The end of an era – Reflections on Harry Potter

Now that the movie is grossed more in its opening weekend than any other movie in history, I thought it was fitting to offer a couple of thoughts on the Harry Potter series.  This is not a book or movie review.  Rather, I wanted to discuss something interesting which I came across in two newspaper pieces over the weekend.  In light of the end of the movie series, there was discussion as to the spiritual/religious significance of these books.  I am going to share some excerpts from the two articles and then will offer my own thought on the issue. 

Harry Potter’s magic lies, in part, in its message

During one brief — extremely brief — lull in the wall-to-wall wizardry that drives the climactic “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” a very old friend of Harry’s shows up with one last bit of advice. “Words,” he says, “are our most inexhaustible source of magic.”

In all of Hollywood’s adaptations of the Potter books, never has one quite so clearly caught author J.K. Rowling’s deepest belief. Words wound. Words heal. Words matter. And it is her own words — spread over seven books and thousands of pages — that have encouraged millions to turn to her tales for pleasure, and perhaps to find — quite accidentally — a moral lesson.

Words are not what most young fans of the movie series will take away with them, as the franchise draws to a close with its eighth film, released Friday. Movies are about movement, and images, and they’re more likely to send people home on a purely emotional surge rather than wrestling with ideas.

But Harry Potter’s saga has always had a message to it, too. It was never too obvious, although Rowling has always been forthright about her own beliefs. She has said she was raised Protestant, and felt her religion deeply (although she struggled with it during her university days). She says she still goes to church regularly, describing herself as a sort of constantly questioning, Grahame Greene kind of Christian.

Doubt, in fact, is a large part of her faith. But ultimately, as she has said, “I believe in God, not magic…”

Watch the new film and you’ll see many of them from a more mature viewpoint. And you’ll realize they were often far more complicated than we, or Harry, first realized.

Because if growing up means anything at Hogwarts, it means acknowledging how little we know of people’s real problems, and potential. Ferocious werewolves may turn out to be heroes; motherly teachers may turn out to be fiends. Everyone is vulnerable to envy or despair; everyone is capable of remorse and rebirth.

Everyone, that is, except Voldemort — which is why it is only Voldemort who is finally, fully, beyond all redemption.

Of course, one doesn’t have to be Christian, or even religious, to appreciate the moral lessons of “Harry Potter.” Much as she loved those “Narnia” books, Rowling learned an important lesson from them, and hid her own treasures well. The symbolism is there, if you’re willing to look for it. But if you don’t share her faith, or simply choose not to see those parallels, that’s no worry either. The stories still enchant.

There’s still the powerful secular message of friendship, loyalty, duty and honor. There’s still the fantastic English-schoolboy world — part Dickens, part Dahl — of terrifying teachers and luscious sweetshops and sneering snobs. And, of course, there are still the thrilling delights of adventure and fantasy and mystery and romance…

How Christians Warmed to Harry Potter

Christians today are certainly not universally enchanted by the series. Over time, however, more readers have begun to express praise for its honest depiction of fear, loneliness and sacrifice as Harry faces the evil wizard Lord Voldemort. Many Christians have cheered the portrayals of loyalty, courage and love, as the main character repeatedly risks his life.

“These books are not written for people who have a mechanical faith,” says John Granger, author of “Looking for God in Harry Potter.” “For Christians who are consumed with moral elements and symbolism, Potter mania was ironic beyond words.” Spoiler detail about the movie aside, the idea that sacrificial love conquers power, including magical power, is strongly suggested in the final book.

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, a member of the Church of Scotland that has Presbyterian roots, initially avoided talking explicitly about her faith. “To me, the religious parallels have always been obvious,” Ms. Rowling said in 2007. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it, because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

Ms. Rowling is hardly the first author to face misunderstanding from a religious audience. Before C.S. Lewis became well known as a Christian, he noted that most British reviewers missed the underlying theology in his science fiction “Space” trilogy. Christian writer Madeleine L’Engle was criticized by some for the magic elements in “A Wrinkle in Time.” On the other hand, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” appeared to escape similar scrutiny despite his characters’ use of magic.

Since the seventh Potter book came out in 2007, Ms. Rowling—who acknowledged the influence of Tolkien and Lewis on her work—has drawn more explicit religious parallels. She suggested that the two Bible verses found on tombstones in the final book almost epitomized the whole series: “And the last enemy that shall be defeated is death” and “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The author put a little damper on some enthusiasm when she said that she always thought of one of her main characters, Albus Dumbledore, as gay (after which Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network called for a ban on the books.) And she did distance herself somewhat from C.S. Lewis when she told Time magazine in 2007 that “I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity.”

Christians are still somewhat divided on “Harry Potter,” with lingering concerns. “We’re not monolithic on this,” says Bob Waliszewski, a media specialist for Focus on the Family. “The major issue for the faith community is all packed in that simple word: witchcraft…”

The debate about the Christian values of Harry Potter has been in the forefront since the publication of the first book.  The question that strikes me is why this is seemingly the most important aspect of Rowling’s stories, the question of the moral and religious lessons to be learned.  In thinking about it, I think we struggle to find fictional literature that delivers timely and yet ageless messages, such as true love can conquer all evil and that almost anyone can find some form of redemption, even those steeped in the dark side (sounds very star wars like, but there again that message is clear).  I recall that during these Potter years, articles were written about Harry Potter in a Jewish context as well.  This goes to show that one person’s fantasy is another’s teaching moment.

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More Medical Schools Are Screening Applicants Closely for People Skills

Bedside manner is a very important element in patien care.  So much so that medical students are being given a basic training in how to have better people skills.  The NY Times had an article, “More Medical Schools Are Screening Applicants Closely for People Skills” which describes new means of teaching and testing how these future doctors will act in practice.  When i was first learning about chaplaincy work, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was something quite simple.  If a person enters a room and completely faces the patient, that patient will perceive the person having been in the room longer than they really were.  As such, body language and posture will often be the first step of refining people skills. 

The article goes further, as it indicates a need to teach the students how to be effecient and quick thinking while also being “in the room” with the person, even for a short interval.  Additionally, part of the article’s description of the increased need to find people friendly doctors is to also teach the need to work in a team.  Healthcare is no longer provided as a medical model in its own right as most people are looking for holistic care, requiring multiple disciplines to be available.  This is something hospice does well but other areas of medicine are not up to speed with yet. 

Doctors save lives, but they can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls who bully nurses and do not listen to patients. Medical schools have traditionally done little to screen out such flawed applicants or to train them to behave better, but that is changing…

At Virginia Tech Carilion, 26 candidates showed up on a Saturday in March and stood with their backs to the doors of 26 small rooms. When a bell sounded, the applicants spun around and read a sheet of paper taped to the door that described an ethical conundrum. Two minutes later, the bell sounded again and the applicants charged into the small rooms and found an interviewer waiting. A chorus of cheerful greetings rang out, and the doors shut. The candidates had eight minutes to discuss that room’s situation. Then they moved to the next room, the next surprise conundrum and the next interviewer, who scored each applicant with a number and sometimes a brief note.

The school asked that the actual questions be kept secret, but some sample questions include whether giving patients unproven alternative remedies is ethical, whether pediatricians should support parents who want to circumcise their baby boys and whether insurance co-pays for medical visits are appropriate.

Virginia Tech Carilion administrators said they created questions that assessed how well candidates think on their feet and how willing they are to work in teams. The most important part of the interviews are often not candidates’ initial responses — there are no right or wrong answers — but how well they respond when someone disagrees with them, something that happens when working in teams.

Candidates who jump to improper conclusions, fail to listen or are overly opinionated fare poorly because such behavior undermines teams. Those who respond appropriately to the emotional tenor of the interviewer or ask for more information do well in the new admissions process because such tendencies are helpful not only with colleagues but also with patients.

“We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important,” said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carilion…

A pleasant bedside manner and an attentive ear have always been desirable traits in doctors, of course, but two trends have led school administrators to make the hunt for these qualities a priority. The first is a growing catalog of studies that pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.

The second and related trend is that medicine is evolving from an individual to a team sport. Solo medical practices are disappearing. In their place, large health systems — encouraged by new government policies — are creating teams to provide care coordinated across disciplines. The strength of such teams often has more to do with communication than the technical competence of any one member.

“When I entered medical school, it was all about being an individual expert,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the president and chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Now it’s all about applying that expertise to team-based patient care.”

Separate tables

I find myself fascinated by this article in Haaretz.  While I myself would not to live the lifestyle of complete segregation of genders, even in one’s home, I am not looking to offer a critique of this Hasidic practice.  Rather, I would like to comment on the article’s descriptions as to why separate tables has become a way of life for many in the Hasidic world.

Gender separation in schools and synagogues has always been an important facet of ultra-Orthodox life and is generally not contested. But the Hasidic members of the ultra-Orthodox community are now determined to extend gender separation to other venues in the public domain, such as banquet halls, buses, health clinics, and even some sidewalks in Jerusalem on certain days of the Jewish calendar.

Among the various Hasidic sects, the Gur Hasidim are known to be most vigilant, going so far as to keep tabs on the activities of families and couples to ensure that the rules of gender separation are not violated. Among the most devout Gur Hasidim, a married couple will never be seen walking together in the street. Instead, the husband will walk ahead and the woman will follow, a few paces behind him. Not surprisingly, when gender separation was first instituted on buses about a decade ago, it began on those lines traveling from Jerusalem to Gur Hasidic neighborhoods in Bnei Brak and Ashdod.

Hebrew University lecturer Dr. Benjamin Brown, who specializes in Jewish philosophy and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, notes: “In the Gur Hasidic community, measures are taken to ensure that there is no mutual understanding between men and women, even between husband and wife.” Total gender segregation, especially among adolescents and young adults, he notes, is enforced. For this reason, a yeshiva student in the Gur community will never be present in the same house with a female guest, even if the female guest is a relation of a young woman who has just become engaged to a brother of the yeshiva student. Similarly, when they are invited to the wedding of a peer, Gur Hasid yeshiva students stay only for the ceremony and do not partake in the subsequent banquet. They also make a point of avoiding conversations even with their sisters-in-law.

According to Brown, this rigorous code of conduct is rooted in a desire to maintain what Gur Hasidim call “sanctity” in day-to-day life. It was formulated as a response to the appeal made by their legendary leader Rabbi Yisrael Alter (known as the “Beis Yisroel” ), who headed the community from the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948 until his death in 1976, that the principle of “sanctity” be formally integrated into family life. “The motive was not really the promotion of modesty,” Brown explains, “because during this same period, despite the strict code of conduct, women in the Gur Hasidic community always dressed elegantly and maintained a well-groomed appearance.”

When it comes to the general genre of gender separation, it would appear that one of the primary purposes is to increase one’s sanctity.  It is interesting to note how within much of the Haredi world, the idea of men learning (not just Torah) from women is not something looked well upon.  A women can attend a lecture given by a man, but not the other way around.  Much of this is related to the famous words from Psalms, Kol Kavuda Bat Melech Pnimah (45:14 – All glorious is the king’s daughter within the palace).  In the context of eating a meal together, it must be that since eating should be a sacred act, the sacredness of eating must not be done in the company of the opposite sex.  Further, by sitting together, even at different ends of the table, there is an increased possibility of social interactions, which would invalidate the sacredness of the meal.  A final thought comes to mind as well. 

For the Hasidic world, based on an idea of the ARI, the table is like a miniature mizbeach.  As such, the food we eat represents qodshim, which are to be eaten in a state of purity,  The table therefore cannot be hindered by gender mixing, as the meal is symbolic of partaking of the sacrifices in the Temple. 

Nava Wasserman, who is preparing her doctoral dissertation on Gur Hasidism at Bar-Ilan University, notes that the Beis Yisroel also favored separate tables for men and women. However, she points out, not all Gur Hasidim accept this strict code of conduct and there are no widely accepted norms in the community. Instead, each family applies the code or deviates from it, as it sees fit.

“In any event,” says Wasserman, “no one wants to see the woman of the family being forced to eat in the kitchen.”

But according to a Gur Hasid who asked to remain anonymous, when there are many guests for a meal and there is simply not enough space to accommodate them in the dining room or living room, the women sit in the kitchen. Whenever men and women sit separately, he notes, the men serve themselves so at least the women do not have to stand around, waiting to serve them.

To me, this was the most telling part.  I remember one meal at my Rabbi’s house, a chabad Rabbi, during Sukkot, when the men ate in the sukkah and the women ate indoors.  What was interesting about this separation was that the only reason was due to space limitations.  For many in these Hasidic communities, space is a real problem.  Even if one never invites non-family guests over, tables are full and sometimes it just becomes less of hassle to separate eating spaces instead of playing games.  It is like setting up a kids table when one has many guests.  It is not because kids shouldn’t be at the table, but there is no room and it becomes easier to separate kids and adults. 

About the in-laws

Over the years, the Gur Hasidim have become somewhat more flexible on this point, and in recent years, according to Brown, have opened their code of conduct to internal debate. Meanwhile, other Hasidic sects, such as Slonim and Toldot Aharon, have gradually become influenced by the Gur way of life and have begun to apply similar prohibitions in the area of marital relations. In addition, in many Hasidic families, Brown emphasizes, when guests are invited for dinner, there are always separate tables for men and women. Gender segregation often begins when the nuclear family expands, as children marry and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law are brought into the fold.

According to halakha (Jewish religious law), brothers-in-law are not relatives of the first degree. As such, they are prohibited from listening to a woman in their wife’s family sing and they are not allowed to be alone with any of the female members of their wife’s family. Thus, in Hasidic families, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law never sit around and engage in small talk. Instead, they keep their distance from one another.

This is another challenge that is faced.  In addition to the shock of men and women coming together in marriage when neither side has a good understanding of the other gender, but then there is the greater challenge of interacting with others of the opposite gender who are not directly related.  As such, many find their meals more comfortable with less intermingling.  Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between separate areas of the table and relegating women to eating in the kitchen.

The Good Short Life With A.L.S.

The Good Short Life With A.L.S. – NYTimes.com.

This piece is the kind of first hand account of dying that causes me to pause and reflect on the conflict we all face between wanting to keep living and yet not wanting to become a burden to others.  The author seems to say that he would rather allow nature to takes its course than to begin the various artificial means of prolonging life. 

As a Jewish chaplain who has tremendous problems with the idea of euthanasia/assisted suicide, I am challenged with a story like this.  If he were Jewish, would he be forced to have a tracheotomy because of the idea that every second matters?  Or would we accept that he does have a choice if that choice is coming from a desire to avoid further suffering?  I certainly empathize with the author, but am left with one additional question:  In the discussion of assisted suicide, one of the pieces often overlooked is post-death grief.  While the author is not saying he will avail himself of such a way out, it is still important to wonder about how the survivors will process the death when no means are taken to extend his life.  To me, I tend to believe that assisted suicide often leaves families scarred in ways that we tend to ignore in the face of the ill person’s suffering.  If we are intertwined, then both elements should be taken into account when decisions are made. 

I HAVE wonderful friends. In this last year, one took me to Istanbul. One gave me a box of hand-crafted chocolates. Fifteen of them held two rousing, pre-posthumous wakes for me. Several wrote large checks. Two sent me a boxed set of all the Bach sacred cantatas. And one, from Texas, put a hand on my thinning shoulder, and appeared to study the ground where we were standing. He had flown in to see me.

“We need to go buy you a pistol, don’t we?” he asked quietly. He meant to shoot myself with.

“Yes, Sweet Thing,” I said, with a smile. “We do.”

I loved him for that.

I love them all. I am acutely lucky in my family and friends, and in my daughter, my work and my life. But I have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., more kindly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the great Yankee hitter and first baseman who was told he had it in 1939, accepted the verdict with such famous grace, and died less than two years later. He was almost 38.

I sometimes call it Lou, in his honor, and because the familiar feels less threatening. But it is not a kind disease. The nerves and muscles pulse and twitch, and progressively, they die. From the outside, it looks like the ripple of piano keys in the muscles under my skin. From the inside, it feels like anxious butterflies, trying to get out. It starts in the hands and feet and works its way up and in, or it begins in the muscles of the mouth and throat and chest and abdomen, and works its way down and out. The second way is called bulbar, and that’s the way it is with me. We don’t live as long, because it affects our ability to breathe early on, and it just gets worse.

At the moment, for 66, I look pretty good. I’ve lost 20 pounds. My face is thinner. I even get some “Hey, there, Big Boy,” looks, which I like. I think of it as my cosmetic phase. But it’s hard to smile, and chew. I’m short of breath. I choke a lot. I sound like a wheezy, lisping drunk. For a recovering alcoholic, it’s really annoying.

There is no meaningful treatment. No cure. There is one medication, Rilutek, which might make a few months’ difference. It retails for about $14,000 a year. That doesn’t seem worthwhile to me. If I let this run the whole course, with all the human, medical, technological and loving support I will start to need just months from now, it will leave me, in 5 or 8 or 12 or more years, a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self. Maintained by feeding and waste tubes, breathing and suctioning machines.

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don’t think I’ll stick around for the back half of Lou.

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.

And that’s the point. This is not about one particular disease or even about Death. It’s about Life, when you know there’s not much left. That is the weird blessing of Lou. There is no escape, and nothing much to do. It’s liberating.

I began to slur and mumble in May 2010. When the neurologist gave me the diagnosis that November, he shook my hand with a cracked smile and released me to the chill, empty gray parking lot below.

It was twilight. He had confirmed what I had suspected through six months of tests by other specialists looking for other explanations. But suspicion and certainty are two different things. Standing there, it suddenly hit me that I was going to die. “I’m not prepared for this,” I thought. “I don’t know whether to stand here, get in the car, sit in it, or drive. To where? Why?” The pall lasted about five minutes, and then I remembered that I did have a plan. I had a dinner scheduled in Washington that night with an old friend, a scholar and author who was feeling depressed. We’d been talking about him a lot. Fair enough. Tonight, I’d up the ante. We’d talk about Lou.

The next morning, I realized I did have a way of life. For 22 years, I have been going to therapists and 12-step meetings. They helped me deal with being alcoholic and gay. They taught me how to be sober and sane. They taught me that I could be myself, but that life wasn’t just about me. They taught me how to be a father. And perhaps most important, they taught me that I can do anything, one day at a time.

Including this.

I am, in fact, prepared. This is not as hard for me as it is for others. Not nearly as hard as it is for Whitney, my 30-year-old daughter, and for my family and friends. I know. I have experience.

I was close to my old cousin, Florence, who was terminally ill. She wanted to die, not wait. I was legally responsible for two aunts, Bessie and Carolyn, and for Mother, all of whom would have died of natural causes years earlier if not for medical technology, well-meaning systems and loving, caring hands.

I spent hundreds of days at Mother’s side, holding her hand, trying to tell her funny stories. She was being bathed and diapered and dressed and fed, and for the last several years, she looked at me, her only son, as she might have at a passing cloud.

I don’t want that experience for Whitney — nor for anyone who loves me. Lingering would be a colossal waste of love and money.

If I choose to have the tracheotomy that I will need in the next several months to avoid choking and perhaps dying of aspiration pneumonia, the respirator and the staff and support system necessary to maintain me will easily cost half a million dollars a year. Whose half a million, I don’t know.

I’d rather die. I respect the wishes of people who want to live as long as they can. But I would like the same respect for those of us who decide — rationally — not to. I’ve done my homework. I have a plan. If I get pneumonia, I’ll let it snuff me out. If not, there are those other ways. I just have to act while my hands still work: the gun, narcotics, sharp blades, a plastic bag, a fast car, over-the-counter drugs, oleander tea (the polite Southern way), carbon monoxide, even helium. That would give me a really funny voice at the end.

I have found the way. Not a gun. A way that’s quiet and calm.

Knowing that comforts me. I don’t worry about fatty foods anymore. I don’t worry about having enough money to grow old. I’m not going to grow old.

I’m having a wonderful time.

I have a bright, beautiful, talented daughter who lives close by, the gift of my life. I don’t know if she approves. But she understands. Leaving her is the one thing I hate. But all I can do is to give her a daddy who was vital to the end, and knew when to leave. What else is there? I spend a lot of time writing letters and notes, and taping conversations about this time, which I think of as the Good Short Life (and Loving Exit), for WYPR-FM, the main NPR station in Baltimore. I want to take the sting out of it, to make it easier to talk about death. I am terribly behind in my notes, but people are incredibly patient and nice. And inviting. I have invitations galore.

Last month, an old friend brought me a recording of the greatest concert he’d ever heard, Leonard Cohen, live, in London, three years ago. It’s powerful, haunting music, by a poet, composer and singer whose life has been as tough and sinewy and loving as an old tree.

The song that transfixed me, words and music, was “Dance Me to the End of Love.” That’s the way I feel about this time. I’m dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops — when I can’t tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with Whitney, kiss someone special, or tap out lines like this — I’ll know that Life is over.

It’s time to be gone.

Dudley Clendinen is a former national correspondent and editorial writer for The Times, and author of “A Place Called Canterbury.”

How Many Children Is Enough?

I thought this was an interesting turn of events in the Haredi community.  It seems as though the number of children being born is actually decreasing.  According to this article (h/t Failed Messiah) from Haaretz, many families are opting for less children as a means of creating a better quality family.  For many women, visions of being in the middle of the pack of 10 or so children was something that they could not impose on their children as well.  Other women are asserting their desire for a better quality of life as well, so that they are not merely baby-making machines.  They are not expressing any less of a desire for children so much as an increase in their health as well.   This article clearly goes a long way to show the varieties within the Charedi community with regard to childbirth.  Other discussions about this subject take place below. 

Sociologist Tamar Elor, who specializes in the Haredi community, says that in the 1970s, bearing a large number of children was a means for ultra-Orthodox women to distinguish themselves.

According to Prof. Elor, “If you wanted to be outstanding you had to give birth and be a go-getter, a champion and an achiever, to look good and succeed at everything. Today, more venues in which women can excel have opened up – for instance, in education and professional training; there are more women who now focus on careers. This generation of the new ‘superwomen’ felt what it meant to be a mother to 12 children [from their own childhoods]. Nowadays it is more difficult to return to having a big family supported by only one breadwinner. In earlier generations when families were big, [grandparents] were sometimes in a position to help and contribute to the household, but today there is no help.”

Elor acknowledges that “there are families who lived off the allowances and when they were cut, their [financial] situation deteriorated. In the face of poverty, when families are forced to move from one apartment to another … there are those who admit, very quietly, that things cannot go on this way. The power of poverty has hit the Haredi community hard. In the present generation it is difficult to justify being poor in the name of religious piety.”

Moshe Grylak, founder and editor of the Haredi paper Mishpacha (Family ) sees the ultra-Orthodox tradition of having large families as an expression of “a feeling of responsibility for the Jewish people,” which must fight what it sees as a demographic threat.

“I remember that after the Yom Kippur War there was a general surge in births,” he says. “It was seen as expressing a fear of ‘extinction.’ But today, the low birthrate among the public at large and the fact that women are giving birth later reflect indifference, hedonism and a feeling of everyone for himself. The Haredi community, on the other hand, still feels committed to the struggle.”

Grylak adds that “the women have taken this upon themselves … The rabbis never said women must keep having children; and even in the [women’s religious] seminaries there was no such explicit statement.” However, he adds, “competition has developed: ‘You have six, I have eight.’ Like men who lift weights to prove who is manlier, women want to show they have more children. It is true that in a closed society like ours, where it is difficult to make a living and help is not always available, this sometimes causes problems.”

While Grylak generally does not see a dramatic change in the trend of having many children – “Nothing has changed around me,” he asserts – a younger man who is very active in the Haredi community, and preferred to speak anonymously, says: “It is known that the great granddaughter of an important rabbi in Bnei Brak told that rabbi, ‘I do not want to give birth now’ – and he told her, ‘No problem, wait for two years.’ There is a sense that ‘the generations have changed.’ One can no longer demand that women have a lot of children and also work from morning to night. More than once you see couples with four or five children, and that is not always because of problems of fertility. Today every rabbi authorizes contraceptives, even after the first child and not just when there is a health problem. If a woman asks for it, it means she’s having a tough time.”
 

 

Assisted living: Leaving home and heading for ‘the home’

Assisted living: Leaving home and heading for ‘the home’

This article is a personalized piece on the decision to move into assisted living.  I was moved by the story, especially this one line at the end:  “No matter what you call it, going to the home is the end of the road.”  This line is not a throw away at all.  It is the essence of what people feel when moving into an assisted living.  Most people who enter never return home, but make this their last or second to last residence.  We must be mindful of this when discussing the subject in communities, because without that sensitivity, we are missing the boat on how to provide for our elderly.

End of Jewish golden age on Capitol Hill?

 

 

 

End of Jewish golden age on Capitol Hill? – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

I found this blog entry which I thought I would share.  It is not a subject I can speak much about, but I am intrigued nevertheless.  I am not sure whether this is good or bad, but is this all part of the continued feeling of apathy among the Jewish people?  Is this a sign of complacency, or this is merely the way government functions?

“The massive overrepresentation of Jews on Capitol Hill, long a source of pride for the community, has been shrinking in recent years and could drop in the coming election cycle from 41 to the mid 30s, a level last seen 15 years ago,” Nathan Guttman recently wrote in The Forward, the Jewish newspaper.

Perhaps a golden age of sorts is coming to an end.

“It is the drawing down of a generation that believed in civil service,” Jacques Berlinerblau, director of Georgetown University’s Jewish civilization program, told Guttman, citing generations of post-World War II American Jews who, as Guttman phrased it, “saw special value in entering public service and also in reaching beyond the interests of their own community…”

Of course, the vagaries of electoral politics play a role.

When Republicans are ascendant, such as in the 2010 election, the Democrats lose seats, including those held by Jews. Indeed, seven Jewish lawmakers lost seats in the last cycle. Already there are concerns that redrawing the lines of congressional districts in California will eliminate a House seat currently held by a Jewish Democrat. Of course, Democratic fortunes in 2012 will hinge, in part, on the strength of President Barack Obama’s electoral coattails.

But there are also irrefutable demographic trends at play.

“While experts disagree on the short-term significance of shifts in Jewish political representation, all point to the likelihood of a long-term decline,” writes Guttman. “Growth in Jewish population is stagnant and composes an increasingly smaller portion of the population in general…”