Monday, November 28, 2011

Medical issues

I haven't posted for a while, as my husband has been dealing with a serious medical issue for the past month. I may be able to reflect on it a bit more once it resolves, but right now it's just nerve-wracking and I'm trying to focus on helping him recover and doing the extra work that needs to be done.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Disturbing view of child abuse

I understand that we are dealing with people who are terrified of the consequences of misbehavior with their children, since they see prison or death as realistic outcomes. They want to do what it takes to change that.

What I don't understand or accept is the methods used. What evidence is there that beating your child, putting him down and basically torturing him will turn him into a good kid and strong student? Absolutely none. They'd be better off using their energy to say, "what works for other groups?" and "what factors are not working for us?".

Yes, I know that all children are different and come with their own challenges. At the same time - I'm a lawyer, my husband is a doctor, his brothers are both doctors, and we went to school with tons of professionals and very few criminals, so I think we've seen what works. Our parents weren't doctors or lawyers, and my in-laws were immigrants with English as their 3rd language and just high school education. We also have kids who do well in school and get great conduct marks. We don't use corporal punishment, foul language or put-downs, and treat our kids with respect.

Aside from dealing with institutional racism, some tried and true methods for success include:

1. Strong role models of decency and success.
2. For boys in particular, strong male role models with positive morals.
3. Raising kids with the constant message that you EXPECT them to do good, and do well. It's not just semantics - there is a real difference between hearing "when you go to university, are you going to study law or medicine?" vs. "if you keep this up (at age 7), you'll land your ass in prison and may end up dead". From personal experience, I can tell you that law schools and med schools are filled with students who were told from birth that they were destined to become professionals.
4. Parents need to be the sort of people that they want their children to become.
5. Parents need to have a rock-solid relationship with their children, so that their children will WANT to follow in their footsteps.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Interesting study on distinctiveness of Jewish attitudes in America

The study's findings, for the most part, weren't exactly a huge surprise for me. Seeing it organized in this way, however, prompted an "Aha!" moment.

It's becoming common in Orthodox Jewish circles to dismiss liberal values (such as equality and commitment to civil rights) held by non-Orthodox Jews as simply another symptom of their assimilation into the outside secular society. The image used is one of poor lost Jewish souls, adrift from their spiritual heritage, who didn't know any better and got led astray by the non-Jewish world.

I could give lots of examples of this thinking, but this blog post is a good illustration.

What the data shows, however, is that embracing liberal values is NOT something that American Jews do in order to assimilate into the mainstream. To the contrary, these values - while they may not be the current values of right-wing Orthodoxy - are actually a distinctive feature of the Jewish community in general. Ironically, the social values of right-wing Orthodoxy are actually a step closer to those of non-Jewish Americans.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bad internet parenting advice

I wish this was a joke. It's not.

Did I ever mention that my first child protection trial involved a baby who suffered broken ribs when the car was struck IN A PARKING LOT?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cute kid-ism with a Biblical reference

2 years ago, I mentioned to my kids that the Dead Sea Scrolls special exhibit would be coming to a museum near us in the fall.

Before we went to the exhibit, we took a family trip to Israel. While there, we went for a hike in the Ein Gedi nature reserve, located near the shore of the Dead Sea. Along the trail, we noticed numerous rock hyraxes, on trees and rocks.

So, what did my then-6 year old daughter say?

"Look, Mommy! It's the Dead Sea Squirrels!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

New proposal for integrating faith-based schools into the public system

I've been trying to design a framework for integrating faith-based school with the public system, in a way that meets the goals and values of each. I call these "surround school" concepts, since the faith-based program "surrounds" the public school component.

Here are possible models:

Model 1 - Integrating existing faith-based schools:

The public school board would lease space from the existing faith-based school, and use it to run a public school program within the facility.

The schedules of the public and faith-based schools will be coordinated, so that students will attend one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and will have the same holidays.

Existing general studies teachers who meet the basic requirements for the public system will be absorbed by the public system.

While there is coordination, the public school will be a separate legal entity, subject to the policies of the public school board. The faith-based school will have no control over admissions, dress code or curriculum. There will be a parent advisory council, who may address cultural and religious issues (like explaining why students may wish to avoid Halloween, for example), but final decisions on curriculum will be made by the public school board.

All of the religious activity and instruction would take place in those parts of the facility that are not leased by the public school.


Public school leases one side of the school.

Students may arrive at school for an early prayer service, then proceed to the public school side in time for morning classes. The lunch room will be on the faith-based side, while the gym, art and music areas will be on the public side. After lunch, the morning students proceed to the faith-based classes, while the other half of the students file into the public school side for their general studies classes. After those classes, students may go back to the faith-based side for more prayers or other after-school programming.

If a child in the area doesn't want the faith-based programming, they can simply attend the public school program. The hours may be a bit different, but the curriculum is essentially the same.

Model 2 - for new faith-based school programs:

There would be a facility, used by the public school to run its program. The school and its program would be designed so that special groups, including faith-based groups, could lease space for their programs before, after and even during lunch break of the public school program.

Again, there would be coordination of schedules and school calendar, and a parent advisory council, but the public school would retain control of admissions, basic policies and curriculum.

In addition - more than one faith could be operating in conjunction with a given public school, so students would have an opportunity to learn with those of different faiths.

Some of these schools may be single-gender, as long as a similar school for the other gender is located nearby.

The public school part of the curriculum may include language instruction.


Faith-based students may arrive early, and go to prayer services in rooms leased for their particular faith - Jewish in room 101, Muslim in room 102, Hindu in room 103, Christian in room 104, etc. After that, the public school program would begin. If the schedule allows it to run in 2 shifts, faith-based programs can operate in their leased spaces at the same time so that student can do one in the morning, one in the afternoon.


1. Makes the public system more inclusive, by accommodating religious needs.
2. Reduces inequality (where I live, only the Catholic system receives public funding)
3. Reduces extreme financial burden of religious education for those communities.
4. Ensures that basic public curriculum is taught.
5. Public funding does not go to any program that is not open to all members of the public, nor to pay for religious content.
6. Preserves the ease of scheduling that makes parents choose religious day schools over public school plus supplemental education.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Advice on future responses to internet idiocy

Warning: language

Thanks Jill!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Problems in the Agudath position on abuse reporting

Here is the latest statement by Agudath Israel on reporting suspicions of child abuse.

In a nutshell, it says "yes, child abuse is bad and you may really need to report it - but you can't do so unless you speak to a rabbi first".

Here's my list of what's wrong with that position, written from my perspective as a family and child protection lawyer who has worked for a child protection agency and also worked with victims of abuse and parents accused of abuse.

1. HUGE potential for conflict-of-interest, at best, and cover-up of abuse at worst. Unfortunately, there have been cases of abuse by rabbis or teachers, where nobody did anything to stop the abuser.

I have to wonder whether these people are completely unaware of everything that has been happening in the rest of the world for the past 20 years when it comes to abuse awareness, particularly sexual abuse. Do they not know about the crisis in the Catholic Church, or about the multi-million dollar claims against religious organizations that ran orphanages and residential schools?

2. Nobody has identified who these expert rabbis may be, or what qualifications they have.

3. Assumes that followers are incapable of using their own brains to be able to know when there are clear-cut indications of abuse. The Agudath Israel could have just as easily said, "We have been in contact with child protection officials, and here are some guidelines as to when there would be an obligation to report".

4. There's no indication that they recognize just what child protection workers do, or just how important it is to make reports without delay. I really can't stress this enough. Child protection workers don't simply swoop in and take children just on the basis of a phone call from someone saying, "I think that child X is being abused". The phone call merely alerts them to potential problems and gets them to investigate whether or not there is in fact a reason to get involved. Now, in order to properly investigate, the concern needs to be reported ASAP to child protection officials - before physical evidence disappears, before a young child forgets what they have said, before too many people have spoken to the child. Any evidence really needs to be as fresh as possible.

5. Asking a rabbi first can easily lead to tainting or tampering with the evidence, especially if they speak to the child before police or child protection officials do. Again, it is vitally important for child protection officials to know EXACTLY what a child has said, to whom they have said it, and when they said it. Anything said to or asked of the child can make a difference.

6. Creates a suspicion that any religious Jewish professional or organization may not comply with mandated reporting requirements. This could in turn mean that child protection organizations won't be able to work with these people or organizations.

For example, where I live, Jewish Family and Child Services is licensed to act as a child protection agency. This means that a Jewish child is more likely to have a Jewish social worker, to receive services in Hebrew if needed, to be placed in a Jewish foster home, and to generally get religiously and culturally-appropriate services. I can't stress how important this is for Jewish families. I've handled cases where Portuguese clients were able to get Portuguese social workers, Portuguese counselling, and Portuguese foster homes, and it was wonderful because language, religious and cultural issues never became a problem. On the other hand, I've had cases where I had to explain why the Jehovah's Witness child couldn't celebrate Halloween, and why the Hindu child shouldn't be fed beef in the foster home, and dealt with suspicions of racism by Native parents, and even dealt with a social worker who told me with a straight face that my illiterate Somali client who spoke no English had just signed away her legal rights without needing to speak to a lawyer. In short, Jewish families and child benefit from Jewish services - but not if there are concerns that abuse won't be reported as required by law.

7. Eliminates potential safeguards for Jewish children, and puts the decision into the hands of just a few: With the mandatory reporting system, there are many people who may potentially report a concern - teachers, daycare workers, doctors, nurses, counselors, etc. Agudath's position would take these diverse potential sources of reporting, and force them to go through just a few gatekeepers. This is an enormous concentration of power, with tremendous potential for harm if mistakes are made.

8. It doesn't acknowledge problems that have occurred with a "culture of silence", aside from a simple statement that in obvious cases, abuse should be reported. Far more self-reflection is needed, far more education on the effects and dynamics of abuse (particularly sexual abuse) is required.

It doesn't talk about conversations that parents need to have with children about abuse prevention.

It doesn't talk about awareness programs for students and staff in schools.

It doesn't talk about making sure that students know which adults they can tell if there are problems.

It doesn't talk about methods to ensure that a potential abuser is not allowed around children pending an investigation.

It doesn't talk about ways of overcoming reluctance to report in a small, insular community.

It doesn't talk about removing old administrators who may have swept problems under the rug.

It doesn't talk about what needs to be done to ensure that victims are not re-victimized and that their families are not terrorized.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

World perspective of my 8-year-old

I often get this feeling during a debate where I want to yell "don't you know..." or "don't you remember", and then stop myself as I realize that no, they don't know what I know, and/or they are too young to remember what I do.

My 8-year-old said a couple of things that drove home to me just how much her view of the world can be different than mine. She's a very bright girl - but she's only 8.

Those 2 things were:

"Mommy, what's are Jesus?", and "What's 9/11?".

Now, when I was her age, I was going to a public school where most of the kids were Christian, and as an adult I live in an extremely multicultural world. Our Jewish neighbourhood is just one part of my life. I like the fact that my kids have a strong identity and are able to feel "normal" instead of constantly feeling like a minority - but I forget sometimes just how different their upbringing is from what mine was, and just how much they are living in a Jewish bubble. Until she attended a camp on the Italian side of town last summer, she had never heard of Jesus. She wasn't actually aware that Jesus was a person - she just assumed that it was the plural form of jeez, and has no idea what that was.

The second question floored me even more. We were in New York last winter, and went to Ground Zero. My older daughter knew all about 9/11. She had been a toddler when it happened, and it's part of her earliest memories. Kids at daycare and school talked about it, and she saw us watching footage on TV. My 8-year-old, though, is 3 years younger, and was born 13 months after the attacks. Even though it was still all around us, from our books to conversations, she was in her little-kid world and never clued in, preferring endless Disney programs to CNN. It never occurred to me, however, that she DIDN'T know about it until she asked me that question.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A simple comment and a great lady

4 years ago, we were going through a stressful time. We had a big move and renovation. In the middle of all of that chaos, several people close to us tragically died. With all of that, plus some negative experiences on a religious internet forum, I was experiencing a bit of a spiritual crisis.

In the middle of it all, one simple comment from a new neighbour made a difference.

We had been invited for lunch since we had just moved in, and we got to know each other. They mentioned that their child had gone to a school for kids with special needs when she was younger. I mentioned that my sister's mother-in-law had been the principal, and then informed them that she had just passed away that week.

They were shocked and saddened, and told us she must have gone straight to G-d in heaven because of all the great work she did.

THAT was the comment that moved me, simple as it was. You see, by some standards, my sister's mother-in-law would not have been considered "frum" (religiously observant), and I was worn out by online discussions blasting those who weren't maintaining the latest rules, and other fanatic remarks. I was also worn out by the casual disrespect that I often saw, where people would say that a non-frum person kept "nothing".

This family saw beyond that. They saw a lady who obviously recognized the holiness of every child's soul, regardless of that child's abilities, and who had dedicated her life to these children.

A great lady passed away 4 years ago, and we know that she went straight to heaven.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oh, the irony....

Original post

The links would all make good examples for a course in logical fallacies, but let's assume for a moment that this blogger truly believes in these reasons. Apparently, we need the government to protect heterosexual marriage in order to create peace between the two genders, because otherwise adults would behave like my 7-year-old and 8-year-old and only hang out with their own genders, thus increasing gender separatism and friction. Good to know.

This blogger then proves that he's committed to improving relations between men and women by posting charming stuff like this

So, what's the only thing more persuasive than a childless man arguing that the government should be able to ban abortion because it has nothing to do with a pregnant woman's body? It's having a single, childless man, who lives with his parents, watches Stargate, resents Shabbat because it would cut into his ability to play on the computer 24/7, and enjoys saying things like "go back to your kitchen, you dumb bitch" defend traditional heterosexual marriage as being necessary for good relations between the sexes, and needing government protection from lifestyles that threaten it.

So - should the government ban boorish and sexist behavior? What about being a geek?

Personally, if politicians see a need to strengthen traditional marriage, I'd suggest:

1. Not impregnating the housekeeper, especially the same week that you impregnate your wife.

2. Not impregnating your mistress while your wife is dying of cancer.

3. Not going to washroom stalls with boys if you are married.

4. Not flying to your mistress in South America.

5. Get serious about requiring some sort of premarital counseling before marriage, making family life education and interpersonal skills an integral part of the high school curriculum, and making sure that access to good quality marital counseling is available regardless of income.

More "fetal rights" nonsense

I got mad reading more ideological nonsense about how fetus' require protection because they are so "separate" from the mother. From here.

Of course, it has nothing to do with a woman's body. The fetus is simply growing in some random incubator, right? Because the placenta isn't attached to anything and isn't drawing nutrients from anyone's blood, and the uterus doesn't belong to anyone, and nobody's blood volume needs to increase to deal with the pregnancy, and nobody's bladder and bowels are affected, and nobody's lungs and stomach are affected by a distended uterus, and an increase in fluid doesn't cause anyone's extremities to swell, and nobody suffers from potentially fatal increases in blood pressure call pre-eclampsia, and nobody's heart needs to work harder to pump blood, and nobody needs to forego the medications needed to treat serious conditions like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis because they are known to cause birth defects, and nobody ever has vomiting so severe that they need to be hospitalized, and nobody has ever had spinal anesthetic for a c-section immobilize their diaphragm and cause breathing difficulties, and nobody has ever had urinary or bowel incontinence after delivery, and nobody has ever developed a fistula, and nobody has ever had their uterus literally rip open (uterine rupture) during a delivery, and nobody has ever had the anesthesia wear off in the middle of a c-section, and nobody has ever had a c-section incision that kept bleeding for a month after the birth, and nobody has ever had a potentially fatal hemorrhage following delivery, and nobody has ever had a serious infection following either vaginal or c-section delivery, and nobody has ever had a violent partner beat them during pregnancy and specifically target the abdomen, and no one has ever had difficulty landing a job while pregnant....

Now, before anyone screams that I must hate babies and pregnancy, check my profile: I (unlike the other blogger in question) have 3 kids, all very wanted and loved. My point, yet again, is to point out just how insane it is to think that we can advocate for babies without having any regard for mothers. It's a package deal. Support women. Make sure that they can feed and house themselves and their children. Make sure that decent nutrition is available. Make sure that good health care is available. Don't beat pregnant women. Make sure that any woman facing domestic violence has a viable, safe way out. Do the research necessary to ensure that safe medications exist for use during pregnancy. Make sure that there is really good birth control information and access, so that pregnancies are wanted in the first place. Make high-risk OB care available for women facing serious medical issues while pregnant. Make sure that pregnant women have adequate job protection. Reach out to those that are marginalized, living on the streets and/or engaging in substance abuse, and offer them the help they need. Above all - make them feel valued.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Are Sports a Substitute for Religion?

And do crazy violent hockey and soccer fans who go rioting maybe show that religion per se isn't necessarily the cause of violence, but that some people have a tendency toward mob violence that is just looking for an outlet?

Vancouver riot:

To paraphrase Sartre, if religion wouldn't exist, would violent a-holes just find a substitute cause?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Farhud" pogrom against Iraqi Jews 70 years ago

This article describes what happened to the 2,400 year old Iraqi Jewish community in 1941.

I'm familiar with the story from my husband's family, since they are Iraqi Jews. Outside of that community, though, it is amazing how many people think that the Holocaust and Nazism didn't affect non-Ashkenazi Jews, or fail to recognize the experience of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands after the 1948 War of Independence between Israel and Eygypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

The article's description of the Iraqi Jewish community fits with what I've seen. It was a tremendously accomplished community, deeply involved in commerce, government and the professions. We heard the stories from my husband's grandmother about the grand family residence they used to have, and how everything had to be left behind and was lost when they fled to Israel, and found themselves living in vast and chaotic muddy transit camps set up by the new state for the refugees.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A little rant about language and use of "pro-life"

A post mentions that Indiana is posed to become "the most pro-life state".


I'm not sure how interfering in the doctor-patient relationship to the point that politicians instead of people with medical degrees decide what "facts" are given to women really affirms the value of life.

I'm also not sure how denying poor women the ability to access resources for safer sex and birth control affirms the value of life either.

Is Indiana making a concerted effort to improve comprehensive sex education using methods that have been proven to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies?

Are they giving real options to women who are considering abortion? Are they improving resources for women experiencing domestic violence? Are they improving economic assistance to pregnant women with serious financial difficulties? Are they improving job protection for pregnant workers or giving better parental leave? Are they improving the quality and accessibility of prenatal care and providing a variety of birth options? Are they ensuring that parents facing a prenatal diagnosis of a condition like Down Syndrome will be able to know that their child's medical and social needs will be looked after for life?

This report card on pregnancy and parental leave provisions gave the state of Indiana a D-.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

For a break: cool Passover video

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Debating class for angry misogynists

After 11 years online, I got my first f-bomb. Read all about it here.

Mandatory school lunches and nutrition promotion

This article discusses how a Chicago school has banned lunches from home, except for students with medical issues. It's also discussed here.

A few thoughts come to mind:

1. I guess they don't have any Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Jain or vegetarian students, since there is no mention of exceptions for religious or moral reasons.

2. I understand some restrictions on food from home. My kids have gone to schools and camps that either limit food from home in some way (no peanuts, no nuts, no [insert other allergen], kosher food only, no meat), or have a "no outside food allowed" policy. In those cases, though, we were dealing with private institutions, not public schools, and the "no outside food" places had a logical reason for the policy (namely, that they had to be careful of food allergies and needed to maintain a strictly kosher facility when not of the kids came from families that kept strictly kosher).

3. From a public health perspective, this is totally counter-productive. Not only does the food on the tray look gross, but there doesn't seem to be any educational component. Kids aren't learning to make healthy choices - they are learning that lunch gets provided so you don't need to think about it. Wouldn't it make more sense to educate kids about what a healthy lunch from home looks like, and put some real effort into teaching families as well? You can prepare healthy food at home for less than $2.25 per meal, and the kids would develop healthy habits for life. Teachers can give out stickers for kids who bring fruit and veggies for snacks, and families in need can be given free or subsidized fresh foods.

The Yahoo article mentions that 85% of the kids come from families living near or below the poverty line and that the poor kids have higher rates of obesity - but the policy is defended on the basis that kids would bring Coke and chips from home. Either this doesn't make sense, or there are far larger issues at work. Why would a child who is eligible for a free or highly subsidized school lunch take food from home? Why would a family that is struggling to pay for basic needs be spending money on Coke?

How much of the problems that people have with keeping a healthy diet is related to lack of knowledge and skills? In other words - how many people simply don't know how to make quick, economical and healthy meals for themselves, and feel that they have to rely on junk instead? What would happen if people had simple and basic training in nutrition and easy-to-make meals? It seems to be that there is tons of marketing by the food industry telling us that fast food and highly processed foods are quick and convenient, and there is also marketing from the "Martha Stewart and organic" sector, which makes it seem that cooking is all about gourmet kitchens and difficult recipes, and that healthy eating is all about super-expensive and exotic organic specialty foods.

I wrote here about my personal new "fast foods", like eggs/egg whites and healthy boxed soups. Here are some other ideas that I used when I was a broke newlywed working insane hours:

1. Canned diced tomatoes

Dirt cheap ($.88 on sale) and nutritious, it's easily transformed into a base for stew, soup, curries, pasta, chili, etc.

2. Canned beans

Throw chick peas into a mini-chopper ($10, you don't need a full-size food processor) with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and some spices, and you have instant hummus - great as a veggie dip or sandwich filling. Do the same with black beans with some sundried tomatoes and extra hot pepper.

3. Slow cooker

I bought my little slow cooker for $12, and it makes cheap stuff taste great with almost no effort. Instead of a busy mom microwaving crap, how about a commercial with someone throwing in a can of diced tomatoes, can of black beans, scoop of whole wheat cousous, some sundried tomatoes, a chopped onion and some cumin and cayenne into a crock pot in less than 5 min in the morning, and coming home to find a hot, yummy soup ready to eat and filled with nutrition? Or showing how throwing a package of cheap stewing beef, a chopped onion, a handful of baby carrots, some chick peas, a splash of cooking wine, some spices and a drained can of tomatoes into a crock pot on Friday evening gets you an awesome hot beef stew for lunch on Saturday? As an added bonus, leftovers go in the fridge or freezer for convenient lunches.

4. Rice cooker

A basic model is also around $12, and it makes effortless, idiot-proof rice and grains. White rice has minimal nutrition, but the same technique works for quinoa, brown rice and other grains. Makes a good base for whatever you've cooked in the slow cooker with your canned tomatoes and beans.

5. Ice water

Yes, you can drink plain tap water, especially if it's cold. Add some lemon for a bit of extra flavor. A while back, I did an impromptu label reading-and-math lesson with the kids, and we figured out that the amount of sugar in just one cup of Coke was equal to 92 chocolate chips.

6. Frozen fruit smoothies

Fresh can go bad, but frozen fruit (as low as $3/bag on sale) is nutritious and effortless and makes a quick morning smoothie with protein powder.

7. Pre-made pancake mixes

On a Sunday, we measure whole-grain flour, oats and baking powder into labelled containers. Then, when the kids want pancakes, we don't end up with flour all over the kitchen, because I can dump the mix into the blender with eggs and milk, and have awesome homemade pancakes. Since they have a hot, fried treat, they don't notice that it's dirt cheap to make, or that they are eating whole grains and no crap.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My approach Sex Ed with my kids

Two easy steps:

1. See what they do in the United States - particularly the more conservative states.
2. Do the opposite.

I was thinking about this tonight while watching TLC, which had a program comparing American abstinence-only education with the approach taking in the Netherlands.

This article also describes the divide within the U.S., and the way that abstinence -only education doesn't seem to make anything delay sex but does seem to make teens less likely to approach it with any sort of responsibility.

Now, I've argued that there are examples of effective abstinence-only education - but they don't come from American public schools. You will find the abstinence approach to be fairly successful in insular, conservative religious communities, because they don't just say "don't do it", but actually gear every aspect of a teens life toward making sure that it doesn't happen. There's no dating, no social contact with the opposite sex, no TV, no movies, no unmonitored internet access, no secular music, no books depicting boy-girl relationships, and no immodest clothes. As if that weren't enough, you also have kids attending private religious schools, so the home, the school and the religious leaders are all giving the same message. Early marriage (often arranged) is encouraged. It's a total lifestyle, and it's completely at odds with the way that most teens outside of these communities live. If there's any weak link in this system, it doesn't work and kids are vulnerable.

So, back to my approach.....

First, we challenge the dominant cultural messages about sex. The kids know that sex is fine for consenting adults - preferably married ones - but that it's not ok for until you are at least 18, it's not ok if anyone is being forced and relationships must be committed, non-violent and loving. I'm not remotely scary, but we do have rules and I'm not afraid to say "this is not appropriate". I don't care if the radio plays that S&M Rihanna song non-stop or if all the other kids get to wear mini-dresses.

Second, I don't think that teaching somewhat conservative values is any reason to avoid teaching essential information. In fact, I don't shut up about it. I want my kids to have information way before they need it, to have all of the accurate information, and to know that mom and dad are more than willing to talk and answer any questions. Of course, I also know that the idea of talking to my parents would have horrified me, so they will also have the number of their family doctor and local clinics as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kiddush Cup Finals

My son's hockey team just won the Kiddush Cup (the Jewish league's answer to the Stanley Cup)!

The league allows Jewish kids to participate without having to worry about having games on Saturdays like the regular leagues. I get a kick out of the blend of Jewish and Canadian culture. The kippot and sheitels and hockey helmets. The little things, like asking if we'd have enough kids coming out to practice on Purim.

Of course, there is always the tension between teaching good sportsmanship and ahavat yisroel (love of one's fellow Jew), and really getting into the game with some fierce cheering! At this level, though, the kids are adorable. The pads seem bigger than they are, and its a challenge for them to avoid tripping over their feet. Their excitement, though, is precious, and I caught my son doing a little dance on ice to "We are the Champions".

Mazel tov!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An ode to great teachers

My son didn't have the greatest teachers last year, when he was in kindergarten. There were issues, including a mid-year replacement, and I also noticed the constant yelling at the children - particularly the boys. It became a battle in the mornings just to get my son to into the classroom.

His first days of grade one were a challenge. It quickly became clear that he couldn't really read, and in frustration he simply refused to do any work at all. My older children had never gone through anything like this, so we were at a loss.

His teacher, though, reassured us. She was concerned about the lack of work and certainly needed to address it, but didn't think that there was really anything wrong with him. She figured out that he was embarrassed about not reading well, and had chosen to give up. She arranged for the extra help that he needed, and had total confidence that he would catch up and be brilliant. Overall, she also kept the class engaged, and because of that was able to maintain discipline without getting frustrated and yelling.

It paid off. My son, who in October couldn't read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", is now reading at grade level and LOVES reading more advanced books to the class. His math is amazing, and his confidence has sky-rocketed. One of his best friends has had a similar turn-around.

What would have happened if he had a poor teacher instead - one who wouldn't have given him the attention, or had the faith in him, or simply been frustrated and seen him as a problem child? I shudder to think about it.

Thank you, Mrs. Miller!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pro-life AND pro-choice

Can someone be both?

I don't think that someone who claims to be both is necessarily confused. Life and choice are not opposites.

It's sad that so many people immediately think that this can only refer to political positions regarding laws. There is no recognition that pro-choice can also refer to giving women support and options so that they have genuine choice, and that pro-life can mean doing something practical to address the factors that cause many women to seek abortions.

As someone who is both pro-choice and pro-life, this is one organization that I'm willing to support:

I heard the founder of Efrat speak a couple of weeks ago. They don't demonstrate. They don't use scare tactics or guilt trips. They simply have social workers who process abortion referrals pass on their number to any woman who says that she wants to abortion for economic reasons. These women are offered practical assistance with baby goods, and they also have a program to provide job training with free childcare so that the mothers can lift the family out of poverty. They also have workers and volunteers to provide emotional support as well.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What can you assume about a group from the actions of its members?

This question is asked here, and it also seems to be on everyone's mind with the "Muslim Radicalization Hearing".

So...when is something just an individual action, and when does it reflect on the values of the larger group?

1. It's hard to accurately paint a very large group with the same brush. For example, you've got hundreds of millions of Christians and hundreds of millions of Muslims, they are spread all over the globe and divided into different sects which occasionally go to war against each other, so any broad generalization isn't going to be helpful.

2. It's helpful to remember that the members of a group that you may see could represent a specific small subset of the overall group. For example, the Asians that I know represent the small subset that immigrated to the Toronto area, which means that they had the money and education to do so and the willingness to live in a western culture. Even more specifically, since my husband is a doctor, the ones that we know are often doctors that he works with or that he trained with. That doesn't mean that most Asians in the world are doctors - but it does mean that there are a fair number of Asian medical students at the University of Toronto.

3. Keep in mind that some disputes between different religious groups are based on specific religious teachings, but in others, religion is no more than the "team jersey" of the group where the real issue is land, political power, etc.

4. Look at whether a particular behavior is actually linked to an explicit teaching. For example, you would likely find Quakers, Mennonites and Jehovah's Witnesses to be under-represented in armies around the world, because these religions preach that members should not fight in wars, regardless of the issues involved.

5. Look at whether someone's behavior may have been linked to the teachings of a specific sect or leader, even if contrary teachings exist within the religion as a whole. So, some groups may frown on university education even if it is common among members of the religion as a whole. You can find this with any other issue as well. For example, I happened to come across a fair number of Orthodox "crunchy moms" when I was in the process of becoming more religious, so extended breastfeeding, babywearing, gentle discipline and general attachment parenting became part of my religious identity and I had books from rabbis to back up my views. It came as a bit of a shock when I found Orthodox Jews with opposite views, and discovered that they often followed different rabbis and different teachings. You can find this with other views as well. For example, while many religions have a version of the Golden Rule or Love Thy Neighbor, they don't all define who is included the same way. Does it apply to everything in the world, or only those of the same religion, or only those of the same religion who hold all the same views and do all the right things so that they aren't heretics or sinners?

6. Look at the impact of history and culture. Ruling religions developed differently from underdog religions. Some religions are tied into a specific geography and culture, some aren't.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A case that needs to fail

Request to abdicate all responsibility

Compare and contrast with this organization. I heard the founder speak on Saturday, and his approach was simple but brilliantly effective: if you want to reduce the number of abortions, provide women with the support they need. End of story.

Now, for all those who claim "it's unfair for men"....there is no Constitutional right to unprotected sex without consequences.

It may help to actually read cases like Roe v. Wade and R. v. Mortgentaler. They are not based on any mythical right to avoid responsibility for children. Instead, they are based on Constitutional limits to the power of the state to make laws controlling what women do with their bodies.

Once a baby comes along, the rights and responsibilities of parents are fairly similar, unless the father is unknown/unidentified. Laws vary, but in most places a woman can't simply give up a child for adoption if there is a father in the picture. [Exact procedures to determine the rights of the "casual fornicator" vary.] If a father ends up with primary custody of children, the mother is obligated to pay support. I have cases now where that is happening.

The court case doesn't mention the rights of the children, of course.

Once upon a time, back in the bad ole days, only the legitimate children of legally married parents were entitled to support. Under the old English common law, a child of unmarried parents was not entitled to inherit and was legally considered to be "nobody's child". Subsequent law reforms across most western countries have made it clear that it is only fair to treat ALL children equally. Children have a right to support, period, regardless of the relationship between their parents or their parents intentions at the time of conception.

This garbage is why I closed my account on Babycenter.

A woman who chooses not to have an abortion is not "forcing" a man into anything. They both played a role in the conception, planned or not, and the natural consequence of that is a baby if the pregnancy is healthy. The fact that abortion is legal doesn't mean that it is as easy as pressing an "undo" button. It's surgery. It has potential side effects and complications. It's not easily available everywhere. There may be laws designed to make the process more difficult. Anti-abortion terrorists have been known to firebomb clinics and kill doctors. It is likely that having an abortion will mean passing by protesters holding gruesome pictures and screaming that you are a murderer. Many religions will say the same thing. It's not unreasonable for a woman to feel something for an unborn baby, even if the pregnancy wasn't planned. These feelings arent' selfish - they are normal and healthy and even necessary.

Now, pregnancy is also physically demanding and at times hazardous for women, and that's why laws which ban it are wrong. I cannot understand, though, why a women who is willing to carry to term should be in any way pressured into an abortion - even through lack of financial support.

And no, I do not see the "sorrow" in a poor boy who had unprotected intercourse having to support the child that he conceived. Yes, I have a son. Like my daughters, he will know how babies are made, and that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. He will have every bit as many rules and as much supervision as his sisters, and he'll know that some activities aren't appropriate for kids. He will know that real men act as proper fathers to their children, so that the very thought of wanting to abandon his child would be absolutely repugnant. He will also help out at my office and see enough files for himself to learn exactly what happens when people create babies with sub-optimal partners.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The real issues in the Maraachli baby case

As I mentioned in 2 previous posts, the court decision in the case of baby Joseph Maraachli to remove his breathing tube has nothing to do with mythical "health care allocation officials" or universal medicare. If anything, the Canadian health care system avoided having this case decided on the basis of finances, because the mother is disabled by lupus and the father has not been able to work since he is caring for the other family members.

The case does, however, raise some questions about Ontario's Health Care Consent Act. [See the link in the previous post to the decision of the Consent and Capacity Review Board for more details]

That law gives parents the authority to make decisions on behalf of children who are too young to be capable of making their own health care decisions. However, it also says that health care providers can challenge any substitute decision maker (including parents) in front of the Consent and Capacity Review Board if they believe that the decision is not in the best interests of the patient.

Now, on the face of it, it may seem hard to argue with this. After all, we all want to do what is "in the best interests of the child", right? The problem, though, is that there's a pretty low threshold for interfering with the decision of a parent, and not much deference given to parental views.

There are obvious cases where parents shouldn't be allowed to make certain health care decisions. Our child protection law, the Children and Family Services Act, deals with many of these cases. If a parent is abusive or neglectful, or if they refuse consent to treatment to cure, prevent or alleviate harm, a court may intervene.

In this case, though, we have parents who are not mentally incapable and who are clearly loving, devoted parents. Their proposed plan isn't completely outrageous, since they want to repeat what was done for their daughter 9 years ago. This isn't a simple issue, and there are real questions about the extent to which a child in this baby's condition would suffer in either scenario, and weighing of the value of quality vs. duration of life. I truly believe that the doctors, tribunal and court have taken these issues seriously and carefully considered the evidence. The question, though, is whether the law should place them in the position of making the decision at all, where loving and capable parents are available. Recognize that health care providers have an important role to play in diagnosing, treating and providing all relevant information, but they don't make the ultimate decisions. Respect that parents will need to live with whatever decision is made, and they may consider factors such as their own values, experiences and parenting instincts. Recognize that interfering with parental rights is not benign, even though it is sometimes necessary in extreme cases.

I've had situations where I initially had concerns about my kids dismissed by doctors, only to later have them confirm that I was right. I've also had situations where we made informed decisions to do things that may have been slightly different than what the doctor would have expected. Luckily, I've never had my parental decision-making rights challenged.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

FOX news continues to misreport Maraachli baby story

I first posted about this tragic story yesterday.

The new information is that the hospital in Michigan refused to accept the baby to perform a tracheotomy.

Normal people hearing that may feel bad that the family's hoped-for plan for the baby to die at home won't happen. They may also clue in that this isn't a story about universal medicare in Canada, but about difficult end-of-life health care decisions for an infant, since an American hospital came to the same decision as the Canadian one.

But no....Fox News can't let go of a good opportunity to do some fear-mongering. They just need to distort some facts along the way.

#1: Say that the child was ordered off life support by "government health officials". No, he wasn't. The Consent and Capacity Review Board is an independent tribunal which deals with the issue of who can make health care decisions on behalf of someone else. See

#2: Refer to "Canadian health care allocation officials" making the decision to remove the life support. No such thing exists! The Consent and Capacity Review Board has NOTHING to do with health care spending, and it is an independent board which isn't under the control of politicians.

#3: Say that the hospital is approaching the "Canadian government" for permission to remove the life support. No, it isn't. The Canadian government has no role in this case, since health care is a provincial responsibility. The hospital would need to deal with the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee of Ontario, which is responsible for making health care decisions for someone who is mentally incapable if there are no other suitable substitute decision makers. They cannot consider any factors other than the interests or previously expressed wishes of the patient.

I don't necessary expect all Americans to know about the details of federal/provincial jurisdiction and the exact mechanism of consent to treatment procedures - but if it is your job to report on a story, get enough information to do your job properly. Don't make up for lack of information by simply making up information that fits into your political agenda - like inventing "Canadian health care allocation officials".

Here is a link to the original decision of the Consent and Capacity Review Board, which provides a detailed overview of the law and of the medical facts. It's clear that either leaving the breathing tube in or doing a tracheotomy would not be benign measures.

Nursing in Pubic, Part 2

How sad is it that people can see a disabled woman who clearly has her hands full taking care of her young children and doing basic tasks like shopping, and think that it is appropriate to subject her to ridicule or suggest that she should hide from public view?

Seriously, where is the basic human decency?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More fear-mongering about Canada's "socialized medicine"

First, Fox gets basic facts wrong in its coverage of the story (like the role of the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee), then posters with an agenda distort it further.

This is undoubtedly a tragic story.

The hospital may be motivated, in part, by a concern about spending medical resources in a situation of medical futility. However, by law they cannot do anything without consent. The court order gave a deadline for the parents to consent, but since the parents didn't consent, the hospital wasn't able to do anything.

I don't have the court decision in front of me, but we do have an independent judiciary. This wasn't a decision of a bureaucrat bean-counter.

If the parents don't give consent, the hospital may seek it from the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee. No, they are not Public Defenders. They are a special government office mandated to provide specific services to people who are mentally incapable of making their own decisions - including health care decisions. In the case of a minor, the criteria for their health care decision would be simply the best interests of the child. They can't consider the cost issue.

Now, I don't pretend to know the least horrible way for a child to die. It all sounds hideous. I'm not sure, though, that it's better to subject this child to a tracheotomy just so he can be moved home, as opposed to simply removing the breathing tube. It may be - and perhaps the fact that the parents had previous experience with this gives them a reason to choose it now.

There are issues here about the extent of parental discretion in making medicals decisions, and the role of hospitals where they believe that further treatment is futile or even harmful. These issues should be discussed. Falsely labelling this as an issue about Evil Socialized Medicine, however, helps no one.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Roles of religions with people with mental illness

What duty, if any, do religions have, when reaching out to people who may have some sort of mental illness or instability, to try to ensure that the teachings are not taken out of context or misused?

Religious groups can be very supportive and tend to reach out to "lost sheep". Some of this work is really great. What happens, though, when the message ends up being twisted in unintended ways?

Should religious groups tell folks in no uncertain terms: "If you think you hear the Voice of G-d, go back on your meds NOW"?

If a religious group reaches out to prisoners, do they need to take extra steps to make sure that new converts aren't going to commit violence in the name of that religion?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Approach to genetic disorders

I just read through this thread:

Surprisingly, none of the Jewish posters have weighed in. Too bad, because we could add another perspective.

Thanks to a relatively limited gene pool, certain nasty genetic diseases are more common among Jews. One of the earliest to be identified was Tay Sachs disease - a truly nasty disorder in which a child seems normal at birth, but goes downhill at around 6 months and dies before the age of 5. More info here: A carrier of the disease will be perfectly normal, but if 2 carriers have a child, there is a 25% that the child will have the disease.

One of the reasons that Tay Sachs is so well-known in the Jewish community, aside from its nastiness, is that there are widespread screening programs that started around 1971. By widespread, I mean that every Jewish teen is told to go for testing, and in very Orthodox circles, there is an organization that ensures that matchmakers don't set up 2 carriers.

I was raised hearing about this from the time that I was a kid, so I forget somethings that it's a novel idea for some. My parents actually got tested when I was newborn (I was born in 1971) - and they were told that they were carriers. It was a moment of terror for them because I was too young to show symptoms, and yet there was a 1 in 4 chance that I could have a fatal disease. With my sister, they had an amnio. My mom described it as stressful, since she hid the pregnancy until receiving the results, but less stressful that worrying about a baby having it.

I haven't seen much moral debate about this in the community. It's considered obvious that the only way to deal with the disease is by preventing it through screening. Obviously, there are no guarantees in life, and a child who doesn't have Tay Sachs could still have any number of other problems, but if you could prevent a child from suffering with a horrible disease - why wouldn't you? Thanks to the screening, cases of Tay Sachs have become exceeding rare in the Jewish community.

I've seen a bit more moral debate on the question of "what do you do with the information"? The ultra-Orthodox organization Dor Yeshorim doesn't tell those who are tested what their carrier status is, only whether they are genetically compatible with a potential mate. They have concerns that people would avoid testing due to stigma. That's truly unfortunate, because being a carrier in no way affects your life unless you happen to fall in love with another carrier. It just means that you need to tell your kids to get tested themselves.

One option that exists today that my parents didn't have is pre-implantation diagnosis. Yes, it is more expensive and involves more than having an amnio, but it also avoids the possibilities of a second trimester abortion.


Righteous Rasha has a post on Dor Yeshorim, the ultra-Orthodox anonymous testing organization. I agree that anonymous testing is far from ideal, but suppose that an imperfect option that at least prevents genetic diseases is worthwhile if the stigma would otherwise allow tragedies to occur.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Education and equality

I just saw this report about a mother jailed for 10 days because she gave a wrong address in order to send her children to a better school:

Why are they going after this woman?

I understand in the narrow view of things, she made a false statement.

In the broader view, though - don't we WANT to be encouraging people to strive to get a better education for themselves and their children?

How is it possible to give children of all backgrounds a fair start in life without quality schools?

Why not simply eliminate the whole idea of residency requirements for schools? In my city, local taxes no longer fund public schools, but the residency requirements still remain - unless there is a vacancy, no one outside of the school area can apply. What would happen to all schools if that changed? Would it force residents of wealthier areas to care about gang violence in bad schools? Would it force all schools to improve by introducing competition? Would it promote more diversity, and allow for more upward mobility among students from bad areas?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nursing in Public

I remember getting into these debates 11 years ago. Apparently, not everyone has gotten with the program:

While it's great to see all the positive responses, some of the others have me shaking my head. So folks - here is why the right to nurse in public is a personal AND political issue:

I have never, even seen any mom who was deliberately exposing as much as she could while nursing as some sort of provocative display to every male in the vicinity.

If you see someone nursing in public, you can likely assume the following:

1. She's a mother (since wet-nurses aren't really in fashion these days).
2. She has a hungry child.
3. She is not starving that child.
4. She is feeding that child in the best way possible according to medical recommendations.
5. Since she has a baby, she is likely to be busy and tired. Really, really tired.
6. Depending on just how new the baby is, she may need to breastfeed every couple of hours, around the clock. If the baby is having a growth spurt or is sick, it could be even more often.
7. If she didn't feed the baby right away, you'd be hearing a baby screaming instead of seeing him or her eating.
8. She may have tried pumping, which can be really time-consuming, involves extra expense, and can be a logistical nightmare when you have to figure out just how long it is going to take to defrost and how long unfrozen milk can sit before it's no longer safe. She may also have babies that simply refuse to take a bottle.
9. She may find that never leaving in the house is not a practical option for living. She may need to go shopping, go to appointments and have other errands. She may also feel that never leaving the house is a good way to go batty and get post-partum depression.
10. She may have a baby, like mine, whose first sign of hunger is to scream non-stop.
11. She may have discovered that at the moment that the baby decides to scream, a magic private room doesn't suddenly appear.
12. If she lives in Canada, her car is either boiling hot, freezing cold, or in the rain/snow. It is also on the other side of the mall, or parked in a far away lot or street if she lives downtown, or she doesn't have a car.
13. She has not had a full night's sleep in a long time. Instead, she's been feeding the baby, changing a zillion diapers, bathing the baby, dealing with baby puke and leaking diapers and leaking breasts, doing laundry, and all the other things that mothers need to do.
14. She has dealt with breasts that literally seemed to blow up overnight, that become rock-hard and painful if she goes too long without nursing, that can spontaneously spring a leak, and that may have had bleeding nipples generating more pain than the birth itself.

In short, the last thing that this woman needs is anyone suggesting for a moment that she shouldn't be doing exactly what she is doing, or putting more demands on her and her baby.

A favorite line seems to be a demand to "show some consideration". I agree. Please show some consideration for that mom, who is busy and tired and above all doing her best to meet her baby's needs. You would also be showing some consideration for the baby too, who is hungry and who is far less likely to be fed in the optimal way if the mother finds that she is no longer comfortable nursing in public.

Bottom line: your issues are not her problem.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Facts matter!

I apologize if this sounds like a rant, but I'm sick of banging my head against my keyboard.

Facts matter, people.

Intelligent people can agree to debate and have different opinions as to the meaning of facts, but if you don't have the basic facts right in the first place, the argument fails.

So, please, pretty please, don't just make up BS.

Don't try to insist that there has never been an Orthodox rapist, anywhere, ever - and then refuse to provide any source whatsoever, saying "well, I have never heard of one and I defy you to prove me wrong". You make the statement, you back it up.

Don't quote random hate propoganda or personal websites, and expect to have it accepted as proof. It's not.

Don't make random statements that you are sure that you heard that thousands were massacred in Jenin, when the official UN report found that there were 52 Palestinian deaths, half of whom were civilians, and even the Palestinian Authority ultimately claimed that 56 Palestinians died.

Don't casually state that the Israelis are committing genocide and are as bad as the Nazis, unless you want to do some real research and compare the growth in the Palestinian population from 1967 to now with the destruction of the Jewish population in Europe from 1939 to 1945.

Don't try to wring your hands and cry about the tragic death of hundreds of boys due to routine infant circumcision, if your source of information is an article written by an anti-circumcision activist who admits that he doesn't have actual numbers but pulled out an estimate despite having no statistical or medical background that would qualify him to do so.

Don't think that you are being clever by asking rhetorical questions like "Jews don't follow these old biblical commandments like avoiding certain foods or not having sex with a woman after her period, so why should they still practice circumcision?" I may have some fun passing that post around before telling you to google "kashruth" and "mikvah" and stop being ignorant.

Don't make up BS about public political figures, even if you don't like them. You can disagree with Sarah Palin without mindlessly forwarding emails that simply cut and paste a list of commonly banned books and falsely accused her of having them removed from libraries. You can disagree with Obama's economic policies without mindless forwarding emails accusing him of being a secret Muslim extremist or questioning his place of birth. You can bring up legitimate concerns about immigration without mindlessly forwarding emails that are just plain wrong and clearly cut and paste from other sources. [Kudos to David Frum, by the way, who had the courage to stand up and tell Republicans that the attacks on Obama were wrong and counter-productive.]

If you do any of these things, I will call you on it. Please don't insult my intelligence. If you don't know something, there is no shame in admitting it, but don't spread false information. You just make yourself look like an idiot.

Be aware that when I do catch you doing this, my respect for you may be affected. I know some otherwise intelligent people who are guilty of this, and I don't look at them the same way after that. I realize that like the boy who cried wolf, I cannot trust what they say. If it just happens once, I can understand that they may have been duped, but if it happens again I really start to doubt their judgment and integrity.

And finally......

If I call you out on your BS, just admit that you were wrong.

Don't say "even if it's not exactly true, it makes you think". Yeah, it makes me think you are a moron.

Don't turn around and attack my motivations. I hate BS, and that is why I am questioning you. It's not about my feelings about Orthodox Jews, or an indication that I don't respect the lives of Palestinians or baby boys, or about partisan politics.

One more thing:

Even if you are a good-hearted person looking to promote a just cause, do a little bit of research before forwarding any email to your entire list of contacts and posting it on Facebook, especially if it contains serious allegations against a person or business that seem out of character. Otherwise, you are both spreading libel and crying wolf.