Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A local Jewish special needs charity

While networking for my project, I was referred to this charity, which provides a Jewish religious education for children with a variety of special needs.  This is an impressive organization, whose activities range from supporting special education services at Jewish day schools, to accessible Sunday school programming for ages 4 - 18, to an integrated youth program where typical teens participate along their differently-abled peers.

Amidah - part 11 - Justice

After talking about Freedom, we talk about the other side of Freedom -- Justice.

Restore our judges as in former times, and our counsellors as of yore; remove from us sorrow and sighing, and reign over us, You alone, O L-rd, with kindness and compassion, with righteousness and justice. Blessed are You L-rd, King who loves righteousness and justice.

Depending on what is going on, I think of this blessing either as a social or personal meditation:

1. Social -- Praying for a system of justice that will protect the freedoms we have already prayed for.  
2. Personal -- Praying for a relationship with my parents which is free from worry and guilt.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Marsha has a family!

Remember Marsha?

A family has committed to her!  The Bulgarian hospital that has been taking care of the children of the Pleven orphanage has determined that giving Marsha the life-saving shunt she needs is beyond their expertise.  Apparently there are going to be complications involved.  Fortunately, here in the U.S. her new family will be able to bring her to a state-of-the-art hospital where she will finally be treated!  I am so glad!  I just adore her sweet little face and I can't wait to see her smile once she is loved and nurtured as she deserves.

Unfortunately, she is not the only child at Pleven with untreated hydrocephalus.  Here is Adam:

Adam is already 5 years old.  About a year older than Marsha.

So very tiny, and suffering so much with his swollen head.  He also needs cataract surgery, nutrition, and LOVE!  His time is running out, but can you see what a handsome fellow he can be if given an opportunity to heal and blossom?

For more information about Adam and how you can help him, email Nina Thompson at nina.t@chiadopt.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Alexei is nine

Today he turned nine

All his friends in orphanage 45 have either been adopted or transferred.  He is alone in his crib. Can you imagine a nine-year-old boy in a crib?!  Look at the spunk in his eyes!  And yet he is so tiny, his chin barely clears the side of the crib.

His profile has not been updated recently, but "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."  So he certainly seems full of potential.  Is his family ready for him?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Taking Care of Our Own - by keeping them!

At synagogue services this morning, I spoke about my project with several people, and got some positive responses.  One friend pointed me in the direction of Heart to Heart, run by Rabbi Goldstock, who also has this blog.

Most liberal/secular Jews in this country, like most "cultural" Christians, use prenatal diagnosis and abortion to avoid "having to deal with" a child with Down syndrome.  Orthodox Jews, like religious Christians, are opposed to abortion.  Also, like religious Christians, they tend to have large families and continue to procreate until menopause, resulting in a larger-than-average incidence of Down syndrome.  Unfortunately, in some communities this still causes a social stigma for the parents, who then frequently relinquish these babies for adoption.  Most of the adoptive families are Christian.  Therefore, these precious souls are lost to the Tribe.  Rabbi Goldstock is working to reverse this trend, working with Orthodox families and communities to support them in keeping children with Down syndrome, as well as providing them with educational and other resources as they grow older so that they can stay in and contribute to the community.  He gives the example of a boy who was supported in spearheading an inclusion program in the local Yeshiva (religious school).  Not only did this boy get an incredible advantage from this experience, but his classmates scored well above average on both academic and ethical achievements.  He attributes this to their experience stretching themselves to support a disabled peer.

This highlights two aspects of the Jewish response to orphans:
  • First, that we want to help parents in crisis keep their children, so that they do not become orphans in the first place, and
  • Second, that when a Jewish child is adopted by non-Jews, while individually it is a good thing, in the big picture this is a loss for the Jewish community, nearly as much as if that child was aborted.
In my project, I hope to reach out to congregations in my community across the religious spectrum, and create a place where we take care of our own -- as well as others.

Amidah - part 10 - Freedom

Yesterday, Susanna Musser made another plea for prayers on behalf of an anonymous "warrior".

I think today's section of the Amidah is an appropriate response:

Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You L-rd, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.

The shofar (ram's horn) was traditionally sounded as a battle cry.  Think Joshua and the walls of Jericho. It would both rally the troops and intimidate the enemy.

Today, this sound is heard primarily on the Jewish High Holidays - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when they are intended to "open the gates of Heaven" to the people's prayers, as well as to awaken the people themselves to the urgency of repentance.   Again, both a "defense" and an "offense" purpose.

The blessing specifically calls for the shofar to sound for freedom, as well as for bringing in the exiles, and unifying the people in their land.  Although in Biblical times it was used to conquer the Promised Land, this was an exception, for an exceptional situation, and not to be used except when specifically and divinely ordained. In our daily prayers, this powerful call is to be used for liberation, not oppression or conquest. 

As an aside, the blessing also refers to "carrying a banner".  This, again, used to be a military practice to identify troop movements.  Today we see banners in parades, demonstrations, and sporting events.  The word for "banner", however, is "ness", which also means "miracle".  The banner under which we liberate and gather the exiles is not simply a military metaphor, but a miracle.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Baby steps!

1.  Had our first home-study meeting.  Got a stack of paperwork to fill.  The little boys behaved beautifully  for nearly 2 hours!  The social worker was quite impressed with them.
2.  Spoke with a representative of Cherish Our Children about their facilitation services in Serbia.  We are optimistic that this will work for us.  If not, our agency does facilitate Russian adoptions, but those are far more expensive. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Amidah - part 9 - Blessing the year

Next, the Amidah reminds us that every day is like New Year's.  Think, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  We bless the coming year.  We re-commit ourselves to "New Year's Resolutions" each and every day.

Bless for us, L-rd our G‑d, this year and all the varieties of its produce for good; and bestow (During the summer season say:) blessing (During the winter season say: dew and rain for blessing) upon the face of the earth. Satisfy us from Your bounty and bless our year like other good years, for blessing; for You are a generous G‑d who bestows goodness and blesses the years. Blessed are You L-rd, who blesses the years.

...and of course, thank G*d for helping us to fulfill on these commitments.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

And children lived

in Leningrad:

What's with the waiting children in Leningrad?!


$23965.50 grant available


$11223.50 grant available


$10345.40 grant available
...and many others.  But these three have HUGE grants available, they are absolutely adorable, and they are not very old (5-6 years old).  They have no information other than Down syndrome on their profiles, but they look in pretty good shape.  Why are they among the "forgotten" children on Reece's Rainbow?  Have families inquired about them and run into administrative issues?  Do they have additional medical needs that have scared families off?  Are they actually available for international adoption? Are they simply passed over because their pictures are not smiley?   What is keeping these kids away from their families?

Amidah - part 8 - Healing

Next, we pray for healing:

Heal us, O L-rd, and we will be healed; help us and we will be saved; for You are our praise. Grant complete cure and healing to all our wounds; for You, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You L-rd, who heals the sick of His people Israel.

We ask for both physical and emotional/spiritual healing.  I don't really read too much into this one.  This is just a daily reminder to think of who in my life needs a little help.  

I also use it to pray for particularly ill orphans, like Sasha, Tommy and Marsha.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A different orphanage in Ukraine

State orphanages in Ukraine are depressing, even in the best of cases.  In the worse cases, they are places of neglect, abuse, malnutrition and decay.

A kind reader directed me to an alternative.  A Jewish alternative.

This is Tikva Children's Home in Odessa:

 Tikva rescues Jewish children from state orphanages and institutions.  It saves them from the streets of Ukrainian cities. And it integrates them into a quality Jewish school where intact Odessa Jewish families are proud to send their children.  It gives them the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.  And it facilitates graduates to emigrate to Israel, where they can enjoy full citizenship without the social stigma of being Jewish, or of being orphaned.

A Light Onto the Nations.  In action!

Amidah - part 7 - Redemption

What does the Amidah say about Redemption?

O behold our affliction and wage our battle; redeem us speedily for the sake of Your Name, for You G‑d are the mighty redeemer. Blessed are You L-rd, Redeemer of Israel.

 All G*d needs to do is to see our affliction -- remember slavery in Egypt? -- and He is sure to wage our battle.  No need to whine about it. No need for pity-parties, going into detail about how miserable we are.  He knows. Trusting in His might is half the battle right there.

Now turn this around.  We are created in G*d's image, right?  So....

O behold our affliction and wage our battle; redeem us speedily for the sake of G*d's Name

Whose affliction are we beholding -- or avoiding?
Whose battle are we waging -- or cowering from?
How speedily are we redeeming the afflicted?

Not for our glory or benefit, but for the sake of G*d's name.

Sasha and Alexei

Remember Orphanage 45?

The good news is that Nicky Z has a family coming for him!

The bad news is that Sasha has been transferredHere.  Except most likely, he would be placed in a lying-down room that no outsider has even seen yet, due to the severity of his needs. He would probably never see sunshine again in that room, and most likely, he would die within a year.

  Look how tiny he is! This pictures was taken 2 years ago, when he was 6 years old. He is like a baby, both in size and development.  If he is lucky enough to be rescued, he would most likely need to spend a few weeks in a hospital in order to gain some weight without suffering re-feeding issues.  He would need to be treated like a newborn, not the 8-year-old his profile says he is.  He would need to be loved unconditionally, like a newborn, in order to heal emotionally from the years of neglect and possibly worse, to let go of his self-harming habits. 

 Here is an earlier picture of him, younger, a bit less damaged:

Can you see the sweetie he was meant to be?

Please, somebody, save him from a certain death in the locked room in an impoverished institution!!!


And that leaves Alexei in Orphanage 45.  One by one, his friends have left:  Nikolai has been adopted, Nicky Z will be soon, and Sasha transferred... Does he have other friends?  Is he shunned because of his disability?  Has he been transferred as well?

Look at his bright, alert eyes!  He will be turning 9 in just 2 weeks! Tiny, but active and playful! Doesn't he look like he has a ton of potential?  Could he be a brother to your children?  Please, please save him before he, too, becomes a Lost Boy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Off topic: Baked Salmon

We celebrated the 4th of July on Martha's Vineyard with some friends, and when it was my turn to cook one person asked if we could please go vegetarian (after all the hot dogs etc....) so I went to the supermarket and the only fish they had was salmon fillets.  I improvised it, and everyone loved it!  One friend asked for the recipe, and then her friend asked her for the recipe..... 

So, if you like fish:

Place salmon fillets skin side down on a greased baking dish
Sprinkle with kosher salt
Smother with thinly sliced onions
Top off with lots of fresh dill
Bake at 350 degrees until done (about 30 minutes?)

I served it with boiled potatoes (which was what I originally got the dill for...) and salad.


What is a family?

I have quite a few friends, relatives and acquaintances who are in same-sex partnerships, either as a marriage where permitted or otherwise.  Several of them have children, either by adoption or surrogacy/insemination.  There are those who bristle at same-sex marriage, as well as at the notion of same-sex couples raising children.  "Unnatural" is a common objection, since these unions are not intrinsically procreative.

Strange, then, that the same fundamentalist perspective that rejects same-sex unions is so enamoured of adoption!  Adoption is many things, but "natural" is certainly not one of them!  Raising children that are not even remotely biologically related to oneself as one's own does not produce any evolutionary advantage, and is extremely rare in nature -- far more so than homosexuality!

And yet, both same-sex couples and adoptive families expand their understanding of "family" so as to shoe-horn themselves in.  New definitions and roles are created in order to seem as "natural" as possible.  It is interesting that same-sex couples in fact adopt in great numbers those "hard-to-place" children that mainstream adopters avoid -- older children, special needs, minorities, etc.  Having already embraced an unorthodox family make-up, they are more ready to take these other steps.

What is "natural" about "family"?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Amidah - part 6 - Forgiveness

Continuing with the Amidah!

Right after Repentance, we look at Forgiveness -- related, but distinct concept:

Pardon us, our Father, for we have sinned; forgive us, our King, for we have transgressed; for You are a good and forgiving G‑d. Blessed are You L-rd, gracious One who pardons abundantly.

We are not begging for forgiveness due to any merit of ours, just appealing to G*d's "abundant" grace and forgiveness.

I recently read on a Christian site that the Lord's Prayer is derived from the short form of the Amidah (remember, Jesus was Jewish, and what he taught his disciples was Judaism, no more or less!).  You can certainly see in the treatment of repentance and forgiveness the roots of the Christian understanding of grace.

Application received!

 A social worker will be contacting us within a week to begin the homestudy!  She just called me this evening and we made our first homestudy appointment!  Wheeeee!!!!

She was concerned that we indicated that we want to adopt a child out of birth order, but seemed ok with it when I said we are specifically thinking of a child with Down syndrome, so that developmentally he would not be out of order to my younger children.

Amidah - part 5 - Repentence

The fifth blessing of the Amidah:

Cause us to return, our Father, to Your Torah; draw us near, our King, to Your service; and bring us back to You in whole-hearted repentance. Blessed are You L-rd, who desires penitence.

 I first learned the Amidah when I was student teaching, and I would recite it while biking to the McCormick Middle School from my home.  I loved this blessing, because the word for "repentance" or "returning" is the same as the word for "answer": Teshuvah.  We seek answers -- to academic questions as well as to those deep existential ones.  But in the same word that we ask for the answer, we are also asking for the ability to repent, as well as the opening to return to wholeness.  The triple entendre is so rich!

In Hebrew, it sounds like this:

Ha-shi-vei-nu ("return us") A-vi-nu l'to-ra-te-cha, v'ka-r'vei-nu Mal-kei-nu la-a-vo-da-te-cha, v'ha-cha-zi-rei-nu bit-shu-vah sh'lei-mah l'fa-ne-cha. Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai, ha-ro-tzeh bit-shu-vah.

Ha-shi-vei-nu ("return us") Our Father, to Your Torah; draw us near, Our King, to Your service, and bring us back  bit-shu-vah ("in repentence") fully before You.  Blessed are You L*rd, who desires t'shu-vah ("repentence"). 

In each place of t'shuvah, substitute "answer" instead of "repentance".   How does that change the meaning of the blessing?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Complex Ethical Decisions - Crisis Pregnancy

A crisis pregnancy, by definition, is a bad situation.   It is a woman who, for whatever reason, is not prepared to parent her baby-to-be.  Her choices are:
1. Get rid of it by killing it in utero (abortion)
2. Get rid of it by giving it away at birth (adoption), or
3. Raising it in non-ideal conditions, namely
3a. Single motherhood without assistance, often resulting in poverty
3b. Single motherhood with welfare or family dependence, often with no way out
3c. Trying to make a family with the father, either with or without marriage, often resulting in unstable or even abusive family life

Adoption critics argue that for many women, some form of option 3 is available, and not as bad as it appears in the moment of crisis.  A friend of mine discovered she was 5 months pregnant (!) while a sophomore in college, and chose (3c).  The father was several years older than her, addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and did not have a stable job.  They got married and their son is now a teenager, the dad has been clean and sober for years, and they are doing great!  At the same time, both birthmothers and adoptees often experience intense loss as a result of adoption, even when the adoptive family is great. 

Unfortunately, option 3 does not scale well, since most women in a crisis pregnancy are correctly assessing their ability to take care of the child. 

At the same time, over-reliance on option 2 results in excessive pressure on women to relinquish their babies even in situations which do not actually warrant it, in order to supply healthy newborns for the infertile couples who are eager to adopt them.

Over-reliance on option 1 has its own problems, even for people who support a woman's right to choose an abortion.  The PTSD experienced by many women after abortion is real, as are the medical complications which can result from repeated abortions.

In an ideal society, how would you make the best of a bad situation?

Happy Independence Day!

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
That all [people] are created equal,
That they are endowed by their Creator
With certain unalienable rights,
That among these are Life,

And the Pursuit of Happiness.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tommy and Marsha

Please keep these 2 children in your prayers -- they both need families YESTERDAY!

Tommy is 15 years old.  He has less than a year before his fate will be sealed forever. He is so tiny! Find out more on Susanna's blog.


And here is Marsha, from Pleven:

What a sweetie she is! She is in urgent need of a shunt for her hydrocephalus.  Already about 4 years old, and how her head must hurt! The longer she waits, the greater the chance that she will die before help can reach her.


Guess who has a family?!

For over 3 and a half years he sat and waited, and now he has a family coming for him!  I can't wait for their story to appear on the "New Commitments" page.

Now let's help the other boys from Orphanage 45:


and Alexei:

Amidah - Part 4 - Wisdom

In part 4 of the Amidah, we ask for guidance in matters of Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding:

You graciously bestow knowledge upon man and teach mortals understanding. Graciously bestow upon us from You, wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Blessed are You L-rd, who graciously bestows knowledge.

I have used this to pray for my children when they struggle with school, or when they need to acquire wisdom and sensitivity.  And for myself, for the same reasons....

Last week we told my 12- and 13-year olds about our intention to adopt a child with Down syndrome.  The 13 year old is dead set against it.  The 12 year old is fine with it -- she gets why we would want to do this -- but really, really wants it to be a girl, not a boy.

Please pray for both of them to gain the wisdom, understanding and knowledge they will need as we move forward with this.

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