Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Haftorah Beam - VaYeshev

My commentary on the Torah portion for this week last year was not very inspiring.  The Haftorah, however, is much more fertile. (Hmm. perhaps, considering the sexual overtones of the Torah reading, that might not be the best word choice....)

The reading opens with a provocative accusation:

  כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ:  עַל-מִכְרָם בַּכֶּסֶף צַדִּיק, וְאֶבְיוֹן בַּעֲבוּר נַעֲלָיִם.6 Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not reverse it: because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes;

The connection to the Torah reading is the parallel to the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelite caravan by his brothers.  However,
RADAK  expands on this explanation by noting that in the context of the verse, "For three I would forgive, etc.," the meaning here is though the People of Israel violated the  three cardinal sins: sexual immorality, idol worship, and the shedding of blood, HaShem says that He would have forgiven them those sins.  But when they did "chamas,"  violence in a social context, taking violent advantage of the poor and perverting justice,  that was too much, even as it was at the time of the Generation of the Flood, where the text reads (Bereshit 6:11), "And the earth was corrupt before G-d and the earth was filled with violence."
In other words, "taking violent advantage of the poor and perverting justice" is worse than idolatry, adultery and murder, the three cardinal sins of Judaism.

The prophet Amos goes on to distinguish between the sins of other nations from the standard to which Israel is held accountable.  Chosenness comes at a price.  As the joke goes "Do You have to choose us every time?"  Jews are called upon to stand up for the downtrodden; the poor and the stranger, the orphan and the widow. Indeed, Tikkun Olam has a longstanding tradition in Judaism.  In every generation, even long after "official" prophesy had ceased to be recognized, there have been those to rebuke the nation, proclaiming,

ז  כִּי לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, דָּבָר, כִּי אִם-גָּלָה סוֹדוֹ, אֶל-עֲבָדָיו הַנְּבִיאִים.7 For the Lord G*D will do nothing, but He revealeth His counsel unto His servants the prophets.
ח  אַרְיֵה שָׁאָג, מִי לֹא יִירָא; אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה דִּבֶּר, מִי לֹא יִנָּבֵא.8 The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord G*D hath spoken, who can but prophesy?

G*d does not act directly in the world -- without people taking action, the downtrodden will remain in their misery.  It is up to us to hear the lion roar. And once we have heard, "who can but prophesy?"

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Power of Patience

I meant to post this last month but never got around to putting it together.  The inspiration came from an article in Harvard Magazine (which I get because I got my Ed.M. there 10 years ago...).  This article was written by an art professor about the value of taking time to appreciate a work of art.

During the past few years, I have begun to feel that I need to take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences of the students in my courses; that in the process of designing a syllabus I need not only to select readings, choose topics, and organize the sequence of material, but also to engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences. When will students work quickly? When slowly? When will they be expected to offer spontaneous responses, and when will they be expected to spend time in deeper contemplation?

I want to focus today on the slow end of this tempo spectrum, on creating opportunities for students to engage in deceleration, patience, and immersive attention. I would argue that these are the kind of practices that now most need to be actively engineered by faculty, because they simply are no longer available “in nature,” as it were. Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.
How did the professor approach this task?

Say a student wanted to explore the work popularly known as Boy with a Squirrel, painted in Boston in 1765 by the young artist John Singleton Copley. Before doing any research in books or online, the student would first be expected to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it hangs, and spend three full hours looking at the painting, noting down his or her evolving observations as well as the questions and speculations that arise from those observations. The time span is explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise is the museum or archive setting, which removes the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.

At first many of the students resist being subjected to such a remedial exercise. How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of incident and information on this small surface? How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of things to see and think about in a single work of art? But after doing the assignment, students repeatedly tell me that they have been astonished by the potentials this process unlocked.
In a way, this echoed for me what I have read in many blogs about parenting a child with T21.  The slower development gives time for each milestone to be anticipated, relished, and savored.

Photograph ©2013 Museum of Fine Arts,
John Singleton Copley’s A Boy with a Flying Squirrel, 1765
It took me nine minutes to notice that the shape of the boy’s ear precisely echoes that of the ruff along the squirrel’s belly—and that Copley was making some kind of connection between the animal and the human body and the sensory capacities of each. It was 21 minutes before I registered the fact that the fingers holding the chain exactly span the diameter of the water glass beneath them. It took a good 45 minutes before I realized that the seemingly random folds and wrinkles in the background curtain are actually perfect copies of the shapes of the boy’s ear and eye, as if Copley had imagined those sensory organs distributing or imprinting themselves on the surface behind him. And so on.
Perhaps the "Developmental Delay" which so scares prospective and new parents of children with T21 is not a defect, but an opportunity.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Haftorah Beam - VaYishlach

Hmm.  Last year I was behind with Torah Connection, and this this year I am behind with Haftorah Beam for the same parsha.....

Unlike the Torah reading, which shows Esau's humanity alongside the fraternal struggle (and even his inner divine spark), the Haftorah reading focuses on the enmity between the descendants of the 2 brothers, which leaves little room for reconciliation:

17 But on Zion's mount a remnant shall survive,
And it shall be holy.
The House of Jacob shall dispossess
Those who dispossessed them.
18 The House of Jacob shall be fire,
And the House of Joseph flame,
And the House of Esau shall be straw;
They shall burn it and devour it,
And no survivor shall be left of the House of Esau
                      —for the Lord has spoken.
And it shall be holy.The House of Jacob shall dispossessThose who dispossessed them.18 The House of Jacob shall be fire,And the House of Joseph flame,And the House of Esau shall be straw;They shall burn it and devour it,And no survivor shall be left of the House of Esau                      —for the Lord has spoken.
 Not a happy note, but wait till next week's reading....

November is Adoption Awareness Month

A great blog post, interviewing 7 different adoptive moms.  Some from domestic foster care, some from overseas orphanages;  some at birth, some older; some with special needs, others just with an intense need for a loving family.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


There is a stereotype in some of the popular literature of the adopted "monster child".  The child who becomes violent and destructive and destroys the family which has taken him/her in.  The child who seemed so innocent and lovable, but turned out to be a psychopath.

-But what if, what if, what if you adopt a kid and he turns out to be a big, RAD, monster kid?  What if he screams and tantrums and poops on the floor and hits me and the other kids and destroys our life?  What are we going to do? What are we going to do?

This stereotype is based on the experience of parents with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Adopted children have invariably gone through some kind of trauma -- or they would still be with their birth parents!  They need great stability in order to heal from this trauma.  In the process, they do much more testing of their parents than bio-kids -- who certainly do their share of parent-testing!  The more abuse, neglect, disrupted placements and other trauma these children have gone through, the harder it is for them to trust and attach.  This does not make them monsters.  It makes them hurt kids.  Parents need to be cognizant of their needs in order to address them.  Younger children in the home (if any) need to be protected.  Parents need to be psychologically prepared for the extreme testing and not take it personally.  This is all very hard.  But they are still just hurt children.  Just as if they were suffering from a physical injury and we would patiently help them regain function, so do RAD children suffer from emotional injury which requires lots and lots of patience and hard work to regain the emotional competency that most people take for granted.

-Monster kids are not real, so you shouldn't be afraid of them. But even if he does turn out to be a big, RAD monster kid, maybe he wouldn't destroy our life.  Maybe we would protect him and the other kids from his scary and scared feelings, and give him the kind of stability that he needs so badly, so that he would have the space to learn to give and receive love.
-Are you sure?
-Yes, I'm sure.

(adapted from Pookie and Tushka Find a Little Piano)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Who I Run 4

How exciting! A runner named Tim Boyle started this matching site (http://www.whoirun4.com) to connect people who like to run with people with disabilities and/or medical needs. They cheer each other on and share in their struggles and successes. I signed up about a month ago (http://matir-asurim.blogspot.com/2013/10/31-4-21-this-and-that.html) and I am still several weeks away from being matched.  But I keep seeing people that I know from the online disability community getting matched.  Will I be matched with someone I recognize?  Perhaps maybe with someone I actually already know IRL?  Or will it be someone new, a new connection to make?

Thursday, November 14, 2013


There is a stir in the Autism community.  One of the largest "Autism Advocacy" organizations, Autism Speaks, finds itself at odds with a large segment of the very community it purports to represent.  Countless autistics proclaim,

One of the main complaints about Autism Speaks is that it fails to actually include autistics in its leadership.  Much of the research and programs which it sponsors is informed by the perspectives of parents, teachers, and others in society.  For example, it is affiliated with the Judge Rotenberg Center, which has used questionable treatments (some would say torture) on autistics in an attempt to "cure" them.

Why is this happening now?

There seems to be a critical mass of adult autistics who have found ways to communicate, and are now advocating for themselves, where before it was left to parents, teachers, etc. to guess at their needs.  They report eloquently about the counterproductive and downright harmful practices to which they had been subjected.  Long assumed to be "lost in their own world", "lacking in empathy", or "mentally ret@rded", these self-advocates clarify that they are largely suffering from a sensory input overload.  They avoid eye contact, not because they are unable to connect with the other, but because such contact is unbearably intense. They self-stimulate (stim), sometimes to the point of injury, not because they are insensitive to the input, but in an attempt to deaden the overload to a manageable level.  Therapies which force them to maintain eye contact and keep "quiet hands" are therefore both emotionally abusive and undermine the subjects' coping mechanisms.

Of course, many autistics have not reached this point, and are still relying on others to speak for them.  And these others may or may not have the tools to facilitate this kind of development.  They may be relying on outdated information, or even desperately grasping for quack cures.  In spite of their best intentions and love for their autistic child, they unwittingly become part of the problem.

It seems as though autism is going through a similar evolution as Down syndrome and other disabilities.  Rather than a problem that we should want to disappear, it is an opportunity to understand another dimension of our own humanity.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Haftorah Beam - Vayetzei

I think I did a really good job on this Torah portion last year -- please go back and read it!

The Haftorah portion has 2 different readings (from Hosea) for the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, but they overlap for 2 verses:
13 Then Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram;
There Israel served for a wife
For a wife he had to guard [sheep].
14 But when the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt,
It was through a prophet;
Through a prophet they were guarded.
Strange parallel!

  • In verse 13, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) is fleeing from the land, while in verse 14 the people of Israel are returning to the land.  
  • In verse 13, Jacob/Israel is guarding sheep, while in verse 14 the people of Israel are themselves guarded.
  • That leaves the wife (Rachel) for whom Jacob guarded sheep in verse 13, and the prophet (Moses) who shepherded the Israelites in verse 14.  Neither of them is explicitly named in this passage.
I have spent a whole week agonizing over this.  I feel there has to be something there, but I am not identifying it. Maybe one of my 3 readers will help?

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