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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

JDAM - What is inclusion?

In the 70's and 80's, the buzzword was "mainstreaming".  Children with disabilities would be placed in "mainstream" classes instead of in isolated "SPED" rooms.  In the 90's and 00's, awareness developed that mainstreaming is not enough -- we must not simply place children with diverse needs among their peers, but they must be actively included in order to have their needs met.  A new alphabet soup was created, from IEP's (Individual Education Plans) to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) and LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), schools grapple with how to serve all children, both academically and socially.

As this mother points out, however, true inclusion is not about procedure, but about expectations.  If a student is seen as deficient, through the lens of a diagnosis, no service or classroom environment will allow him or her to thrive. "Presuming competence" is the key to enabling all students to set, meet, and exceed high levels of performance in all areas.

Jewish tradition has a mixed record on this.  On the one hand, the Jewish emphasis on education creates an environment where all children are held to high expectations.  On the other hand, children who struggle with traditional educational frameworks suffer feelings of shame and failure.  Religious education often lags behind secular education in providing appropriate differentiation for different learning styles.  Creating true inclusion for all, children and adults with all abilities, is a challenge for our communities today.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

JDAM - Driving in snow

New England is experiencing record snowfall this month, topping 100 inches.  As I write, the blizzard is raging outside, dumping an additional foot plus on top of the several feet already on the ground from the last 4 or 5 storms within a few weeks.

In a recent Facebook conversation about our collective Post Traumatic Snow Disorder, a friend was extolling the virtues of snow tires.  I responded:

 I like driving in snow. Without snow tires. It forces me to actually slow down, and fully let go of any notion of hurry. I slow at yellow lights, let others go first at intersections, and stop for the trudging pedestrians making their way through the snow banks. It becomes almost Zen-like. I think that people driving SUV's with snow tires at full normal speed are making things more dangerous for others.

Yesterday, as I was driving in an inch or two of slippery stuff, it occurred to me that this description is similar to the way many parents of developmentally delayed children describe their parenting journey.  Slowing down and ignoring other people's timetables can be liberating.  The joy these parents describe in celebrating their children's milestones -- whenever they are reached -- is not unlike the inner peace I experience when my car whispers along the winter wonderland, knowing that the safety I create for myself and my passengers by slowing down also creates a safe place for other vehicles and pedestrians.

It reminds me that when I am driving my "SUV's with snow tires" -- my oh-so-brilliant children (dare I say, "special snowflakes"..?) -- that I should likewise take the time to both enjoy the journey and make sure that my passage in the world is a positive experience for others, as well.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

JDAM - Bat Mitzvah Inclusion

Although the details are not specified in the article, I am pretty sure that this is a kid in my congregation:


There is certainly much more to do, but it is good to see earnest effort and collaboration to make such progress happen.


Monday, February 2, 2015

JDAM - Inaction

Jews are often the "canary in the coalmine".  Regimes which oppress the Jews with no opposition frequently proceed to expand the oppression to other groups.  All too often, those other groups ignore this trend until it is too late.  Because of this, Jews tend to be more aware of social injustice are frequently at the forefront of organizations and movements which resist it.

This blog post connects the experience of German gentiles during the Holocaust to the general human tendency to ignore suffering until it hits close to home.   Like Jews, people with disabilities are often easy targets for marginalization and oppression.  Are we going to pretend we can't hear the train?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Calling out ableism

In the course of conversations, I occasionally get the opportunity to call out examples of casual able-ism.  Usually, when this happens, the other person will apologize and move on.  Yay!

In a recent conversation on Facebook, however, I came across someone who described a public personality as:

I just think he doesn't care one way or the other. He goes with whatever way the wind blows. Frankly, I think he is somewhere on the spectrum.

To which I responded:

Why did you use "on the spectrum" as a slur..?

The response showed a lack of understanding as to what I meant:

I didn't. I used it quite seriously. He seems disconnected. His affect is off. Galit, I am disturbed you drew the wrong conclusion about me.

So I explained:

Autism and ASD are not equivalent to apathy ("I just think he doesn't care one way or the other.") Nor do people on the spectrum typically "go with whatever way the wind blows."

Now the other person got really upset:

Galit, you know nothing about me and you are making slurs against ME. Go away.

Whoa!  Did I say anything that warranted that?  Did I say anything about the person I was conversing with?  Well, I tried to calm things down:

 I didn't claim to know anything about you, nor did I slur you. I do know something about autism. I understand that you might have made the statement you did out of a common misconception about the nature of autism. I am sorry if I touched a raw nerve for you with my comments. There is much prejudice around disability, even today, and I try to point it out when I see it come up in casual conversation. I don't want to hijack the thread, that's not what it is about. Peace.

Alas, peace was not to be had:

Galit, you lectured me. You made assumptions about me. And you are still doing so. Please go away.


Was I off base?  What do you think was going on?
(Obviously, I did not persist at this point, as any further attempts seemed pointless.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

G*dcast for Shemot

Although I am not doing any weekly parsha blogging this year, I still follow the cycle as always.  Many other bloggers put out weekly essays or videos, and their insights vary from meh to enlightening.

This came in my newsfeed yesterday, starting the book of Exodus:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

I totally missed writing all of December.... Must've been busy or something. :-)

Well, I've discovered a new (to me) blog.  This post is an awesome analysis of religion from a non-religious point of view.  In spite of itself, it arrives at certain very religious conclusions....

"To me, complete rational logic tells me to be atheist about all of the Earth’s religions and utterly agnostic about the nature of our existence or the possible existence of a higher being."

Which dovetails nicely with this:

"Never confuse religion with God. I'm pointing at the moon, and you're staring at my finger."

Which I found as a response to this.

Happy New Year!!!

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