Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I'm taking a brief break and dealing with medical issues steming from that darn car accident.

Coming very soon:

Toward Jewish Identity 2: You'll know where you're going once you know where you've been

Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, if you'd like to receive (very) occasional updates on my books, speaking engagements, readings, interviews, etc., please check either here or here (or both!). Thanks!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Toward Jewish Identity

As a writer, identity is both important and fluid. In journalism, objectivity reigns and the writer’s identity is irrelevant. In editorials and articles that don’t require strict objectivity, the writer’s identity is best portrayed through the article’s perspective. In fiction, the writer takes on the identities of a multitude of characters, and hopefully a good number of those identities are quite different from the writer’s. Being able to see from a perspective not one's own is, for me, essential in fiction.

As a Jew, identity is evolving and occasionally contentious. Within the broader global community, identity simply as a Jew can have life or death consequences. Within American society, it elicits anything from solidarity to exclusion, with a greater frequency of curiosity and caution. Within the Jewish community itself, identity has a sad history of drawing lines, fracturing groups, and creating an I’m-right-you’re-wrong atmosphere.

And the very fact that I would draw attention to the fact that Jews who subscribe to one ideology reject Jews who subscribe to a different ideology would cause some to judge me for “airing dirty laundry” or bringing unwanted attention on what is considered basically an intra-Jewish issue. Yet many of the people who are so quick to judge are the same people who perpetuate those divisions and refuse to dialogue about it, short of stating that they are right and the rest of us are wrong and G-d is on their side, so there.

Truth is, I’d like to move beyond the right versus wrong debate because it’s getting us nowhere. There have always been disagreements over the interpretation of Jewish law and observance, over what it means to live a Jewish life, and thus far, we have taken the stance of determining who’s right by seeing who’s left – the “history will decide” approach.

The Talmud (both Babylonian and Jerusalem) was wise enough to include dissenting opinions, even when the majority or history or innovation or even common sense produced the prevailing opinion. At no point did the holders of the prevailing opinion question the very Jewishness of the dissenters. (Their logic, values, or ability to read, maybe, but not their identities.) I fear the same cannot be said today.

I frequently look to the contributors of the Talmud for inspiration, and I’m reminded that it would not even exist as we know it today were it not for their courage, creativity, humility, and willingness to take an unpopular stand but always continue the dialogue.

Granted, it was a unique and difficult time, in which the very existence of Judaism was in question. Working together was an absolute requirement to avoid the total annihilation of what all involved held sacred. The Romans were setting out to destroy the essence of Judaism, and I suspect everyone knew it was time to set petty disputes aside and focus on what was truly important.

In the present, some will argue that secularism, feminism, individualism, egalitarianism, capitalism, and probably a whole bunch of other –isms are today’s Roman Empire, and that their ideology alone is the only hope for Jewish survival in the future. They will argue that all those who disagree with their ideology, their interpretation of halacha (Jewish law), are today’s version of those Jews whose voices never even made it into the Talmud, who didn’t have the knowledge or credentials or even the right to be heard.

Some few, sadly, may argue that those who don’t share their interpretation might as well be equivalent to the Hellenized Jews, deserving of the same fate, with all the violence that may entail.

It need not be this way, and in fact, I’ve seen more intra-Jewish dialogue, especially as technology has paved the way for otherwise unheard voices to speak. Jewish blogging is thriving, and more Jews are honoring their ancestors’ courage and creativity by speaking up, affirming their identities, respectfully presenting the hows and whys of their practice of Judaism.

Sometimes all that’s needed for successful dialogue is a paradigm shift, and one of the best I’ve read thus far is Mah Rabu’s Taxonomy of Jewish Pluralism. Much of the Jewish blogosphere follows what BZ describes as Stage 1.

(Go ahead and read the post before coming back here. I’ll wait…)

Overloaded yet? No? Great, let’s continue.

My paradigm for the past ten years could largely be described as Stage 1, and I’ve been dissatisfied with it the entire time. I’ve spent time in many different Jewish communities, observed many different practices. (More on that in another post.) I’ve been able to write and dialogue from a different paradigm, but I have not yet been able to describe what that new paradigm is. BZ’s Stage 3 comes awfully close.

I see nothing wrong with visiting blogs whose authors are Orthodox. I respect their views. I’ve been there. We agree on more points than they may give me credit for. But eventually it becomes apparent that the feeling is not always reciprocal, and I have to wonder if it is an issue of propriety. If someone who identified as Orthodox commented on a blog identified as non-Orthodox, might that be construed as condoning the “other” – an act that surely would contradict the authenticity of Orthodoxy? Would it be appropriate only if the commenter made it clear that the views expressed on the blog were contrary to the commenter’s own practice?

Yet what does that say about the authenticity of other interpretations of halacha and Jewish practice? How can we move from authenticity to identity without mutual respect?

I’ve spent much of the past two dozen years trying not to take sides. Again, it’s that writer in me who can see from more than my own perspective. I spent many years fence-sitting, not quite belonging in the Orthodox world and not quite belonging in the Conservative world. And as a friend of mine observed when I told her this, “sitting on the fence can give you splinters.”

BZ writes in the article I linked to earlier (the one you hopefully read), “In order to make this kind of pluralism possible, it is necessary for the various Jewish identities to be robust and confident.” To that end, I’ve decided to get off the fence and attempt to articulate where I do stand, even if there isn’t an existing denominational name for it.

Whether it helps you, the reader, or not, I cannot say. Perhaps it will help other fence-sitters to avoid splinters. Perhaps it will clear up some confusion. Perhaps it will simply (simply?) solidify my own understanding of where I am on the Jewish spectrum and allow me to visit other Jewish blogs without feeling apologetic or fearing a backlash.

And perhaps it will add to the number of Jewish bloggers and visitors who are willing to engage in a respectful exchange of ideas about what it means to be Jewish today, what it means to live in a world that is predominately not Jewish, and what it means to bring our identities together, share them, and then part, all the while knowing we were valued, with our modesty and integrity intact.

What does "Just Jewish" mean?

The results of our local Jewish population survey (approximately 48,700 people) were recently released, and the most startling statistic that produced dialogues and discussions both on the pulpit and off was that 36% of those surveyed identified themselves as "Just Jewish."

For those curious, Conservative and Reform tied at 31% of the population each, and Orthodox at a small but strong 2%.

But this question of "Just Jewish" rasied all sorts of concerns.

  • Did "Just Jewish" mean they identified as Jewish but didn't want to commit to one movement over another, or they crossed denominational lines?
  • Did "Just Jewish" mean they were unaffiliated because they wanted nothing to do with organized (or dis-organized, depending on your perspective) Judaism?
  • Did "Just Jewish" mean identification on a cultural and/or ethnic level but not a religious one?
  • Or did "Just Jewish" mean that Judaism as we know it is changing (yet again) and there are other descriptions of religious Judaism that do not fit the traditional movement models as we know them?
BZ has one answer in this article, which may give you a whole new way of thinking about what it means to be a Jew, what it means to be religiously Jewish, and if the intra-religious debates about Jewish authenticity based on the movement (or lack of) with which one affiliates is about to become obsolete.

Please check it out!

Jewish Blogging Hits the News

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a great article by Rachel Silverman on Jewish blogging. Check it out here.

And thanks to Reformodox for bringing my attention to it. :-)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hello, G-d? I'm ready to be healthy now.

A psychologist could have a field day with me right now.

I'm a little dazed, a little confused, groggy, forgetful, and barely able to move around today. I'm also "losing time" - unable to account for long periods of time between yesterday afternoon and tonight. I had a blip of total clarity last night, for about two hours. Then back to confuzzled.

And I confess, part of it is my fault.

See, I had physical therapy (PT) yesterday for my neck and back, from the injuries sustained in the auto accident I keep mentioning now and then. And PT starts with ten minutes on the treadmill. No big problem, there. The problem is that I MISS working out. So I pushed the treadmill up to about 3 mph and a 20% incline to see if I could handle it for even five minutes, thinking that if I COULD, then I could maybe return to either treadmill or my favorite - the elliptical machine - at the JCC a couple of times a week.

And I was doing well. Really well. Until, as I was striding along, my shoulder must have moved just so, and >>ZAP<< there was a sudden, stabbing, searing pain in my shoulder, slicing down my arm and up into my neck, and I had to punch the treadmill's emergency STOP button and cradle my arm, lest it fall off or I pass out.

I tried walking it off, at 0% incline and 1 mph, but it hurt too much, so I sat down and did some stretching. Mind over shoulder, I did my PT through the pain, my friend drove me home (picking up my kids on the way), and I took two Tylenol. (Note: Tylenol® is a registered trademark of McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, a Division of McNeil-PPC, Inc.)

An hour later, nothing had improved. Somehow I made it through most of the afternoon, then when Husby came home, I took half of a Percocet (Note: Percocet® is a Registered Trademark of Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc..) Now, I know that I'm sensitive to medication and have a high tolerance for pain. Not always a good combination. The Percocet knocked me out for about six hours, just in time for me to take my prescribed Flexeril (Note: Flexeril® is a registered trademark of ALZA Corporation <-- Hey! My dad worked there!). I only take half a tablet because the full tablet will knock me out for up to 24 hours. Did some work on the computer, caught just enough of Love Monkey to determine all the good parts were in the promos and I hadn't missed much, and fell asleep again.

I woke up, finally, early this afternoon. Apparently Husby tried to wake me up - he even claims that I got up and promptly fell over again - but I was pretty much incapacitated. The good news is that my shoulder doesn't hurt. As much.

The suspicion from three doctors is that I have a torn rotator cuff from the accident. If the tear is too big to heal on its own, they're talking surgery.

So I've just decided, I'm done being injured and in pain. I'm tired of being groggy from the pain meds and muscle relaxants, tired of not being able to use my right arm for much of anything, tired of not being able to pick up my children, tired of not being able to drive or work out or hold a siddur without firing up my shoulder.

Hello, G-d? I'm ready to be healthy now. Anytime. Sooner would be nice.

I'd like to have my mind clear enough to do some book-writin', my arm well enough to drive and not have to rely on friends and Husby, my neck well enough to allow me to read for more than 20 minutes.

And I have learned some good things from all of this. There ARE good lawyers in the world (maybe not lots, but I've met at least four). I have friends who have stepped up and offered meals, rides, child care, companionship, and who call just to keep my spirits up. Husby has gotten the laundry down to a science, and found an awesome dairy-free kosher shepherd's pie recipe. Youngest Son and I are really VERY fortunate that it wasn't worse.

I found out that last part yesterday, when the auto body shop fixed the driver's seat, which had for unknown reasons, flung back to its farthest-back position upon the first impact, and couldn't be adjusted after. They removed the seat and the culprit became obvious: the truck hit us hard enough that it BENT THE RAIL on which the seat slides. One new rail and now the seat works perfectly again.

I think my brain keeps trying to make this just a little fender bender when it was probably much more. It's just that 6,200 lbs of truck at 30 mph doesn't register. It's like a bad dream.

That's it! Maybe I can ask that this just be a bad dream and tomorrow I'll wake up pain-free and without weeks of PT and doctor's appointments and medication awaiting me.

And now my psychology training kicks in and wonders if I'm heading out of denial and into the bargaining process of MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident) recovery.

Nah... It's just a bad dream. Right?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Book Rant

I am mad. Really, really mad! Not mad in the way that Sarah is mad at lots of things, but mad at one thing in particular: a book. A book I haven't even read, but just its mere existence is maddening!

And I realize that the very fact that I'm so mad, I'm blogging about it, and that might cause the blasted book to get more attention than it deserves (ANY attention is more than it deserves - can you see how mad I am?) makes me even madder!

So DON'T GO THERE! I will not post the link to this book, because I want it to disappear from the face of the earth, and a book has to really, really, really get under my skin to make me (who is NOT in favor of censorship) wish death on its very literary (and I use the term loosely) reality.

Okay. [deep breath] Let me start at the beginning.

It started with an e-mail. The subject said "[TITLE] by Jewish Author."

Now, I'm Jewish. I'm an author. I was intrigued. So I opened it.

That was a mistake.

It was a news release about a book that was published back in 2002, and apparently has been promoted with spam-like e-mails, such as the one I received, and flyers posted on walls.

First off, the flyer thing? NOT a good way to promote a book. But that's not important. Nor is it particularly important that the publisher of this book is an e-publisher who will publish pretty much anything and everything you send them. And although it's HIGHLY unfair, it's also unimportant (except perhaps to my fragile ego) its Amazon.com rank is higher than Destined to Choose. Those rankings are always misleading anyway, right?

Second, why am I getting this e-mail? Am I supposed to go out and buy the book? (NOT likely - did I mention it made me mad?) Is it just because I'm Jewish and an author? Or maybe just because I have a working e-mail address? Maybe that's unimportant, too.

Third is why I'm mad, and is the MAIN reason for this post.

The book is allegedly a memoir, allegedly non-fiction (though I reserve judgement on that), and is about a woman who grows up in a family where the parents have a mental illness. That part doesn't make me mad. Lots of kids grow up in families where one or both parents are dealing with a mental illness, disorder, addiction, or other difficulty, and while this DOES affect the children and DOES affect the family dynamics, said families CAN also deal with it in a healthy way. And even when the parents don't, the children can still grow up and deal with their histories.

It can be painful and hard work and take years of therapy. But even that isn't what made me mad.

What made me mad was THIS:

What happens to children of the mentally ill? This is from the e-mail I received, the book description on the (e)publisher's website, and the description on Amazon. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? It gets worse, trust me.

The description of "what happens to children of the mentally ill" includes the following: psychological imbalances, haunting, madness, twisted, incomprehensible, fearful reality, madness (again), brutality, abused, neglected.

The description on the publisher's site continues, talking about the target audience: The depth of understanding into family dynamics of the emotionally disturbed will aid not only the practitioners [in educational and psychological communinties] but also their current and future patients. Schools and universities are another audience for [TITLE]. This rare glimpse into living with the mentally ill offers insights not gained through standard textbooks.

Where do I even start with how WRONG this is?

Let's start here: the use of the term "the mentally ill" is obsolete and has been for well over ten years. If you use it, please stop now. It is offensive because it defines people by their illness. We don't say "the cancerous" or "the heart-diseased" and we really shouldn't even say "the diabetic." Instead, we say "cancer survivors" or "people with cancer" or "people with heart disease" or "people with diabetes." We should also say "people with mental illnesses." They are people. They are not their illness.

Further, it is common knowledge - or it darn well should be - that every, EVERY mental illness from depression to schizophrenia to OCD to social anxiety is a brain disorder. It is a chemical imbalance. Most cases can be treated with medication; some are aided also by behavior/talk therapy. Those cases that cannot be treated with medication are due to the unique chemical imbalances of those brains involved or the still-evolving understanding of brain chemistry and how medications affect it, not because of a lack of chemical or biological cause of the illness itself.

This book perpetuates the fear and misunderstanding of those with mental illnesses, and leads readers and potential readers to believe that ALL or at least MOST children of parents with mental illnesses will endure a horrific, nightmarish childhood. This is simply NOT TRUE.

Children endure horrific, nightmarish childhoods for all sorts of reasons: abuse (having nothing to do with mental illness), pedophiles, messy divorces, death in the family, domestic violence, bullies, religious extremism and/or fundamentalism, and so on. Yet this book attempts to say that "children of the mentally ill" are doomed from the start.

Not just this one child. All children. The book description says so itself: "What happens to children of the mentally ill?" THIS does.

But that is wrong. WRONG. Oh, so very wrong. THIS is an (alleged) memoir of one person's childhood, who cannot possibly speak for all children who grew up with a parent who had a mental illness.

And to add insult to injury, there is nothing that indicates there's anything about this book - or author, who only goes by her first name - that's Jewish, despite the "Jewish Author" teaser in the e-mail subject line.

It's maddening. And not in the mentally ill sort of way, but in the this-book-is-likely-to-cause-great-harm sort of way. Because now people with mental illnesses have even more reason to be afraid to speak up. And this book wants society to become even less tolerant.

The e-mail I received? I bounced it, and added the sender to my spam list. The book? No thank you. Not in a million years.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity..."

I woke this morning thinking about Dr. King's life, what today means, and the long road still ahead of us.

Oldest Son's school (a Jewish day school) is in session today, and each teacher plans a lesson to teach today about the importance of Dr. King's legacy. I told him on the way to school that today was a holiday, a day to honor Dr. King.

"He was a king?" Oldest Son asked.

"No, his name is King," I said.

"Oh. Was he a kids' doctor?"

I smiled. "No. He earned a doctorate in..." I wasn't sure how to explain this to a five-year-old. "He studied for a long time and earned the title doctor. It means he knew a lot about what he studied."

"Oh. Why do we celebrate today? Is it his birthday?"

"Yes, we celebrate the holiday to honor his birthday and all the good things he accomplished in his life," I said.

Oldest Son pondered this. "What good things did he do?"

"He, uh... Well, you know how sometimes there are kids who don't want other kids to play with them?"


"There are people who don't like to be around other people, because those other people don't look the same as they do. They might have different color hair or skin or eyes, or wear different clothes, or speak a different language, or practice a different religion."

"That's not very nice," Oldest Son said.

"You're right, it's not. But some people are not nice like that. And Dr. King worked very hard to try and change that, so everybody, no matter what they looked like, could all have the same opportunities to go to good schools and have good medical care and get good jobs and live where they want to live. There's still a lot to do, because not everyone has this now, and we can use today to make the world a better place."

Oldest Son brightened. "We learned about that in school. It's call tikkun olam!"

"That's right," I said, rather amazed that, at five, he remembered that. "And Dr. King worked very hard for tikkun olam."

"Oh. That's a good holiday."

"What do you think you can do today to help make the world a better place?" I asked him.

"Um... listen to you and Abba?"

I laughed. "That's a good start. What can you do for someone not in our family?"

"I can smile at people," Oldest Son said. "And I can ask kids who don't have anyone to play with if they want to play with us."

"I think that's a great idea."

I think of today as a day to work toward universal goals that Dr. King supported: opportunity, service, equality.

And for the past three years, I've made it a commitment to give blood in honor of today. Following from the Talmud, "He who saves one life... it is as if he saves an entire universe" (Sanhedrin 4:5), the service of giving blood gives others the opportunity to live, who might not otherwise.

Life is so important in Judaism that some laws, which are to be followed under all other circumstances, may be broken in order to save a life. The guiding prinicple is pikuach nefesh - saving a life - and appears, among other places, in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, where we are told that anyone who is able to save a life, but fails to do so, violates 'You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor' (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:16).

According to the American Red Cross, 15 million units of blood were donated in 2001. But that falls far short of the 29 million units of blood used that same year.

Please, if you are eligible, do a mitzvah, save a life, and give blood.

No Pedestals Allowed (unless, of course, I put them there)

I was just checking out RenReb's site and read her very humorous post on saving Rochelle Krich's Molly Blume series and to a lesser extent, answering the question of whether or not she and her husband (the rabbi) argue.

And I just had to do a little writing of my own on this second part (not that saving Molly isn't important, too - in fact, please take a brief moment to save Molly by visiting bn.com or amazon.com or your local independent bookseller and support another author because we authors NEED your support or we won't continue to get published and then there'll be no more of our books to read and while you're there, I'd be ever so happy if you supported me and bought a copy of my book, too, at any of the links to the right! [whew! that was a long parenthetical]).

Okay, so what I really want to write about is pedestals, and people's need to place their clergy on one, and my equally insistent need to remind my protagonist rabbi that there are No Pedestals Allowed and he'd better get used to my not only making him wholly and completely human, but also finding and then exploiting his weaknesses. (Poor guy.)

One of my readers, who is also a devout Christian and read my book because she wanted to learn more about Judaism in a fun non-textbook-y way as a means to understand and appreciate her own faith better (and she said it did, indeed, do that), was aghast at one aspect of the story: David (my protagonist rabbi) was entirely too human.

"But he's a rabbi!" she said, her eyebrows drawn together in disbelief. "He deserves respect!"

"He is respected," I pointed out.

"Well, most of his congregation respects him. But the synagogue president - I hate him, by the way; hate hate hate him! - he doesn't respect David. The worst of it though, is you!"

"Me? What did I do?" Aside from write it, of course.

"You... you had him kissing!"

"Uh, yeah. Guilty as charged. But he was kissing his wife. What's wrong with that?"

"He was kissing! And then there's..." she changed her voice to a whisper, "chapter thirty."

I laughed. Chapter thirty is the shortest chapter in the book, and, well, let's just say there's not a lot of rabbi-ing going on in that chapter. "Yes, there is chapter thirty. Explain to me what the problem is. He has three kids. They didn't appear through immaculate conception."

"But-" She sighed as if I would never get it, "he's a rabbi!"

In truth, I really did get it. When I've gone to see my rabbi, there's a part of me (the more I write of my protagonist rabbi, the smaller that part gets, though) that wants him to focus at least 100% on my issue. I don't want him overtired and wishing he could take a nap, or thinking about lunch, or remembering the fight he had with his wife that morning, or having second thoughts about the d'var Torah he just spent three hours writing. I want my issue to be the only issue in his life for this forty-five minutes. And when I leave his study, he can have a snack or take a snooze or call his wife or make some corrections, but please don't spend time thinking about it while I'm sitting there. I don't want him to be human; I want him to be my rabbi.

I also know how unrealistic this is. Perhaps it's because I used to be a counselor and I know that the people I counseled expected me to be there at least 100% too. If they'd only known that on occasion, I was thinking about when I'd get a bathroom break or regretting my choice of itchy socks. It's not that I didn't care; it's that I'm human, too.

There is, however, something different, unique about clergy. Perhaps it's the popular concept that clergy are somehow closer to G-d than the rest of us mortals. Or maybe it's because we tend to associate anything - or anyone - religious with a sense of otherness (in Hebrew, kadosh). Maybe it's a leftover from times when religion and politics were intertwined and no one dared, ever, question the clergy.

My Christian friend needs to believe that her clergy person is somehow more holy, more religious, more connected to G-d and the universe than she is. It is what enables her to divulge her most embarrassing secrets, her most shaming behaviors, to make things right in her religious world. And that's okay; that works for her.

Maybe it's my own experience, or my different take on the rabbinate, or all the research that went into creating my rabbi protagonist and other characters in or related to the rabbinate (such as their families), or all the effort I went to looking for rabbis' humanity and not their leadership, but that doesn't work for me.

Possibly even to my disadvantage. Because I see the fatigue, I see doubt and indecision and too many demands and not enough time. And I might let that affect my decision of whether to call or not, whether to e-mail a question or not, whether to be yet another congregant who wants to be the center of the rabbi's attention.

When the situation calls for a halachic opinion, you can bet I'm on the phone setting up an appointment. When it's a religious matter, I'm right there on the phone. When I need a Jewish answer to a life question, I'm on the phone... sometimes.

Meanwhile, there are no pedestals in David's immediate future. It's my job to make him credible and sympathetic and human. It's his job to somehow find a way out of the nightmarish situations in which I put him. But he has resources, including his own faith. And he has help: his wife (whom he will kiss [or more] on occasion), his family, his friends, his congregation, and his colleagues.

None of whom have pedestals either.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sunday with JDAC

I spent the day today at a conference presented by the Jewish Domestic Abuse Collaborative called "Not 'just' a women's issue... Understanding Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community." It was a long day, a very emotional day for many involved, including me.

I plan to post - hopefully tomorrow - on the conference and some of the issues it raised.

Meanwhile, remember this: family violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, or whatever you want to call it (I personally prefer "family violence" for reasons I'll explain in the forthcoming post) crosses all lines: age, gender, RELIGION, culture, ethnicity, nationality, and socio-economic status. Family violence DOES exist in the Jewish community, as any other, and the only SHAME is in turning our backs on it and pretending it doesn't exist.

If you are in a violent situation at home, if you are not safe, if your children are not safe, GET HELP. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Orthodox women may want to check out this link or this link for help.

More to come...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

And G-d Ceased on the Seventh Day

Volumes have been written about Shabbat. Whole libraries. Web sites. There is some consensus. There is some disagreement.

By halacha - Jewish law - Jews are required to rest on Shabbat. Strictly speaking, this means ceasing from all creative work. The hardest thing for many Americans to understand is that halachic "rest" is quite different from how Americans define "rest." But I'm not going to go into a long treatise about the differences.

Instead, I'm just wondering whether "being unconscious" can be defined, halachically, as "rest."

You see, I sort of missed most of Shabbat this week.

Yesterday was a big day for my body. It was my first real physical therapy workout to stretch and strengthen my neck after my auto accident. At that appointment, I found out the doctor wants me to have an MRI scan of my shoulder because she suspects I have a torn rotator cuff muscle. An attempt to pull just ten pounds on an upper back strengthening machine confirmed a problem. She's now the third doctor to think that.

I later saw a massage therapist to whom I'd been referred, who specializes in myofascial release. She noticed the swelling in my shoulder and touched it lightly, causing me to gasp in pain. (She decided to leave it alone.) Then I saw my chiropractor, who observed that my back and neck are indeed improving (albeit slowly), but my shoulder remains problematic - inflamed, sore, and with a significantly reduced range of motion.

At 3:30pm, I took an short nap before we welcomed Shabbat. Lighting the Shabbat candles caused searing pain in my shoulder. All I wanted to do was lie down, but parental obligations and the pain in my shoulder kept me awake.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and took a Percocet for the pain. The next thing I knew, Shabbat was nearly over. I woke, bleary and confused, at approximately 3pm today. Completely missed shul. It's now 9:30pm, Shabbat has been over for about four hours, and I'm finally "waking up," though I feel like I could sleep another twelve hours.

I suppose I could say it was a restful Shabbat. Other than whatever healing my body did while I slept, I certainly didn't engage in any creative work. I'm sorry that I missed shul, but I'm not too worried about the halachic standing of my activities - or lack thereof. At this point, I'm just trying to get better.

It's a little frustrating that my entire life now revolves around my neck/back/shoulder and healing from an accident in which there was nothing I could do but brace myself and deal with the aftermath. Okay, it's a lot frustrating. One person's stupid decision - to blithely speed along an unplowed residential street after receiving several inches of wet, heavy snow - has resulted in thousands of dollars of damage and months of recouperation. And now a second MRI, with talk of possible shoulder surgery.

I am not happy. I do not want surgery. I also do not want to spend my days feeling "out of it" because of pain meds.

I have a book to finish, and typing does, to some extent, involve my shoulder, though I've been able to adapt for short periods of time.

Thank G-d, there were no further injuries. Thank G-d we all lived through the accident. Thank G-d it wasn't worse than it is.

And I'm still frustrated. And in pain. And all I want to do right now is lie down and rest.

May this next week be better for us all.

Shavua tov.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

What kind of monsters have we created?

Somehow, probably while reading other people's blogs, I ran across this blog at the Chicago Tribune. The story itself did a push-pull with my emotions, as I'm the mother of two young children and I like taking advantage of the rare opportunities when I can end the isolation at home and rub elbows with the rest of humanity.

But what really caught my attention and left me disturbed were the comments.

So, here's the story: last September, the owner of a popular Chicago cafe grew tired of kids running through the cafe, playing on the floor and blocking other patrons, yelling and throwing tantrums, while their parents did little or nothing and allowed it to continue. He posted a sign that said, "Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven."

In response, some parents interpreted that sign to mean that they, especially if they have children with them, were no longer welcome at the cafe. They decided to boycott the cafe, and the outrage against the alleged chutzpah of this cafe owner has led to stories and blogs from coast to coast.

The owner's position is that he welcomes kids, so long as they remain under their parent's management and that they don't disrupt other partrons. The boycotting parents' position is that this is the beginning of the end of tolerance. Or perhaps the beginning of ageism in reverse.

I have young kids, and I do go to coffee shops now and then. But I expect certain "public" behavior from my children, and I'm aware of the limits of their developmental stage. I don't expect a two-year-old to sit still for half an hour or more because I know that's unrealistic, and as a result, my coffee shop visits are relatively short. I do expect that they will walk (not run), play only in designated areas or with materials I bring with us for use at the table, and yes, use their indoor voices. And when they're having a rough day, as we all sometimes do, I find appropriate alternatives.

So, while I might use different wording on the sign that the cafe owner posted, it seems rather much like common sense to me. The one thing I would have changed was to remove the word "children" and replace it with "patrons" or "visitors" or something more age-inclusive. Because my experience is that often it's the adults who are more disruptive than the kids present, talking on their cell phones in loud voices, holding loud conversations, verbally abusing the poor clerk behind the counter who was simply asking for clarification if it was a half-soy or full-soy latte. But I've never been to Chicago, never been to A Taste of Heaven, and have no idea how well or poorly behaved the adults are in that establishment, in contrast to the kids.

That really isn't my main concern, though. My main concern was the sentiment expressed in comments to the Chicago Tribune blog. It makes me wonder what we've become, where this (dare I say it?) hatred of children came from. It makes me afraid to ask, because I suspect we have created this monster through our inability or unwillingness to work through our own issues resulting from the excessive permissiveness and/or authoritarianism dished out by our parents.

In the 373 comments to the blog, responders continually referred to children as: brats, little darling [obviously sarcastic in context], unruly, prized treasures [also sarcastic], selfish, little terror, curtain-climbers, and hooligans, among others. Over and over again, people wrote that they felt parents were "imposing their children on others."

One anonymous (of course) poster said, "I'm a server, and I give crappy, express service to parents with small kids so they get out as soon as possible."

Now, there were quite a number of posters who are parents themselves, and have the same basic attitude I do, and like me, found the sign to generally be in line with common sense. But the overwhelming tone of the comments was anti-parent and anti-child.

Many comments basically said, "You're the one who chose to have kids; you deal with the consequences, eg: not going to coffee shops anymore."

And then there were the ones who began, "I don't have kids, but..." and then proceeded to blast parents for their parenting abilities.

Believe me, I've seen more than my fair share of over-permissive parents, who seem to think that saying "no" to their children is tantamount to abuse. They don't seem to realize that NOT saying "no" only sets their kids up for HUGE problems later in life. It does their children a great disservice, not to mention coffee shop patrons.

But my issue is with the people who would seem to be happy if children ceased to exist on the planet. Or at least if they were never seen, never heard, and never acknowledged until adulthood. Why do they hate children so much? Do they not realize that they themselves were once children? Do they not realize that forty years from now, these "brats" will be the ones making our laws and governing our institutions and services? Do they really think that their intolerance goes unnoticed by those (especially older) children who may be well-behaved but still get lumped in with the "brats"?

One posting took it a step further than coffee shops, and commented on inappropriate behavior in church [we Jews, of course, NEVER have inappropriately behaved children in shul ;-) <-- that's a JOKE, in case anyone is taking this way too seriously]. She said, "And anyone who speaks out about it is slammed as a "child-hater" and an attacker of the very institution of motherhood itself, or boycotted or sued such as the proprietors mentioned in the story."

Here's my take: if you bring my child's misbehavior (using generally accepted standards of appropriate behavior for children) to my attention when I've missed it, I will apologize, thank you, and deal with my child's behavior (up to and including leaving the premises). If my child is running amok through a coffee shop, I definitely want to know about it. If my child is continually bothering the nice lady who is trying to finish her crossword puzzle in peace, I want to know about it. And if I'm not paying enough attention to what my child is doing (which seems like a no-brainer if my child is doing any of the above things), I want to know about it.

But I do not want to be lectured on my parenting skills. [I'm in a weekly parenting education class and I trust the parent educator; I do not necessarily trust or respect the opinion of a stranger, especially when their criticism begins with either "I don't have kids but..." or "My kids are all grown up now, but..."]

And most of all, I do not want our society to become one in which mothers are simply "breeders," in which children are not valued (I'm NOT talking child-centric here, merely child-respectful), in which we are jepoardizing our future by expressing hostility and resentment and sadly, even aggression, toward today's children.

On the bright side, if you're a licensed family counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, clergy person or other licensed counseling professional, check out the comments. There's a lot of people here who need therapy, parents and non-parents alike.

But please, while in therapy, use your indoor voice.

Free book! - Another Update

One copy of the book will shortly be winging its way to Israel. I decided that since it might not make it back overseas (which is fine!), I would release one additional copy in North America. It will be heading off to the southeastern US. Thanks, everyone, for your interest!

On the car accident front, as of today, we retained the services of a highly reputable attorney to make sure we can recoup the out-of-pocket expenses (now in excess of $1000) we've had as a result.

On Dateline tonight, there's a story about whiplash. Let's say I now have a vested interest.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Free book! - Update

I was sneaky and put the URL link in the title of that last post, but then forgot to let you all know that's what I did. So... to view the BookCrossing listing for my book, go here.

Also, it appears I already have a taker for the free copy, which will be read and then passed along to another interested person. If you want to get on a list to have the book sent to you, and/or if you want to subscribe to an announcements-only news update from yours truly (including an update on the production and release of AS IN DAYS OF OLD, the sequel to DESTINED TO CHOOSE), you can subscribe to this free group:



Free book!

I just registered my book with BookCrossing.com, and will send out one free copy to the first interested person. The idea with BookCrossing is that you read the book, log in to BookCrossing, post a journal entry (sort of like a review - what you liked or didn't like, etc.), and then pass it along to someone else, who will do the same. We can all track the book's progress across the country or around the world through these journal entries.

I found BookCrossing.com through Ezer Knegdo's blog - thanks!

If you're interested in taking part, please send me an e-mail with BOOK CROSSING in the subject line.

For those who are willing, I can also keep track of who's interested so that once a reader is finished with the book, he or she can send it along to the next interested person.

And if you simply can't wait that long, you can buy your own copy (autographed copies available from the publisher), or ask your local library to add it to their collection.

Let's have fun with this!

Percocet Pages

I claim no responsibility for what I may say in the rest of this post.

I confess: I am writing under the influence of pain medication. Which, really, is quite a nice way to write. Fewer inhibitions. The dreaded internal editor is silenced. And creativity can flow directly from my drug-affected brain to my fingers, if only I can stay awake long enough to write whatever it was I was going to say.

Some of you may know why I haven't blogged in a few weeks; most probably don't. The reason is this: on December 14, 2005, my youngest son (2-1/2 years old) and I were stopped at a stoplight in our minivan when we were rear-ended by a Ford F-150 pickup truck going an estimated 30 miles per hour. The truck slammed into us, crushing the back end of the van, knocking the driver's seat (MY seat) off it's runners, and pushing us into the van in front of us. I still have flashbacks of looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing that truck coming at us, and knowing that it was not going to stop. Not in time. Not at all.

Thank G-d, my son was securely strapped in his car seat and I was wearing my seat belt (I am always a stickler for seat belts, no matter what!). Somehow, once I overcome my initial maternal panic and determined that my son was scared but not apparently hurt, a strange sort of calm came over me, allowing me to call 911, check on the other drivers, call my husband and have him pick up Oldest Son from preschool (I was on my way to pick him up when we were hit) exchange the requisite insurance information, and so forth.

It wasn't until I arrived home that I began to pay any attention at all to myself. I had a massive headache, a back and neck ache, sore shoulders, a funny tingling in my arms and fingers, and I was trembling all over. I chalked much of it up to adrenaline and stress and called the insurance company.

In a way, the accident sent different aspects of my psyche into different directions. My mom part was grateful that Youngest Son was unharmed (a doctor later gave him a clean bill of health). My mom part was thankful that Oldest Son wasn't in the van with us. My mom part was thankful that we all walked away.

My spiritual part wondered if this was somehow destined, if a congruence of my timing and the other driver's timing and the weather (it had snowed heavily that morning) and every other decision and event came together and at some point ceased to be a mere possibility and became fate. My spiritual part wondered if we were protected by Someone or Something unseen. It wondered if the crash would have been worse without that protection.

My logical/pragmatic part began to assess the damage, both to the van and to me, and determined that most likely, had we been in our tiny Saturn, the car would have been totaled and we might not have walked away. There is something humbling when realizing that the van I hadn't planned on buying last fall, the van I second-guessed buying for quite some time, the van I bought in part because of a dream in which my father (alav hashalom), who passed away 17 months earlier, told me to buy it, may very well have been the van that saved us severe physical injury, if not saved our lives.

And my writer part found an interesting story in all of this. The van I was pushed into after the truck slammed into my van had a baby in it. The driver determined that his van sustained no damage (he had a tow hitch on the back, too) but stuck around until police arrived to give his version of events, which matched mine, and thankfully, the at-fault driver's, too (who claimed full responsibility). It turned out, after the cop asked each of us for our licences and insurance cards, that the van driver didn't have anything. No ID, no license, no nothing.

But wait - it gets better.

It wasn't his van. It wasn't even his baby.

The story came out that his girlfriend asked him to babysit the baby (the father is AWOL) while she went to work. The baby had had a fever the night before, so the daycare provider wouldn't take her, and the mom had no choice about going to work. The boyfriend walked over to her house, expecting to take care of the baby and hang out around the house all day. By late morning, the baby's fever had returned, so he called the pediatrician, who said, "Bring her in right now." He didn't want to risk harm to the baby by taking her out in the cold while he walked home to get his wallet, he was smart enough to know not to leave her home alone while he went home, and he doesn't own a vehicle, so he took the keys to his girlfriend's father's van and headed for the doctor's office. He was on his way there when the accident happened.

The cop (Saint Paul Police are awesome, by the way) was understanding, checked on the baby, and sent the driver on to the doctor with a warning to drive very safely and to always carry his driver's license with him, even when he walks to his girlfriend's house. Just in case.

Fast forward a week.

My back is worse, and I have numbness and tingling down my right arm constantly. I can't lift anything, can't drive, and have debilitating headaches. X-rays showed nothing broken. I'm sent for an MRI scan. (As an aside, those machines make some very interesting noises!) I half want them to find something so I have an explanation for what I'm feeling, and half want them to find nothing because I don't want anything wrong with me. I still manage to find humor in the incident, groaning, "I feel like I've been hit by a truck. Oh wait... I was."

Two radiologists confirm the findings: two herniated discs in my neck and a perforated disc in my mid-back. The good news is that none of them are bad enough to warrant immediate back/neck surgery. The bad news is that it will take 6 weeks to 6 months for me to feel anything close to "normal" again.

Anti-inflammatory medicine helps some of the pain and swelling. Chiropractic adjustments help realign my spine. Massage therapy helps loosen muscle spasms and sprained ligaments in my neck and shoulder. My days are filled with attempts at pain management, frequent doctor's visits, and trying to deal with the auto body shop and insurance company. And what seems like hundreds of forms all asking for the exact same information.

Another week passes, and the symptoms have graduated from tingling and numbness to hot knife-points of pain running down my shoulder and arm. I swear I can feel warm blood trickling over my skin as the tip of the knife slices through my skin. The doctors all say it's nerve pain.

Now I have Flexeril to speed the healing of my muscles, Percocet for acute pain that the NSAIDs don't help, physical therapy to start stretching and strengthening my upper back to stabilize my spine, and, depending on the outcome of tomorrow's meeting, a highly-recommended (by friends, not a TV ad) personal injury attorney to help sort out the insurance mess created by one driver's decision to drive too fast for road conditions.

Update: we got our van back just minutes before Shabbat began. The auto shop had it for over two weeks. And while the body looks all better, they didn't fix the driver's seat, so I can't adjust it to fit my less-than-tall stature and the knife-point pains down my arm. So I still can't drive. Grf.

On the good side, if I take it slowly and give myself lots of breaks about every five minutes, I can manage to type. Which means I can write. Yay!

Please drive carefully (and not too fast for the conditions) this winter.