Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Thinking about things that are going on in my life made me change my Facebook profile picture to this:
An old friend responded by pointing me here.  Turns out that Mother Theresa did not compose the famous list of "do it anyway"s which is attributed to her.  It was composed by Kent Keith, a 19-year-old student activist at Harvard in 1968, as part of a pamphlet he wrote for aspiring student leaders.   His story is quite amazing.  Please set aside some time to read http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/ in its entirety.  You will not regret it.

The "Mother Teresa" version is actually somewhat modified from the original.  Here is the original version:

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
The "Mother Teresa" version left out the last two, and substituted the following:

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;It was never between you and them anyway.

When Mr. Keith became aware of this version, he wrote:

The last two lines in this "final analysis" version trouble me, because they can be read in a way that is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, the life of Mother Teresa, and the message of the Paradoxical Commandments themselves. The statement that "it was never between you and them anyway" seems to justify giving up on, or ignoring, or discounting other people.
That is what Jesus told us we should not do. Jesus said that there are two great commandments-to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So in the final analysis, it is between you and God, but it is also between you and "them."

Of course, these 2 great commandments originated in Judaism and predated Jesus.  In fact, Keith's interpretation is very much rooted in the Jewish understanding of morality.  Morality in Judaism is always a balance between what we owe G*d and what we owe each other.  We serve G*d by acts of lovingkindness towards others, and we are commanded to love each other by seeing the image of the divine in every individual.

As we approach the High Holidays, we are reminded of this as we seek to atone for our sins.  If we have transgressed against a ritual law (desecrating the Sabbath, or eating non-kosher foods), then that is between ourselves and G*d.  We can beg forgiveness and move on, resolving to do better.  Sins against others (anything from gossip or envy to serious crimes) cannot be atoned for until the victim him/herself has forgiven the offense.  As Keith said, it is between you and G*d, but it is also between you and them.

Have a Happy New Year.... anyway!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Responsibility vs. Guilt

The previous post touched on the futility of blame, whether directed towards others or to oneself.  More thinking and talking about self-blame, or guilt/shame, made me realize that the concept of responsibility is muddled with the concept of guilt.

Now, certainly there is a connection between the two:  If someone is guilty, we hold them responsible for their actions.  This connection, however, is not an identity.  Guilt is in the past, while responsibility is in the present/future.  When a tragedy happens, it is natural to look for someone to blame.  However, blaming leaves all parties disempowered to move forward and find solutions.  Self-blame feels morally superior, but is ultimately just as disempowering.  Assuming guilt gives rise to feelings of shame, and then avoidance of the situation.  On rare occasions shame can be an impetus to action, but this is the exception, not the rule.

Moreover, the person taking responsibility is frequently NOT the "guilty" party.  If a small child makes a mess, s/he is unlikely to "take responsibility" for cleaning up.  The parent will take the initiative to say "Uh oh, made a mess, time to clean up!" as well as to involve the child in the cleanup in age-appropriate ways.  A good parent will use this as an opportunity not just to take responsibility for cleaning up, but for teaching the child.  As the child grows, s/he ideally learns to take on more of this responsibility independently.  But the child cleaning up alongside the parent is not an example of taking responsibility, but learning responsibility.  A guilt-based response might be a spanking or other punishment for making the mess, which is not as effective.

Jewish tradition gives us one full day a year to indulge in guilt.  Yom Kippur is one of the most widely observed holidays in Judaism.  The daily prayers, however, focus on positive actions in our everyday lives: gratitude, charity, productiveness, justice and so on.  Even the section focusing on "transgressors" emphasizes that we pray for their reformation, not punishment.

In what areas of your life are guilt and shame holding you back from taking positive action?

In what areas of your life are you ready and willing to take responsibility?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hatred and Love

Yesterday was the Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av.  Traditionally, this fast commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other tragedies in the history of the Jewish people.

This context is not very relevant in Jewish life today, where religion is centered on family and community, not the Temple sacrificial rituals of ages past.  Therefore, the observance has fallen out of fashion by most non-Orthodox Jews.  Some, however, have taken a bit of Midrash about Tisha B'Av to create a new context, one that is relevant not only to Jews, but to all humanity, and especially today.
Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, and immorality, and bloodshed... But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of mitzvot, and the practice of charity]? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of equal gravity to three sins, idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed, together. (Talmud Bavli Yoma 9b)
Is this not what we see today? Certainly, there are many people doing terrible things!  Wars, crime, and exploitation of the poor and the weak (from institutional discrimination to police brutality to pedophilia) abound.  In our personal lives, there is conflict and suffering.

However, the message of Tisha B'Av is that these phenomena are only one half of the equation.  Our world is not broken simply because bad things happen.  Our reactions to them are just as important.  Too often our natural reaction is to point fingers and look for someone to blame our (or the world's) woes on.  How much easier to hate than to seek constructive solutions and self-improvement!  Whether we place the blame on liberals or conservatives, on those more religious than ourselves or more secular, hateful blame is surely anathema to the goals we claim to espouse.

Baseless hatred of oneself (guilt/shame) is no better, as it disempowers the individual from taking positive actions.  These positive actions usually do not give the emotional high of self-righteous anger or anguish.  They are usually mundane actions of doing what needs to be done in spite of our feelings, of showing love and kindness to those who are not reciprocating it, because it is the right thing to do.

Many if not most Jews observe Yom Kippur in some fashion.  Saying sorry and "atoning for our sins" is a cleansing feeling.  Clearing the slate for the new year is energizing and motivating.  I would love to see Tisha B'Av take a similar place in modern Jewish life.  The Haftorah cycle recognizes the connection between these two fasts with the Seven Shabbatot of Consolation.  How much more powerful would our capacity to forgive and seek forgiveness be if we spent the next two months actively tuning in to how we can turn our hatred into love?

Monday, July 20, 2015

On denying service because of "religious beliefs"

By now this is really old news.  So many other scandals, of far greater significance, have made headlines since the bigoted bakers refused to cater a same-sex wedding.

Where exactly is the line between defending civil rights and allowing people to be jerks?  Some people tried to create a mirror image by asking if a gay baker would have to cater a homophobic rally.  But a same-sex marriage is not anti-Christian, it is just non-Christian (at least according to certain denominations).  So what would be a parallel?

It occurred to me that a Christian baptismal or confirmation ceremony may well choose a kosher caterer, especially if the extended family includes Jewish members, or even just if the kosher caterer has an excellent reputation for quality.  Would the kosher caterer refuse to serve an event which is, from his/her religious point of view, idolatrous?   Highly unlikely.  That is not at all the same as asking a Rabbi to perform a Christian baptism.

So, no, refusing to serve a same-sex wedding is not a legitimate expression of your religious belief, it is just bigotry.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Where Hope Grows

Went to see http://www.facebook.com/wherehopegrows, which unfortunately is not showing anywhere in MA, so we had to drive to RI to catch it. Totally worth it, awesome movie! David DeSanctis's role is important to the plot, but the movie is much more about the alcoholic father and his relationship with his daughter than about Down syndrome. The movie also tastefully tackles situations where characters use the "r-word" (http://therword.org/). All in all, a very well-done independent film. Please go see it tomorrow!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Presume Competence

This article is well on the way to becoming viral.  The vision of what's possible when we presume competence is glorious in its brilliance.  Read the article.  Support the vision.  Go.

This image startled me when I read the article a second time:
 photo print 173_zpsxnavev0i.jpg

100 years ago, all of the individuals in this picture would be ineligible to benefit from a college education, whether due to gender, race, or disability.  All would be considered inferior, incompetent, undeserving.

How much richer our world is when we presume competence.

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