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Friday, November 15, 2013

A Bite and an Embrace

When Ya’akov was still a young man, he stole from his brother the only thing that mattered.  Though Esav was the older of the two, that was only by a few minutes, and he was used to his clever younger brother taking advantage of him.  But with this final theft, Esav flew into a murderous rage, and Ya’akov had to flee for his life, taking only the shirt on his back and whatever provisions his parents could put together for his journey.

Twenty years passed.  Esav surely grew and changed during that time, but our story does not follow him.  Our story follows Ya’akov.  We read of how he obtained two wives, then two concubines, eleven sons, one daughter, countless sheep, and apparently some servants as well.  We read that Ya'akov again had to flee a family member who hated him for outsmarting him (this time, his uncle and father-in-law Lavan) .  Though in Ya’akov’s defense, it could be said that he never did anything he did not need to do to  survive, and it does seem that God was on his side.  

As Ya’akov made his way back to the promised land, he was heavy with prosperity.  Approaching Se’ir, the red mountains on the east bank of the Jordan river, he began to worry about the brother he had left behind.  He sent messengers ahead with gifts for Esav, hoping to buy back his favor.  The messengers returned with the news that Esav was moving towards him, accompanied by 400 men.
Ya’akov flew into a panic.  He separated his household into two camps, telling himself if, Heaven forbid, the worst should happen and Esav should find one camp and slaughter them all, at least the other camp could slip away and half his family would be saved.   After Ya’akov separated the camps, he prayed, and this is what he said (click here.)

I hope you followed the link, and heard Yonatan Razel’s beautiful rendition of the first half of Ya’akov’s prayer, "Katonti".  That song has been haunting me for weeks. Most of Razel's songs use original lyrics, often with traditional phrases woven into the composition.  For example, one of his more popular songs goes :

כי מציון תצא האהבה.  . . שחכינו לה אלפים שנה, בארץ רחוקה
From Zion will come forth the love . . . we have waited for it 2000 years, in a far away land.

Katonti has no original words in it.  The sentences repeated over and over are one and a half verses taken directly from the Torah: the first half of Ya'akov's prayer before encountering Esav.  (The one different sentence, near the end of the song, is from Psalms, and its meaning is very similar to the meaning of Ya'akov's prayer.)  It's a strange choice of verses to put to music, so that the choice itself becomes a reinterpretation, a modern midrash.  Let's go over their meaning: first as pshat, what Ya'akov would have meant when he spoke those words, and then as midrash, what I imagine Razel is thinking when he sings them.

קטנתי מכל החסדים ומכל האמת  I am small, unworthy of all the kindnesses and all the truths

שעשית את עבדיך    That You have done for Your servant.

במקלי עברתי את הירדן   With my staff I crossed the Jordan.
With nothing but my staff.  I was fleeing for my life.

ועתה הייתי לשני מחנות  And now I have become two camps.
Two camps!  I left Canaan with nothing, and now my household is so large I can divide it into two camps.  And now I must divide into two camps, for I am in mortal danger.

And in modern interpretation . . .

במקלי עברתי את הירדן    With my staff I crossed the Jordan.
I came from Syria, from Iraq, Iran, even as far as Ethiopia.  I left everything behind and came.
Or if I didn't cross the Jordan, I crossed the Mediteranean. On a crowded boat, not sure if we would be turned back when we reached the Palestinian shore -- back to the forests of Europe, where we hid by day and ran by night, for if we were seen we would be shot on site.
ועתה הייתי לשני מחנות  And now I have become two camps.
I have grown and prospered in this land.  My household now numbers over 6 million!  And I am divided, deeply divided, into camps.  My religious camp hates my secular camp, my secular hates my religious.  Some of my hawks hate Arabs so bad, they are blinded to our common humanity.  Some of my doves hate themselves so bad, they want to sell us all out.

Yonatan Razel's brother, Aharon Razel, is an even more popular singer than he is.  He, too, incorporates traditional words into his original lyrics.  Almost all of Yonatan's songs, like this one, emphasize either humility or love: dovish themes.  Aharon's songs emphasize the natural beauty of the land of Israel, and he has become an icon of the right-wing settlers' movement.

הצילני נא, הצילני נא, הצילני נא   Save me, please!  Save me, please.

When Esav finally meets up with his brother, he is overcome with emotion.  He falls on him, hugging him, kissing him, crying.  It seems a perfect reunion.  But the scene that follows is painfully awkward.  Ya'akov refers to himself as "your servant", and to Esav as "my master", perhaps eager to prove that his father's stolen blessing "You will be master to your brother" had not come true.  He presses Esav to keep the gifts he had sent him, though Esav tries to refuse.  And when Esav suggests that they travel together, Ya'akov tells him: "You go on ahead.  The children and sheep are slow."

Perhaps because of Ya'akov's cold response, our sages viewed the brothers' initial embrace with suspicion.  The biblical text says וישקהו, and he (Esav) kissed him (Ya'akov).  In the Torah scroll, that word has unusual dots above it.  Here is what Midrash Rabbah says about those dots:

אמר ר' שמעון בן אלעזר... מלמד שנכמרו רחמיו באותה שעה ונשקו בכל לבו. אמר לו ר' ינאי: אם כן
 למה נקוד עליו? אלא מלמד שלא בא לנשקו אלא לנושכו ונעשה צווארו של יעקב אבינו של שיש, וקהו שיניו של אותו רשע.
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said ... (those dots) teach us that (Esav's) mercy was bought at that moment, and he kissed (Ya'akov) with all his heart.  Rabbi Yanai said to him: if that's the case, why are the dots written above the letters?  Rather, they teach that he did not intend to kiss him (l'noshko) but rather to bite him (l'nashcho), and our father Ya'akov's neck became marble, and the teeth of that wicked man were blunted.

Kabbalists believe history repeats itself, because the patterns of history reflect the patterns of the cosmos. Here we stand again, locked in an embrace with a brother who perhaps wants to kill us: Ishmael this time, not Esav.  He is murderously angry, because he believes we stole the only thing that matters. And we,like Ya'akov,  believe we only ever took what was ours, and perhaps also what God intended for us.

We face this brother after fleeing a brutal, treacherous cousin, who hated us for being more clever than he: a cousin who most certainly decreed not just on the males but on everyone, and he nearly succeeded in destroying us all.  

So what did happen in that embrace between Esav and Ya'akov?  Did Esav try to bite him?  Or did he kiss him?

And what will happen to us, in the embrace we are locked in now?  Can we -- all of us, all sides, all camps, in all the places of our abode -- work together to turn a bite into an embrace?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It's Not Too Late!

What do scientists "know" about global warming? 

Few scientists are trained to speak to the public, and one of their greatest challenges is communicating levels of uncertainty. The public wants clear-cut statements: "Eating fat is bad for your heart", "Exercise is good for you."  But science rarely provides such straightforward answers.  Eating too much fat is likely to be bad for you; except that some people need more fat than others, except that many other factors may outweigh the impacts of diet, etc., etc., etc.  What's more, good scientists are always open to changing ideas. We can never prove a theory.  The best we can do is show that the theory is increasingly supported by evidence, or contradicted by evidence. 

The problem is particularly vexing for climate scientists, who cannot conduct their experiments in the test tube.  Planet Earth is their unique specimen.  The uncertainties of their field are far greater than in many other fields, and the consequences of their conclusions are enormous.  

And yet, climate scientists have finally reached a consensus that temperatures are rising, and that, in the words of a former skeptic, "humans are almost entirely the cause".  That conclusion was still debated up to a few years ago.  Today, the data has improved; see for example, this Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes "Conversion of a Climate Skeptic".  

One of my husband's physics colleagues, Professor Ted Geballe of Stanford University, said to me about predicted climate change: "Everyone agrees that it is bad, the discussion has now shifted to just how bad."   Are the polar bears really dying because of global warming, or for other reasons?  Were hurricanes Katrina and Sandy connected to global warming, or just bad luck -- and can we expect many more such devastations in the years to come?  Is it true that SFO will be entirely submerged underwater within this century?  

Perhaps most importantly: is there anything we can do about it?  Have we already crossed the tipping point, with so much extra carbon in our atmosphere that it is too late to pull back?

If it took scientists this long to agree that humanity is indeed causing global warming, we cannot  expect reliable answers to any of these deeper questions so soon.  But as responsible citizens, we can consider the consequences of various assumptions, and proceed accordingly.  

How bad will the future be if we don't do something to stop global warming?  No one really knows. Do you want to risk it?   

Is it too late to change?  Respected climate scientists say no, it is not too late.  Teshuvah -- taking responsibility and returning -- is still possible.  If we can maintain further carbon emissions below a certain level, the planet has built-in mechanisms to stabilize the climate where it is now.  If you email me, I will send you a PDF of a Perspectives piece in the elite journal Science, entitled "Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable".  This article was written by the very same scientist who, a few years earlier, called public attention to the fact that it is too late to reverse damage already done.  They have not changed their position on that point.  The temperature is not going back down to where it was, they say.  But we can still hold it stable from further increases if we go on carbon diet now!

Are these scientists right?  Is it really not too late?  Though I was once an active scientist, my field was biochemistry, not environment.  I do not have the specific training to evaluate predictions about climate change.  But as a rabbi, I am trained to select between competing, equally valid realities.  Is the world doomed to destruction?  In the absence of a definitive answer, go with the one that produces the most hope and possibility for teshuvah.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's Still Hot Enough!

It's eery how an ancient world-view that once seemed hopelessly outdated now looks to be true.

Consider the middle section of the shma, taken from Deuteronomy 11:13-21).  Reform and Reconstructionist siddurim deleted this passage, at least in part because their editors were uncomfortable with its message:

        If you listen carefully to My commandments. . .
        I will give you rain in its season. . .
        And you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. . .
        But be careful, lest you turn away and worship other gods. . .
        And the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you,
        He will close up the heavens,
        There will be no rain,
        And the land will not give her produce. . .

The notion of a G-d that destroys the land in response to our sins may rests uncomfortably with most of us -- but look around!  The earth is warming up. The scientific consensus is clear: human activity is contributing to the warming.  The question among scientists is no longer "are we contributing to global warming?", but rather "just how bad will the consequences be?"  Big cars, luxury gardens, electric clothes driers, air conditioners, air travel: surely these are not the precise sins that the Torah had in mind when threatening divine retribution.  But chasing luxury, maximizing personal safety to the utmost, and shirking communal responsibility?  Moses would have recognized that one.

The Torah has always insisted that responsibility must translate into action.  My personal action this summer has been to return to line drying our laundry.  I line-dried when I lived in Israel for the year -- everyone in Israel line-dries in the summer -- so why can't we do it in America?

It turns out, line-drying is not as hard as I feared.  The initial barrier is finding a place to hang the laundry.  It's not like in Israel, where every home comes with a clothes line.  Afraid of drilling holes in the outer wall of my house, I decided to buy a clothes rack instead.  Again, not so easy: in Israel we had a nice, big rack that could accommodate an entire load.  Here, the racks are small, and most of them have a vertical design that is not very effective -- clothes on the lower bars are obscured by clothes above them, and take forever to dry.  I did find one, overpriced horizontal rack; it takes two of these plus one vertical rack to dry a load of laundry.  Altogether, that was a $100 investment.  I'm making it back on energy bills.

Once I had the racks, I had to build a routine.  I throw in a load of laundry just before bed.  The next morning, it takes about ten minutes to hang it out to dry.  But I get some time savings taking it down that evening, because it is much easier to sort laundry when it's arrayed on a drying rack then when it's jumbled together in the dryer.

Our clothes are stiffer than they had been, and they don't have not nice permanent-press look.  On the other hand, we don't get that wrinkled oh-no!-I-forgot-to-take-the-clothes-out-of-the-dryer look that is so common in my closet in the winter.  Here are a few additional tips that I've learned:

  -- Shirts that normally hang in the closet I dry on plastic hangers.  I hang the hangers out on the rack, and then later transfer them straight to the closet.  This saves rack space and time, and the shirts come out looking better.

 -- The longer a load hangs outside, the stiffer it becomes, so if I'm doing laundry on the weekend I try to get the clothes in as soon as they dry.  Some items I hang indoors; they take longer to dry, but turn-out softer.

-- Never leave clothes over night, at least not in northern California.  They turn-out damp and a little smelly.

 -- Sheets and tablecloths I drape over the shower to dry.  Otherwise they take up too much space on the rack.  If I have a load full of sheets, I'll just throw it in the dryer.

-- It's not an all-or-none commitment.  My daughter is especially sensitive about her clothing, so I try to concentrate her clothes in a single load which I put in the dryer.  Often, I fall behind on laundry during the week, and need to do several loads on Sunday.  I can only fit one load on the racks; the rest go in the drier.  Friends of ours in Israel who did not even own an electric drier would come to our apartment once a week to dry their towels.  They were ok with somewhat stiff clothes, but the towels they wanted soft.

If you are blessed to live in a home with a yard, line drying has some real benefits -- besides the obvious one to the conscience.  In the really hot weather earlier this summer, our house was much cooler without the drier running.  Now that I'm in the habit of line-drying, it is hard for me to understand how I ever thought it reasonable to run an air conditioner and a clothes drier at the same time.

Is there any point to all this?  Some people are throwing up their hands already, convinced that global warming is a runaway train.   Yesterday's carbon emissions are not going away, so what's the point of even trying?

The Torah and the prophets scream against this defeatist attitude, promising that if we change our ways, the land will be healed.  And again, their message has become timely.  Back in April, climate experts H. Damon Matthews and Susan Solomon published a Perspectives piece in the elite journal Science entitled "Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable".  In it, they explain that although we can not reverse the warming that has already occurred, if we limit carbon emissions it is not too late to stop further warming.

In the words of the Netaneh Tokef prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

עד יום מותו יחכה לו     Until the day of his death He will await him 
אם ישוב מיד יקבלו      If he returns, immediately He will accept him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Personal News

Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, is referred to as "ben zikunim", the child of old age (Genesis 37:3). The medieval commentators debate whether this pet name refers to Jacob's actual age at the time of Joseph's birth, or simply to the fact that Joseph was the 12th child. Either way, Jacob made the near-fatal mistake of favoring his ben zikunim over the others. Families are complicated. A ben zikunim can cause upheaval, but there is also something special about a baby that arrives when the other children are older, the parents are wiser and some aspects of life are more stable.

This October, G-d willing, my husband David and I are expecting our third child. Eight year old Shira and nearly-eleven year old Zev are adjusting to the news of a new sibling. Knowing there are challenges as well as joys ahead, we can't wait to meet the newest member of our family and introduce him or her to our community.

If you are reading this and feeling a twinge that I did not tell you my news in person, please forgive me. About a year and a half ago, I shocked my best friends by announcing in a blog post that I had suffered a late miscarriage -- few of my friends even knew I was pregnant. Call this my idiosyncrasy, or maybe the flip side of what makes me a good rabbi.

For those who are reading this and feeling a twinge of jealousy, because you want a baby yourself; I've been there, too, and I understand. It is part of the richness of being human, that we can experience joy and pain, jealousy and happiness, all in one breath and from the same provocation.

The Talmud teaches that the Torah was not given to angels, because angels are perfect. They feel no anger, no envy -- only holiness. But G-d created humanity because we are beautiful to Her in our complexities, in the ways in which we wed dark with light. Herein lies the secret of human creativity. There's is no birth without labor, no life without death, and there are no accomplishment withs out sorrow, lost opportunities, and envy. There are many ways to live a meaningful life, whether with children or without. May all the complexities of bringing a new baby into this world make my family richer and more full, and may each of you find richness and fullness in all the gifts and challenges that come your way.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fair Trade and Kosher for Passover; Do we need all these certifications?

I spoke yesterday with Joanne Kryszek, co-owner of my husband's favorite internet chocolate store, Chocosphere.  I couldn't bear the thought of benefiting from slavery davka on Passover, though I know our ancestors did so.  I was trying to find Kosher for Passover Fair Trade options.

The bad news: Though they sell tens of high-quality brands from around the world, including some that are both Fair Trade and KSA, none are certified kosher for Passover.

The good news: they may not need to be.  Having failed to find both certifications co-existing, I asked myself if the kosher certification is really necessary.  Dating back all the way to the Talmud, chametz  had that magic property of being able to be nullified by personal intention before Passover begins (see Pesachim 6b -- once the holiday starts, the chametz sticks and it is too late to nullify).  That's why it's fine to buy uncertified Orange Juice ahead of time, and the Chicago Rabbinical Council (the Orthodox authorities in my old home town) holds that the same applies to pure cocoa powder not processed in Europe (don't ask me about the Europe piece -- I have no idea!).  So just go to your favorite store -- online or in person -- and buy yourself a bag of slave-free, pure cocoa powder.  I went for the 5 kilo bag of Dagoba myself.  Yes, I plan to make a lot of brownies!  For a list of slave-free options, look at the "Other Online Resources" list on the right side of my blog page.

Even chocolate bars may not require special certification, if purchased in advance of Passover.  Read the labels carefully, the fewer ingredients the better.  Lecithin is a soy-based product added to many chocolate bars.  In truth, even that is probably ok -- because soy is not actually chametz (it is kitniyot), and because it is added in tiny quantities, and because it is added for the general public and not with you personally in mind.   A good case for leniency on chocolate is made on the Kosher v'Yosher website of Australia.  But, since it feels good to read labels and to be picky on Passover -- I went for the Theo bars which are soy-free.  But woe is me, when the bars arrived I discovered they were made on shared equipment with wheat.

So then, let's turn to the other certification - Fair Trade.  How necessary is that?  Joanne (of Chocosphere) told me that some of the companies she works with have offices on the ground in Africa, she knows some of their representatives and can't believe they would tolerate slavery.  As to children working on cacao farms, she considers the possibility of family farms where children work alongside their parents; the fact that we see footage of children working does not necessarily mean they are slaves, though there probably are instances of unsavory practices. So who is being hurt and who is being helped by the Fair Trade movement, she asks?  Some of her favorite suppliers are too small to afford Fair Trade certification.  She specifically mentioned Grenada Chocolates as a small, socially-conscious company, with good people and good chocolates.

Of course, Joanne is working with elite chocolatiers; not with Cadbury and Nestle and the other giants who have been scolded by congressmen and by NGOs.  On the other hand, Nestle makes a good case that the social problems in the Ivory Coast run deep, and the country is overall better off for their involvement: click here for a thoughtful article.  Are children being abused in cocoa production?  Undoubtedly!  But are Western companies at fault, and will purchasing Fair Trade cocoa help?

In 2005 Nestle signed an agreement that they would clean up their act in Africa.  Advocate groups claim the company's done nothing since then.  CNN interviewed an African farmer who has taken the moral high-ground, refused to use children on his plantation, and is frustrated by the lack of support.  But then, for Western organizations to try to monitor all African plantations would be horrendously complicated and expensive.  It seems unrealistic.

In the end, I still feel better paying for the Fair Trade label, but only because I am blessed to be able to afford it.  Horrible abuses are happening in this world.  If someone has offered me an opportunity to abstain from benefiting, I'll take it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Time of desire

The Torah describes an עת רצון, a time of God's desire:

ואני תפילתי לך עת רצון
"My prayer goes to You at the time of desire", says the Psalmist (69:14).

כה אמר ה', בעת רצון עיניתיך
"So says God, at the time of desire I will answer you",  says Isaiah the prophet (49:7).

But when is the time of desire?

With another human, we know when it is.  When the benefactor is in a good mood, when her stock is up and you have just done something to ingratiate yourself to her.  Then you catch her eye, and the smile comes easily to her lips, and you know that now is your best chance for a yes.

With God, desire cuts the other way.

When "I am sunk in the mire and cannot stand," when "my clothing is sackcloth, and I have become an example (to pity), the folks at the gates gossip about me,"  (Psalms 69:3 & 11-12) that's when God answers in an עת רצון, a time of desire.

If a person's well-being could be graphed like the stock market, God's desire is aroused at the bottom of the valley, just as the bear hits rock bottom, just before it rises up as the horns of a bull.
וברצונך תרום קרנינו
"And in Your desire You will raise up our horn," says the Psalmist (89:18).

The Nevi'im Achronim (Prophets) and Tehilim (Psalms) are replete with pronouncements of God's love for the poor.  The Israelites in Egypt were redeemed by virtue of their forefathers, who themselves were wealthy and powerful.  But in later biblical times, suffering itself becomes a virtue.  Often, the prophet blames the wicked for the plight of the poor.  The poor in their suffering stand in contrast to the wicked in their power, the implication: poverty equals innocence.
פלטו דל ואביון, מיד רשעים הצילו
"Rescue the poor and destitute, save them from the hands of the wicked."  (Psalms 82:4)

Viewed through a hasidic lens, suffering brings us closer to God for another reason.  The poor are not inherently righteous.  But those who examine themselves and their lives through their suffering, and reach up beyond their present selves, emerge into a holier state.  The time of hardship can be an עת רצון, a time of God's desire, but only if we make it so.  Says Rebbe Nosson, the student of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav:

"And even one who falls – chas v’chalilah – to doubts and bad thoughts and he is thinking away from God, even so, there is no despair in the world at all.  Even if it seems that he has fallen to a tainted place where God cannot be found at all,  even so, he should strengthen and fortify himself, to seek, to search, to ask after the Blessed One’s glory.  And when he asks and searches after God, and he is sorry and longing and calling out to God, and yearning to return to Him, even though he does not know any way or path or advice or plan of how to rise up and return from such places that are so distant from God, even so, through the asking and the searching within himself, he is searching and asking  for God:  'איה, where is the place of His glory?'  Through this, he rises up, for going down brings us to go up."  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Last week, I had a miscarriage.

That information seems maybe too personal to be sharing on a website.  But the experience of this pregnancy and its spontaneous termination taught me something important about what it means to live in America, and what it means to live in Israel, and that's why I'm sharing it.

A year ago, my husband and I were satisfied with the size of our family.  Ours is the imagined ideal, minus the dog:  one boy, one girl, a mother and a father.  Our kids are at a perfect age: young enough to need us, but not every minute.  Why would we want to mess that up with diapers, night feedings, choking hazards, car seats, etc., etc., etc. -- not to mention the risks of complications?  Besides, the world's population topped 7 billion a few weeks ago.  7 billion!  More people are alive today than the total of all people who have ever died.  This exponential growth rate cannot continue, and even replacing ourselves is really a luxury.

Then, we spent a year in Israel.  Israel has one of the highest birth rates of any western country: 2.97 per woman.  In Jerusalem, where we were staying, the average family has 4.5 children!  Our family of one lovely boy and one lovely girl felt paltry there.  Over time we met a few small families like ours -- but every single one of them had suffered fertility problems.  It seemed that small families by choice did not exist.

We loved the family atmosphere in Jerusalem.  Our five year old daughter could leave our apartment and walk all by herself to the apartments of any of three of friends.  For the first time, we felt comfortable leaving our son alone -- we knew if he got into trouble, he could run to any of 10 different neighbors for help.  The kids could walk to a local park by themselves, and even to the closest makolet (little grocery store), where they would greet the owner by name and he would give them their purchases on credit.

As an American, my gut assumption is that the large size of Israeli families is a result of Israel's religious culture.  Certainly that explains why Jerusalem, the most religious of Israel's large cities, has an especially high birth rate.  Many an American has returned home from an extended stay in Jerusalem feeling more devout, and more pregnant, than she was when she left.

But what is that religious experience that drives fertility?  And why, judging by my husband's physics colleagues, are secular Israelis more family-oriented than their American counterparts?  A friend of ours who did almost the same thing we did said to me: "Our youngest was conceived in Israel, where all things seemed possible."  This friend is not religiously observant, and his statement was not inspired by tradition.  All things seemed possible.

In Israel, life and death are closer together.  You don't have to be religious to feel that.  You simply have to walk into a shopping mall and open your bag for inspection, and realize that in the not-so-distant past people came to Israeli shopping malls equipped with explosives.  Far more importantly, Israeli children enter adulthood by way of the army, where they cannot help but confront their mortality.

When you realize that life is fleeting, all things really are possible.  Nothing is guaranteed, and everything is possible.  You must cast your bread as best you can, as often as you can, and hope it lands well.

My very first pregnancy, over ten years ago, ended in miscarriage.  I was 29 years old, but an American 29 year old -- young and immortal.  I wanted to have my babies when I wanted to have my babies, and I was not interested in accepting what nature had to offer.  That miscarriage was a dreadful shock.

This last pregnancy was an Israeli one, conceived under the lingering influence of the Israeli air:  religious, optimistic, and aware of my mortality.   Its termination was disappointing, but not a shock.

But the aftermath -- the doctor's visits, the ultrasounds, the medications --  jolted me back to American soil, where all things do not seem possible; where life seems under our control, and possibilities and impossibilities are determined by our human capacities; where raising children is hard, and careers and family are in competition, and a family of two healthy children (baruch Hashem and kein ayin hara!) seems perfect.

Perhaps by coincidence, and perhaps not, I offered a dvar torah at my shul two weeks ago that touched on very similar topics (though at the time I thought my pregnancy was healthy).  If you would like to read the dvar torah email me at ilana@post.harvard.edu