk and clad in his usual get-up of randomly placed crosses and scarves, stumble to the microphone at a televised awards show and deliver a slurred “speech” in which he giggled, cursed, rocked, and swayed his way through a painful two minutes. Here was another manboy on display, albeit one lacking the charm and innocence of Burton’s creation.

It was a shame to see Depp, a genuinely talented and by most accounts kind and gentle man, reduce himself to this display. He is well into middle age—not that any age is an appropriate time for public drunkenness. I suspect his career won’t be dented much, if at all, by the episode. This is not just because he is a celebrity. One can’t imagine, say, Morgan Freeman stumbling onto the stage, delivering a gin-soaked introduction, and walking away with his career totally intact. No, it is Depp’s enduring “bad boy” image that affords him the extra latitude. Those crosses and scarves go a long way. If you can set yourself up as some kind of outsider, those on the inside will start to think they’re caged animals and become desperate for your kind of freedom. The bad boy’s appeal comes from nonchalantly scuffing the social rulebook with his cowboy boots and daring us not to like him because of it.

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Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See Part 1 of Susan’s ongoing series analyzing the connections between ABC’s Scandal, current events, and Western values: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?

Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.

Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.

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What’s Evil Got to Do with It?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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My editor, David Swindle, has a penchant for assigning me to review what I’d consider some pretty nasty stuff. It started with HBO, Girls in particular. He tried getting me into Game of Thrones, but after the whole Red Wedding thing I just couldn’t take it. Now, David has me watching Scandal. It’s more palatable in the network sense (nowhere near the gratuitous nudity and graphic sex levels of HBO), but it’s still as dark. Nothing beats watching a show about a team of lawyers who don’t care a whit about the law. In fact, they go to great lengths to break the law in order to serve the gods of public opinion.

Only four episodes in, I consulted with my PJ colleague April Bey, a big fan of the show, for her opinion. “Everyone is evil, but that’s okay because we’re all evil,” she explained. Her observation was ironic, disturbing, and thought-provoking. Despite an apparent thread of cynicism regarding religion and morality, the struggle between good and evil remains the stuff of blockbuster hits like Scandal. Because our stories reflect our cultural psyche, it should come as no surprise that the word “evil” is beginning to carry serious weight in intellectual circles. Ascribed with more power than a petty adjective (i.e. early 2000′s “evil” George W. Bush), evil is now being discussed as a theory and a reason for contemporary political, legal, military and indeed cultural failings.

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8 Reasons Why Jews & Christians Should Re-Think Celebrating Halloween

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.

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The Feminist Lesson in Mom’s Night Out

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Twenty-four percent of married couple families with children under 15 have a stay-at-home mom. Ninety-nine percent of stay-at-home moms in the movies get a really bad rap. Search “Best Movie Moms” and you’ll get lists that include Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Shelly Duvall in The Shining, and more than a few mentions of Psycho. The majority of movie mothers are either widowed or divorced, careerists or working class, alcoholics or impregnated by UFOs. The closest you’ll get to a stay-at-home mom in post-1940s cinema is Kathleen Turner playing the psychotic Serial Mom or Michael Keaton taking on the role so his wife can pursue her career in Mr. Mom.

In fact, outside of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side there hasn’t been a truly admirable middle-class, white, stay-at-home mother on the silver screen in over 50 years. Which is probably why Mom’s Night Out received such a negative critical reception when it premiered last spring. We have been acculturated out of believing in the power and purpose of stay-at-home moms. Yet, the criticisms leveled at Mom’s Night Out for its “depressingly regressive” spirit and “archaic notions of gender roles” were not applied to a similar film about a stay-at-home mom released only two years prior. This Is 40 received mixed reviews, but praise for yielding “…some of [Judd] Apatow’s most personal observations yet on the feelings for husbands, wives, parents, and children that we categorize as love.”

So, what made This Is 40 palatable in a way that Mom’s Night Out wasn’t? Is there, perhaps, a culturally acceptable way to be a stay-at-home mom?

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How Adam Smith’s Ideas Can Make You Happier

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 - by Helen Smith

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I am reading Russ Robert’s new book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness and it is quite informative. Roberts is an economist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and he delved into Smith’s less famous book to gain insight into life and human nature and shares it with readers in simple, straightforward style:

Adam Smith may have become the patron saint of capitalism after he penned his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. But few people know that when it came to the behavior of individuals—the way we perceive ourselves, the way we treat others, and the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness—the Scottish philosopher had just as much to say. He developed his ideas on human nature in an epic, sprawling work titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Most economists have never read it, and for most of his life, Russ Roberts was no exception. But when he finally picked up the book by the founder of his field, he realized he’d stumbled upon what might be the greatest self-help book that almost no one has read.

In How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Roberts examines Smith’s forgotten masterpiece, and finds a treasure trove of timeless, practical wisdom. Smith’s insights into human nature are just as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago. What does it take to be truly happy? Should we pursue fame and fortune or the respect of our friends and family? How can we make the world a better place? Smith’s unexpected answers, framed within the rich context of current events, literature, history, and pop culture, are at once profound, counterintuitive, and highly entertaining.

By reinvigorating Smith’s neglected classic, Roberts provides us with an invaluable look at human behavior through the lens of one of history’s greatest minds.

I was most interested in the sections on being “loved and being lovely.” Smith says “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.” The author interprets this quote as “Smith means that we want people to like us, respect us, and care about us and take us seriously. We want them to want our presence, to enjoy our company.”

Smith also says that we dread being hated and hateful. Perhaps this explains why people are so afraid when it comes to politics. If you have the wrong political bent these days, you are seen as hateful and hated. Most people don’t seem to be able to tolerate being hated. Being hated is no fun, but pretending to go along with the PC crowd that is ruining our country has to be worse. Smith believes that true happiness comes when we earn the admiration of others honestly “by being respectable, honorable, blameless, generous, and kind.”

Yet how can you be those things in a society that does not value these traits? Our society rewards extroversion, hypocrisy, political correctness at all costs, and phony fads. How can one be genuine, authentic, and truly kind in today’s world? To do so is often to be hated, something Smith says that we dread. Is being hated that awful? Maybe we need people in this society who are strong enough to be hated in order to make significant positive changes in politics and society.

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Crossposted from Dr. Helen

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Why Smoking Bans Are More Dangerous Than Smoking

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 - by Robert Wargas
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One lamentable feature of the contemporary West is the ruthless efficiency of the nanny state. It works overnight. You wake up, slouch over your coffee and corn flakes, and read of the new Bad Thing that must be stopped Right Now. In Britain, the latest activity slated for oblivion is smoking in public parks. Readers, I’m sure, do not need to be reminded that parks are outdoor places; the traditional excuse of “secondhand smoke” does not appear to apply (although it is possible to find “studies” on the dangers of “thirdhand smoke”).

Nevertheless, British officials moved quickly. In September 2013, the mayor of London, alleged conservative Boris Johnson, ordered a “major review of health in the capital,” according to The Independent. The results are already in: Lord Darzi, Britain’s former health minister and the appointed chair of Johnson’s special commission, has said smoking needs to be banned in London’s parks and public squares. There is news that ”councils throughout England are also understood to be analysing how the proposals could be applied locally, paving the way for potentially the biggest crackdown on smoking since the Smoke Free legislation of 2007.”

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10 Ways to Avoid Regretting Your Wedding

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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The average wedding in America costs roughly $30,000. Egged on by countless wedding TV shows, magazines, and websites, people throw what appear to be pseudo star-studded events that aim to rival the kind of blow-out parties you only see in movies. In the end you wind up with one night of clouded memories, a ton of photos, and a group of hungover people hovering over breakfast in the hotel lobby the next day. The bills may last you months, even upwards of a year. And for what? To make your grandmother happy? Because you really liked that episode of My Fair WeddingYou can have a great, regret-free wedding without sacrificing yourself to the Wedding Idol. Here’s how.

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Does Everybody Want Freedom?

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

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A few years ago, on a rainy summer’s day, I was browsing around a secondhand bookshop on the east end of Long Island, breathing in the musty wonder of the overstuffed shelves, when an elderly man approached me. I had in my hand a first edition of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The man started up a friendly conversation about the Second World War, asking me whether I had watched a recent television documentary on the subject.

He continued talking, perhaps unaware that he wasn’t allowing me to respond. I didn’t take this as an insult. Most people prefer to hear themselves talk; this isn’t necessarily a sign of malice or rudeness on their part. I find it’s especially true of the elderly, who are usually lonelier and thus more desperate for the ear of a stranger. So I stood there and listened as politely as I could, not altogether uninterested in his views of fascinating matters like the Nazis and other dictatorships, which are subjects that I could eat with my breakfast cereal.

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Is Medical Greed Leading to D.I.Y. Deaths?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

My PJ colleague Walter Hudson published a compelling argument regarding physician-assisted suicide in response to the ongoing dialogue surrounding terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard. His is a well-reasoned argument regarding the intersection of theology and politics, written in response to Matt Walsh’s Blaze piece titled “There is Nothing Brave About Suicide.” Both pieces are a reminder that, in the ongoing debate over whether or not Maynard has the right to schedule her own death, little has been said regarding the role the medical profession plays in the battle to “Die with Dignity.” Walsh argues:

None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.

It’s a simplistic comment that ignores a very real medical fact: Death can come on your own terms. And that doesn’t have to mean suicide.

My mother was a nurse for 20 years. During that time she worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to private practice, to nursing homes. Much like Jennifer Worth, the nurse and author of the Call the Midwife series, my mother practiced at the end of Victorian bedside nursing and the dawn of Medicare. As a result, the abuses she witnessed in the name of insurance claims were grotesque. For instance, if a patient required one teaspoon of medication, an entire bottle would be poured into the sink and charged to that patient’s insurance company. This was just the tip of the iceberg of unethical practices that would become priority in the name of the almighty “billing schedule.”

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Ross Douthat Loves Lena Dunham for All the Wrong Reasons

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Conservative columnist Ross Douthat has declared his love for Lena Dunham. It hardly comes as a surprise that a New York Times writer, even one who dwells to the right of the aisle, would find the Girls prodigy appealing. What makes Douthat’s devotion disturbing is that he has managed to transform a goddess chained to a slew of liberal causes into a sacrificial lamb for conservative culture. In his struggle to do so, his misses the mark in what could have been one of the most culturally relevant critiques of Girls to date.

The critic defends Dunham’s showpiece Girls, writing,

She’s making a show for liberals that, merely by being realistic, sharp-edge, complicated, almost gives cultural conservatism its due. 

It’s a seemingly ironic observation, based in the idea that Girls “often portrays young-liberal-urbanite life the way, well, many reactionaries see it…” That is, a subculture on the verge of self-destruction due to excessive amounts of what sociologist Robert Bellah dubbed, “the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.”

In other words, as Gawker so simply put it:

He likes watching the show because it allows him to feel superior to Dunham and her fellow sluts.

By employing a rote, traditionalist perspective, Douthat argued himself into a hole, turning his love into judgement and burying his point in poorly-worded theory and equally bad theology.

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Are You a Bad Person if You Give to the Homeless?

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

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A few weeks ago, I was in New York City to meet someone for drinks, and got on the subway at 34th and 7th to head downtown. I dislike the New York subway for many reasons. It is the only such system in a major Western city to look as if it had been swapped with the metro of a third-world backwater. Pick any otherwise dodgy country on Earth, and chances are the subway of its capital city is a gleaming tube with smooth rolling stock and palatial stations. Not New York. The trains lurch between filthy platforms like winos stumbling to and from tenement doorsteps.

It is also a place in which I am continually confronted with the human condition. Sometimes it takes the form of rudeness; other times, drunkenness. On this particular day, it was poverty. Immediately after the doors closed, a disheveled man entered the car at the far end, battered cap in hand, and made the following announcement to us passengers:

“Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention for one moment, please,” he said loudly. “I don’t want to bother you, but I am a homeless veteran. If you could spare some money, I would greatly appreciate it.”

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The Battle Against Israel’s Orthodox Patriarchy

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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I didn’t fully appreciate how spiritually free I am as an American woman until I set foot on an El Al plane.

“Do you speak Hebrew?” the fretting woman in front of me asked.

“No, not really.”

“It’s okay, I speak English,” she hurriedly replied, obviously looking for a friendly face. “These Orthodox,” she motioned to the people sitting next to her, “they don’t like sitting next to women.”

“Well, that’s their problem.” My response was pointed, matter-of-fact, American.

She smiled as if a light bulb went off in her head. “You’re right!” Her expression grew cloudy. “But what if I take off my sweater? They won’t like that I expose my shoulders with my tank top.”

Again, I simply replied, “That’s their problem.”

She smiled, empowered. Removing her sweater, she took her seat and stood her ground.

And at that moment I thanked God I was raised in pluralistic America, and realized, oddly enough, that the Holy Land was giving me my first chance to practice the biblical feminism I’ve preached.

Israel is a Western nation in that women have equal rights by law. Israel is also a confluence of religious and ethnic cultural attitudes, not all of which are friendly to women. Two days into our trip to Jerusalem, a family member who also happens to be a retired journalist explained the latest story to hit the nightly news. A man accused of spousal abuse was released to return home. Later that evening, police found his wife had been shot dead. The husband confessed to the murder. Apparently, domestic violence and death is a relatively small but significant problem in Israel. When I asked my former journalist why, he pointed to the influence of Middle Eastern (both Arabic and radical Islamic) patriarchal culture as the primary source.

Yet, even religious Jews in Israel (and around the world), despite their insular nature, are far from immune to sexual abuse. Sex scandals among the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) show up frequently on the evening news. In this case it’s not the Arab/Muslim influence, but perverted behaviors that arise from rabbinic abuse of biblical teachings. How do you expect a man to relate to a woman sexually when he’s not even allowed to look her in the eye?

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15 Songs Millennials Must Listen to in Order to Understand the 1980s

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

You’ve seen Thriller and heard all about Madonna, but what do you really know about the decade that ushered in the millennial generation? Think the era of scrunchies, boom boxes, pump sneakers and DeLoreans was just a fad? Think again. Some of the 1990s’ greatest pop culture trends were birthed in the millieu of Reaganomics, cable television, and a music video-loaded MTV.

15. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”

The ’80s was the decade of John Waters, the B-52s and all things camp coming to fruition. Decked out in eyeliner, lipstick and braids, Boy George popularized the aesthetic of this gay subculture with a poppy little tune about conflicted relationships. As for the music video, where better to set a gay guy’s love song in the ’80s than an 1870s riverboat called the “Chameleon” where a cheating gambler’s karma comes back to haunt him? Dude, it’s the ’80s: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” started here.

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10 Reasons Why I Will Forever Love Joan Rivers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

I pushed off the idea of writing this article when I first heard that Joan Rivers, one of my comic icons, was rushed to the hospital after a botched outpatient procedure last week. I didn’t want to think about having to say goodbye to Joan, to bid farewell to yet another icon of an age gone by, a powerhouse who managed to be a cultural force until her last breath. The only solace we can muster is in knowing that, for these ten reasons at least, Joan’s memory will be a blessing.

10. Joan never grew old or gave up.

At 81, she was as attuned to pop culture, politics, and current events as a 20 year old. A self-made fashionista, the comedian never retired, sat in a chair, or gave in to technology. Joan will forever be a role model to women who refuse to trade style for a shapeless moo-moo and an office chair for a rocking chair. In her later years she paired up with Melissa, illustrating that mothers and daughters really can work together and get along. She was a modern Bubbe, surrounded by her children and grandchildren as she took the world by storm.

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15 Tricks and Tips for Getting the Most Out of College

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

15. Everything you know about the social stratosphere is wrong…

College is nothing like high school. You understand this in theory, but have never experienced the kind of social freedom you will in college. There are no cliques. There is no lunch table. Welcome to the world of being an adult. For the first couple of weeks you’ll attend pre-arranged mixers, usually orientation events or annoying team-building activities your RA spent all summer training to lead. These awkward moments are helpful for one reason: Discovering who has a car. As a freshman, be aware that the parties you crash at frat houses aren’t for making friends, they’re for getting drunk and hooking up. You’ve been warned.

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11 Lessons About Religion I’ve Learned from Pop Culture Polytheism

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.

Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.

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The 10 Most Important Life Lessons I Learned from Mork from Ork

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

As a Gen-X/millennial crossover, I was fortunate enough to first meet Robin Williams as Mork from Ork on the sitcom Mork and Mindy. A comedic powerhouse, Mork’s colorful wardrobe and loud laugh were the first things I imitated as a child. As I grew up, I would look back and realize the many character lessons I learned at home were reinforced by a supremely acted alien outsider with a predilection for sitting on his head. In virtually every role he played, Robin Williams taught his audience a life lesson. As a young kid there was no one more fun to hang around with and learn from on TV than Mork from Ork.

10. Old people rule.

Mork marvels at the way the elderly are ignored and maligned on earth. On Ork, old folks are revered as the wise, experienced ones to learn from. “The Elder” is called on to remind Mork of his Orkishness. His was an early lesson in the importance of respect and reverence for the elders in your life and how very important all people are, no matter and, perhaps, especially because of their age.

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