Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Torah Connection - Va-yechi

By a confluence of the common calendar and the Jewish calendar, the final chapter we read in 2012 is also the final chapter of the book of Genesis.  This is the transition from Israel the large family/clan to Israel the People.  The story is told, however, through two deaths: the death of Jacob, and the death of Joseph.

Jacob does not seem to have changed much since his youth.  He still plays favorites with his sons and grandsons, although he does seem to discriminate between them based on character traits rather than subjective affinity.  With respect to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, he continues the tradition of favoring the younger over the elder: Kane vs. Abel, Ishmael vs. Isaac, Esau vs. Jacob, Rachel vs. Leah, Joseph vs. his brothers.  He also repeats this in the blessings to his own children: Judah is favored over Leah's other sons, and Zebulun is favored over Issachar.  This is a theme that has dominated Jacob's entire life, and it persists right to the end.

Joseph, on the other hand, has learned true humility and generosity.  After the death of their father, the other brothers fear that Joseph may take vengeance upon them. Instead, he responds,

'Don't be afraid,' said Joseph to them. 'Shall I then take God's place?
Vayomer alehem Yosef al-tira'u ki hatachat Elohim ani.

You might have meant to do me harm [but] God made it come out good. [He made] it come out as it actually did, where the life of a great nation has been preserved.
Ve'atem chashavtem alay ra'ah Elohim chashavah letovah lema'an asoh kayom hazeh lehachayot am-rav.

Now don't worry. I will fully provide for you and your children.' He thus comforted them and tried to make up.
Ve'atah al-tira'u anochi achalkel etchem ve'et-tapchem vayenachem otam vayedaber al-libam.

Jacob and Joseph both express their dying wish to be buried in the land of their forefathers.  Joseph fulfills his father's wish promptly, mourning him with "a very great and solemn lamentation".  Jacob is embalmed and mourned in Egypt for 70 days before being taken with great ceremony to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Joseph, on the other hand, receives no such treatment.  Instead, "...and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt." Thus he was left until his descendants carry his remains back to Israel during the Exodus.


I am thinking of Joseph's words with respect to the recent Russian ban on American adoptions. It seems like a bad thing, but it can also be seen in the context of Russian reforms of its own child welfare system.   At the same time, a proposed amendment to the ban may allow an exception for children with special needs, so that these may get more attention from potential adopters.   Finally, this may create the pressure on adoption agencies and facilitators to address corruption and poor oversight, so that future adoptions are less likely to disrupt or result in child abuse/neglect (as can happen when parents are poorly prepared).

Praying for Ivan and Celine.

Praying for Wyatt.

Praying for Nathan.

And all the ones we know about and don't know about, who wait to be "fully provided for".


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Are you home-study ready?

Here are 2 children who should get a family quickly.  They each have a huge grant for their adoption, so the financial burden on prospective parents is minimized.  They are high-functioning and mostly healthy except for their Down syndrome.  And they are in Russia, which means that if the adoption ban is signed into law they would have to be adopted quickly, before the gates shut tight.

Here is Ivan:
Ivan is almost 6 years old.  He is probably still at the baby house, but not for long.  His profile photo is not smiley - is that why he keeps getting passed over?  He does look like a cuddle bug!  He needs to see a cardiologist for his heart condition, but so far it is not really holding him back.  He has some very motivated people fundraising for him, and his grant is over $18K.  In addition, his placement agency offers a $10K grant to help qualifying families with his adoption.  Since adoptions in his region cost around $30K, that means that if your home-study is already paid for, everything else is covered!  Somebody needs to move fast and bring Ivan home!

And this is Celine:
Again, an un-smiley picture.  But look at those cheeks!  Celine just turned 7, and will be transferred to an institution very soon.  Her current orphanage is very good, but she needs a family!  She is healthy, sociable and affectionate.  Her grant is almost at $30K, but she is located in the St. Petersburg region, where the costs are somewhat higher than in Ivan's region.  Still, if your home-study is done, there is not much more left to pay, so you can focus on the paperwork without worrying about fundraising.  This region is also more finicky about the adoptive families, so you need to make sure that you qualify.

Mommy? Daddy? Where are you?

Torah Connection - Va-yigash

Last week was our 8th anniversary, which means that this chapter was the same one read the day before our wedding.   It was a great chapter for a wedding!  It is about the re-unification of Joseph and his brothers, the joining and reconciliation of the various branches of the family.  Joseph and his father Jacob are both shocked and overjoyed that the other is alive.

Of course, there is a cloud inside this silver lining:  Under the pretext of taking care of his extended family, Joseph brings the entire clan to Egypt, setting in motion the events that will lead to their enslavement.  Looking full circle, this enslavement will be the crucible that will forge the "extended family" into a people destined to become a "light onto the nations" for several millenia.

So which is it?  Is the enslavement a negative, unintended consequence of Joseph's good intentions, or is it a necessary but unpleasant preparation for the fulfillment of Israel's destiny?  Or both?  In modern terms, the Shoah (Holocaust) was in part exacerbated by the fact that European Jews were so well integrated into their communities that they could not believe the evil that was about to be perpetrated upon them, and too few sought to escape before it was too late. However, it was out of the ashes of the Shoah that motivated both Jewish groups and Western governments to support the establishment of the State of Israel, the fulfillment of 2000 years of Jewish prayers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Russian adoption ban

The lower house of the Russian Duma (parliament) has just passed a ban on adoptions by Americans by a huge margin.   It will now be up for vote in the upper house, and then a signature from President Putin.  According to pre-existing treaties between the 2 countries, such a ban could not go into effect for one year after passage, but even so, it would spell doom for the thousands of children who would remain in orphanages and institutions instead of finding loving families.

As reported here, 70% of all adoptions in Russia are domestic (i.e. by Russian families).  However, most (but not all) of these are of healthier, younger children.  Older children, as well as children with disabilities or chronic illnesses, if they are adopted at all, are generally adopted internationally, by American or European families.

One issue is that there have been various documented cases of abuse and/or neglect of these adopted children, including 19 well-publicized deaths in the past 10 years.  However, to put this number into perspective, over 1000 domestically-adopted Russian children have died in a similar time frame.

Here are some of my previous posts about Russian orphans.  These kids are desperately in need of families to love them and give them the medical and educational opportunities that will enable them to live full lives.

Please sign this online petition to appeal to Putin to VETO this ban, so that these children can find families!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Torah Connection - Miketz

This is in many ways simply the 2nd half of the previous chapter.  Now Pharaoh has his famous dreams (skinny wheat eating the fat wheat, skinny cows eating the fat cows), Joseph is brought out from captivity and elevated to supreme advisor to the Pharaoh, and finally his brothers come to Egypt in search of grain, fulfilling his childhood prophetic dreams by bowing down to him.

I am still in catch-up mode.

Pharaoh's dreams sound too much like the fiscal cliff.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah Connection - Va-yeshev

I actually chanted a portion of this parsha in synagogue, um, 2 weeks ago.  This parsha contains 2 major themes, each of which is repeated once in Jacob's family, and once in Pharaoh's household. 

The first theme is dreams and their interpretations.  These stories are quite well known.  First Joseph brags about his dreams of dominating his brothers, which leads them to get rid of him by selling him to Egyptian slavery.  There he descends even lower as he is wrongly incarcerated and plants the seeds of his own redemption by interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners.

The second theme is frequently glossed over by grade-school bible classes.  It is the theme of sexual impropriety.  First Judah's daughter-in-law Tamar (after the early demise of her husband and then his brother) seduces him in order to conceive a child to continue the line.  She does this in the guise of a prostitute.  When her pregnancy shows, he denounces her for her "harlotry".  She then produces his staff and seal as proof that the child is his. 

Later, Pharaoh's wife attempts to seduce Joseph.  He resists her advances, and she retaliates by falsely accusing him of attempted rape (sounds eerily modern!), for which he is incarcerated -- tying up the two themes!

I am a bit low on imagination right now.  This is just the Freud chapter of the bible.  Dream interpretation and sex. Feh.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Torah Connection - Va-yishlah

Eeek, I am so behind in the Torah Connection!

Well, a couple of weeks ago was Parshat Va-yishlah.  Jacob is returning from his uncle Laban's house with his wives, children, and great property back to the land of Canaan, his childhood home.  Two separate encounters are described in this section.  One is the reunification with his brother Esau.  The brother who sold his birthright for a pot of lentil stew, and then threatened to kill him when Jacob received their father's blessing in his stead.  In anticipation of this encounter he prays to G*d, and sends lavish gifts to Esau.

The other encounter is more cryptic:

25 Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 26 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. 27 Then he said, "Let me go, for dawn is breaking." But he answered, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 28 Said the other, "What is your name?" He replied, "Jacob." 29 Said he, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed."

 Jacob was alone, yet "a man" wrestled with him all night.  Who is this man?  A traditional reading answers that this was an angel of G*d, a "divine being", sent to test him, and to bless him when Jacob passes the test.  Other readings say that he was simply alone, and wrestled with himself.  This was the struggle with himself as Jacob, defined by his relationship with his brother ("the Supplanter") redefines himself through his relationship with G*d ("Struggles with G*d").  This is his coming-of-age, as he puts his childhood finally behind him and becomes a man worthy of leading a new nation.

There is another possibility, which is that this man was none other than Esau.  Perhaps they did in fact wrestle mano-a-mano.  This was not a confrontation to be decided by proxy, but by the very individuals involved.  Through the pain of this struggle, both men came out with a different understanding of each other.  They now not only see each other's humanity, but each other's divine spark, as well.  Notice,

Your name will no longer be said to be Jacob, but Israel (Yisra'el). You have become great (sar) before God and man. You have won.'
Vayomer lo Ya'akov ye'amer od shimcha ki im-Yisra'el ki-sarita im-Elohim ve'im anashim vatuchal.

Jacob returned the question. 'If you would,' he said, 'tell me what your name is.' 'Why do you ask my name?' replied [the stranger]. He then blessed [Jacob].
Vayish'al Ya'akov vayomer hagida-na shmecha vayomer lamah zeh tish'al lishmi vayevarech oto sham.

Jacob named the place Divine Face (Peniel). [He said,] 'I have seen the Divine face to face, and my soul has withstood it.'
Vayikra Ya'akov shem hamakom Peni'el ki-ra'iti Elohim panim el-panim vatinatsel nafshi.

and later, in his daytime encounter with Esau,

'I have plenty, my brother,' said Esau. 'Let what is yours remain yours.'
Vayomer Esav yesh-li rav achi yehi lecha asher-lach.

'Please! No!' said Jacob. 'If I have gained favor with you, please accept this gift from me. After all, seeing your face is like seeing the face of the Divine, you have received me so favorably.
Vayomer Ya'akov al-na im-na matsati chen be'eyneycha velakachta minchati miyadi ki al-ken ra'iti faneycha kir'ot peney Elohim vatirtseni.

Jacob here openly acknowledges that seeing Esau is "like seeing the face of the Divine" -- "Pnei Elohim".

Is this not instructive for us today, as we agonize over the violence in our world, whether individual acts like the kindergarten massacre in CT,  or wars and state-sanctioned violence around the world?  We can transform the violent impulse when we see the other as both human and divine: "ki-sarita im-Elohim ve'im anashim vatuchal."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Children and pets

We have recently acquired 2 new members of our household: a 14-month-old Lab Mix, and a 2-month-old kitten. It occurred to me that this would give all members of the family a chance to learn about the joys and difficulties of integrating an adopted individual into a home.   The dog, especially, is analogous to an older-child adoption, as she was found as a stray in Tennessee and has some baggage from her early experiences.  She is eager to please, but very nervous around other dogs, and territorial in her relations with the kitten.  They are still kept separate in our house:  The kitten is in the main bathroom, and we occasionally open the door to the gated-off hallway next to it.  The dog accepts his presence in the bathroom, but if the kitten steps into the hallway, she barks at him until he retreats to the bathroom.  We will be hiring a professional dog trainer to help us with these issues (therapy!).  

Other than more logistics about going places, though, this has been pretty easy!  The dog had trouble sleeping through the night at first, since she is not used to city noises, but is doing much better now.  I am getting used to getting up at a consistent hour with her, feeding her, and then taking her out for a brisk walk or jog.  Exercise!  She is learning (gradually but quickly at the same time) how to heel and walk calmly in spite of distractions.   The kids are learning (finally!) to keep their toys etc. off the floor, and are actually showing some signs of increased helpfulness!  And it's only been a week!

It's a Hanukah miracle!

Monday, December 3, 2012

A "Helen Keller" story

One of the stories I have been following this past year has been the Spring family.  They have 2 adopted boys with Down syndrome, now aged 8 and 12, both from Serbia, as well as a 16-year-old bio daughter with Ds, and several adult children.  The 8-year-old, Asher, came home less than a year ago, developmentally a baby in most areas.  Specifically, he was completely non-verbal, not communicative in any way, as well as exhibiting severe institutional autism.

Here is an update from this week, describing his "Helen Keller" moment -- when he realized that he can communicate, either using words or signs, in order to have his needs and wants met!

This brought tears to my eyes.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Not much blogging in November.  We are actually adopting..... a rescue dog!   I think this will actually prove an important step in helping the whole family deal with the kinds of issues that are likely to come up in a real adoption, but on a much smaller scale.  And she is wonderfully adorable!

Some really good news:

Garreth has a family coming for him!

Sasha has a family coming for him!  After all these years!  I am so excited to follow his story home!

And some bad news:

Alexei has been transferred to that same "Lost Boys" institution.  He is a nine and a half years old toddler.  In the baby house, his eyes sparkled mischievously, and he had some serious spunk.

How long will his spirit hold out in a life of sitting in an empty shed with a pack of mistreated, neglected boys and youths who spend their days rocking and grunting?

And a sad story that I didn't know about until it was over.

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