Monday, December 27, 2010

Another amazing milestone

A couple of weeks ago I posted this blog commemorating the birth of my daughter Revital and my personal promotion to the rank of Abba (Daddy).

However, looking back on that blog, I realize that it may be very misleading – especially to those not yet blessed with children. As special as the birth of a first born is, I hope that in no way did anybody get the impression that subsequent births are any less special, meaningful or powerful.

Last week, we celebrated the 6th birthday of Limor, our younger daughter – like Revital, born right around Chanukah (6 days after as opposed to Revital’s 2 days before), and like Revital, she really is as bright as a candle in our lives.

Unlike Revital, Sharon’s labor with Limor was very quick – it was almost over before we realized it had begun.

Good friends (one of the crowd from my college days that I’ve mentioned before) had just moved to Israel, to our city of Modi’in, no less, and we were invited to their house for dinner on a Sunday night. What made it extra special is that they had good friends visiting them from the States that week, the woman had been one of my “kids” years ago in youth group and we had been very close. So, dinner it was.

As it turned out Revital, who had just turned 3, was a little bit sick that evening, but with 3 of the 4 grandparents already here for the any-day-now celebration (and the fourth one due a couple of days later), finding good babysitting that night was not such a challenge. We also knew that we couldn’t be out too late since Sharon (and our respective / respectable mothers) had to finish making the cake and other paraphernalia for Revital’s birthday party in her nursery school the following morning.

So we went to dinner, had a lovely time, and life was good. We got back home, and Sharon finished up the cake for the following morning with her mother and mother playing very strong supporting roles, and me, knowing my place and the strength of all I had to contribute, went to bed and promptly fell asleep.

At about 12:30am my wake-up call came and Sharon was ready to go to the hospital. So her mother and I loaded her into the car, and drove to Hadassah Mount Scopus hospital in Jerusalem. We left Sharon’s father in the apartment with Revital and my mother was staying with good friends in the apartment upstairs, so we were pretty well covered.

We got to the hospital around 1:00 and pretty quickly were in the delivery area. After a couple of hours of the various exercises, showers, screaming in pain, and blaming me for everything, Sharon was ready to have a baby.

Now picture this – it all happened so fast, that by the time Sharon was ready for an epidural, it was too late to give her one, so were “on our own”, as it were. At 4:15am we were in the delivery room, me standing right next to Sharon with her using one arm to rip my shoulder out of its socket, and the other arm bruising the hell out of my back. My mother-in-law was standing next to me joining me in the words of encouragement to Sharon about how wonderfully she was doing.

Right when the doctor had told Sharon it was time for the final push – right as our child was coming into the world, my cell phone rang. How’s this for the “perfect moment”? The time was 4:18am, just about dawn – the ringtone that I had at the time on my phone was “(The Dawning of the) Age of Aquarius” from the musical “Hair”. And all I could think to say was “Who the hell is calling me right now??”

But I quickly pushed that question aside because Voila! We were parents for the second time.

I learned not long after, that the call was from my father-in-law – staying at home with Revital. He wanted to let us know that Revital had gotten out of bed and climbed into our (empty) bed, and gone back to sleep – not worried that we weren’t there, just being in our bed. But how bizarre is it that she did this at the exact moment her sister was being born???

Now, Limor’s first act as a person – i.e. being born – was also an example of the many good deeds to come with this little girl. She was born after only about 3 hours of labor, keeping her mother’s suffering to a minimum (especially significant because we were not able to go the epidural route). Equally important, she came out early enough in the morning that I after getting Sharon until settled into her room, I was able to get home, get Revital up and dressed for nursery school and be there with her for the birthday party she was having that day. If Limor had been born even 2 hours later, Revital would have had her party only with her 2 grandparents (whom she loves very much, but it’s still hard to do something like that without at least one parent to share it!).

But no, Limor burst onto the world scene with such an act of selflessness that her sister was also able to have her shining moment at her gan.

As I mentioned in the blog about Revital’s birth, one idea which I like very much is that the naming of a child is a form of prophecy left in the world. The names we give reflect traits and meanings that we wish upon our children.

The name Limor means “Myrrh to me” – Myrrh was one of the spices used in the service of the Holy Temple and it is said to be a very “unifying” spice – that is to say that other spices, whose scents may not be among the more pleasing smells, when combined with myrrh are much more pleasant. Myrrh has the power to bring out the best in otherwise drab scents.

Limor too, has that power. She has such a genuine sweetness to her, a love of everything she does and everyone with whom she does it. Her kindergarten teacher last year told us that whenever there was a child in the gan that was shy, or playing alone, or sad, she could always ask Limor if she would invite that child to play with her, and Limor would always agree to – and the child in question would almost always accept the invitation. She is the myrrh that allows others around her to shine.

Her middle name is significant as well, but it was less a “prophetic” name and more a reflection on the moment of her birth. When a child is being born right at the dawn, and at that same moment my cell phone starts playing “Age of Aquarius”, what other name could we choose besides Shachar (Dawn)?

But the name Shachar has a deeper meaning for us personally.

A year and a half after Revital’s birth, Sharon suffered a very difficult and relatively late-stage miscarriage. Besides the physical pain, emotionally we were both devastated.

However, as painful as that experience was, and for all that we can sit around and play the “what if” game, if we had not suffered that miscarriage, we never would have had Limor Shachar a year and a half later. Yes, we would have had a different child, and yes, we would have loved that child with all of our hearts, and yes, the child would have been wonderful.

But that child would not have been this particular one. He or she would not have been Limor Shachar, with all of the traits and highly individual personality that this particular little girl has.

And now that she has been such a part of our lives for 6 years, I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be like with my Limor.

After the pain and the loss that we did go through, Limor truly did, and continues to represent, a new beginning – the dawn of this next stage of our life as a family. She is the myrrh to us that brings us together and she is the one who heralds the new dawn.

She is in every sense – Limor Shachar.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stuck In The Middle

Recently there has been an enormous uproar in Israel and abroad over a ruling by 50 Israeli rabbis that it is forbidden according to halacha (Jewish law) for Israeli Jews to sell land or to rent property to Arabs.

First things first – I agree with those who have so vociferously opposed this ruling as racist, and completely unacceptable in a Jewish Democratic state.

As a religiously committed Jew, there are very few things that anger me more than seeing Jewish Law invoked to further political agendas. I'm all for having strong political views – even those with which I disagree or find completely misguided.

I'm also all for having strong religious beliefs – in believing in whatever it is a person believes and in finding the consistency between those beliefs and said person's practice (assuming those beliefs are not constructed to bring harm to anyone).

But I am very careful about mixing the two and I am wary of those who do so.

Yes – demographics are a concern, and the desire to keep a very clear Jewish majority wherever we can in Israel is very important.

Yes, too many Arab Israelis (although certainly not all) support – either in spirit or in money, and actual participation – their Palestinian brethren's struggle against the "evil Zionist entity". While this struggle is ostensibly being waged against the so-called "occupation" (more that that topic in another blog), very few of us really believe that thanks to how many attacks are perpetrated in Israel "proper" (i.e. not outside of the Green Line, i.e. the parts of Israel which are not meant to be in question). As a result, it is not unreasonable in the least for Jews to decide that not only do we want to have a Jewish majority in the Jewish State, but that it is preferable to live in a community where none of our neighbors might possibly be joining our enemies in an effort to destroy Israel.

So, I can understand the sentiments behind wanting a ruling such as the recent one issued and I can understand the desire for Jewish Israelis to sell and rent only to other Jewish Israelis. And if individuals choose to do so for their own personal reasons, that is completely their prerogative.

But certainly not as a matter of national policy and even more certainly not as a Rabbinical decision presented as though it was a matter of Jewish Law handed down throughout the generations since the Torah was first given to us at Mount Sinai.

That's crossing a line.

That is taking the Torah, the Talmud, and the great Mesorah (tradition) handed down by our Rabbis and leaders for millennia, and using it to demonize an entire race of people.

And that's racism.

The line becomes even more crossed (I'm not really sure how that imagery works, but hopefully you get the idea) when so many of the Rabbinical authorities issuing such a decree are chief rabbis of municipalities in Israel – that is to say government employees.

Fortunately there are also many Rabbis and halachic authorities – both current and past – who do not agree with this recent ruling. The relevance is that, as with most issues of halacha, the answer is not so clear cut. There are varying viewpoints, and they all have a root in the ancient and sacred Jewish texts.

So while the Israeli political right has rallied behind these Rabbis and their Torah-based justification for a racist statement, the Israeli (and world) left has rallied to condemn it.

And while I agree with their complaint about the left has regarding this ruling, I also believe that the left has lost the right to protest the ruling on the basis which they protest it.

The idea of a religious law declaring that it is forbidden to sell land to an entire race of people is nothing new, and one does not need to look back further than a year ago for another example.

The Palestinian Land Laws for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip prohibit the selling of any Arab-owned land to Jews, and in early 2009 a Palestinian Islamic Chief Justice issued a fatwa (religious decree) to enforce this law. Violation of the law (that is to say – selling land or property to Jews) is considered by Palestinian Law to be High Treason and it carries the death penalty.

This is not simply bombastic talk, folks – this is real. In April 2009, a man was convicted and sentenced to death by a Palestinian military court.

Where was the outcry from the left – either in Israel or anywhere else in the world? Where were the charges of racism, and calls for inquiries, dismissals and charge of incitement?

Over the last few days you would not believe (actually, you probably would) how many of my Facebook friends have posted articles, op-eds, blogs, analyses, etc. decrying the racist ruling of the 50 rabbis. The number of posts and re-posts and status updates regarding this have been in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Yet, if the objection to the ruling was truly rooted in a complete rejection of racism, then shouldn't we also be yelling and screaming about the racism in the Palestinian world which has religious leaders issuing the exact same rulings?

If the left wants to show respect for the Palestinians and show that they regard them as equals, then they need to hold the Palestinian people and their leadership to the same standards that they hold Israel and Israeli leadership.

If racist religious decrees are wrong (which I believe they are), then they are wrong from either end of the spectrum, and if the left wants to make a stand against racist religious edicts, then they need to make that stand whenever and wherever these edicts are issued.

Choosing to protest the racism only when it comes from those on the opposite end of the political spectrum is both hypocritical and racist in and of itself. It is assuming that the Palestinians "don't know any better" or, even worse, are justified in practicing the same racism that too many on the Israeli right practice.

And that is simply unacceptable. Period.

Perhaps it's time for the Israeli right to stop allowing their religious views affect their political ones and for the left to stop allowing their political views affect their religious ones.

Until then, I sort of feel like the Stealers Wheel song "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you".

Monday, December 6, 2010

Raising awareness - My way

I have never been one to shy away from admitting my own ignorance, so I had no problem acknowledging in my Facebook status yesterday that I simply didn't get this recent world-wide Facebook campaign to raise awareness of Child Abuse by replacing our profile pictures with those of cartoon characters. I simply don't see the connection between the two.

I was both touched and pleased by the discussion which ensued in the thread – from people expressing that they think it's a pointless gesture, to people explaining the rationale behind the campaign itself.

One explanation which a couple of friends shared as the rationale behind the campaign is that the innocence associated with our childhood cartoons is meant as a reminder of the innocence stole from children when they suffer abuse.

That strikes me as a beautiful sentiment, but in terms of making the connection, it still feels like a stretch.

On the other hand, one friend felt that this is a good example of "Slacktivism" – which is a term coined sometime in the 1990's and defined in Wikipedia's encyclopedia as "a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction".

Other friends, particularly those with first-hand appreciation of child abuse and neglect, agreed that it did make them feel better about their awareness and actions, but that for them that was a positive thing, not negative.

One friend shared that this campaign was the initiative of a British organization, the NPSCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). The idea was to change your pic to that of a cartoon character and include a link to the NPSCC site, and ideally donate to the cause.

But then another friend posted that she saw a report saying the group that initiated the entire campaign is actually a pedophile group doing this to have more 'friend requests' accepted.

Personally I haven't (yet) seen this report, but unfortunately I cannot rule out the possibility.

Another friend mentioned the whole Pink Ribbon campaign has blossomed into an massive and successful symbol of breast cancer awareness. This is true, though while I'm not sure how the concept of the pink ribbon first became associated with the fight against breast cancer, today there is a very clear connection between the symbol and the cause in that one of the primary organizations dedicated to fighting breast cancer (and increasing its awareness) is the organization Pink Ribbon International.

So, then entire discussion thread, and everything that people shared – on all sides of the issue got me thinking a great deal.

The first thought was that if I don't think that changing my profile picture is the best way that I can raise awareness, then what is? For me, the answer was pretty obvious – blog about it.

I admit that part of this is more "self-serving" – I do want people reading my blogs, for many personal reasons. I would love to build up a "following", and I like having ideas that I share with the world thorough the venue of this (and my other) blog.

But with this particular issue, there is a deeper element. The more people that read this, the more awareness we can help raise towards the issue. If every one of my Facebook friends were to read this, and then re-post it on their pages, it can only bring that much more attention to the issue, which really is the goal.

My initial gut reaction hasn't changed, although today I feel a little bit less ignorant of the arguments than I was 24 hours ago.

That gut feeling is that while I am all for fighting Child Abuse and Neglect in every way possible, I still don't get exactly how replacing my profile picture with that of a cartoon character will fight this. I don't see how it raises awareness, and I cannot imagine that if for 24 or 48 hours my profile picture was that of Tigger, or Scooby Doo, or Hong Kong Fooey, that anybody would see that and think to themselves "Wow! I really need to help fight child abuse".

In order to raise awareness through Facebook, I can think of measures which I believe would be far more effective. For example, having everybody you know change their status update to "Yo people! Child Abuse is a huge problem and you need to be aware of it and to help fight it".

I think that this would raise awareness and sensitivity to the issue better than a cartoon pic signifying innocence would. Don't you?

Alternately, if we want to shock people into an awareness of the problem, rather than posting pics of cartoon characters, we should put up pictures of abused children. Unfortunately there is no shortage of pictures to choose from for that, and would draw a much stronger connection between the message that we are trying to convey and the method in which we convey that message.

Please don't get me wrong – in no way do I mean to trivialize the efforts that people are making, or the intentions with which they are doing something that they believe will raise awareness to what is arguably one of the most serious issues facing society to day.

It seems that over the past couple of years, even in Israel, which is known as a very child-friendly society, we are seeing news reports of a mother or father neglecting, beating and even murdering their own children.

I am thankful that we are still shocked and horrified when we hear these stories. Even with it happening more often, it still hasn't become so "commonplace" that we just accept it something that happens. Please God, we will continue to be as shocked and as outraged whenever we do hear about these things, and Please God we can do whatever possible as a society, as a community to put an end to it.

Violence in society is bad enough, and needs to be addressed, but when it is perpetrated against the helpless victims – the children without the means to protect themselves against those who are meant to be their own protectors, then no holds barred in putting an end to it.

I would love to see the absolute harshest possible penalties imposed on anyone who abuses their children, no parole, children taken away and placed in a loving environment, and a make the abusers complete social outcasts.

In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs teaches us in several places (13:24; 22:15; 23: 13-14) that we should use "the rod" to discipline our children.

I don’t know, maybe I'm showing the heretical side in myself (again!), but I'm not sure that means that beating our children is a generally acceptable form of discipline.

I don't take this to its opposite extreme – an occasional potch on the butt does not (in my mind) qualify as abuse – nor does the occasional smack (with open hand and not full-strength) on the cheek. Some of you saw this blog which I posted a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about the smack that my mother used which taught me a very important lesson about racism (against it) when I was very young.

I believe that the what the author of Proverbs is trying to impress upon us is the need for discipline – not necessarily in the actual form of a rod or stick or other implement of beating, but in the form of a very strict, and consistent approach.

And even if, as I said, a whollop on the butt is not in and of itself "abuse", as the father of two very active and willful children, I can honestly say that I have yet to find a situation in which a spanking could accomplish anything positive that couldn't be accomplish by more creative and constructive means as well. So, if I have the better methods at my disposal, why shouldn't I use them?

I know that I am not the perfect father. I get angry; SOmetimes I lose patience and my temper with my girls. That's normal – I suffer from the malady of being human and having human weaknesses.

But my girls know that even when I am angry, even when I have reached the end of my rope with them, the discipline that I am trying to bring them is one of love.

I can take that even one step further. On the occasional nights that they go to bed having me angry with them for one reason or another, more often than not, in the middle of the night they will get out of bed and crawl into my bed to cuddle up with me. And they know that they will never be sent away. That alone tells me that even when things aren't so great, and I do lose my temper, my daughters see me as the one who takes care of them and protects them – not the one that they need protection from.

And that's the way it's supposed to be.