Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ethics of the Fathers Day 3

Yesterday Adeye put out a prayer request for Andrey, a 16 year old boy who must make a crucial choice: to agree to be adopted and take on a whole new life in a new country, or stay in his country, where he will soon find himself totally on his own.

Today's quote from Pirkei Avot cites Rabbi Gamliel, who said,

Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His will.

May G*d make His will present for Andrey, so that Andrey can make the best decision possible.

Praying for Andrey, as well as for the Mickschls who are there with him now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ethics of the Fathers Day 2

See Day 1 here.

In Chapter 1 of Pirkei Avot, we read Rabbi Hillel's famous quote:

If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

 Unfortunately, most people stop at the first question... This leads to the attitude of "looking out for number one".  Not very enlightened, eh?  But read in context, this is clearly a foreshadowing of the standard airplane emergency procedure: "Put on your own oxygen mask first, then attend to your children."    Yes, we do need to take care of our own interests.  If we ourselves live in abject poverty and in poor health, we make ourselves a burden on others, and are far less able to take care of those who are even less fortunate.

At the same time, if we stop right there, then, "what am I?" -- that kind of existence is brutish and meaningless.  In order to have meaning, our life must have a purpose that is greater than us.

And if not now, when?


Last but not least, Renee's Challenge brings us sweet, adorable Abner:

Boy, born December 2009
Diagnosis:  after-effects of general disease of the central nervous system (neuroinfection); spastic tetraparesis with strong motor disorders; general mental delays, including speech underdevelopment; undescended testicles; shortcut frenulum of tongue; convergent squint

Like Hayley, Abner has CP caused by neuroinfection.  Like her, he is only 2 years old, with an excellent chance of making awesome progress with early intervention.  He looks like he has great spunk and enthusiasm.  I see him at age 17 playing the drums with his school band.   This year he joined forces with his best friend on guitar, and they have been playing at events all around town, and even recorded a few original songs on YouTube.  He is a popular boy, but is still self conscious because of some leftover speech impediment and a slight limp.  He timidly asks the girl he has been worshipping from afar since freshman year to the prom with him.  She says yes!

How could this beautiful, graceful creature have said yes?  Abner can't believe his luck.

How could this handsome, talented boy have asked her?  Hayley can't believe her luck, either!


A little joy on Renee's Challenge is sweet Hayley:

Girl, born April 2010
Diagnosis: organic lesion of the central nervous system as a result of neuroinfection, atonic-astatic syndrome, severe delay of psychological and motor development

 Hayley has CP, caused by an infection in infancy.  She is still so young, she can get lots of early intervention to reach her potential!   Look, she is sitting up well, as well as playing with toys.

In June 2017 I see her in a tutu, dancing with her friends at the end-of-year ballet recital.  This is her last year of therapy, as her dancing and gymnastics regimen has greatly improved her muscle tone and coordination.  She hasn't had a seizure in over a year, although she will continue to provide her teachers with an Epipen "just in case" until her pediatrician gives the all-clear.  As she leaps through the air and prances on her tiptoes, her parents, grandparents and siblings clap enthusiastically, snapping pictures of their beautiful, graceful angel girl!


Today's child in Renee's Challenge is urgently in need of help. Here is Priscilla:

Priscilla has pre-leukemia.  She is only 2 years old.  Most patients with her condition are elderly.  She needs help now!  Medical care for orphans in her country does not bode well for her survival rate.   If she is adopted, she could get bone marrow transplants and other treatments that would reduce her odds of degenerating to acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) within months or a few years.

I see Priscilla in a few years going to school, the regular visits to the Children's Hospital a distant memory.  She is still struggling with issues related to her FAS, though.  Her short-term memory is very poor, which means that she needs extra help to function in day-to-day routines at home and at school.  Her parents and teachers are working with her on impulse control, as well.  She is very friendly and outgoing, though, and takes her challenges head-on each day.  Learning to read and write, once mastered, opens up new worlds for Priscilla.  She can take notes to help her remember her lessons, and discovers that journaling gives her an outlet for all the suppressed memories of her early struggles.  Her poems and short stories are published in children's magazines, boosting her self-esteem. What a glorious life, for a child whose diagnosis is directly correlated to death within a few years if left untreated!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hear, O Israel (Part 2)

Today's prayer is dedicated to the children of Pleven, by Susanna's request.

Deuteronomy 6:4:

ד  שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל:  יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד. 4 Hear, O Israel: the LORD our G*d, the LORD is one.
I discussed this at length a few days ago, but this goes on.  (You probably guessed that from the "Part 1" hint....)

ה  וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ. 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy G*d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
ו  וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ. 6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart;
ז  וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ, וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. 7 and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
ח  וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת, עַל-יָדֶךָ; וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת, בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.
ט  וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל-מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ, וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.  {ס} 9 And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates. 

What does it mean to love G*d with all your heart, and all your soul and all your might?

You love G*d with all your heart when it's easy.  It is pleasant to celebrate holidays and sacraments with your community of faith.  It is easy to praise G*d when things are going well and you are feeling genuinely grateful.

You love G*d with all your soul when it's hard.  When someone falls ill or dies, or when the prayers don't seem to flow naturally but you do them anyway.

You love G*d with all your might when you are actually required to do something about it.  This is what Christians speak of as works vs. faith.  Or what Americans call putting your money where your mouth is.  Walking the walk, not just talking the talk.  Yes, we can advocate and pray, but can we act? 

These words, which I (G*d) command you (personally) today (not in the distant past, but right now!), shall be upon your heart, but also in evidence in every action you take throughout the day.  They shall guide your actions (thy hand) and your worldview (thine eyes). And you shall declare your commitment publicly -- the whole Light Unto the Nations business -- upon thy gates.


Today, Renee's Challenge brings us to another child living with HIV, Naomi:

Naomi loves to be a princess:

I think she would really love the holiday of Purim.  I see her getting dressed up in the frilliest princess dress, with the biggest bow, and a tiara too.  She is holding her princess magic wand in one hand, and a basket of goodies in the other.  Her brother is dressed up as a cowboy.  Purim is the anti-Halloween.  Kids have the same fun dressing up in costumes, but instead of going door to door demanding sweets, they go door to door giving goodies away!  At the end of the round of "Mishloah Manot", they stop at the local soup kitchen and donate some bulk foods -- and lots of cookies!  This is yet another aspect of this holiday, known as "Matanot la-Evyonim" -- gifts for the poor.  In the evening, they meet all their friends at the synagogue for a reading and theatrical re-enactment of the Book of Esther.  Each time the villain Haman's name is mentioned, they rattle their noisemakers as loudly as they can.  They fill up on special holiday cookies and run around all hopped up on sugar.  Naomi is such a happy little girl, enjoying her future as an ordinary little girl, free to grow and develop without the stigma of her HIV+ status.

Ethics of the Fathers Day 1

Susanna Musser's recent post Driven inspired quite a discussion in the comments about how we prioritize needs.  Do we save the child with a better prognosis, or the one who has a foot in the grave already? If we save the latter, might not the former deteriorate and lose his advantage? How do we weigh such things?

When I read this discussion, I was immediately reminded of some verses from Pirkei Avot. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) is a collection of quotations from the great rabbis at the time of the 2nd Temple period. Jesus was a contemporary of many of them, and was influenced by many others.

From the second chapter of this collection, we learn that, "Rabbi Tarfon would say: The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing.  He would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it."

 Isn't this the whole dilemma?   The day is short, and the work is much, so we cannot finish the task.  Why, then, should we even bother starting? This way of thinking makes us, the workers, lazy.  However, we are not free to absolve ourselves from the task, as the Master is pressing, and ultimately, the reward is great.

I think I will pick a quotation from Pirkei Avot each day from now till Father's Day.
See Day 2 here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Is this the next Pleven?

Ukraine Orphanage 45 haunts me.  Reece's Rainbow lists the profiles of just 3 boys there, all with Down syndrome, all terrifyingly tiny for their ages. Who else lives there? Under what conditions? With what labels? And who will step forward to rescue them? Will this turn out to be another Pleven?

First, here is Sasha:

Boy, Born March 13, 2004
Diagnosis: Down syndrome
This is our most recent picture of Sasha, from June 2010.  This is a 6-year-old boy. Six.
His profile speculates: "He may have CP as well, but is considered severely delayed.  He does a lot of rocking…in his crib, in his stroller…to keep himself occupied.  He has teeth marks in his tongue from chewing on it from boredom.   We do not know if he truly has autism, or he is just so severely impacted by the CP or other birth trauma that the caregivers can’t really do much with him, and he turns to himself to soothe."
CP? Autism? How about profound starvation and neglect?!  He is now 8 years old.  It is a miracle that he has not yet been transferred to an institution, since he would likely die within months once that happens.  He has just over $2500 in his grant. He needs a family, like the wonderful families that came forward to rescue the victims of Pleven, to nurse him back to health so his true needs can be assessed.

Alexei is almost 9, and is the size of a toddler:

Boy, Born July 24, 2003
Diagnosis: Down syndrome

Look at those eyes!  He is super alert, active and ready to play!  His profile elaborates: "At 6 years old, he was just nearing his independence in walking.   He eats with help, loves to play with toys and be outside, and is very affectionate and lively!   He is mischievous, and ready to steal your heart."

 Well, that was 2 years ago.  Where is his family?  Who will take this adorable boy and give him a future?  With his spunk, I can see him surviving a transfer.... Yes, instead of outright dying, he could be one of those "lucky" ones, who get to walk like zombies between bare walls, rocking, rocking, rocking, fading away... Perhaps being beaten and abused by the older, bigger boys.... 

As with Sasha, it is a miracle that Alexei is still in the baby house.  G*d must have a plan for him.  Are you part of that plan?

Finally, Nicky Z, who at 3 1/2 looks physically and developmentally like a newborn infant:

Boy, Born October 27, 2008
Diagnosis: Down syndrome

He doesn't have any smiley pictures.  In his previous picture he looked positively miserable!  Here he looks merely resigned.... In three and a half years, NO ONE has inquired about him!  He has over $11,000 in his grant -- that's about half the cost of adopting him (and with the federal tax credit for adoption, his adoption would be almost free!).  He is so young still, so much potential for intervention and recovery!  No indication what his other needs are besides Down syndrome.  However, it is clear that if no one brings him home, he will share Sasha's fate all too soon.


Where is Orphanage 45?  Has anyone adopted from there recently?  Are there other children as needy as these waiting there?


I can see all three of them coming home together:  2 babies and a toddler.... They know each other, they would keep each other company through the transition and bonding to their new parents and siblings. They would gain the much-needed nutrition and stimulation, and grow to their potential.  Like the Pleven children, they need to be rescued YESTERDAY.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Robert and Dennis

For this entry to Renee's Challenge, I think that these 2 boys with designer genes should be adopted together.


and Dennis

Since they are in the same orphanage, it would be easy to adopt them together with minimal additional expense and no extra travel.  They both have birthdays in December 2009, so they would be virtual twins. They could see the cardiologist together to evaluate their PFO's.   Keeping a connection to each other would help ease their transition to their new life.

I see them in a family that defies stereotypes.  There are 2 children already: a boy and a girl.

Robert is so vivacious, I see him defying the stereotype that children with Down syndrome are physically weak.  I see him eagerly exploring his new home, stretching his muscles and growing rapidly.  Learning to kick and throw a ball and climb trees.... with his tomboy sister!

Dennis, on the other hand, seems more quiet and cuddly.  He seems a thoughtful little boy, who wants to look around and figure things out.  I see him defying the stereotype that children with Down syndrome are unintelligent. I see him snuggling with his quiet, affectionate brother and looking at picture books.  I see his brother pointing out pictures and words, and Dennis absorbing it all, quietly basking in the attention.  Over time, people start noticing that Dennis actually learned to read -- before entering kindergarten!

Most of all, I see their parents defying the stereotype that "you can't adopt Down's kids" or "you can't adopt more than 1 kid at a time".  And certainly "you can't adopt 2 Down's kids at the same time!".   Instead, they will be proud advocates for their children with Down syndrome, just as they advocate for their daughter when she wants to try out for the football team, or their son's ballet practice and poetic talent.  Each child has his or her own potential, and should be free to reach for the sky, no matter what society says!


 Today's child on Renee's Challenge is:


Girl, born February 2008
Diagnosis: epilepsy, generalized form with severe seizures
Moderate mental delay

Sweet Anne, all dolled up for her picture!
She does have some general delays, and is not yet independent with potty training.  She would greatly benefit from being in a family!


In September of 2013, I see Anne going to kindergarten with all of her friends.  Her epilepsy is controlled with medication, so her parents stop for a brief conference with her teacher and the school nurse (so her Epipen is properly labeled and stored) while she runs off to explore the toys and books on the shelves.  She potty trained over the summer, and is very proud of her princess panties!  Her "moderate mental delay" is most likely an institutional delay which she will overcome very quickly and grow up.... like every little girl should!


See other visions of Anne here.


Today is Shavuot. 50 days after Passover. It is most significantly the holiday which commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  My family will be heading to our local synagogue soon for services, and I will participate in the reading.  My section (Exodus 19:7-13) recounts Moses instructing the Israelites in the proper preparation for receiving G*d's word.  The people reply, "All that G*d commands we shall do."

It is notable that the people reply in this fashion 3 times, and on the third time they famously say, "We shall do and we shall hear."  Isn't this in the wrong order?  Doesn't one need to hear the commands first, and then fulfill them?  No, says the text.  We must make the commitment to obey first!  Then find out what is involved.

On the other hand, we can also read "hear" to mean "understand".  Now the entire narrative makes more sense.  Obviously the people "heard" what they must do from the beginning, and said, "Yes, G*d!"  I mean, there you are, the Red Sea just split for you, you see the fire in the mountain, how can you say "no"?!  But only through repeatedly performing G*d's commandments do we come to truly "hear" their meaning.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Today, Renee's Challenge brings us a very special little girl:  Natalee:

See her other possible futures here.
Natalee is a four and a half year old little girl with a very grim prognosis:

Girl, born October 2007
Diagnosis: Cerebral palsy, general delay of psychological and speech development, seizures.  Natalee also has vision issues, having both a Convergent squint (right-sided) and Partial atrophy of eye nerves
This darling girl needs a family, or she’s destined to spend the rest of her life closed off from the world in a laying room.

A visiting missionary commented: "She is unable to stand, sit, roll over by herself or even hold her head up … She is almost completely unresponsive however over time she seemed to grow more peaceful as I held in my arms and sang to her."


I see her being adopted by a musical family.  Her father is a cantor at the local synagogue.  On Friday nights he chants the Kiddush to welcome the Sabbath in a full, sonorous baritone. Her sister Sarah plays the flute, and her mother plays the piano.  The house is always full of these beautiful sounds, individually and in harmony with each other.  From the very start, Natalee relaxes, "grows peaceful", when she hears them.  She rocks gently to the increasingly familiar tunes, and the comfort they bring accompany her as her mother lovingly stretches her spastic muscles several times a day.

Still, progress is slow.  Although she clearly bonds with her family, her body is very weak and months later, she is still non-verbal.  The following year, she starts kindergarten, receiving multiple services through the school, as well as continuing therapy at the local Children's Hospital several times a week. She is restricted to a wheelchair, and still does not have the strength or coordination to maneuver it herself.

In the spring of Natalee's 7th year, at the end of 1st grade, her sister celebrates her Bat Mitzvah.  As Natalee watches her practice her Torah trope, her eyes shine and she quietly hums along. As Sarah labors to overcome the challenges of Biblical Hebrew, Natalee works alongside her to reach developmental milestones.  At the ceremony, Natalee sits upright in her wheelchair, her head held high.  She reaches intentionally for the controls and follows her sister and parents around the sanctuary as the young celebrant greets the congregation with the Torah scroll.  Sarah begins the reading, her soprano clear and sweet.  When she finishes to the delight of all, Natalee says her first word: "Amen"

Gradually, she develops some rudimentary forms of communication, and she quite clearly communicates to her family that she, too, wishes to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony.  She, too, wants to hold the Torah and chant the ancient words.  But how?  How will a girl who barely speaks a dozen words in English master text that is challenging for typical children? Natalee smiles, and reaches for her sister.  "Please?"  She says.

It is now the fall of 2019.  High holidays bring large crowds to services, which overflow into the lobby.  The Saturday between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is Natalee's appointed day.  She is now using her gait trainer to walk up the ramp to the Bimah, accompanied by her sister. They read the portion of Deuteronomy together, Sarah reading the words, and Natalee chanting the melody.

And together they chant in Hebrew, "Be strong and brave: for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them on oath, and I will be with you."

They then continue together with the Haftorah, with text from Isaiah that moves the whole congregation to tears.

6 As for the foreigners
Who attach themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him,
And to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants —
All who keep the sabbath and do not profane it,
And who hold fast to My covenant —
I will bring them to My sacred mount
And let them rejoice in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
Shall be welcome on My altar;
For My House shall be called
A house of prayer for all peoples."
Thus declares the Lord God,
Who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
"I will gather still more to those already gathered."


An orphanage in Israel

Last week I posted a video about a wonderful private Israeli charity that takes care of abandoned babies in hospitals so they are able to be placed in foster care or adoptive homes.

Today I want to share about an Israeli girls' orphanage, run by an organization called Lev La-Lev (Heart to Heart).  Unlike orphanages in many other parts of the world, this is a Children's Home which sees its function in preparing the girls for adult life, not merely warehousing them.

This preparation includes everything, from academic support:

to extracurricular enrichment:

To pre-professional training in computer graphics, fashion design, or nursing:

In addition, the girls are supported in their social and spiritual development, as they celebrate their Bat Mitzvah and prepare to find good husbands once they leave the shelter of the girls' home, so as to break the cycle of abuse and neglect that led to their own abandonment.


This is yet another way that Maimonides' highest form of charity can be fulfilled in the care of orphans today.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Adoption and Tzedakah

The 12th Century Jewish philosopher Maimonides classified all charitable giving into the following 8 categories:

In order from lowest to highest:

8. When donations are given grudgingly.

7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

4. When the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.

3. When the donor is aware of the recipient's identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.


What kinds of giving have you been doing lately?

What kind of giving is involved in adopting a child so that they are established in a life with dignity and potential?

Today he is 5

I want to say Happy Birthday, but it probably isn't.....

Nikita R. is turning 5 today.  I have probably viewed his profile more than any other one.

Boy, born May 25, 2007
Eyes: Gray
Hair: light brown
Nature: Quiet
Diagnosis: Down syndrome
Nikita is a HEALTHY 4 (now 5) year old boy who is waiting for his family.   
 This picture has not been updated in nearly 2 years.  I wonder what he looks like now.  Has he been transferred?  Will he be transferred soon, now that he is 5?  Are his cheeks still rosy and oh-so-pinchable?  Does that sweet pouty mouth ever get to smile and laugh? Are his eyes now sunken and hollow, or do they twinkle and sparkle?

He has an extra pinky finger on his right hand, 
 When I first read this, I cracked up, since it reminded me of Count Rugen in The Princess Bride.  Of course, Count Rugen was evil, and also had the extra finger on his LEFT hand.  So instead, I call Nikita "Count Ruben".  Nice Jewish name!  Anyway, is that a handicap?!  I think it would be great to have an extra pinky -- especially for playing piano!  I guess if he really wanted to have it removed we could.....

and some minor strabismus,
 Yeah, his eyes are a bit crossed, but in this picture, it just looks to me like he is just looking up at me.  Maybe asking if that birthday present is really for him?  And the cake too?  Maybe asking for forgiveness for making a mess..... (Of course I'd forgive him!)  Maybe he's just praying?  In any case, minor strabismus can probably be resolved without resorting to surgery.

but he is doing well.  
 I so, so hope so!

He is learning to walk and get around, and will really benefit from having a family full of siblings to chase after and model!  He understands what he is asked and responds appropriately.  Speech coming along.
 I can SO see him playing with my 2- and 3-year old boys.  Learning from them and having fun, but most of all, loving, and being loved!   My big girls are so good and loving with their brothers, I know they would be great with him, too.

 So we could be well-prepared with what his needs might be.  

Happy fifth birthday, Count Ruben.  I hope you will be home before you turn six!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Continuing on with Renee's challenge!  Here is Wilson:

Wearing that "All American" baseball jersey, Wilson looks as though he is already here, chewing gum and getting ready to pitch at Little League practice. Watch him stare down the batter!

Wilson's schedule is full: Practice on Mondays, Hebrew School on Tuesdays and Thursdays, piano lessons on Wednesdays, except once every 3 months when he goes to the doctor to get his ARV medication prescription renewed. Friday is clean-your-room-for-Shabbat day. Saturday morning he puts on his special shirt and tie and walks to shul (synagogue) with his parents and big sister. Then they all head over to grandma's, where they meet up with his cousins. He loves talking with his cousins about the latest Red Sox game. He is a wiz at baseball stats. He proudly tells grandma and grandpa how he will be playing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" for his next piano recital.

On Sunday his team plays with the JCC league while his sister is doing her homework. So much work in 6th grade! Wilson doesn't want to think about it. 3rd grade is about as perfect as it gets!


See some other visions for Wilson here.

Hear, O Israel (part 1)

One of my favorite aspects of Judaism is how we view ourselves. "Israel" -- "Struggling with G*d".  Controversy and dispute are long-standing traditions in Judaism.  Abraham argued with G*d about the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Jacob wrestled with G*d's angel, thereby earning the name "Israel".  Moses argued with G*d repeatedly on behalf of the Jewish people.  Later on, rabbis argued about the proper interpretation of the various commandments.  Rather than picking one and discrediting the others, the tradition maintains the controversy, in all its messy glory.

In light of this, how do we read the most famous of Jewish prayers, the Shema?

"Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ekhad!"  --  Hear, O Israel, The Lord Our G*d, The Lord is One!"
(Deuteronomy 6:4)

One more thing.  The word translated as "Lord" -- "Adonai" -- is a plural noun.  It literally means "Lords".  The singular of it merely means "Sir".  Likewise, the common word in Hebrew for "G*d" -- "Elohim" -- is also a plural noun.  So we declare 3 plural names of G*d in a row, and then declare them all to be "One".  Yikes!

This feels to me a lot like the motto on the US seal:  "E pluribus unum"  -- "Out of many, one".   Out of all our disputes and controversy, underneath we are all one, we all look to the same Oneness.

And there's more!  While "Adonai" and "Elohim" both refer to G*d, Adonai is the universal, apersonal aspect, Creator of the Universe, referred to in the text by the unpronounceable name "YHVH", while Elohim is the internal voice of the divine.  Those two are One, as well.  Whoa.  That's really hard for me to wrap my brain around.  That the same power that controls the Universe is speaking inside my own soul is pretty intense.   But look at what the Shema does with it!  "Adonai" inflects the noun to be "My Lord" -- my personal Creator of the Universe.  While "Eloheinu" inflects the noun to "Our G*d" -- our common internal voice.  Think about that for a minute.  How much meaning can you put into 6 little words?!  Can you "HEAR" it?

We are all One.  Jews, Christians, Moslems, atheists, pagans, what have you.  We all seek the vision of the divine within us and in the world.  The visions are certainly not equivalent -- what you believe about the divine has a huge impact on what kind of society you will build.  But we all seek it, though we call it different things.  Reaching for that common humanity and divinity is what allows us to look at disabled children in faraway lands and call them "ours".

Hear, O G*d-wrestlers, the Creator of all speaks within our souls, the Creator of all is One!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Save this boy! Please!!!

Is anybody advocating for 10-year-old Alexander G. in Russia Region 13?  His profile says he has a Guardian Angel, but I haven't seen anybody spreading the word about him.   His special need is a brain tumor.  A brain tumor. That's a death sentence! A ticking time-bomb, can anybody come and save him?

Here is his info:
"From a missionary who visited with him:  “I would say his personality seemed happy, cheerful and sociable from the little contact I had with him.  I did send an email to my friends that worked with his group to get their opinion since they spent several hours with him for a week.  I know he has a brain tumor that is supposedly treatable in the U.S., but the treatment is expected to be lengthy.  He has been treated some in Russia and was in the hospital in the spring for more treatment.   He’s a very lovable kid and very smart.  He remembers people and things that they say and he is very in tune with how sick he is.  He understands and comprehends a lot for his age.  He loves to dance and get one on one attention (what kid doesn’t?)  He’s sensitive and his feelings get hurt easily.    Sasha is concerned about others.  He always asks how you or someone in the group is doing.  He is very outgoing, not shy at all.  He loves to sing songs and recite poems for you, and he knows so many!   Sasha loves individual attention.  You are special to him and he wants to feel that he is special to you also.   Simply put, he is a loving little boy who is such a pleasure to spend time with.   One more thing:  I have lots of pictures of Sasha and some videos of him singing and reciting poems. It would be SO WONDERFUL if he could get adopted and get proper treatment in the USA."

And here is a recent UPDATE FEB 2012:  Alexander’s brain tumor has caused vision damage now, and he is due to be treated again soon.  The doctors there do not expect him to survive  :(    Only God knows the plan for Alexander, but my goodness, the medical poportunity he has for survival here in the US is so much higher.  Hope someone will give him the chance to know that he mattered, even if only for a little while.


Another day, another child on Renee's challenge.  This one is Britta:

Britta is HIV+, but with proper medical care that should not hold her back at all!
See some other futures for Britta here.

I imagine her as the youngest child in a family full of boys.  I see her chasing a ball and exploring a muddy creek with her brothers.  I see her building model airplanes and flying a kite on a sunny spring day.  I see her body surfing on the beach and climbing trees to find robin eggs.  I see her putting a polished apple on the teacher's desk.... with a worm in it!

And then I see her parents trying oh-so-hard to bring out that girly-girl they thought they were adopting....

 A frilly Shabbos dress, pretty bows in her hair.....  Yeah, she can dig that too!


Actually, who she REALLY reminds me of is Matilda (who was also adopted!), but that's copyrighted...... Are you her Miss Honey?

A different kind of abandoned baby story

Yesterday I was getting depressed watching video after video of abandoned orphans wasting away in understaffed, unsanitary orphanages and institutions, when I saw a "related video" that caught my eye.  Please watch..... the way it CAN be:


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bake sale for Life2Orphans

My daughters' theater group put on a phenomenal production of Annie this past weekend.  They were beginning the rehearsal cycle for this at the same time that I was discovering Reece's Rainbow and all the stories about conditions in orphanages.  So I asked the director of the group if we could use this as an opportunity to raise awareness and fundraise for real orphans.  He was very excited about the idea, and asked me to put something together.  I asked the kind readers at reecesrainbowforum.org for charity suggestions, and Life2Orphans.org seemed to be the best fit.  Here is the display we had at the bake sale:

We raised over $500 during the 2 shows!  I had people coming up to me and telling me how moved they were, and giving me $20 bills for the collection box.  I had people telling me their own stories of people they knew who were involved in orphan rescue.  Wow!

Sweet Elaine

Now that her blog is back up, here is the latest in Renee's Challenge. Her name is Elaine: (Other stories here)

Elaine looks like such a sweetie!  So friendly and approachable.  Her latest update says: "Elaine's diagnosis has been changed to MILD mental delay.  She is making good progress in her mental development.  She is happy and healthy, polite, and plays well with other children.  Elaine is also very tender, and helpful."

I can easily imagine her as the middle sister.  Her 5-year-old younger sister absolutely adores her -- and the feeling is mutual!  They are both learning to read, and they read "Dora the Explorer" books to each other.  They also play with dolls together, and they feed each other's imagination like nobody else in the family can.

At the same time, she connects to her 12-year-old sister, too.  She is the perfect audience for pre-teen angst, supportive and affectionate.  In return, she is a devoted sidekick when the big sister wants company in kitchen projects, art projects, getting-in-trouble projects......

At school, she receives services in accordance with her IEP, but she is otherwise fully integrated into her classroom.  She rapidly learns English, hopscotch, and playground politics.  Her favorite subject is Art, and she loves making clay figures that are remarkably expressive.

With all the love and support from her sisters (and parents!), I see her closing the gaps of her institutional delays, and making Honor Roll in 8th grade.  She has by now pursued advanced sculpture classes at the local art school.  She is learning about digital animation and produces several short clay-mation features which are featured on her school web page.  The 3D skills acquired in this hobby also develop her spatial reasoning skills, and she truly comes into her own in High School geometry.  She goes to college and majors in Engineering.   Disability?  What's that?!

Monday, May 21, 2012


The Passover Seder is, first and foremost, a fulfillment of the commandment to "tell it to your children". "It" being, of course, the story of the Exodus. Many aspects of this long and strange ceremony are intended specifically for young children to connect to the story.

One of these is the tale of the Four Sons. The basic outline is: "The Torah is told to four sons: One wise, one wicked, one simple, and one does not know how to ask. The wise one asks, "What are all the laws and customs that G*d has commanded?" -- so you tell him every last detail. The wicked one asks, "Why do you bother with all this?" -- Since he excludes himself, you answer, "This is what G*d did for me when I left Egypt" -- if he were there, he wouldn't be redeemed. The simple one just asks, "What's this?" -- so you answer him simply.  And the one who does not know how to ask -- you must open the conversation, and tell him anyway.

This tale has been interpreted many different ways.  So I will contribute my own interpretation here. They are the different visions we have for our children.

The wise child is the child we all want to have.  He is cooperative and helpful, and eager to follow in our footsteps.

As part of growing up, however, most kids go through a "wicked" phase -- challenging, rebelling, questioning.  We would rather not have to deal with this phase, but we slog along as best we can and hope that our kids grow out of it eventually.

The simple child is handicapped or developmentally delayed.  Before he is born, we dread this child.  "Anything but that, G*d!" we pray.   However, once he is here, we love him unconditionally and give him what he needs.

And the one who does not know how to ask?  That is the unwanted (aborted?) child, the orphan.  He can't speak up for himself.  It is up to us to recognize his humanity, and to bring him, too, to our table.  It is up to us to include him in our lives.


One of my favorite bloggers, Susanna Musser, just put up yet another amazing post about these voiceless children.    It is her story more than any other that has changed the way I look at this picture:

I remember skipping right over this child when I first started looking at the profiles on Reece's Rainbow.  Too old (7), too clearly needy for me to possibly want to take it on.  Not smiling, probably doesn't walk or talk.  NEXT!

What do I see now?  Now I see his baby picture:

 ....and I imagine his face filling out.  I can even imagine a smile breaking out.  I can imagine those hollow eyes brightening and twinkling.  I can see his arms and legs growing sturdy and strong, so he can become mobile and live out his potential.  We have no medical information on him.  We don't know what other issues he might have besides Down syndrome.  But until we start the conversation, he -- and many others like him -- will remain unheard.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Taking care of our own

In an earlier post, I mentioned that while Jewish philanthropy often extends out to the global community, individual charity is usually focused on individuals within the tribe.  For example, when I told my parents that I was thinking about international special needs adoption, my dad said, "Why not take care of our own first?"

It was about that same time that I was reading Shelley Bedford's adoption journey, and I came to this post.

Naum Friedman

 This child was, like so many others in his country, left at the hospital when he was diagnosed with Down syndrome.  And then his parents left that country and moved to Israel!  Yes, Naum Friedman was born Jewish.  Now he is a happy, thriving Christian child named Xander Matthew Bedford.  Yes, he was rescued.  Amazingly and wonderfully so!  But he was also lost forever to the Jewish family.  How many others like him are there?  I often see pictures of children on Reece's Rainbow that seem to have Jewish facial features.  Are they?

Ultimately, though, the point is not that a particular orphan may have been born Jewish.  The point is that once adopted by Jewish parents, he or she IS Jewish.   A convert into Judaism is as much part of the tribe as anyone else,  just as an adopted child is as much part of the family as any other member.  Adopting children -- no matter to whom they were born -- means making them "our own".  And then taking care of them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Harding does Hanukah

Next up on Renee's challenge is Harding: Here are some other visions of his future.

Avrum and Shifra had absolutely no plan to adopt.  With 2 adult children and twin boys in High School, they thought they were all set for retirement in their luxurious house in a nice neighborhood.  Life is good!    Then the twins went to spend the Summer of 2012 in Israel at a Yeshiva (religious academy). The house was so quiet suddenly! Too quiet.... How could this be?  This is what they wanted, no?


On Tisha B'Av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem, they pray at their usual synagogue, reciting the familiar prayers from the book of Lamentations, comparing the Jewish people without their Temple to the widow and the orphan.....  As they leave the synagogue, they see a poster advocating adoption of special needs orphans -- is that their boy in the picture?! Yakov is definitely in Israel, but why is his 2nd grade photo staring at them out of this poster?  The next day, they call the number on the poster, and they know that retirement can wait....


The adoption is fast, even by Ukraine standards.  Their homestudy is quick and easy, and a series of serendipities pave their way to adopt just in time for Hanukah, an unheard-of 4 months from commitment to homecoming.  His regimen of ARV medications is easy to manage, and he readily soaks up all that his new home has to offer.  They name him Nissim, which means "miracles", both because Hanukah commemorates the miracle of the oil and because of all the miracles that brought this little boy to them.  As Nissim lights the menorah for the first time ever, surrounded by his brothers and parents, he slowly repeats the blessing after them:
"Barukh atah Adonoy, Elokeynu melekh ha-olam, she'asoh NISSIM la-avoseynu bayomim ha-hem bazman ha-zeh."
Blessed are You O Lord, G*d King of the universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time.


Orphans in Judaism

I can see why many religious Christians are motivated to pursue adoption. The New Testament does seem to stress orphan care in many places. But it bothered me to realize that this is not the case among most religious Jews. Why, I wondered. After all, this idea is introduced in the Old Testament.

Judaism is all about community. We are commanded to be a Light unto the Nations, not as individuals, but as a model of society. Traditional Jewish communities are very close-knit and are well set-up to take care of individuals or families that fall on hard times.  We are very much our brothers' keepers.

On the other hand, Judaism is not interested in acquiring converts.  The righteous of all nations have a place in Heaven, so there is no urgent need for gentiles to join the Tribe, as it were. A potential convert to Judaism is traditionally turned away 3 times before a rabbi will agree to begin the process. This process is long and difficult, and requires total commitment. Since Jews see each other as a very large extended family - our interconnectedness through the Patriarchs is very important - conversion basically represents an adoption. We see this exemplified in the book of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot (which just happens to come next week).

This model does not account for children who are not equipped to make that commitment on their own behalf. However, modern interpretations have allowed non-Jewish children to be adopted by Jewish parents, with the parents assuming responsibility for the kids' conversion.

While Judaism does not focus on individual orphan care outside of the faith, many Jews work tirelessly on global community-based charities in pursuit of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). They raise money to fight hunger in Africa, participate with Doctors Without Borders to bring medical help to disaster areas around the world, and are disproportionately represented in philanthropic organizations of all sorts.

I hope to use my journey - and this blog - to stretch my community in new directions, as I explore Jewish sources that can provide a spiritual framework for special needs adoption.

Maggie's first day of school

Continuing with Renee's challenge, here is my vision of Maggie's future.  Here are a few others.

I think blue looks really good on her.

It is September of 2015.  Maggie is wearing a pretty blue dress -- her favorite! -- which matches perfectly her Jazzy, bright blue glasses.  Her walker is likewise personalized with blue duct tape, and covered with stickers of the Little Mermaid.  Her paparazzi loving Mommy and Daddy  are taking pictures of her in front of her school with a tear-streaked camera.

"C'mon, already!  I don't want to be late for my first day of school!"

They come inside and meet her teacher.  Mrs. K. is wearing a gorgeous blue blouse with a frilly collar, so Maggie flashes her bright smile at her and says "I LOOOVE your shirt!  Is blue your favorite color too? My brother's favorite color is red, and my sister's favorite color is yellow, and...."   Mrs. K. is smitten with this bold child who is talking a mile a minute. By the time the class is called to circle time, it seems Mrs. K. knows everything about Maggie.  Or so she thinks!  Oh boy is she in for a fun year.


By Friday, Maggie has 2 new friends in her class.  As she zips across the classroom (just barely leaning on her walker) to greet Mommy at the end of the day, she says "Mommy, Mommy, can Esther and Rachel come over for Shabbat tonight?"  The parents make all the arrangements, and the 3 stooges little girls pile into the back of the minivan, together with 1st grader Jessica and 3rd grader Sammy.  At home, the girls sit at the kitchen counter cutting salad while Jessica is setting the table and Sammy is picking up toys in the living room.  Tantalizing aromas of soup, roast meat and fresh-baked challah bread fill the house.

As evening falls, the whole family congregates about the table.  The girls bless the candles together, and  then Daddy blesses the wine (the children drink grape juice instead).  Finally they all bless the bread together and the meal begins.  After dinner, they sing songs until bedtime. Maggie, Esther and Rachel share a new song they learned at school.  The peaceful Shabbat has come again.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Prince Presley

Second contribution to Renee's challenge.

Here is Presley: (See other visions of his future here.)

Presley has Leukemia.  He is so sick, but he is still smiling!  He really needs a family to come and take care of him so he can get treated.  I know a family from my congregation who lost a little girl to Leukemia last year.  She was almost 3 years old when she died.  Like Presley, she was a beautiful, happy child who brought joy everywhere she went.  I can imagine them, or a family like them, adopting Presley.  He would then be an only child -- a Prince! He would get the very best treatment at Children's Hospital and at the Dana Farber Institute, surrounded by the love of doting parents and a committed community.  The knitting circle would make him a nice big knit kippah to cover his head during chemotherapy.  He would learn to join in with the other children in singing "Adon Olam" at the end of services, enjoying the kiddush (ceremonial luncheon) afterwards in the community room, and celebrating holidays and special occasions. The whole community would rejoice when his course of treatment is completed, when he would come up to the Torah with his parents to get a special blessing.  Through his healing, his parents would likewise be emotionally healed.  They would confidently proceed to adopt a sibling for Presley, having seen the blessings that adoption had bestowed upon them. As the adoption is completed, the mother will find herself pregnant again -- 2 new siblings in the same year!

As he grows with his brother and sister, I see Presley learning to play a musical instrument. Ukulele, anyone?  I see him learning a few chords and happily singing songs with his family and friends.  He would go to the local school, where there are many families from Russia and Ukraine.  The local district also has excellent services for his special needs.  He would blossom and thrive.  In the spring festival, he would entertain all the kids with original songs that he would accompany on his ukulele.  He belongs.

How I pray

Since, as I observed, most of this adoption community is Christian, I thought perhaps some of you might be curious about how Jews pray.  Like, Jesus was Jewish and all.  So he probably prayed pretty similarly to how Jews today pray.  For example, we know that the Passover Hagadah has changed very little from when Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper.  When Jesus was a little boy, he sang Mah Nishtanah almost the same way my son did last month.

Anyway, my morning prayer routine begins with "Modeh Ani" ("I am grateful"):
"Moda ani lefanekha, melekh khai vekayam, shehekhezarta nishmati bekhemla - raba emunatekha!"
I am grateful before You, the living and everpresent King, that You have restored my soul with mercy - great is Your faith!
"Wow, G*d, You are so great and awesome, but You have faith in little mortal me, THANK YOU!!!!!"

I have choreographed some stretching to this, from which I go right into some bouncy aerobic moves for the next section, the Morning Blessings:

Blessed are You G*d, King of the Universe, Who gave the rooster discernment between day and night. Amen!
     (Even animals are given powers of discernment, we must likewise discern good vs. evil.  Also, WAKE UP!!!)

...Who made me free. Amen!
    (I have free will. What am I using it for?)

...Who made me Israel. Amen!
   (I was born into this Covenant.  What is my side of the deal?  Also, "Israel" means "struggles with G*d" -- where is my struggle taking me today?)

...Who made me in His image. Amen!
   (All the attributes I ascribe to G*d are present within me, I have the potential to be godly.)

...Who gives sight to the blind. Amen!
   (As my eyes have been opened, may I be instrumental in opening the eyes of others.)

...Who clothes the naked. Amen!
   (As my basic needs are met, let me nurture others.)

...Who releases captives from their bondage. Amen!
   (Well, duh!)

...Who straightens those who are bent over.  Amen!
   (Not merely liberty, but dignity as well)

...Who establishes the land upon the waters. Amen!
   (The natural world provides a stable foundation for everything, no matter how unsure of myself I am.)

...Who has provided for me all my physical needs. Amen!
   (I am healthy and capable, so no whining!)

...Who prepares the steps of Man. Amen!
   (G*d knows what I must do, He is with me as I follow His path)

...Who girds Israel with strength. Amen!
   (G*d will give me the strength I need)

...Who crowns Israel with glory. Amen!
   (G*d will give me the ego stroking I need as well....)

...Who gives strength to the weary.  Amen!
   (Even though I am tired and underslept, G*d will still give me the strength I need)

....More to come!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


This is my first response to Renee's challenge.  For the next 2 weeks, she will post the profile of one child with special needs, and challenge her readers to imagine a future to each one.   I hope to make a few contributions here.


Here is Reid:  (See other contributions to the challenge here.)

Look at that adorable smile! I can see him coming home to a loving Jewish family with a big brother and a brand new baby sister. I can see him getting treated for his hypospadia at the same time that he is circumcised and welcomed into the covenant and named Joshua.  I see him getting a proper regimen of nutrition and medication to address his epilepsy.  I see him going to school and gradually transitioning from a wheelchair, to a walker, until he can walk with crutches and braces as he approaches his Bar Mitzvah in the summer of 2019.  He is studying his portion, which comes at the beginning of Deuteronomy, where Moses discovers that Joshua, not he, will enter the Promised Land.   He is deeply moved by this, as he realizes why he was given this name.  He asks his parents penetrating questions about the children who were left behind, who are now but a faint memory for him, and dedicates his Bar Mitzvah to the rescue of another orphan, bringing his story full circle..

Who Releaseth Captives from their Bondage

A few months ago I tripped upon ReecesRainbow.org and I have not been the same since.  I have become obsessed with the lives of special needs orphans in other countries.  I have cried for them, prayed for them, and begged my husband to consider adopting one.

But while the blogs of adoptive families have touched, moved and inspired me, I have felt estranged from their authors due to a simple fact.  I am Jewish.  The references to James 1:27, for example, are not part of my spiritual vocabulary.   But it is a fact that the notion of G*d as the Father of the Fatherless has its origins in the Old Testament, the Torah.   So I began to seek ideas within my liturgy that could serve as reference points for my own journey into this new world of special needs adoption.

"Matir Asurim" - "Who Releaseth Captives from their Bondage" - is used to describe G*d at several points in the daily prayer.  It is used in the morning blessings, as well as in the Amidah (the standing prayer), which is recited 3 times each day by religious Jews.  It is very appropriate for describing G*d's role - through us - with respect to innocent children trapped in cribs or institutions, with no future unless they are adopted into loving families.

In this blog I will advocate for orphans from a Jewish perspective, to give another voice to the voiceless.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who are we?

We are a traditional, but not very religious Jewish family.  We live in a suburb of Boston, MA.  I (Galit) am a stay-at-home mom with professional experience both in software engineering and math education.  My sweet husband Daniel works full-time for a well-known company.  I have 3 big girls from my first marriage, the oldest one already off to college.  We have 2 little boys together, and we are hoping to adopt a small child with Down syndrome from one of those places where children with disabilities rarely survive past adolescence.  I am also trying to raise awareness in my community around these issues.  And I love to blog about any tangentially related topics that I can think of!  I hope you find my writing interesting.
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