Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So I've got this other blog which I've posted a whole two times to, which is supposed to be about my relationship with/search for/understanding of God. But since I've only posted there twice and I figure that someday I'll combine this blog with that one anyway, I'm just going to go ahead and post this here.

Tonight we had a fabulous Intro to Judaism class with a fascinating rabbi, we'll call him Rabbi Y for now since I am still not comfortable with giving the internet 100% of the details about my life just in case all those cautious people are right and someone IS stalking me through my blog. Not like I've made it all that hard to murder me in my sleep, but I digress.

At the beginning of class Rabbi Y asked us to go around in a small group and state our understanding of God in a few words. Wowsa, a few words? Me? Hey, I hear you laughing... but this is something like what I was able to say in the time I had

  • I believe God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent
  • I believe God is Good
  • I believe God is ultimately unknowable, and that religions are peoples' way of trying to explain the unexplainable
  • I believe God gave humans free will
  • I believe God presents us with choices every moment we live. He (for lack of a better term) wants us to make the right choice, but doesn't stop us if we make the wrong one
  • I believe this is why bad things happen to good people, because other people made the wrong choice
  • I believe God loves us
Next, Rabbi Y had us make a knot by holding hands with two other people in the group, but not those beside us. Then we had to try to unravel the knot. My group couldn't do it. After we sat down again, Rabbi Y asked us where God was in that knot. Most people answered, 'in the head'. This led to a discussion of rationalism and God as the 'ultimate brain' (as I'm currently re-reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' this was a disturbing image for me!). My answer; God is in the hands, because He is in the relationships and connections we formed. According to Rabbi Y this is the existential way of thinking about God, as put forth by Martin Buber in his work 'Ich-Du' (translation: 'I-Thou'). This entry from the Jewish Virtual Library sums up this thought well:

According to Buber, frequently we view both objects and people by their functions...Rather than truly making ourselves completely available to them, understanding them, sharing totally with them, really talking with them, we observe them or keep part of ourselves outside the moment of relationship. We do so either to protect our vulnerabilities or to get them to respond in some preconceived way, to get something from them. Buber calls such an interaction I-It.

It is possible, notes Buber, to place ourselves completely into a relationship, to truly understand and "be there" with another person, without masks, pretenses, even without words. Such a moment of relating is called "I-Thou." Each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other person. The result is true dialogue, true sharing.

Such I-Thou relationships are not constant or static... [D]escribing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. The most Buber can do in describing this process is to encourage us to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments, to achieve real dialogue. It can't be described. When you have it, you know it....

Buber then moves from this existential description of personal relating to the religious experience. For Buber, God is the Eternal Thou. By trying to prove God's existence or define God, the rationalist philosophers automatically established an I-It relationship...

Like a person we love, we can't define God; we can't set up preconditions for the relationship. We simply have to be available, open to the relationship with the Eternal Thou...For Buber, it is possible to have an I-Thou relationship with God through I-Thou moments with people, nature, art, the world.

Talk about cool! I am so getting me some Buber to read. :)

The last concept was that God was in the hearts, which Rabbi Y equated with our souls. Here he went into a discussion about the name of God, which we are not supposed to speak or write. Hence the observant Jew's use of G-d in writing, especially in the non-permanent world of the internet, and the substitution of 'Adonai' when one comes upon the name of God in a text while reading or reciting. But I'm digressing again, Rabbi Y shared the theory that the name of God, which is all vowels, may have been pronounced like a breath of air. I can't write it... but imagine a sharp, short breath with a bit of a yaw sound to it. In addition, Rabbi Y told us that the first lines of the Hebrew Book of Genesis which are traditionally translated as 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. ' 'the spirit of God' can also be translated as 'wind'. And one of the Hebrew words for 'soul' is neshama. The word neshama comes from nesheema, which means "breath." So we have a soul, which is our breath, and God which is breath or wind, put them together and we have God in every inhalation and exhalation that we make. Double cool!

But this post is getting long, I'm getting tired, and I have a new book I want to get started on (Living a Joyous Life: The True Spirit of Jewish Practice by Rabbi David Aaron) so I'll just close with a few more ideas about what I think God is after having my thoughts stimulated by the class.

  • God is that which is just outside the farthest border of what we can comprehend and/or explain
  • God and science are the same thing, just from different approaches
  • When bad things happen, God is always in the equation. But he's not the one hitting you with the big stick, he's the one that takes the pain from the bruises, if you'll only give it to him

Monday, April 12, 2010

You Don't Know My Kid (so STFU)

Warning: I'm kinda pissed. No one should take this post personally.

Scene One: Picking up a prescription for my little one's anti-depressant at the pharmacy.

Me: "Fiona's doctor called in a prescription, is it ready yet?"
Clerk, checking computer: "I can't give you that, the pharmacist won't allow it."
Me: "Excuse me?"
Clerk to pharmacist: "What's this about, it says "check age"?"
Pharmacist, looking at computer: "She's too young for that medication. Do you know why the doctor prescribed it?"
Me: "She's been on this medication for over 6 months now. She is under close supervision by a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Her psychiatrist prescribed this for her because IT HELPS HER."
Pharmacist: "Well I don't think it's appropriate to put a kid on anti-depressants."
Me: "Well her psychiatrist who is a specialist in childhood depression and anxiety does. "
Pharmacist: "Fine, we just want to make sure you know why this drug is being prescribed."

Scene Two: Our backyard. That dayFiona had been grounded for 2 days from TV for whining, talking back and screaming at me for hours on end...

Fiona, crying hysterically: "I' m sorry!"
Me, calmly: "I know you are sorry."
Fiona: "So I'm ungrounded?"
Me: "No, you are not ungrounded. You need to learn to respect what mama says."
Fiona: "But I said I'm sorry!"
Me: "I know."
Fiona, now sitting in my lap sobbing: "This is all my fault. It's all my fault. It's all my fault."
Me: "Fiona, you need to let this go now."
Fiona: "I can't! It's all my fault. You hate me now."
Me: "I do not hate you. I love you very much. I just don't like the way you are acting today."
Fiona: "No you don't, you hate me. Why don't you like me?"
Me: "I do like you, I just don't like your behavior."
Fiona: "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I want to kill myself."
Me: "Fiona, please don't think that. I love you so much. I would be so sad if something happened to you. Life is good, you have so many people who love you. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Fiona: "I can't stop thinking about it! It's all my fault!"

...This conversation goes on for another hour or so, until I stick her in the bath in a desperate attempt to distract her, which works (thank God). After her bath she had dinner and was finally calm enough to go to bed.

Scene Two was just one example of the ways in which my daughter is extreme in her emotions and behaviors. I could give you a dozen more, but frankly I don't feel like it. I've read books, talked to people, taken her to a variety of specialists and doctors and we've finally found a diagnosis that makes sense. That takes all her unique ways of being so raw to the world and helps her find ways to live without being so freaked out all the time. Therapy is a big part of this, but medication is a part as well. And that's OK. The meds that she is taking help her. They tame the wild beasts of her mental illness and they have given me back the joyous, energized, full-of-life child that I used to know before her disorders began to manifest themselves. I can't stress enough the ways in which my child has blossomed in the last 6 months or so, and it's all thanks to the help she is getting.

So why this post? Because people judge, and I'm sick of it. The pharmacist who doesn't approve of her medicine. The people who think we are crazy for sending her to therapy. The well meaning parents and educators and doctors who make the assertion that too many kids are put on drugs these days (which I do agree with, btw) and then take it too far and say that all kids on drugs don't need them. The strangers in parking lots, grocery stores and even schools who whisper and give unsolicited advice when viewing a tantrum. None of those people knows my child. None of them has the right to say what my kid does or does not need, how I should or should not parent her. All of them need to STFU.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Our first Passover (Pesach) was wonderful, despite the fact that both Fiona and I were seriously ill with strep throat. Actually, she was on the mend with several days of antibiotics in her system, but I was on day one and s.i.c.k. Several Motrin and some allergy meds on top of the antibiotics got me well enough to prepare Passover dinner, and I am so glad! We only had one Haggadah which I don't recommend, which we had to pass around to read from. Since Fiona can't read, we had her recite some of the poems and prayers by repeating after me line by line. She also got to open the door for Eliyahu, and of course both girls got to search for the matzah, for which they demand a reward of chocolate egg creams (they got $5 each instead, I didn't have any club soda). Since my Hebrew is pretty much non-existant and I can't pronounce the transliteration, I found a great website which has audio files of several prayers and songs. We sang along to the songs and listened to the prayers. I think the kid's favorite was Dayenu, but I find Eliyahu HaNavi to be the most touchingly beautiful.

On the menu was a collection of recipes from a new kid's cookbook I got Saskia called "Matzah Meals". We started with matzah ball soup, a huge hit. The main course was gifilte fish (big blech from all of us), potato pudding (yummy, a little like hashbrowns) and tsimmes (apples, yams and carrots baked in a brown sugar sauce). For dessert we had fruit compote and peach kugel. The kugel was excellent, we're definitely making that again!

All in all, we had a great time and learned a few things (like I should really use a fireplace match to light the candles!). Following are a few pictures from the beginning of the evening, in reverse order because Blogger does that! and I am too tired to manually switch around the code. Oh, and no worries, that's grape juice in all of our glasses.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Easter That Wasn't

As I and my family delve more deeply into our exploration of Judaism, we are beginning to celebrate new holidays and stopping the celebration of others. Easter has been the first real test of this.

I didn’t truly realize how Christianized our secular American society is (or how secularized Christian traditions are) until this past week. Sure I knew it, I just didn’t get it. It’s not like we were ever Christians. As a UU with an atheist husband we certainly never celebrated the birth of Jesus or his resurrection. The holidays were primarily secular in nature for us. They were about traditions like visiting Santa at the nearby tree farm, listening to carols while baking cookies, or hiding eggs around the house for the girls to find. They were also materialistic, with Christmas being the primary gift giving day of the year and Easter the primary candy giving one. Mostly, they were about family and community. And because of this I had no qualms defending non-Christian celebration of these holidays to some of my devout acquaintances, who believe that if you don’t believe in Christ, you don’t have any business celebrating their holiday. I also had no problem arguing for the inclusion of things like Christmas trees or carols at the holiday office party. “Yes, I know that there are people in the office that don’t celebrate Christmas, but it’s just music! I’m not a Christian and I love it!”

But a funny thing happened on the way to conversion. All of a sudden it doesn’t seem appropriate for my family to celebrate these holidays. All of a sudden they feel very religious indeed. The thought crossed my mind that we could have baskets, candy and a visit from an oversized bunny on Sunday, but why? Why celebrate an event that I don’t believe happened? And how do you justify baskets and a bunny when they both have “Easter” in the title?

In the days, weeks even, leading up to the holiday I informed the girls whenever the subject came up that “we won’t be celebrating Easter this year”. Thankfully, Passover was the Monday night before Easter, so we had something else to look forward to, and the girls really enjoyed our Seder. Saskia certainly didn’t seem to mind the exclusion of Easter. In fact I overheard her on the phone Saturday night telling a friend, “We don’t celebrate Easter. My mom is becoming Jewish.” The other girl must have asked something because there was a pause and then she said, “I want to become Jewish too.” Talk about a proud mommy moment! But I digress…

Fiona is clearly more confused about the whole thing, and society isn’t helping. In school they have been coloring pictures of Easter bunnies for weeks. On Thursday they dyed eggs and had an Easter party. On Saturday when she went shopping with me the cashiers at every store asked her a variety of “Are you excited for Easter? Have you painted eggs yet? What do you think the Easter bunny will bring you?” questions. She just looked at them and didn’t say anything, partly because she doesn’t really like talking to strangers and partly because well, what could she say? And it was then that I got it. How pervasive Christian holidays are in secular American society. How frankly annoying it is to have everyone around you assume you celebrate them too, even if you’re not Christian.

I’m beginning to think that perhaps all those people who get huffy about celebrating Christmas and Easter in secular settings like schools and offices were right all along. The fact is, they are religious holidays and they are not for everyone. While I can wish my Christian friends a “Happy Easter” and understand that I am expressing my desire for them to enjoy their holiday, I can’t explain to my children why the Easter bunny doesn’t come to our house any more (they haven’t asked yet, but I’m sure Fiona will eventually) and right now, I wish that schools and TV and grocery store clerks didn’t make such a big deal out of it so I wouldn’t have to.