Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Torah Connection - Vayetzei

This week's parsha opens with Jacob running away from his brother's wrath after the debacle with Isaac's blessing.  He is on his way to his uncle Laban's house, far away, with no clue about what he might encounter.  He sleeps with a hard stone for a pillow.   How far he has fallen from being his momma's spoiled little boy!  He had always lived a sheltered life, unlike his brother Esau who risked his very life every day at the hunt. Here he is, exposed to the elements, uncomfortable, tired, hungry, and alone.  And what happens then?


Genesis 28:12-15

He had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached up toward heaven. G*d's angels were going up and down on it.
Vayachalom vehineh sulam mutsav artsah verosho magia hashamaymah vehineh mal'achey Elohim olim veyoredim bo.

Suddenly he saw G*d standing over him. [G*d] said, 'I am G*d, Lord of Abraham your father, and Lord of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying.
Vehineh Adonay nitsav alav vayomar ani Adonay Elohey Avraham avicha ve'Elohey Yitschak ha'arets asher atah shochev aleyha lecha etnenah ulezar'echa.

Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.
Vehayah zar'acha ka'afar ha'arets ufaratsta yamah vakedmah vetsafonah vanegbah venivrechu vecha kol-mishpechot ha'adamah uvezar'echa.

 I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.'
Vehineh anochi imach ushmarticha bechol asher-telech vahashivoticha el-ha'adamah hazot ki lo e'ezovcha ad asher im-asiti et asher-dibarti lach.

 From the pit of despair, G*d  reaches to him in a dream and promises to be with him through whatever the future brings.  Note that He is not promising an easy life.  What is being promised?

1. The land of Israel.  Yes, the same one that has been fought over for the last three millenia, up to this very day.  My aunts, uncles and cousins in Israel are under attack by enemies that have sworn to exterminate them. The promise of that land is a central precept in Judaism, which has sustained generations of Jews in exile.  When the People of Israel were hungry, tired, and alone among the gentiles; when they were oppressed and hunted down by those whom they had considered "brothers"; this was the promise that held them together and gave them dignity as a people.
2. Many descendants!  Once again, children are the greatest and most important blessing.  Without children, of course, there can be no continuity of a people.
3. Then again, this blessing is double-edged.  "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth."  Numerous, yes, but despised.  "You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south." In spite of the promise of the land of Israel, the people will be exiled throughout the earth. "All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants."  So the rest of the world will be blessed through the Jews.  Jews are at the forefront of social, technological, and economic advances that many millions of gentiles benefit from.  There is no promise, however, about these blessings being appreciated or repaid.


And how does Jacob respond?

Jacob awoke from his sleep. 'God is truly in this place,' he said, 'but I did not know it.' Vayikats Ya'akov mishnato vayomer achen yesh Adonay bamakom hazeh ve'anochi lo yadati.

 He was frightened. 'How awe-inspiring this place is!' he exclaimed. 'It must be God's temple. It is the gate to heaven!'
Vayira vayomar mah-nora hamakom hazeh eyn zeh ki im-beyt Elohim vezeh sha'ar hashamayim.

1.  He awoke from his sleep:  He became aware of his life in a new context
2.  He recognized G*d's hand in his life, and acknowledged his previous ignorance.
3.  He was frightened!  Having direct contact with the divine is a huge mantle of responsibility.   As the Psalmist says, "Once your eyes have been opened, you can't pretend that you don't know."  This is very scary!  Remember again that this is the sheltered momma's boy, out on the run from his estranged brother. He is so not prepared to be a leader of a nation!
4.  He nonetheless recognizes that it is this challenge which is the gateway to heaven.  Through the challenges that G*d gives us, we become the people we are meant to be.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Bulgaria often releases the files of some children with special needs for a month or two, during which time they are available through adoption agencies.  At that point, if no families have committed to them, their files are returned, and they must be specifically requested in order to be adopted.

Garreth is one of these children.  He has both Down syndrome and hydrocephalus.   He has had surgery for the hydrocephalus, but will certainly need that to be followed up on as he grows.  He is 3.5 years old:

His file says:
When an adult appears, Garreth looks at them and maintains eye contact for several seconds. He smiles when jested. He stands when put in a walker. He holds his head upright stably. He remains seated when provided with a stable support. He grabs and plays with toys when they are placed close to him so that he does not have to put much effort in reaching them. His speech activity is at a stage of producing sound combinations and sometimes syllables.

Can you see yourself loving this adorable boy and helping him reach his potential?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Torah Connection - Toldot

And now catching up on this past week's reading, we have Toldot, which is a very troubling passage.  Jacob is not seen here as a very sympathetic character.  He extorts the birthright from his brother Esau, and then resorts to trickery (aided by his mother) to seal that extortion with a blessing from his aging father.  What are we to learn from this?  Does the end in fact justify the means?  Doesn't this feed right into the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes about the greedy, cunning Jew? 

I think Jacob is not the focus of this story, any more than Isaac is in the story of his binding.  Jacob and Esau are pawns of their parents in this episode, just as Isaac was Abraham's pawn.  Isaac and Rebekah are seen as much smaller figures than in the previous chapter.  Picking favorites among their children, they are not exactly paragons of good parenting!  It is this parental failure which sets the brothers against each other in the first place.  The conflict escalates until Jacob in fact gains his father's blessing.  Immediately after, Esau comes in to claim the blessing for himself.  Isaac sees his mistake, and offers Esau a blessing as well.  In a sense, the entire passage can be seen to climax in Isaac's dual blessings.  We must not give to one child at the expense of another, but find a way to bless each of our children as our favorites, giving the best to each, so that the love will multiply rather than divide.

This is a question often grappled with when parents consider having additional children, whether biologically or by adoption.  Will a new child, while undoubtedly a blessing, take blessings away from the older sibling(s)?  Will the birthright be "extorted" by the new interloper?  Especially when talking about special needs adoption, the stakes are high.  The blessing to a child rescued from substandard institution is great, but what will be the cost to the children at home?  We, like Isaac, must find a way to bless them through the new addition.  This will not happen automatically.  We must anticipate their rivalry and transform it into a healthy, loving and mutually beneficial sibling relationship.

Torah Connection - Chayei Sarah

Quick catching up on the Torah Connection.

Last week's reading was Chayei Sarah, which is an account of Abraham's life after his wife Sarah dies after the near-sacrifice of Isaac.   It is often understood that it was Abraham's willingness to kill their son that caused Sarah to lose her will to live. 

And what does Abraham do at this point?  Well, coming face to face with mortality in his immediate family, he realizes that he must provide for the next generation, and seeks a wife for Isaac. Rebekah distinguishes herself by not only offering Eliezer water, but taking the extra effort to draw as much water as necessary to take care of his camels.  It is this going beyond the basic requirements that makes her worthy of her role in Jewish history.  I was impressed to see this message right after speaking to my own children about the need to learn to take initiative to help out before being asked.  Timely Torah!

24:18 'Drink, Sir,' she replied. She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink.
Vatomer sheteh adoni vatemaher vatored kadah al-yadah vatashkehu.
24:19 When he had finished drinking, she said, 'Let me draw water for your camels, so they can [also] drink their fill.'
Vatechal lehashkoto vatomer gam ligmaleycha esh'av ad im-kilu lishtot.

It is also the message we need to hear when faced with human needs.  Whether it is victims of a hurricane or of unenlightened social systems, we must fight our natural tendency to let someone else deal with it.  Let us, like Rebekah, draw water for the stranger's camels, until they have drunk their fill.

I'm back!

I've been a bit out of the loop for some reason the last 2 weeks.  Just kinda preoccupied with stuff on the home front, and worrying about victims of Sandy, and rocket attacks in Israel, and so on.

The long-awaited meeting at my congregation arrived today, when we were supposed to outline an agenda for this year, and I hoped to get special needs children on the agenda.  Didn't happen. The meeting got a huge infection of committee-itis. Lots of talk about how we really should have lots of conversations about the stuff that's important to us instead of.... having those conversations.  But the food was good. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Torah Connection - Vayera

This past week my congregation participated in Global Hunger Shabat, joining congregations around the world to raise awareness about those who do not enjoy the abundance that we take for granted.

Part of the reading for this event is taken from this week's Torah portion, where Abraham argues with G*d on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  How much "collateral damage" is acceptable when destroying these bastions of evil? Not 50, or 40, or 30, or 20, or even 10 innocents must perish together with the guilty.

What can we learn from this?  First, that a small number of people can, in fact make a difference.  A small group of people banding together for justice against an unjust society can sway the course of events, whether we consider that to be a divine intervention or not.   Today, as we vote, we can think of those as the swing voters who ultimately determine the outcome of the election.

Second, that a small impact is worth making!  When we look at all the troubles in the world, whether it be global hunger, or institutionalized orphans, or oppressed people of all sorts, we can be overwhelmed.  If we cannot make a significant impact, why tilt at windmills?  This passage says, no, it is important to advocate even on behalf of a small number.  Saving even a single soul is like saving the whole world.

Finally, there is a subtle point that I noticed while reading this passage during our study session.  Abraham asks G*d for justice: "Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?"  G*d, however, responds to Abraham's plea with mercy:  "If I find within the city of Sodom ... innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake."  Abraham's request for justice is in fact denied -- the innocent and guilty will ultimately fare alike in this case.  Here is the tension between the "conservative" and "liberal" points of view.  Both seek to create a better world, but some seek to achieve it through justice, while others through mercy.  Judaism has a longstanding tradition of not choosing between them, but instead grappling with that very tension.  It is useful to remember, as we argue with each other over the political issues of the day, that our political adversaries are not evil incarnate, but just people with different opinions.



Why do children with disabilities do so much better when they come here?  For the same reason that adults and children, with and without disabilities, of all races and creeds, do well here.  This is a free country, where our basic rights are protected, and where the government belongs to us, not the other way around. 

Unless we let it become the other way around. 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Down Syndrome WON'T ruin your life!

My sweet husband sent me this link today.  Enjoy the bonus cute baby pics, and check out the discussion in the comments, too!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Orphan Sunday

I didn't realize it was "Orphan Sunday" until I saw some other bloggers post about it.   I can't think of anything new to say about it right now, but I have a tag for it.

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