Individual Choices Impact Society

Is it draconian and wrong to make receiving child stipends dependent on immunizing your children?  That depends on how you look at it.

Let’s start with the fact that the state is not obligated to give us money each month just because we have kids.  We can continue with the fact that health care here costs peanuts, and the vaccines are free.  A vaccine only makes it into the health care “basket” with no co-pays if it is determined that funding the vaccine for everyone in Israel costs less than it would to hospitalize, and treat, the number of people who would become seriously ill with the disease.

If the vaccines cost money, you could say that the state can’t require you to put out so much money.  But the state is paying for the vaccines, paying for the healthcare, AND paying you 140 shekels a month, per kid.  So, why can’t the state say, “Hey, guys, listen up.  We don’t want to pay for the added healthcare that your kid is about to cost because he’s not vaccinated AND pay your child stipend.  Choose what’s more important to you.”  Honestly, the child stipend isn’t what will make true anti-vaxxers vaccinate their kids, nor will it break anyone’s bank account (despite complaints otherwise), but maybe it will make some destitute families (and therefore, probably less-educated and less-hygienic) give their kids vaccinations.  However, the state has a right to say this, I think.

If this were all there was to it, it would be pretty simple.  Do what you want, and leave others alone.  I read an opinion article on Kristen’s blog that asked basically, “Why are we allowed to question every aspect of parenting except vaccines?”  And the answer is this: Because if you want to formula feed your baby three days after he’s born, you are risking damage to YOUR baby’s gut.  If you want to buy a second-hand car seat, you are risking YOUR baby’s life.  True, it is everyone’s taxpayer money; true, it hurts everyone to see your kid suffer.  But the ones who are going to pay the highest consequences are you, your child, and your family.

HOWEVER, if you choose not to vaccinate your child, it goes beyond that.  Yes, you are costing us taxpayer money, because you are exposing your child to an illness likely to require lengthy hospitalization and/or rehabilitation.  BUT, the difference is this: You are forcing your choice on the rest of us.  Those with weakened immune systems, those pregnant, the elderly, those who cannot receive vaccinations, those who received the vaccines but are only partially immune, those too young to be fully or even partially vaccinated.  You are putting ALL OF US at risk for dangerous diseases that can be avoided and even eradicated, against our wishes, and without asking or informing us.  Your unvaccinated child is likely to begin or spread an epidemic, and that puts the rest of us at risk as well.

That is why it is different.  Cloth diaper or use disposables.  Feed your kid formula, breastmilk, cow milk, goat milk, or chocolate milk.  Feed your kid junk food, only meat, vegan with no vitamins.  Put your kid in the front seat, the back seat, the car seat, with or without an airbag.  Smoke beside your kid, but not around mine.  And do not expose my family to dangerous diseases, just because you think you are more educated than everyone else.  I don’t care how educated you are.  If you don’t want to vaccinate your kids, keep them away from my kids’ environments.  Period.  If your kid gets hurt by your choices, my heart will hurt, but there is nothing I can do about it.  They are your kids.  I will feel bad, I will be shocked, I will wish it didn’t have to happen.  But they are your kids, and you are in charge.  If you want to risk their lives, that’s your business.  BUT, I don’t allow you to take risks with my kids.  My kids are my responsibility, and I take that responsibility seriously.  If you don’t vaccinate, the least you can do is make sure to only hang around with like-minded individuals, and alert everyone else that you are a potential carrier of dangerous diseases.

And MORE Terrorism

Really, guys.  I’m kind of sick of it.

Not just sick of it, scared of it.  Like there would be any place to move to.  Europe is filled with rising anti-Semites, Canada has had over 1,600 anti-Semitic incidents last year alone, and in America – oh, America.  All you need to do is look in this past week’s news.  Wonderful, isn’t it?

And why is Boston allowed to execute a terrorist, but Israel isn’t?  I think the answer is this: Jewish blood is cheap.  Always has been.  And unfortunately, probably always will be.  I feel like we’re dealing with a repeat Holocaust, just slower; this is frustrating for two reasons: 1. The world claimed to have learned its lesson, and we claimed to have learned ours. 2. Hello, nutcases!  We have our own state, our own government, our own army.  Yet it is a little state, and little states need to keep big friends.  Those big fiends like to tie our hands.  Yes, sir.  Unless we stand up for ourselves soon, and do what needs to happen instead of playing along with what the world wants to have happen, we will all be in the sea in record time.  (Muslims aren’t smart enough to build gas chambers, but you have to ask what’s better – to die quickly and painlessly in a gas chamber, or to be shot or knifed the middle of the street, or to be drowned at sea.  Honestly, not sure.  I think I’d prefer the gas chambers.  And I kid you not.)

Rockets, yeah.  That’s the smaller of the problems.  Tunnels, that’s a much bigger problem.  People walking around with knives, Molotov cocktails, metal rods, rocks; terrorists driving cars, trucks, and sometimes buses – those are much bigger problems.  And the guns, too.  But luckily guns are more controlled; except that we have allowed the PA “government” to own guns and are now paying for it.  Oh, and Iran.  Yeah, Iran.  Big problem.  Not that big, if Israel is allowed to deal with it efficiently and the world either supports us or turns a blind eye.

Guys, this is scary.  I haven’t written too much this past week because I just don’t know what to say.  What am I supposed to say?  Let’s ship all the Muslims off the Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia?  Well, I wish I could say that, but no one would listen, and I kind of feel like saying it is counterproductive.  Again, maybe if the attacks were criminal in nature, we could make the terrorists’ lives better and that would be the end of the story.  But when 43% of the Arab population wants to conquer all of Israel AND kill all the Jews, it’s not criminal, it’s nationalistic.  And there is no choice but to kill the terrorists and potential terrorists, and nothing that we can do to better their lives will help us save our skins.

The world’s Jewish population has just returned to pre-Holocaust levels, 60 years later.  I wonder what it’ll be in another sixty years.  I wonder if Israel will still exist then, or if the world will be partying because they managed to create a world without Jewish communities in other countries and without a Jewish state.

Here are some of the nationalistic terror incidents from [just] this past week:
A farmer was beaten to death in the field, by Arabs who came in illegally from the PA looking for “work”;

Arabs threw firebombs at a Jewish school, three times in a row, and the police did nothing;

an ambulance was attacked (lynched, more accurately) by a group of Druze (and I’m disappointed, I thought better of the Druze community);

obviously, the UN blames Israel for abusing Hamas; we Jews are the only ones blamed for the murder of our own people;

a border policeman was injured in an attack by an “innocent Arab youth”;

there was a rocket attack;

Hamas is proud of the fact that they steered a drone into Israeli airspace;

two youth who stopped to answer a question put to them by an Arab youth were shot by said Arab youth; one is seriously injured and one is dead;

the terrorist who attempted to murder two Jewish youths on Shavuot is not being charged with attempted murder, but with “aggravated assault.”

I could go on, but Tova is insisting on drinking ‘Mama milk,’ so I need to stop here.

When Social Services Mess Up – Big Time

Social services, specifically child and family services, are there to help and protect.  They are there to help people get their lives together, they are there to deal with trauma, to provide support, to provide counseling, to provide help – so that people can live better lives.  They are there to make sure that children are not abused or neglected, to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to develop into a healthy, wholesome, adult.

Unfortunately, despite the many dedicated workers in the system, there are mistakes.  And when a mistake is made in such an important, vital sector, it is usually, unfortunately, a big mistake.  This is probably one of the scarier parts of being a parent.  If you go to the emergency room for a broken bone, will they take the kid away from you?

Actually, probably not.  I can think of two people whose appearance in the emergency room – one of them was a frequent visitor at one point in time – who were never asked about the situation at home.  On the other hand, I also know of someone whose son had a health issue that required him to take medication, that he did not like taking, and one day, he told his ganenet that his mother “hit” him.  She hadn’t hit him, she had restrained him, but he was too young to have a word for it.  Yes, the ganenet knew the situation, but that did not stop her from contacting child welfare services.  The family fought to keep the child, and won – he was never taken away from them.  But they had to bring proofs from the doctor, from the assistant in the preschool, from neighbors, from their older children’s teachers.  Reason #1 not to homeschool: You may need people to prove that you are a worthy parent.  And I know someone else who had to fight to keep her daughter – just because she was divorced at the time (now she is remarried, and just BTW, she is a great person).

Forget who I know – there are tons of cases out there, on the internet.  For instance, a child had scurvy as a result of his soy diet, prescribed by the pediatrician because of his lactose intolerance.  But in the ER, the child was misdiagnosed with abuse, and he and his siblings were taken away from his parents.  Until today, the parents have not been able to find or contact their children, and so unless the children actively search out their parents when they come of age, the parents will never see their children again.  Ugh.  Scary.

Or, perhaps, the parents whose child was taken away from them because they were smoking, and the child was having breathing problems (sorry, but DUH).  This is a question of where to draw the line.  I’m all for parents not being allowed to smoke around their kids, and for parents being forced to choose between their addiction and their kids.  But maybe here, the parents are telling the truth, and the social worker was lying?  You just never know.

There was a case in Israel a few months ago, in which twins who had a genetic disease (probably this one) were taken away from their parents (can’t find it in English, sorry), because the hospital thought that they were abusing them.  The good news is that the parents got their children back – after a year of dealing not only with the courts and hospitals, but of being blamed, shamed, and unsupported by their family and community.  Here’s a similar story about a baby who was taken away from his parents after multiple fractures were discovered.  Now, in defense of the hospital and the social workers, babies’ bones – until about age 4 or 5 – are not supposed to break.  They’re too rubbery, and therefore breaking them is really difficult, which means that if a kid that young comes in with a broken bone, in the vast majority of cases, someone needs to go to jail, and the question is only who.  However, as a rule, I think that genetic and organic issues need to be looked into, and ruled out, FIRST, because separating a child from loving parents is absolutely unacceptable, not matter how you put it, and no matter for how long.

This is one of the scary parts about adopting: You are allowing a social worker to see your home, and you are agreeing to undergo psychological testing that is intended to determine if you are fit to adopt a child.  But what if you don’t pass?  Will your own kids be taken away?  I realize that for the vast majority of would-be adoptive parents, this question is entirely extraneous, because they don’t have biological children, or, at least, not yet.  However, for us it is essential.  In addition, there is no truly safe way to get an answer.  If you don’t ask, you might wish you had.  If you do ask, they will wonder why you are asking.

The problem is this: We never know the whole story.  In some of these stories, the parents are obviously, or almost obviously, innocent.  In some (I;m inclined to say the smoking case), there’s a good chance that the parents are guilty, but are pleading innocent.  At any rate, because we don’t know the whole case, we can never know whether or not what social services did was justified or not.  We never really hear the side of the social workers or the government, for the simple reason that the people involved are permitted to say  what they want about themselves, but the professionals who worked with them are required to keep the information that they have confidential.

HOWEVER, there are many cases in which social services make a mistake, and these must be prevented, and corrected, as much as possible.  Yes, including giving the children back after over a year in a foster home.  Children need to be with their biological parents, unless it is absolutely impossible for them to grow up normally with those parents.  And in order to know that, we need to do a lot of investigation, and not jump to conclusions or speed up adoption processes.

The system needs to change, and fast.  Because what is happening, or going to happen, is that parents will be afraid to take their children to the doctor, lest the children be taken away from them.

Supposedly, here in Israel it is very, very, very difficult to separate a child from its biological parents.  And it is a step that is only taken after the parents have had chance after chance, help, and have continually shown themselves to be uninterested or unable to change their lifestyle so that it will allow their child/ren to grow up happy and healthy.

Let’s hope that this really is the case, because it makes life a lot less scary.

Shmita – The Land’s Sabbatical

Well, the year is almost over, and I’ve never blogged about Shmita (pronounced shmee-tah’).  I remember that just after Rosh Hashana, I wanted to write about it, but it didn’t end up happening.  So, what is Shmita?

The background: Every seventh year, we are required to let the land “rest”.  No farming, and no gardening, either.  In addition, everything is “hefker,” free for all.  This means that nothing belongs to anyone, and everyone can come take.  The idea is threefold:

1. Practically speaking, it is good for the land to rest a year, so that the soil does not get depleted.

2. Spiritually, it allows for everybody, once in seven years, to devote a year to spiritual and personal growth, as well as learning, instead of being focused and worried about their livelihood.

3. Perspective: It allows you to remember that what you have is not yours because you deserve it, but because you happen to have it.  By making everything free for everyone, people gain different perspective, and, I would like to think, become more friendly and more accepting towards others.  Also, poor people can take what they want and “stock up” for the next year.

This ideal works, but it is not perfectly fitted to today’s modern world, but rather to the farming society that we used to be.  Today, it’s more complicated, and many of the purposes are not realized, at least not on a national level.

So, what does Shmita mean today?

The short answer: A headache.  The long answer: A lot of things.  First of all, Shmita fruits are holy, and therefore not to be disposed of in the regular fashion.  Second of all, they are not allowed to be taken out of Israel.

If everything is holy, and you’re not allowed to farm, what do Israelis eat the entire year?  And so, there are several solutions:

1. The simplest, but not necessarily the most practical, is to import.

2. “Heter mechira”: A “loophole” in the law that says that if a Jew sells his land to a non-Jew for the duration of the year, the land is not Jewish-owned and can therefore be farmed.  This solves the problem very nicely, and in addition, the fruits are not considered holy.  Hoewver, the non-Jew is usually an Arab, and so these vegetables, as Yitzchak and I sometimes say, have blood on them.

3. “Yevul Nochri”: This is similar to heter mechira, except that the land wasn’t Jewish-owned to begin with.  In other words, instead of a Jew selling his land to an Arab for the duration of the year (kind of like we sell chametz for the week of Pesach), you are buying straight from the Arab.  This kind of vegetable is usually dirty, not good quality, and in general, not something you’d want to eat if you have a choice.  However, among many groups, it is considered the best option, and the most “mehadrin”.  These vegetables have lots of blood on them, but though we prefer not to buy them, we sometimes get stuck.  These are not considered holy and therefore no precautions need to be taken.

otzar beit din, shmita, israel, vegetables, fields, farming, kedushat shvi'it

A sign that says, “This field has been given over to Otzar Beit Din.”

4. “Otzar Beit Din”: Our favorite option.  Kind of complicated, and not available throughout the entire year, but the best you can get while it lasts (though there are some who disagree).  It works like this: Even if you don’t farm the land, many of the plants will continue to grow.  In addition, the farmers who own the land need to eat, and pay for their electricity, during Shmita, and while in the past, they could make do on their crops or others’ , today’s world is different.  The Beit Din makes a deal with the farmers: They pay each farmer a set stipend, and collect all the produce, selling it at a price that covers distribution costs.  This produce is considered holy, and therefore care must be taken not to waste it, not to do unreasonable things with it (like throwing, stepping on, making inedible experiments), and the peelings and other waste either get thrown in a special Shmita bin, or double-wrapped and placed gently into the regular garbage.

5. “Matza Menutak”: Plants that are not connected directly to the ground.  Examples are a greenhouse with a tarp on the floor, flowerpots, etc. “Gush Katif” is a specific type of matza menutak, and during Shmita, they export it less because there is a greater need for the products in Israel itself.

6. Produce grown in areas of Israel that were not settled, and therefore not made holy, during any of the relevant time periods.  Included in this is the Arava, Eilat, and other areas.  Vegetables grown in these areas are considered halachically, to have been grown outside Israel, and therefore can be planted, harvested, and sold as usual.  They are not considered holy.  For instance, the tomatoes that we now have are “Olei Mitzrayim,” grown in a place that those who left Egypt settled, but was not settled when the Jews came back from Bavel (Babylon).  It’s complicated.  But the tomatoes are beautiful, much nicer than the ones we had to make do with when they were Yevul Nochri.  Our sweet potatoes last week were Yevul Nochri, they were disgusting and had mold on the outsides (that disappeared after peeling), but they were all that was available.

7. “Shishit”: Produce leftover from the sixth year.

One of the problems with Shmita is that these issues continue not only during the Shmita year itself, but also during the year afterwards.  The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, is in the fall.  Therefore, what grew last summer and is eaten now, is “Shishit,” which, obviously, is practically gone, except maybe for the potatoes and onions.  However, the flip side is that what is growing now is “Shvi’it,” and we will still be eating it until the middle of next year (around January).  In addition, fruits are only Shvi’it if they ripen during the Shmita year.  So, as long as we are eating last year’s fruits, we are fine.  But now we are starting to see this year’s fruits, and we will continue to eat this year’s fruits well into next year.  So, we deal with Shmita issues for about a year and a half – all of the seventh year and half of the eighth.

One thing that you do not have to worry about during Shmita is t’rumot and ma’asrot: the tithes that are separated from the fruits and vegetables in Israel.  Usually, you need to check if these tithes have been taken off.  You can buy produce that was not tithed, and tithe it yourself, but it’s slightly complicated.  However, during Shmita you do not have to worry about this; all you have to worry about is that your produce has been purchased using one of the solutions mentioned above (and there are farmers who choose to ignore the commandment and keep selling as usual, just like there are farmers who choose not to tithe; although the Chief Rabbinate usually tithes everything under its supervision, there is always the option not to get supervision).  In a way it’s easier, in a way it’s harder.

Another issue with Shmita is that because there’s less to go around, the prices go up.  Oh, well.

I know I have put in a lot of Hebrew words that are not on my dictionary page; I will try to update the dictionary sometime soon.

One thing that I forgot to mention was “Shmitat Kesafim,” a monetary Shmita.  During the Shmita year, all debts are canceled, unless a document called a “pruzbul,” is signed, that allows the person to collect his debts during the Shmita year.  This document was instituted so that people would not stop lending money in the years just prior to Shmita, because they were worried that they would not be able to get it back.

Honestly, as a kid, I always thought it would be cool to live in Israel during a Shmita year.  I remember that we used to buy Gush Katif lettuce, and it was hard to get, and expensive, during Shmita.  Then, I thought it was because they weren’t supposed to be selling it; now, I realize it’s because the market for it here grows during Shmita, so they choose not to export.  I’m not sure why I thought it was cool as a kid (or a young college student; during my first Shmita here I still thought it was cool), because now it’s just a headache. Hey, I’ve been living in Israel for seven years!  I think I made aliya during the last Shmita.  Wow, that’s a looong time.

The Final Trek – Consulate, Part 3

If you remember, two months ago we went to get Tova’s Report of Birth Abroad, and to request social security cards for both Shlomo and Tova.  We were told that Tova needed a passport, and that I needed to bring Shlomo’s birth certificate in, and since I was short ten shekels to have the Report of Birth Abroad delivered to our home, I decided to do both things at once, and come back.

That was two months ago, and today I have just come back from the consulate, having accomplished both of the above goals.  What happened in these past two months?

Well, first of all, we were told that the report of birth would be ready in a week or two.  Not willing to travel all the way to Jerusalem only to find out that it wasn’t ready, I called two and a half weeks after our appointment, thinking that enough time would have passed that they would definitely have the report of birth waiting for us.  The call didn’t go through.  So I called again, a different day.  On the third try, someone answered, told me that they couldn’t help me, and told me to email the consulate.  I went online, found the email address, and emailed.

Two days later, I got an email saying that it was ready, and that I could pick it up on a Tuesday or Friday, between the hours of 12 and 2pm.  Wow, good thing I emailed!  When I was last there, I was told I could come in any day, any time, to pick up the documents.  But apparently, they changed the rules.  Which kind of makes sense, given the fact that they changed the appointment-making system, too, annoyingly enough.  Now, you have to email them with date and time preferences, as well as all the forms and documents, and they get back to you with an appointment.  Very annoying.

This left us, three weeks after our appointment, in a difficult position of having to go ONLY on a Tuesday or Friday, and if we didn’t make it out early enough – missing the opportunity entirely.  Now, Tuesday does happen to be my day off, but because of that, there is always something that needs to happen that day.  A couple of times I wanted to go, but something came up last minute.  If it hadn’t been an only-Tuesday thing, Yitzchak would’ve gone a long time ago.  In fact, we happened to be in Jerusalem, about a month ago, for two Shabbats in a row – but the first one didn’t work out (don’t remember why), and on the second one, I got lost because I tried to take a faster bus, and then got there too late.  That was over a month ago, and the month that has passed since we have tried not to travel, simply because we have been forced to travel way too often, and we needed time at home.

Today, again, was a Tuesday, and I decided sometime last week that I was going to go today.  Of course, as luck would have it, Yitzchak ended up needing to take Shlomo into Be’er Sheva today.   I considered having Yitzchak go to the consulate instead of me, but dragging two kids by myself to gan, back, and dealing with them on my own until 5 or 6pm didn’t sound too great.  Plus, like I told Yitzchak, if I go, I don’t have to worry about what might happen to him.

We got onto the bus to Jerusalem, and Tova and I fell asleep.  We just missed the bus to the consulate, so I waited, took the “faster” bus, had the same thing happen, got off the “fast” bus and got on the right bus, and finally made it in.  The citizen services window was closed, so I went to the non-citizen, visa window.  Weird.  Then they took my cell phone, charger, camera, and USB device, x-rayed my back and checked it manually, and told me to leave the stroller by the door.

I went in, no numbers this time, and went up to the window to ask for my documents.  The guy at the window told me he’s not sure he can drop off the social security forms.  What do you mean, you can’t?  Nolan Klein said I can, and he’s the vice consul.  Look at the back of the slip, he wrote that I can, signed it, and stamped it!  But, of course, I didn’t say any of this, because the next thing that the window-guy said was, “When was this?”  I said, “A while ago,’ and he looked at the papers and said, “A long while ago.  I don’t think I can do it, but I have to ask my boss.”

In the end, he took the papers for the social security cards.  My passport, Shlomo’s passport, and Tova’s passport, as well as Shlomo’s birth certificate and Tova’s report of birth, were all photocopied.  Previously, they had photocopied both Yitzchak’s passport and mine, but this time they only took mine.  I double-checked that it was okay and would still go through, and they said it was.  So all we have to do now is pray.  Because it can take six months (this time I heard eight) to get the papers, I asked what would happen if we moved in the middle.  We don’t have any plans to move, but I asked just in case.  They gave me a paper with the email of the social security on it, and said that if we move, we need to update them.  Sigh.

At the consulate, there was one woman who needed her emergency passport for her flight tomorrow morning; and a mother and daughter who needed their emergency passports for their flight three hours from then (in other words, it took off three hours ago).  When I had finished my business, I asked the mother and daughter to hold Tova for a minute so that I could use the bathroom.  When I saw the huge wheelchair stall, I thought, “What a shame!  I could’ve brought her in with me!” until I remembered that I couldn’t, because the stroller had been parked at the gate.  Oh, well.

We got out of there, waited for a bus to the central station, just missed a bus back to Be’er Sheva, and then slept on the bus.  With a baby and a big bag, I didn’t feel like sharing a seat, because I knew I’d need both spots.  If Yitzchak had been with me, I wouldn’t have minded sharing, but whoever would have sat next to me wouldn’t have let me change diapers with the baby half on her and half on me, wouldn’t have liked my elbow or the baby’s feet taking up some of their personal space during a nursing session, wouldn’t have held the baby so that I could reach down and get stuff out of the bag at my feet, or given me what I needed from the bag without having to bend over double with a baby (if you share a seat, your bag goes on the floor; if you have two seats, your bag goes on the seat next to you, and if you have only one hand free, that’s a world of a difference), and wouldn’t have taken care of my bag so that I could hold Tova, or taken Tova so that I could have a break.  Sooo . . . since three and a half hours had passed since she had last nursed, I plopped the bag in the window seat, took out a cloth diaper, plopped myself and Tova in the aisle seat, and started nursing.  Yep.  The bus was nearly overstuffed, but anyone looking for a seat just glanced at us and moved on to look for something else.  In other words, it worked.*  And I don’t feel bad, either.  On the bus from Be’er Sheva, I had to share a seat.  The lady next to me was nice, but it was squishy, I had no space, Tova was bouncing all over, I couldn’t even put my bag by my feet for lack of space and lack of hands, and while it was cute for forty-five minutes, I don’t know how I would’ve passed an hour and forty-five minutes that way.  So, sorry guys, but I’m not sorry.

I would’ve gotten something to eat while I was in Jerusalem, but I was just going from bus to bus, and by the time I had half an hour (because I had just missed a bus), I had no energy to walk around, wait in line, find something, and then run back before the bus left.  I figured to give myself ten minutes to get to the bus stop, which would have left me with fifteen or twenty.  Chumus and crackers, or anything requiring two hands, was out of the question.  And finding something edible, fast, that only required one hand – too much work.

So, I have only had two cups of hot chocolate today and some water.  I’ve been up since six in the morning, and it’s now 7:15pm.  And I’m too tired to get up and figure out what to make now, even though I’m home.  Yitzchak went vegetable shopping (which means there’s nothing worth eating until he gets back), and pretty soon I have to leave for the school’s end-of-year party.  I hate parties, but I feel like I should be there for my students.

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*This would not have worked with a bottle, because maneuvering with a bottle is infinitely easier.  Also, when people see someone breastfeeding, they immediately think, “She can’t move easily,” but when you are bottle feeding, you are simply holding a bottle as well as a baby.  Therefore, I can’t see myself as having been able to pull this off if I were bottle-feeding.  Actually, I have a story to prove this point, but that’s for another post.  The point is, breastfeeding is terrifically convenient.

Spanish Boy Suffers for Parents’ Stupid Decision

Or, perhaps, “The Obvious Has Happened: Unvaccinated Child Contracts Diphtheria.”

Or maybe, “Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Are a Danger to Us All.”

Thirty years ago, Spain eradicated diphtheria.  Thirty.  Years.  Ago.  But of course, since then, parents have become smarter, braver, more educated, more independent, and in general, have a better understanding and grasp of the world, and think for themselves.  In other words, doctors are out to get us.  So are pharmacists, nurses, and anyone else who sells conventional medicine, with all those long leaflets covered in warnings.*  Obviously, a bunch of parents with a bone to pick, and a need to hang autism on something avoidable, are much smarter than everyone else.  And much safer, too.  After all, none of their kids are vaccinated, and none have contracted any of those diseases.  Until, of course, they do.

As I mentioned in my last post on the subject, pertussis is the most common problem, but measles and mumps sometimes pop up, as well.  This time, though, a kid is paying for his parents’ stupidity.  And if not for modern medical miracles, he’d have paid with his life, already.  A 6-year-old Spanish boy is being kept alive by 3 machines, after he contracted diphtheria.  No, he wasn’t vaccinated.

Worse yet, eight children – vaccinated children – who have been in contact with him, are being quarantined, because they tested positive for the disease.  They aren’t sick yet, and maybe they won’t get sick, but they are being quarantined as a preventive measure, to prevent an outbreak.  In other words, 8 children are suffering because of the stupid decision of this kid’s parents.  I don’t even want to think about any babies (too young to be vaccinated) who came in contact with him, or any pregnant women.  Let’s just not go there.

And we forgot the immunocompromised, didn’t we?

Parents, listen up, and listen good.

Choosing not to vaccinate your children means CHOOSING to endanger many, many other people.  CHOOSING to endanger other peoples’ children, sick people who have a compromised immune system, and tons of others.  It is not funny.  It is not nice.  It is not safe.  It is disgusting.  And anyone who dies or gets sick, is on your head.

We protect your kids, by being vaccinated and vaccinating our kids.  You endanger our kids’ lives, and our own lives, by not vaccinating, and not warning the rest of us that you are a potential disease carrier.

This kid’s parents feel, “terrible guilt,” as well they should.  They are guilty for their son’s condition.  And guilty for possibly spreading it to many other people, endangering them, as well.

They were not “hoodwinked,” or, “tricked,” by the anti-vaccination movement.  They chose to take a risk, a known risk, a deadly risk, without doing proper research and without thinking their decision through.

Because most parents who care will understand, that beside the risk of 0.0000000001% of the child reacting adversely to the vaccine, is a much higher risk of the child actually contracting the disease and being permanently disabled, if not killed, by it.  (Diphtheria has a mortality rate of 1 in 10.  Would these same anti-vaccine parents take an integrated NT scan with that number without doing amniocentesis?)  There is nothing in the vaccine, and no side effects in the vaccines, that are not found in, or caused by, the disease itself.  If the side effects of the vaccine scare you, think about how much worse it would be if your kid got the disease.  And then go beg for the vaccination, because it will maybe, maybe, maybe, give your kid a mild side effect, but it will very, very, very probably keep him from having to suffer from the actual disease.

And the parents whose kid “became” autistic right after the MMR vaccine?  Here I stand with MidlifeSingleMum; I believe that the kid showed signs of autism shortly afterwards.  But I have a few questions about whether the connection is causational, correlational, or nonexistent.  Possibly, the signs of autism were only noticed after the MMR vaccine, even though they were present long before; autism is tough to spot in tiny babies, unless you know what very specific signs to look for.  Possibly, the child would have become autistic anyways, and the vaccine sped the process up.  In any case, autism is not – or at least, has not been proven to be, after much research – a side effect of vaccines.  But it may be a side effect of untreated fevers during pregnancy.

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*(Note to self and readers: Alternative medicine is medicine without the lengthy research, without supervision, and without leaflets stating contraindications and warnings.  For some reason, I’d rather know what I’m getting into than take medication without knowing its possible side effects, especially concerning my kids.  I do use natural remedies, but only after researching them thoroughly.)

Flying During Pregnancy

Every once in a while, the subject comes up.  Would you, or would you not, fly during pregnancy?

When I was pregnant with Shlomo, my mother (who lives in Canada) wanted me to visit for Chanuka (just me – she didn’t have the money for both of us).  The flight would have been when I was 32 weeks pregnant, I think.  I flat-out refused, and my mother didn’t understand; they let you fly until 36 weeks.  I insisted that I was not going to fly while pregnant, and certainly without Yitzchak.  Why?  I don’t know.  I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it.  So, when Shlomo was a month old, we went to visit Yitzchak’s family, and when he was five months old, we went to visit my family.  (And we haven’t flown since.)

This past summer, Ari had a bar mitzva and Esther got married.  This past summer, I was pregnant with Tova.  At first, when Esther got engaged, she was planning a June wedding.  True, that would also have been flying while pregnant, but I felt like the risk at 15-18 weeks was one I was semi-willing, although very, very, very uneasy, to take.  It’s not the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is high; if G-d forbid something happened, I could easily hide it, because my stomach would not yet be too visibile; it’s not late enough in the second trimester to be a viability issue.  And still, I didn’t feel comfortable, precisely because the baby was yet viable and there was nothing I would be able to do.  I debated the subject and decided to ask three doctors first . . . and then G-d (or Esther) solved the dilemma for me, and the wedding got pushed to August.  The moment it got pushed to August, I knew there was no way I was going.  At all.  No matter what.  Unless they got married here in Israel, and I could take a bus and not a plane.  By that time, though, it was already obvious that there wasn’t enough money to pay the extraordinary sum needed to bring us in anyways, obvious that I would not travel alone, and the point was moot – so I didn’t explain to the entire family that I was not willing to travel while pregnant.

But why did I not want to travel?

First of all, when I still thought the wedding would be in June, I did extensive research on insurance policies for pregnant women and what they cover.  Specifically, what they don’t cover.  Also, I am technically a Canadian citizen, but since it is acquired citizenship and not by birth, I no longer am covered by the governmental insurance, unless I chose to live there for three consecutive months.

Second of all, the date was very borderline.  I would have been between 22 and 25 weeks pregnant, and those weeks are critical, when you are talking about preemies.  It’s not just a question of the birth, it’s a question of whether or not the baby survives; which hospital you go to can make a big difference, and besides for that, even if the baby is fine, it’s not something you want to be going through when you are thousands of kilometers away from home – especially since you don’t really know how long you’ll be spending in the hospital.  And, it’s not something that I would want to go through without Yitzchak, which, because of budget issues, was a question that was put to me muiltiple times.  I knew people would be mad and would be hurt; I also knew that if I risked my baby’s life, I would never, ever, ever. forgive myself – and I knew that no one would be dealing with the consequences of a premature baby, and the risks that severe prematurity entail, except for Yitzchak, Shlomo, and myself.  So I stayed.  Because my baby’s life – if you like, Tova’s life – is worth more than my sister’s wedding celebration (she’ll be married with or without me, and the proof is in the pudding), and worth more than my entire family’s wedding celebrations put together.  And I just wasn’t willing to risk it, even if the risk was teeny, teeny, tiny.  If the risk is too big for the insurance companies, it’s waaaaay too big for me. (Sorry guys!  When you have kids, you’ll know what I mean.)

Let’s get back to the insurance policy.  I looked at several policies; all of them have a few things in common:

1. They cover more before the end of the first trimester than they do after;

2. they state a set amount that they will pay if you have your baby abroad;

3. they do not cover you if you have any preexisting medical conditions, or

4. if there is any reason your pregnancy might be high risk (and for the record, this often includes ANY unexplained bleeding during the pregnancy, as well as multiple gestation and IVF);

5. most of what they cover is about the mother – the birth, the hospital stay, a miscarriage; and

6. very, very little, if any, is for the baby.

7. Many policies do not cover you past 32 weeks, some cover until 36 (partial coverage, obviously), and some put the limit at 26 or 28 weeks (i.e., if the baby has a good chance of surviving and not suffering from its prematurity too much, they don’t want any part of it);

8. weeks vary, but often, you need a letter from your doctor saying that s/he is taking responsibility for the fact that you are allowed to fly;

9. many doctors are willing to give you permission, but they are not willing to write a letter to that effect (because they don’t want the insurance companies suing them; doctors are not prophets).

True, the exact conditions, as well as the sum and specific weeks, vary from company to company.  True, the amount that they are willing to pay for the baby is five digits, and possibly you might (but it’s rare) find a six-digit amount.  But even though that amount looks large, when you are talking about a hospital stay, with oxygen, with the lights needed for a jaundiced baby, and quite a few weeks in the NICU (even if the baby is doing pretty well), along with any other interventions needed to ensure that the preemie survives – you are talking about so much money that the sum from the insurance company is only a small fraction of the total eventual costs, and does not save you from possibly lifelong debts.  Plus, as most people know, getting an insurance company to pay up is an incredibly difficult task.

A third problem with flying during pregnancy is that sometimes the flight will cause a premature birth.  It’s not definite, and it doesn’t always happen.  But when it happens, it’s not good.  And frankly, after not eating lox, not eating sunny-side up eggs, not drinking alcohol, not doing root canals or x-rays, taking huge vitamins, throwing up, and whatever else – why would anyone want to take the chance?

And therefore, friends, think twice, even three or four times, before deciding to travel while you are pregnant.

My family might have been upset, but they will get over it, and having Tova with us and healthy is more than worth it.  (Okay, I admit; I was bummed, very, very bummed, but [after a long while] I got over it and told myself that my first responsibility is to my kids, and I am doing the right thing, even if it’s not the easiest thing.)  And after reading Wendy Morrow’s story (she traveled at 32 weeks for her brother’s wedding), I know I did the right thing.

For those who read Hebrew, I have more comprehensive links, with policy specifications and explanations.  I did not see a point in looking them up and linking them, because my audience is almost completely English speaking,  (What can I do – policies here are generally worded in Hebrew, as is everything else.)

If any of you want real-life stories on the subject, Google, “travel insurance doesn’t cover premature birth.”

The Great Name Debate

When Tova was born, Yitzchak and I debated how to spell her name in English.  Tova isn’t her real name, of course, and we wondered which vowels to use in which places, and in which name (she, unlike Shlomo, has a middle name).  We asked five or six people what they thought; I asked Noach to ask his friends what was most widely accepted (Noach, you forgot to get back to me!); I asked a cousin, Yitzchak asked his mother and another friend.  We finally got it down to two possible spellings, and at some point we decided which one to go with.

A few weeks later, when Tova’s Hebrew birth certificate hadn’t arrived, I went to the Ministry of Interior to pick it up and add her to our identity cards.  They couldn’t give us an English copy at the time (not sure why), so they told us to come back.  Of course, we needed the English copy for the consulate.  So, a week before our appointment at the consulate, Yitzchak went to see if he could get an English copy of her birth certificate.  He was able to.

And he came home and showed it to me, proudly.  As I took the paper, I asked, “Did you tell them how we want to spell her name?”  The obvious answer was not long in coming: “Oops.  I forgot.”

But it didn’t matter, because the Ministry of Interior apparently thought the same way we did, and chose the same spelling.

It was then that I realized that my weeks of thinking and debating had been in vain.  It was then that I remembered that the Ministry of Interior decides how you spell your name, or your child’s name, in English.  And if you want to give an unusual spelling, they will often tell you that it’s a different name, and that you can change the Hebrew name to match the English spelling, but you cannot write this English name as a translation of the Hebrew name, because “it’s not the same name”.

Yes, we as parents decide what to name our children.  But the Ministry of Interior decides what the transliterated spelling of each name is.

Which, by the way, is why a last name that contains the letter “o” sounded like “off” is written with a “vav” and pronounced like a long “o” or long “u”.  Because they won’t write it with an “alef”, since that would mean the sound had to be “a”.

Ah, well.  I’ll know for next time not to sweat the small stuff – I mean, the spelling.

Extended Breastfeeding: Until What Age?

Breastfeeding is the normal, natural, and ideal (and only truly side-effect free) way to nourish babies until the age of one year.  It is also an ideal nutritional supplement that mothers should strive to give their babies until those babies turn two (and I admit, at this I flunked, breastfeeding advocate as I may be; I nursed Shlomo until he was 14 months, at which time I let him quit).

But until what age is breastfeeding normal and acceptable?

Yitzchak’s older brother, Be’eri, nursed until his third birthday.  A few weeks before his birthday, his mother started saying, “Be’eri, soon it’s your birthday.  You’re going to be three years old.  Three years old is a big boy, and big boys don’t nurse.”  She said this over and over again, and on the morning of Be’eri’s birthday, he came over and asked to nurse.  Mom said, “Be’eri, today is your birthday!  You’re three years old!  Three years old is a big boy – ” and Be’eri finished, “and big boys don’t nurse,” with a sad face.  He turned around and walked away . . . and never asked again.

When I was born, I didn’t immediately gain weight at the pace the doctor thought was necessary.  Because my mother was an ignorant, first-time mother who had her kids before the Internet Age, she didn’t have access to the wealth of information that first-time mothers often have access to today.  When I didn’t gain weight, they told her to add formula, and she did.  Thereafter, I apparently decided that nursing was too hard (typical, by the way, for formula-supplemented babies) and it slowly tapered off.  I nursed either three months, six weeks, or six months – apparently, memories aren’t exact. FTR: I don’t blame my mother for this, although I am kind of peeved that I missed out on something so important because of a lack of information and/or misinformation.

But Esther, the sister immediately after me, didn’t gain weight, either.  Except that the doctor looked at the chart, looked at my mother, and said, “Your first was this way, too, right?  Go ahead and keep nursing.”  And she did.  (You’re welcome, Esther.  I missed out, and you gained from it.  In many more ways than just this one.  But that’s the price every firstborn pays, isn’t it?) Esther nursed the longest of all of us – two and a half years.

Shira, too, nursed a long time.  She liked nursing and would ask to “nack-n-nurse” – a word derived from my mother’s question, “Do you want a snack (in which case, you can have one, but not me) or do you want to nurse (i.e., really nurse, not two minutes and that’s it)?”  I think Shira nursed until she was two and a quarter.  I don’t remember until what age Noach and Ari nursed, but I’m pretty sure at some point Noach was supplemented with formula (we bought formula and new bottles for Pesach), though I’m not sure why.

In other words, both Yitzchak and I grew up with extended nursing as a normal, natural part of life.  One you talked about anecdotally, but didn’t see as out of the ordinary or something to think about.

When I saw a mother nursing a two+ year old on the light rail train a few years ago, I was impressed.  She told me, slightly embarrassed, that this is the only way she can calm him down, and that she often hears that he’s too old.  I told her, honestly, that I was very impressed, and admired her.  I told her that the longer they nurse, the better off they are, and that she’s really good for keeping it up despite what people say.  I also told her that I was also getting comments about how long I nursed my baby (Shlomo, who was betwen six months and 14 months at the time), and that I thought people were just jealous.  She laughed and said that was probably true.

So far, so good.

Nursing till two is ideal according to WHO; nursing till three or five has a lot of benefits.  But where do we draw the line?  Every once in a while, there’s a story about a mother who is nursing a five year old, six year old, or eight year old.  I would assume that no one is nursing a high school or college student, and no one is still nursing her engaged or married son or daughter.  Definitely, no one who is pregnant themselves is still nursing from their own mother – I think.

Again, where is the line?  If nursing a two year old is ideal, and nursing a three year old is beneficial, why is nursing a four, five, or six year old problematic?  See, in my mind, a four year old nursling is kind of odd, but totally a good thing; a five year old nursling is weird, and a six year old is just . . . huh?!?!  What happened there?

But those ages are random, aren’t they?  And what about the mother who nursed her six year old, and later realized that the six year old’s autism had been immeasurably helped by the fact that she had nursed so long?  Why is 4 years, 364 days, acceptable – but 5 years, 0 days, is not acceptable?

In other words, where do we draw the line?  And why do we choose to make that age the maximum limit for the duration of normal breastfeeding?

And, perhaps more importantly, why are we posting pictures and articles on news sites every time we hear about a mother who nursed a single child for more than three years?  Why does it spark such a hot debate, and why is everybody so up-in-arms about it?

I agree, breastfeeding needs publicizing and normalizing, especially after decades, perhaps even centuries, of formula propaganda.  But is publicizing breastfed six year olds helping the cause or hurting it?

And another question: When we say “extended nursing,” are we talking about nursing past the age of twelve months, past the age of two years, or something else?  I guess it all depends on what “normal nursing” would be.

Is Felix Kiprono Nuts?

When I first saw that Obama had been offered 50 cows, 70 sheep, and 30 goats for his daughter Malia’s hand in marriage, I was pretty shocked.  After all, that’s a really high bride price.  On the other hand, just the thought of Obama dealing with flocks of animals is pretty funny.

A Kenyan lawyer?  Well, two points to him for not dating anyone else in the meantime.  Ten points for not being already married.  Five points that he’s willing to teach her and wants to live a simple life (i.e., not after money).  But minus fifteen for the fact that he’s probably over thirty.  Ughh.

Until I saw his picture, that is.  He can’t be more than twenty, and she’s sixteen.  So he was a smart, black, fourteen year old interested in a ten year old, of his own race, whom he thought was pretty, smart, and from what he’d seen of her personality, he liked her.  And, he’s learning in Oxford University.  Listen, a young Kenyan learning to be a lawyer in Oxford is not bad.  Nix the minus fifteen and add seven more points.  And a fourteen year old (maybe he was twelve?) interested in a ten year old isn’t too weird, either.  Kiprono also has support from his family, which is a big thing.

Is it really so bad?  At first it sounded kind of gross.  But if they’re about the same age, it really isn’t that bad.  At all.

I don’t know what Malia will think of it, and I’m pretty sure that even if Obama lets them meet (and give me a break, that’s not even in his control), he won’t take the bride price.  What I do know is that Malia was raised in a Western culture and she will be the one to decide who she marries.

So, Felix Kiprono, I wish you the best of luck in your dates with Malia, and hope that if you are meant to be married, it will happen when you want it to.  See if you can get in touch with her, and what you think of each other in person.

One tip: Wait until she’s at least seventeen before starting to date, and until she’s eighteen before proposing.  Also, remember that she might already have a boyfriend.

Oh, and to all those who call pedophile, because he was interested in her at ten and still is interested her when she’s sixteen, I have news for you.  Ten may be a touch young (depends on how old the proposed partner is), but sixteen is legally a minor, physically an adult.  Yeah, you read that right.  Pregnancies in 15-19 year olds go the same way they do in 20-22 year olds.  It’s the under-15 crowd who isn’t physically adult yet, and if we weren’t living in a skewed Western society that promotes marriage at age 25 or 30, and children at age 29 or 33, then we wouldn’t think it’s weird for a sixteen year old to be getting married.

I agree, and I admit to being part of skewed Western society.  But honestly?  Either you have lots of girl/boyfriends for ten or twenty years, from when you’re a teen until you finally get married – and that’s not good;

or you never end up getting married because somehow you just missed the boat;

or you get married “young” at 22, and everyone raises their eyebrows;

or you become a teenage parent, who should be responsible, but doesn’t know what the word “maturity” means.

But really, people, sixteen is young, but it’s not that young.

The other thing that really bugs me is the tone of the comments on news websites.  Why is everyone laughing at Kiprono?  Sure, I chuckled, too, at the thought of Obama with all those animals.  But if you do the math, just the cows are probably worth around $100,000.  That’s a LOT of money – and unlike money, which is gone after it’s spent, animals reproduce, thereby allowing you to keep your wealth and do things with it.  What Obama has been offered is a very, very, very high, respectable price for a bride.  There is no point in marrying for money if you are paying so much just to get the girl – you may as well keep your money and let her father keep his.

I understand that there is something of a cultural clash here, and that most of the Westernized readers do not see the significance of Kiprono’s offer, but it is, and remains, a very respectable offer and a very impressive offer.  And I don’t think it’s appropriate to make fun of it.

And about the bride price?  Maybe in your world that’s a little outdated, but in Kiprono’s world, it’s not.  And not necessarily is that a bad thing, either.  It’s just a different way of looking at things.

Think of it this way: Most men reading this blog, for the privilege of getting engaged, paid a lot of money for a diamond engagement ring.  If you couldn’t afford an engagement ring, well, then, you evidently weren’t settled enough/ mature enough/ whatever enough to get married, right?  So engagement rings are like modern bride prices, except that: 1. They are “paid” to the girl herself, not her father, 2. not every girl wants one, 3. you can fake gold or fake a diamond, and it’s very hard to fake cattle.  Yitzchak also points out that in the process of courting, the man usually gives the woman gifts here and there; these, too, are part of today’s modern “bride price”.  So in Kenya they give it all at once, and to the father, to ask for the father’s permission/approval.  And in the Western world, they give it bit by bit, to the girl, and [/in the] hope that the girl’s father approves and gives permission.  But it’s really not that different.*

I would also like to say that I Googled “Felix Kiprono” and saw his Facebook page.  He really is as young as he seems to be . . .  and his Facebook page really is a teenage boy’s Facebook page.  Ughhh.  Kiddo, grow up a bit and get some class.  I couldn’t stomach the stuff on your page.  But hey, maybe Malia will think it’s cool.  You never know with teenagers . . .

One more point: True, they’ve never met.  But how many people “fall in love” with a “friend” on Facebook?  How many couples met through an online dating website or forum?  Assuming that they will meet before deciding to actually marry, being interested in someone you’ve never met is no longer that rare.

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* I was one of those girls who did not want an engagement ring, at all, of any form.  I do not regret that decision.  But my mother was mad and felt embarrassed for me(??) and Yitzchak’s mother was convinced that I didn’t really mean it and just didn’t want Yitzchak to waste money, and pressured Yitzchak to go out and buy me one anyways . . .  because that’s what people do when they get engaged, they buy a ring.  And you’re not considered properly engaged unless you have one.  As is illustrated by my extended family, who didn’t think that Yitzchak could be a mature person, ready to get married, if he hadn’t spent the money on an engagement ring.  And my not wanting one was just “an excuse”.  True, I can do what I want, with or without family approval.  But I think it’s pretty clear that today’s version of a bride price is an engagement ring.  What would Obama say – for that matter, what would you say – if your daughter came home, engaged, without a ring to show for it?  Would you approve?  Would you pressure them to call the match off?  Many people would – which is why there isn’t that much culture clash, after all.

When I asked some people why an engagement ring is so important, one of the answers I got is, “So you’ll have something to sell when you need money.”  In other words, an engagement ring is a piece of property meant to help you out in times of need.  Which means that cattle is better, because once you’ve sold a ring, it’s gone forever.  But you can keep your cattle, breed them, sell milk, meat, cheese, and plow fields with them . . . and you probably won’t have to sell all of your cattle, if you’re smart, nor is it a one-time guarantee.