Image: The logo of Hasidah, a Jewish organization for support of individuals and couples suffering with infertility. It is a stork carrying a bundle, and the word “Hasidah.”
There’s a trope that repeats again and again in the Jewish Bible: a woman suffers from infertility. Such a women is identified in Hebrew as an akarah, a “childless woman.”
Five women are identified as akarot (plural): Sarah (Genesis 11:30,) Rivka (Genesis 25:21,) Rachel (Genesis 29:31,) Samson’s nameless mother (Judges 13:2,) and Hannah ((1 Samuel 2:5) The prophet Isaiah even characterizes Zion as a metaphorical akarah (Isaiah 54:1).
The stories follow a pattern: a woman grieves because she has difficulty conceiving, someone offers prayer, and God grants the woman a child. The moral of the story seems simple: God, who is central to fertility, listens to prayer.
For many modern couples, the simplicity of the stories and their solution may feel glib or even like a mockery. About 10 percent of women in the United States ages 15-44 (6.1 million) have difficulty conceiving or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While the technology of infertility treatment has made great progress, it is available only at great personal and financial cost. In addition to the physical and financial challenge of infertility, it often raises spiritual and emotional challenges as well.
Hasidah (www.hasidah.org) is a Jewish organization which supports and assists Jewish couples who experience infertility. It does so by connecting people undergoing the grueling process of infertility treatment with resources for spiritual, emotional and financial support. Hasidah also trains Jewish professionals in the pastoral support of infertile couples.
If you or someone you know is suffering from infertility, contact Hasidah. Also, if you wish to support infertility awareness programs, rabbinic training seminars, counseling and spiritual care, as well as financial assistance for fertility treatment, you can donate to Hasidah – it is an excellent choice for your tzedakah funds.
(Full disclosure: I am a Rabbinic Partner of Hasidah.)
Image: A child holding hands with her mother. (Stocksnap/Pixabay)
This past week a story entered the news that took things to a new low, or so I thought until someone on Twitter (I wish I could remember who) pointed out to me that it isn’t “a new low” – it’s an old bad low that we never really left behind.
The Democrats are right: it’s reprehensible, sinful, evil.
The Republicans are right: similar things happened under the Obama Administration too. In fact, it has a long history, going all the way back to the earliest days in our republic. This does not justify the current policy. Given that we know about the horrific damage such separation does to children and parents, and we should be even more anxious to avoid it at all costs.
Human beings are human beings are human beings. I could stretch that tautology out to the stars, and it would not change. Human beings are not “animals,” and they are not “vermin.”
Jewish tradition teaches us that each human being is created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27.) We may argue about who or what God is, but the message remains the same: all human beings share some essential, precious quality that must be treated with respect.
Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to any person. That is the whole Torah; the rest is its interpretation. Go and study.” (Shabbat 31a)
When we treat other human beings as if they are lesser than ourselves, we sin.
I can hear the “Yes, but…’s” crowding into the minds of my readers. Yes, there are people that threaten our well being, maybe even our safety. And yes, we have a teaching that says that if a rodef (pursuer) is trying to kill me, I can and perhaps should defend myself with enough force to kill them. (Sanhedrin 73a)
None of that suggests that I should see that threatening person as any less than human. I am allowed to defend myself. I am not allowed to describe another person as subhuman, no matter how badly they behave. I am certainly not allowed to treat innocent little children with cruelty, even the children of people who behave badly.
Name-calling is serious business. It is even more serious when a government adopts de-humanizing language. History shows us that we can draw a direct line between that language and atrocity. From the beginning, Europeans justified the enslavement of Africans by attributing a subhuman nature to them. The genocide of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and disabled people in the Holocaust of the 1940’s began with official descriptions of those groups of human beings as subhuman. Nazis called Jews “rats.” In the Rwanda genocide, Hutus called Tutsis “cockroaches.” In American history, the genocide of Native Americans was justified by calling them “savages” and “animals.”
The shifts in language made the behavior that followed easier. Therefore it is critical that we pay attention to language that implies that any group of people is subhuman.
To return to the situation at hand, we have already reached the point of a language shift. Judging from the polls, a significant portion of our populace has no problem with the President’s use of the language “animals” for groups of Hispanic immigrants. We have the inhumane history of slavery and Jim Crow. We have the inhumane, illogical rationalization of Japanese American internment with General Order 9066.
It is time for a change in our national attitude about who gets to be a human being. Jefferson wrote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We all know, of course, that he was inconsistent. Jefferson enslaved human beings. But still he left this ideal for us. I believe the promise of these lines is still in our future.
What can we do in the face of the separation of little children from their parents at the U.S. Border?
- First and foremost, we can become more conscious of our own use of language. Language that denies the humanity of another person is dangerous. Better to avoid any language that de-humanizes others, especially if I am going to have credibility in arguing against that use of language by anyone else.
- We can object when we hear de-humanizing language from the people with whom we usually agree. In this polarized climate, people on the other end of the spectrum are unlikely to hear anything I say, but I can make a difference with those who see me as an ally. I can stop accepting de-humanizing language from anyone.
- We can vote and we can encourage others to vote. We are in primary season now. Are you registered? Is everyone you know registered? On voting day, does everyone in your part of town have a way to vote? Organizations like the League of Women Voters need our support in getting out everyone’s vote.
- We can support the ACLU in its efforts to stop the separation of parents and children at the border.
- We can write letters to the editor, op eds, and facebook posts. Remember to defuse counter arguments within your text: the fact that this has been done by previous administrations does not excuse or justify the inhumane treatment of little children.
Do you have ideas for action? I’d love to hear them in the Comments.
5/27/18: Slow Lorist made a suggestion so good that I am moving it up into the text (but watch Comments for more good suggestions!):
Image: A baby goat. Photo by ChristianGeorg.
Sometimes it’s time for an update on an old tradition. I repost this because (1) Rabbi Fuchs wrote a swell update to an old seder favorite and (2) he models the way to respond to a reasonable request. So often we are tempted to get defensive when someone points out the flaws in a beloved tradition. Rabbi Fuchs demonstrates a better way. Enjoy!
Since I was a child, Chad Gadya has been one of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder. Its catchy melody and its underlying message always resonated with me.
Singing the song was such fun as we outdid each other to remember the words and sing them as quickly as possible until we came to the refrain, Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, My father bought for two zuzim, Chad Gadya, Chad, Gadya.
The people of Israel were the Chad Gadya, Aramaic for the innocent little goat, devoured successively by one power after another. The ultimate hope of course is that one day the Eternal one would destroy “the Angel of Death” and the human propensity for conquest and violence. Israel would live in peace and harmony with her neighbors, and all would be right with the world.
For those unfamiliar with it the lyrics are:
Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, (An…
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Image: Andrew Hatch poses for a photograph with his daughter Delane Sims, left, and granddaughter SherriAnn Cole, at his Oakland, Calif. home, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)
Imagine a life that crosses three centuries: born in 1898 and living into the 21st century. That was Mr. Andrew Hatch, who died this past Monday in Oakland, CA at age 117. He was believed to be the oldest man alive at the time.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Hatch one day, when I visited his daughter’s home to work on a grant proposal. Delane Sims was multitasking the whole time I was there, brainstorming with me, checking in on her dad, and coordinating with the people who helped with his care.
His bed was set up in the sunny living room, a center of quiet attention in the house. I watched as Delane and her husband Jerry check in with him: “Daddy, you comfortable?” “Oh yeah.” His voice was musical, communicating as much with tone as with words.
There’s a concept in Judaism, shalom bayit, which translates to “peace of the home.” I could feel the shalom bayit in the Sims residence, a gentle loving quality to every interaction. It was clear, too, that it came from everyone there: from Delane, and Jerry, and from Mr. Hatch himself. He had devoted himself to the daughter he had at age 60, and the love shining back and forth between the two of them was beautiful.
That love cascades from their home to the world outside as well. Jerry Sims is a retired engineer, who now drives a school bus for elementary school kids. His face glowed when he talked to me about it. I’ve written before about Delane’s Natural Nail Care, where Delane turns her cosmetology training and a B.A. from Cal Berkeley to running a nail business where health and ethical working conditions are the focus. It’s a place of healing and light (click on the links to learn more.)
All this love emanates from a man who was born in Louisiana in 1898, and from his heirs. Shalom bayit, indeed!
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, shekacha lo beolamo!
Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time and Space, that such as these are in your world!
(Thanks to ReformJudaism.org for the Hebrew text as well as the transliteration of this blessing.)