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The Story Of Chanukah: ‘I Think I Can’

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Chanukah is just about upon us and Jews across the planet are looking forward to family gatherings, delicious food (you can’t feel too guilty eating oily latkes and high carb donuts on the chag – hey, it’s practically a mitzvah to do so); giving and receiving gifts and in general celebrating our survival – our spiritual continuance as God-fearing Jews. (Our physical survival is an event we acknowledge on Purim.)

Chanukah commemorates two unlikely events – the triumph of the Jews over the Greeks and their pagan culture, and the lasting of a small jar of kosher oil – meant to burn in the Temple menorah just a day – for an extra seven days until more kosher oil could be produced.

Anyone betting on a rag-tag of Jews, led not by a trained warrior, but by a Kohen, a peaceful cleric, to defeat a vastly superior armed Greek forces would have been viewed as crazy.

So too, anyone betting the Temple oil would burn longer than 24 hours.

But, despite the mind-boggling odds of either event happening, the Jews were not deterred and went ahead with their plans. They had faith, both in themselves and in Hashem.

It is said that God helps those who helps themselves. But the person has to take the initiative, that first crucial step.

Many of us are familiar with the popular children’s story of the little engine that takes on an undertaking that bigger, stronger, more “qualified” engines refuse to accept. They are realistic in their refusal to attempt something they feel is extremely difficult, if not impossible to do. They are convinced they will fail, so why bother?

The little engine, however, despite the fact he was not designed to pull a large train, thinks he just might be able to do so. At the very least, he will attempt this formidable challenge. If he doesn’t try, then for sure he won’t succeed.

Fuelled by a positive attitude and great optimism, he is willing to give it his best shot – even if the laws of physics are not in his favour.

There is a life-enhancing lesson here that we should take to heart: Do not let the facts on the ground ever deter you from trying to reach a goal.

It might be amusing for some to discover (like I did) that this message of “going for it,” despite the “facts” staring you in the face, was often brought forth decades ago in the very popular science-fiction series, “Star Trek.” Frequently, the chief engineer of the spaceship exploring the galaxy would be ordered by the captain “to get us out of here.” Depending on the theme of the episode, the spaceship would be in imminent danger of being destroyed by an exploding asteroid; swallowed up by a space monster the size of a planet; about to be blown up to smithereens by alien forces or trapped forever in another dimension – unless it immediately went to warp speed and high-tailed it out of there.

Often the captain would tell the chief engineer that he had several minutes to repair the disabled warp drive. And the chief engineer, in a reproachful voice, would tell the captain that he needed at least a few minutes to do so – that he “couldn’t change the laws of physics.” But he would always try, and he always succeeded.

Of course this was television, and a happy ending was necessary for the show to continue. But the lesson to be gleaned here, as exemplified by the story of Chanukah, is that you can’t let pessimism stop you from taking on a difficult challenge, you can’t admit defeat before you even attempt what seems likely to be futile.

You may be faced with seemingly insurmountable odds: you are an older single; you have a physical handicap; you have learning disabilities; you have kids off the derech; you have severe shalom bayit issues, you have been out of work for a long time. There is no shortage of problems to tackle and goals to achieve. But it is crucial to make the effort to “fix” the situation.

Often multiple attempts to resolve your issues end in failure. You want to give up – no more putting yourself in an uncomfortable, even demeaning situation, like continuing to ask friend and casual acquaintance alike if they can think of a shidduch for you or a job. Or going for marital counselling- again, or for yet another invasive, costly fertility treatment.

Enlightened Reform Movement Equally Disappointed in Israel and the Palestinians

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

The term “Two states for two people” is beginning to emerge these days as a definition of the Jews of Israel and their recently related Jews of the United States. Yesterday we were treated to a story about an Upper West Side synagogue rejoicing in the upgrading of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to a UN member state, and today our brothers and sisters across the mighty ocean are joining with the rest of the so called “civilized nations” in condemning plans for Jews to build homes in their homeland.

Are we even related any more?

Here’s the press release as it appears on the URJ website:

Reform Movement Focuses on Follow Up To UN Vote Upgrading Palestinian Status

New Policy Statement: Condemns Palestinians for Unilateral UN Action; Calls for American Leadership; Opposes Immediate Punitive Responses; Calls on Israel to Halt Plans for Expansion in West Bank E1 area

In a new policy statement adopted by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the nation’s largest Jewish denomination addressed the full array of issues flowing from the decision of the UN to upgrade the official status of the Palestinians.

The statement, adopted overwhelmingly after a full debate by more than 200 board members at yesterday’s meeting of the Union of Reform Judaism’s North American Board of Trustees, “Condemn[s] the Palestinian Authority for the unilateral decision to seek upgraded status at the United Nation as counterproductive to the cause of peace, and express[es] … deep concern to those countries that supported the upgraded status, and to those who abstained.”

The resolution, which is available here, was supported by the Zionist arms of the Reform Movement – ARZA and ARZA Canada. The Central Conference of American Rabbis fully endorsed the resolution today.

The resolution “Commend[s] the U.S. and Canada for their forceful and consistent efforts to prevent consideration of, and for their votes against, the General Assembly’s decision to upgrade the Palestinian’s status. It further urges the “United States and Canada to act assertively in facilitating a return to negotiations and to take other steps that would strengthen the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.”

The URJ and the CCAR also reiterated longstanding concern about Israeli settlement building, and expressed opposition to the Israeli government’s plans to move forward with building in the critical E1 area. The resolutions note that “Settlements in E1—the area connecting Jerusalem to a city which is one of the larger Israeli settlements—would split the Ramallah region off from Bethlehem, effectively cutting the West Bank in two and making a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible.” It further said that “Building there makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution. At the same time, we recognize that this week’s action–beginning the permitting process for new settlement–is only the first step in a long, and by no means inevitable, process.”

There you go, even handed, polite, very concerned. I wish all the other gentiles were this nice to us when they sold us down the river.

Because this certainly doesn’t read like something your brothers or sisters would write when you’re in the midst of being attacked by the entire world, practically.

The same URJ website features a fig leaf in the form of a fund raiser to support terror victims in Israel.:

We Stand With Israel

During this difficult time, we support the people of Israel

The Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel Terror Relief Fund is a vital way to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel at this critical time. Jewish Federations have committed up to $5 million to the Israel Terror Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the people of Israel, especially in the South, through both existing reserve funds and new contributions from Federations.

It’s nice to get a gift from America, and $5 million will go a long way towards repairing the billions in damage – assuming URJ doesn’t keep a cut to cover their “costs.” But they could keep their lovely money and instead behave like family.

Here’s how it’s done in a family: when a relative is in pain – if you can’t support him outright, and that’s understandable – at least shut the bloody hell up. Don’t go preaching to people living in Ma’ale Adumim how much better off they would be once the trucks come to pick them up to make room for a contiguous Palestinian state. Shut up and let your family be.

US State Dep’t: Alan Gross Begins Fourth Year of Unjust Imprisonment

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department, released the following statement on Monday:

“Tomorrow Alan Gross will begin his fourth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. He was arrested on December 3, 2009 and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating communications between Cuba’s Jewish community and the rest of the world.

“Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries.

“Since his arrest, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds and suffers from severe degenerative arthritis that affects his mobility, and other health problems. His family is anxious to evaluate whether he is receiving appropriate medical treatment, something that can best be determined by having a doctor of his own choosing examine him.

“We continue to ask the Cuban Government to grant Alan Gross’s request to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue.

“The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.”

Israeli Court Allows Country’s Most Celebrated Gay Couple to Divorce

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

In a precedent decision, which will undoubtedly be considered good news for all Israeli same-sex couples, especially those who aren’t getting along so much any more, a family court in Ramat Gan allowed the couple Prof. Uzi Even and Dr. Amit Kama, both men, to divorce, Ynet reports.

In the ruling, first of its kind, the judge determined that the family court is “the natural forum, the proper forum in which to hear this kind of a divorce case, since the rabbinical court does not recognize same-sex marriages and views them as sinful.” The judge further ruled that the rabbinical court is too “foreign and artificial a forum” to discuss the issue of same-sex relations.

Prof. Even, 64, is a former Meretz MK, and head of the School of Chemistry at Tel Aviv University. Dr. Amit Kama, 44, is a professor of Communications at Emek Yizrael College. The two met 19 years ago, and since they live as a couple. Their struggles for the rights of same-sex couples received wide coverage in the local Media.

Even was the first openly gay man elected to the Knesset. The two have adopted Yossi, a 30-year-old man who had been living with them for almost 14 years. That adoption—although largely symbolic, given their son’s age—was also a ground breaking family cort case.

For the record, when Even and Kama met, almost two decades ago, homosexual relations were prohibited by law, and they could be subject to ten years in prison – although that was not very likely.

Now, having been the most celebrated Israeli gay couple, the two decided to go their separate ways (no idea which one of them broke the news to Yossi).

Professor Even said there was no legal way for him to turn from being married to being divorced. “This is an absurd situation and I fought it for three years,” he said. “I met someone else and I live with him. He is a foreign national and the Interior Ministry wants to deport him, which was hurting me, because I could not go on with my life without solving the problem of my divorce. They would not give him resident status, only a tourist visa, because I’m already married and there was no legal way for me to get a divorce.”

According to Even, when he approached the rabbinic court, which is in charge of marriages and divorces of Jewish residents, “it started a holy raucous. They refused to record our documents, receive the fee, schedule a meeting. They told us to wait. So we waited a few days. Finally I had enough and I took back the suit, and filed it instead with family court.”

Even suggests that the court’s decision could serve as a precedent not just for the gay community, but for the public at large. “Now we’ll wait and see if the Ministry of the Interior will endorse the decision. I’m doubtful that they will be enlightened about it.”

“Why are they having so much trouble changing my marital status? Why are they forcing me to remain married to someone I no longer live with?”

Even and Kama were married in Canada and their status was changed to married by the Israeli interior ministry. Their marriage hit the rocks back in 2009 and they’ve been living separately since. The two have signed a separation agreement which was accepted by family court in 2011. The couple then requested that the court recommend to the interior ministry to change their status from married to single.

The family court judge indeed recommended the status change, but the Ministry of the Interior refused to change the status based solely on the signed agreement, arguing they had to approach the rabbinical court. But the rabbinical court rejected their request for a ruling saying it did not have the legal framework within which to discuss it.

The family court judge who granted the couple the divorce wrote in his ruling that the various branches of the civil court are the natural forum for such a case, where there exists a long list of decisions determining the specific rights and obligations of same-sex couples.

A Lie Once Told…

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

A lie once told seems to be repeated over and over again. Once again, it is the story of a small Palestinian child swapping up blood. And so, they post, “oh god, Gaza…” but no, it wasn’t Gaza – not then, not now.

The original tweet:

And the picture to which they refer:

A lie repeated many times – is still a lie.The picture isn’t from now. It wasn’t from March, 2012. The picture isn’t from Gaza. The blood wasn’t from his brother. The Israelis weren’t involved. It is a young Palestinian boy told to wipe up the blood of a cow slaughtered in his family’s slaughterhouse in Hebron.

I documented it back in March, here: Palestinian Child Washing His Brother’s Blood?

A lie told once, or twice, ore more – is still a lie.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Road To Recovery

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Dear Brocha,

Thank you so much for your column and for shining light on this matter.

Addiction has been gnawing at the souls of our community for a long time. Yet, it still remains a disease that is swept under the table.

At first, when I found out that my wife of 21 years was addicted to pain killers I was relieved!

She has been suffering mood swings the likes of which I had never seen before, since our three-year-old son passed away about six years ago.

Soon after he was niftar, my wife fell into a deep depression. She went to doctors who prescribed painkillers to help her cope with his death. Apparently, once she was hooked my wife began taking cocktails of medications without my knowledge. As a result, our lives turned from tragic to chaotic.

We went from grief counselors to marital therapy. However, my wife’s behavior kept getting more erratic. She went from being a warm, caring & loving mother to a paranoid, angry & depressed person whom none of us recognized.

One day, our twelve-year-old daughter came home and found my wife passed out on the floor.

She called Hatzolah, and it was at the hospital that I was made aware of my wife’s addiction.

My wife was frightened that she had a seizure and agreed to go to a rehab to get proper treatment. I was told that her having been found passed out on the floor by our daughter was her rock bottom.

My wife is presently at an out-of-state rehab where the goals are to wean her off the drugs, and then teach her proper coping skills.

The last couple of weeks have been tough on all of us.

My children are ashamed that their mother is a drug addict – and miss her and how she used to be.

I am having a tough time coping with the guilt of not having realized how much she was hurting, and what was truly happening to my family.

Evidently, my drug of choice was to throw myself deeper into my work.

I am beginning to see that I was numbing myself in that way, and wasn’t there for my wife and children when they needed me most.

I have been attending Al-Anon meetings and placed our children into therapy. We are all trying to heal. Yet, I see it’s a slow painful process. The facility my wife is in will be hosting a “family program” next weekend. Thus far, I have already attended two family Sundays by myself and have found them to be highly informative and helpful. My wife looks better each time I see her. Her spunk for life seems to be coming back and I am really hopeful that we have just received a new lease on life! For this upcoming family weekend, my wife’s counselor wants me to bring our children.

Truth be told, ever since my daughter found my wife on the floor, she does not want to have anything to do with her. When my wife was in the hospital she didn’t want to visit, and is refusing to come along for the weekend visitation. When I try talking with her about it, she tells me that her brother’s death affected everyone in the family, but only her mother chose to be a “druggie.” I don’t know what to do? Do I force my daughter to visit her mother? I feel that if she would see for herself how hard her mother is working on her recovery, and how much better she looks, she will be able to let go of some of her anger and resentment. Do I force her or try to trick her into coming?

Trying to keep my family together

Dear Trying,

I feel so sorry for your predicament. My heart goes out to you and your family.

I am also very grateful and impressed that you are so forgiving and understanding of your wife’s addiction.

Addiction is a disease and is treated in the medical community as one. However, socially has yet to accept it as such.

Although your daughter is still young in age, she was obviously forced to grow up very fast.

My Soul Is On Fire (Part I)

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Allan is a very troubled nineteen-year-old who has been coming to see me since August. Actually, I’m never sure if Allan will make it to the next appointment. Since we first met, I have been amazed at the amount of emotional turmoil and pain he is in. Every appointment seems to bring another “cry” for help. His anguish is noted by his constant crying and threats of harm to himself and others. In fact, he doesn’t seem to filter his words and randomly ensures that I know about his aggressive thoughts. Just last week he told me that nobody ever believes him when he is in pain and so he feels the need to show them – he says that he doused his hand in a flammable liquid and set it on fire just to show others how much pain he is in. (I don’t actually believe he did this, as there was no sign of his hand being burned).

Allan’s life is full of inconsistent events. He seems to have a support system in his parents but I have only met his father, who is very concerned about Allan. On the other hand, his father often feeds into Allan’s overly dramatic behaviours and, at times, seems to compete with him in regards to histrionic scenes.

Recently Allan said to me, “I’m in such agony; my soul is on fire.” What a telling statement – he feels overwhelmed, lonely, humiliated and like a failure. Now you know why I say I don’t know if he will make it to the next appointment. As it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss his situation further, I would like to focus on childhood and teen feelings of distress.

Telling kids that their teen years are the best years of their lives is not necessarily true. In fact, I often say that I would not like to be a teenager today. There is so much stimuli bombarding them at every moment, they so many decisions to make, and they deal with so much stress and expectations – with limited resources at their disposal.

A local Toronto radio station has as its motto, “Beautiful music for a crazy world.” I’m almost surprised with their honesty. It really is a crazy world we live in and it tends to make some people crazy, or at least feel as if they are. We are all bombarded with changes – some good, some not so good and others just difficult to understand. We struggle to the best we can.

For kids, often the level of stress or distress they deal with is dependent on their familiarity with the situation. When our environment is chaotic or fear inducing, we may have a hard time separating ourselves emotionally from what is going on around us. In fact, internally we become part of the chaos. We all adjust better to more familiar situations. That is, we learn to cope best with situations as they become more familiar to us.

Dealing with personal or family challenges is difficult in the best of times. For children and teens it’s even harder. Life for many young people is a painful tug of war filled with mixed messages and conflicting demands from parents, teachers, coaches, employers, friends and themselves. Growing up—negotiating a path between independence and reliance on others—is a tough business. It creates stress, and it can cause serious depression for young people ill-equipped to cope, communicate and solve problems.

Some experiences are more severe or long lasting, while some kids may react to setbacks in different ways. Children and teens may indicate to their parents or others that they are distressed or unable to cope directly, or more often, through various hints. Most common for a teen is to show his or her distress through changes in mood or behaviour, at home, at school or with friends.

The teen years are emotional, fascinating, tumultuous, exciting, fearsome, lonely and social at the same time and filled with angst over the ultimate question, “Who am I.” What I’m about to say is difficult for adults to hear as well as comprehend. Nevertheless, here it is: I believe that much of an adolescent’s rebellion is, in fact, part of the developmental transition from childhood to adulthood. Almost by definition, adolescence is a time of chaos and struggle for one’s self identity: He or she is no longer the dependent child. Teens go from relying on us (and most of us enjoying that role) to learning to make life changing decisions, becoming independent and a self-fulfilled adult. As they push us away and ask to be allowed to make their own decisions, and mistakes, they are using the only tool they believe they have to become self-actualized.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/my-soul-is-on-fire-part-i/2012/11/30/

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