On Being Jewish

Kate at One More Thing is doing a weekly carnival of sorts, choosing a topic for other bloggers to write about.  This week’s topic is “Religion”.

Ever since I was a young girl I have felt the responsibility of being Jewish.  A responsibility to practice the religion, to remember those who died defending it or because if it, to behave and accomplish in a way befitting G-d’s chosen people.

But even more than the responsibility of being Jewish, what I felt most was fear.  Fear of another Holocaust, fear of being attacked by a pogrom, fear of the anti-semitism being practiced and publicized all throughout the world.  I would try to concoct ways to fool oppressors into thinking I wasn’t Jewish, in an effort to save myself from my ancestors’ fate.  It’s scary for a kid to think that someone is going to come and take them away and kill them just because of their religion – and one they didn’t choose at that.   And all of these atrocities were talked about at length in synagogues, in Hebrew school, at holidays.  Never forget, we are warned.  Never forget.

As a teenager I went through the process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah, and I even enjoyed the process.  There was comfort in the traditions and the prayers and the belief in G-d.  But I was also becoming aware of the stereotypes that dogged my fellow Semites, and I was embarrassed that many of them were dead-on.  Not for EVERY Jew, to be sure, but for many of those I met.

One day a rabbi gave a sermon that had me see clearly what my biggest issue was with organized Judaism.  He was talking about Jews being G-d’s chosen people – a frequent and recurrent theme in Jewish services.  But that day I got what really bugged me about my religion.  It seemed to me that many of the  Jews out there, especially the ones exhibiting the hated stereotypes, saw being “G-d’s chosen people” as responsibility that proves our superiority.

In my mind, though, that was a biiiiiiiig mistake.  To me being one of the chosen means that He indeed gave us responsibility, but responsibility from a place of humility.

That was such an epiphany for me, and as a result I pretty much pulled away from the temple, and practicing my religion.  I became a part-time Jew – weddings, bar mitzvahs and the High Holy Days.  I still believe in G-d, and still pray on occasion.   I’ve often said that if I could find a temple with real people who  just happened to be Jewish that I’d gladly join.   I’ve never found that.  Some friends say that has more to do with living where I live – that what I yearn for flourishes  in places like Alabama and Utah, where Jews are much fewer and further between.  Which is why I did consider Alabama

Now that I’m older I’m willing to give those stereotypical Jews a little slack.   When you’re persecuted over centuries and struggle to survive, perhaps the best way to do that is to stick together and declare yourselves superior.  When our kids are being picked on by bullies don’t we tell them to ignore the taunts and jeers, and point out and encourage their best qualities?  It’s not such a far leap to see how that sense of superiority developed…

But now that Son is getting older I’m finding, like so many other parents, that I want religion to be a part of his life.  I like the idea of G-d, whether he truly exists or not.  I want Son to have that spirituality, to have that private relationship.   So I’m looking for a temple, willing to give my religion another chance.  And I’m hoping that I’ll find one that will help show Son the joys of tradition and being a mensch, and accepting that responsibility of being G-d’s chosen with a bit of humility.

Are you out there?

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What do you say to a parent who has just lost their child?

What do you say to a parent who has just lost their child?

What words can possibly have any effect?  What can break through layer upon layer of grief and sadness and desperation and fear and senseless guilt and anger and bereftness?

What prayers can you offer them?

I would not be able to breathe.  I would very likely lose my will to live another instant, knowing that Son was not here.    I don’t have any other children, so there would be no need to be strong for the others…

I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, be comforted by anyone.

There is no comfort when you lose a child.

My heart is breaking for my old, dear friend.  To lose a child so senselessly.  So suddenly.

Being so far away there really is nothing I can do, except grieve along with her.  Leave a message telling her that I’m so very sorry, and that I’m thinking of her.  Lose sleep myself, and check on Son ten times a night.

And hug him tight.  Tight.

I pray she can find a way to breathe.  I pray that she and her husband and her other two  sons can allow themselves to be and do and feel whatever they need to be and do and feel to get through today.

And I pray for the  same thing tomorrow.

Money and Identity

Thanksgiving is a five day extravaganza  in my family.  My sisters and  their families came into town, and we spend almost all of the time they are  here together because time together is so rare.

The kids have a blast – Son is thrilled to spend so much time with his cousins, and has declared on more than one occasion today that he wants to go live with them.

Days together revolve around meals.  All of our dinners are planned out before plane reservations are made.  Breakfasts and lunches are a wee more spontaneous, but we can always count on my father to plan lunch before the breakfast dishes are cleared.  We’re Jewish – food is of utmost importance.

Dad pays for everything.  He wouldn’t have it any other way. The other night the sixteen of us went out to dinner at a chez fancy restaurant, and I’m sure the bill came to at least $700.  None of us even thought of reaching for  a check.  It’s just not done.  And it’s not only when the entire family is together.  Even when it’s just the two of us Dad insists on paying, unless its his Birthday or Father’s Day.

I used to find this puzzling, and feel that I was taking advantage.   Shouldn’t I pay some of the time?  It’s only fair – and I have a very strong sense of fairness.

He and I once got into an actual argument over who was going to pay a lunch check  He got so angry when I snatched the check out of his hand, and I was shocked.  He told me that I was insulting him by not letting him pay.  Insulting him??????

And that’s when I got it.

For my Dad, being able to provide for his children has always been his number one priority.  Part of being a father is putting a roof over our heads, paying for college, paying for weddings, and paying for meals, in or out.

It’s part of his identity.  Who he is.  Money and parenthood are closely related to him, and he spent many years struggling to find the money to provide the things he felt he was required to provide.  And he always did.

We all make decisions about money, what it means to us,  how much we need to be happy, what we’re willing to do to get it.  Our relationship with money is part of our identities, and it colors all of our relationships.

And it’s taught me, again, that sometimes giving is being willing to receive.

Why a Bailout May Not Be In Our Best Interest

I am nervous.

I am not an alarmist, a conspiracy theorist, a pessimist or a nut.  I am a political moderate, I’m annoyingly fair, and my head sits squarely on my shoulders.

Still, I’m worried about our economy, our government, our country, and so are many like me.

I worried that we were moving too swiftly with this bailout plan, but I don’t know enough about economics to question why it isn’t a good idea. I know I didn’t want the yahoos who created this mess rewarded, but at the same time I couldn’t see what else could be done to stop the bleeding. Lots of people I spoke to were equally confused.

Husband, an avowed Libertarian-ish kind of guy, forwarded to me a CNN article written by a Libertarian economist that gives his reasons why the bailout is a bad idea. Jeffrey A. Miron is senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University. A Libertarian, he was one of 166 academic economists who signed a letter to congressional leaders last week opposing the government bailout plan.

Did you hear about that? I didn’t.

At any rate, here I am reprinting the article. I hope CNN will allow me to keep it here, but if they ask I’ll take it down and just link it. I applaud CNN for allowing a point of view different than what I’ve seen elsewhere.

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) Congress has balked at the Bush administration’s proposed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. Under this plan, the Treasury would have bought the “troubled assets” of financial institutions in an attempt to avoid economic meltdown.

This bailout was a terrible idea. Here’s why.

The current mess would never have occurred in the absence of ill-conceived federal policies. The federal government chartered Fannie Mae in 1938 and Freddie Mac in 1970; these two mortgage lending institutions are at the center of the crisis. The government implicitly promised these institutions that it would make good on their debts, so Fannie and Freddie took on huge amounts of excessive risk.

Worse, beginning in 1977 and even more in the 1990s and the early part of this century, Congress pushed mortgage lenders and Fannie/Freddie to expand subprime lending. The industry was happy to oblige, given the implicit promise of federal backing, and subprime lending soared.

This subprime lending was more than a minor relaxation of existing credit guidelines. This lending was a wholesale abandonment of reasonable lending practices in which borrowers with poor credit characteristics got mortgages they were ill-equipped to handle.

Once housing prices declined and economic conditions worsened, defaults and delinquencies soared, leaving the industry holding large amounts of severely depreciated mortgage assets.

The fact that government bears such a huge responsibility for the current mess means any response should eliminate the conditions that created this situation in the first place, not attempt to fix bad government with more government.

The obvious alternative to a bailout is letting troubled financial institutions declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy means that shareholders typically get wiped out and the creditors own the company.

Bankruptcy does not mean the company disappears; it is just owned by someone new (as has occurred with several airlines). Bankruptcy punishes those who took excessive risks while preserving those aspects of a businesses that remain profitable.

In contrast, a bailout transfers enormous wealth from taxpayers to those who knowingly engaged in risky subprime lending. Thus, the bailout encourages companies to take large, imprudent risks and count on getting bailed out by government. This “moral hazard” generates enormous distortions in an economy’s allocation of its financial resources.

Thoughtful advocates of the bailout might concede this perspective, but they argue that a bailout is necessary to prevent economic collapse. According to this view, lenders are not making loans, even for worthy projects, because they cannot get capital. This view has a grain of truth; if the bailout does not occur, more bankruptcies are possible and credit conditions may worsen for a time.

Talk of Armageddon, however, is ridiculous scare-mongering. If financial institutions cannot make productive loans, a profit opportunity exists for someone else. This might not happen instantly, but it will happen.

Further, the current credit freeze is likely due to Wall Street’s hope of a bailout; bankers will not sell their lousy assets for 20 cents on the dollar if the government might pay 30, 50, or 80 cents.

The costs of the bailout, moreover, are almost certainly being understated. The administration’s claim is that many mortgage assets are merely illiquid, not truly worthless, implying taxpayers will recoup much of their $700 billion.

If these assets are worth something, however, private parties should want to buy them, and they would do so if the owners would accept fair market value. Far more likely is that current owners have brushed under the rug how little their assets are worth.

The bailout has more problems. The final legislation will probably include numerous side conditions and special dealings that reward Washington lobbyists and their clients.

Anticipation of the bailout will engender strategic behavior by Wall Street institutions as they shuffle their assets and position their balance sheets to maximize their take. The bailout will open the door to further federal meddling in financial markets.

So what should the government do? Eliminate those policies that generated the current mess. This means, at a general level, abandoning the goal of home ownership independent of ability to pay. This means, in particular, getting rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with policies like the Community Reinvestment Act that pressure banks into subprime lending.

The right view of the financial mess is that an enormous fraction of subprime lending should never have occurred in the first place. Someone has to pay for that. That someone should not be, and does not need to be, the U.S. taxpayer.

A lot of that makes sense to me. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, and I sure as heck don’t know the right thing to do. What is truly scary to me is that people whose opinion I trust are just as confused.

Most Americans don’t truly know hardship. We don’t know what it’s like to have no food or water, no gas to heat our homes. Some of us that have lived in the aftermath of storms have a taste of what so many in the world consider normal life, but it’s different for us because we always knew there was an end in sight.

We’re scrappy, but we’re also fat and happy, living in an illusion of our own making. I hope we never have to face truly bad times, and I hope the leaders we’ve elected can put aside politics and do what is truly in the best interest of out country.

I hope, but I’m not confident.


One Less Regret

Kate at One More Thing wrote a thoughtful post about what to do if you discover you have only one month to live, and one of the things she said struck a chord with me (actually the whole post is full of chords). She said that she had no regrets.

I do. I don’t have many, but they are there. The biggest is not having had more children, and though it still makes me sad when I think about it I don’t dwell on it. It’s a fact, it’s there, but there’s nothing I can do to change it so there’s no point.

Another regret is the one friendship I’ve lost over bad behavior on my part. This girl and I met in junior college and were friends for seven years. The memories we made are way too numerous (and often scandalous) to share. Suffice to say that we were to each other that most important relationship in the life of any young girl: best friends. We were there for each other in all the ways true best friends are.

It was good stuff.

A few years after graduating college we were planning her wedding and I was making the agonizing decision to put my mother in a mental hospital. My sister was pregnant and her husband laid off, so I felt the burden was mine, all mine. After the wedding she offered me an escape, so I wound up moving with her and her husband to another state to help her in-laws renovate a home they were turning into a bed-and-breakfast. I was very, very depressed.

I didn’t live up to my end of the bargain. I sneak-smoked in the house, I didn’t do the work I said I’d do and I didn’t find a job and move out. It took three months to end a friendship of seven years, and it ended with accusations of theft (which I absolutely did not do) and anti-semitic slurs. My friend did not trust easily, and my actions (or mostly lack thereof) shattered that trust.

It was the only time in my life I ever lost a friend by anything other than normal drift. And I felt lousy about it. Sure, I was wronged, too. But I did a lot wrong. That didn’t help my depression any.

I came back to Florida and tried to put my life back together. I had gotten offered a job in an insurance office, and I clawed my way into a life. My depression gradually lifted. A few months later I wrote letters of apology to my friend and her husband and to his parents, and while I hoped to hear from her I didn’t expect to.

That was fifteen years ago. I’ve thought of her often over the years. I’m still friends with many of the people we knew together back then (I even married one), though she has lost touch. So of course it’s a regret. My actions helped end a friendship that meant a great deal to me.

Fast forward to today. I ran a search on Facebook for people who were at university the same time I was, and her name was the very first to pop up. I’d only been a Facebook member for a few weeks, and here was an opportunity I could not let pass.

So I sent her a message, and she responded. Open, friendly, welcoming.

I cannot tell you how freed up I feel that this burden of loss/regret/guilt has been lifted, and I can’t explain why it would be lifted just because she replied to my message. After all ,it’s not that what happened has been erased, and that I don’t still feel guilt and regret. But even if we don’t stay in contact I somehow don’t feel that sense of loss that I’ve felt every time I’ve thought about her over the past fifteen years.

Hello, old friend.

Moles and Skin Tags and Cancer, Oh My!

It had been eighteen months since my last full-body dermatological scan. That’s six months later than it should have been.

I’ve had skin cancer twice in the last ten years. One was squamous cell and one was basal cell carcinoma. Found early they are little more than a nuisance. Ignore them and they can disfigure or, in very rare cases, kill you. Luckily I have not had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer) but am at high risk for it. Both of my skin cancers have been easily taken care of with some very minor surgery done right in the doctor’s office.

So, today I had my body scan. One suspicious mole and five skin tags (not dangerous, just nuisance) were removed, plus several red, scaly (and undetected by me) pre-cancerous spots were frozen, including one right on my forehead.

I think the mole is probably a cancer. It was on my back, another place that’s hard to see. If it is then that will mean another visit while they remove the surrounding tissue to prevent any spreading. I’m not very anxious about it. The doctor didn’t seem overly concerned.

Being skin healthy pays. After the appointment I went to my insurance office and put in a claim on a wonderful policy that I have that pays me $112 for outpatient surgery. Removal of even one skin tag is considered surgery. So while I paid a $25 copayment to the doctor, I’ll get $112 from my policy. So I got paid $87 to go to the dermatologist. I’m going to write a post about that policy soon.

So, my friends, please go to your regular dermatologist for a full body scan, or take advantage of the free scans being offered.

And please, wear sunscreen.

Next time I won’t procrastinate. From now on June is Skin Health Month on the BeThisWay household. Why not in your household, too?

She’s gone…

My cousin’s heroic battle against MS & leukemia ended last evening.

To the end she maintained her cheery disposition and displayed remarkable courage. Her struggles are a lifetime lesson to us as her bravery was of the highest order.

Thank you, Cheryl, for wanting to be a mother so badly you refused to allow any doctor to put the words “Multiple Sclerosis” in your medical record until Cam’s adoption was final.

Thank you for all of the funny e-mails you sent.

Thank you for looking at my Dad’s Playboys with me when we were kids, and for explaining a few things to a doe-eyed seven year old. As Deb said, isn’t it ironic that with all the looksies we did at those magazines, none of us wound up with a Playboy body?

Thank you for teaching me the value of disability insurance. I’m so glad yours made your life easier.

Thank you for being the only one of my cousins to come to my wedding, even though you were the one with the most reasons not to.

Thank you for being so honest and open with me these last months. I feel so honored to have been on the receiving end not of smalltalk and platitudes, but of your real emotions, real life and death issues, and real warmth.

Thank you, Cheryl, for being such an inspirational woman.

I love you, Cher. You will be remembered for how you lived. Valiantly.

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