Thursday, June 19, 2014

“When you interrupt a girl’s school day” – seen on Facebook


Agree or disagree?  What do you think of this message that’s been floating around for a day or two on facebook:

"When you interrupt a girl’s school day to force her to change clothes or to send her home because her shorts are short, or her bra straps are visible, you are telling her that hiding her body is more important than her education. You are telling her that making sure the boys have a distraction-free learning environment is more important than her education. You are telling her that boys are more entitled to an education than she is.

Doesn’t it depend on what you’re telling the boys? 

And doesn’t this presuppose that there are boys in the school in the first place??

What are you telling the boys?

My daughter went to school for 12 years where she could be sent home if she was inappropriately dressed.  But then again, so did my son (albeit, at the end, to a school with slightly different standards – I have to include this disclaimer in case one of them should come across this post).

In Hebrew, there is a strong difference between the word “haskalah” (הַשׂכָּלָה), which means “education” and the word chinuch (חִנּוּךְ), which means… whoops; “education.”  A school, it is said, provides haskalah, which generally means something more like intellectual enlightenment – the content of what is taught in lessons.  But it should also provide chinuch – the kind of education in civil behaviour into which how we dress – and the message it sends – generally falls.

This message is apparently being shared on facebook as part of something called the “@unslutproject,” which aims to remove stigma and shaming of women who dress or act in certain ways.  I certainly agree that we shouldn’t shame people or treat them badly, no matter what their gender or how they’re dressed.  That’s part of civil behaviour, too.

Who’s more distracted?

It is interesting, by the way, that we assume that the biggest distraction here is to the boys (assuming they are there in the classroom at all).  Have you ever noticed how distracted young girls act when their bodies are on display?

If a girl’s bra strap is showing, did it get that way by accident?  Maybe… or maybe she knows it, planned it that way, and is thinking about it constantly during history or English or whatever class she’s supposed to be concentrating on.

And by the way, if you remove the boys from the classroom, there’s some evidence to suggest that the girls do better, educationally.  Does that mean, since we care so much about their education, that we ought to sequester them in single-sex schools, where they won’t have to fiddle with their bra straps, hemlines, or anything else unless they want to…?

Well, the choice is up to you, but that’s what we did with our daughter.

Neither gender is more or less entitled to an education.  But since their bodies are coursing with well-documented crazy hormones during the years between 13 and 18 (probably longer), it seems to make sense to both set dress codes AND separate them during these years. 

I can’t guarantee distraction-free (see above re crazy hormones).  But yes, it’s fair to say that boys are entitled to a learning-conducive learning environment… and so are girls.  Since each is the other’s biggest distraction, it just makes sense to keep them apart.  And appropriately dressed.

Like, share, comment if you agree.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wow, I never knew the world cared.


It is almost unbelievable how inured we have become to the “Like” buttons that follow us everywhere these days, begging for our all-important feedback on everything from a drive-thru meal eaten in passing (Like!) to a budget motel (1 star!) to a city (Budapest, 5 stars!) or even a hike (Grand Canyon, 2 stars!).

But the weather??? apparently now lets me vote on the weather.  I didn’t actually click “Love,” by the way.  I was just hovering when I took this screenshot.  I do wonder, though… if enough people click “Ugh!,” what exactly will happen? 

Something like this, maybe:


But really, I don’t think we should mess with the universe quite to that extent…

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eulogy for my brother Eli


NOTE: One year after my brother Eli's death in 2014, I published a book about the intertwining of our lives and his struggle with schizophrenia. This post and many other writings are included, in slightly different form, in that book.
Please wait until the ride has come to a full and complete stop is now available in print and Kindle editions.

Through laughter and tears, I invite you to come share my final journey with my brother.

Once upon a time, a family went to Disney World… and the little boy got lost. The father couldn’t find him, and, in the most exciting development of his big sister’s life, actually left without him. Her head spun with all the wonderful possibilities. “No brother!” But, like Hansel, he found his way back to the campground and her hopes were crushed. Life with a brother – what a pain.

Seventeen months apart, we were two halves of the same person.  Curled up under the blanket, we’d pretend we were twins waiting to be born.  We’d switch clothing and try to trick everybody (nobody was ever fooled).  We finished each other’s sentences, read each other’s mind, used deaf-blind sign language to talk to each other silently in shul.  I bragged to my friends about his math, and he bragged to his that I slept with a dictionary beside my bed.

My mother has pictures to prove that I was physically older, but by age 2, he’d caught up … and shot on ahead. I can't remember a time when Eli wasn't the leader — stronger and bigger and smarter.  Defending me from the worms in the garden. Teaching me about the world.  Tutoring me in French so he wouldn't know something I didn't.

As a toddler, he and my mother were standing in front of a toy store window when some people passing by stopped. One of them said, “Look, it’s Mr. Mouth!” And my mother thought, “How do they know Eli?” But no, there in the window was a game called Mr. Mouth.

How could he shut up, where there was so much to say?

My own children never got to see that side of him. Except Jeremy.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Erica and Jeffrey Henderson: CPS abuse poster family or “non-kosher” fraud?


The headlines circulating on facebook are the nightmare of every homeschooling family: “A homebirthing, homeschooling, non vacinating, kosher family ripped apart by Local Law Enforcement and CPS without lawful charges.”  Eep. That’s bad, right???

But something in that term “kosher family” prompted me to dig a little. What does that mean, a “kosher family?”  Were Erica Michelle Henderson and Jeffrey Henderson actually hiding something?

The Hendersons’ own appeal-for-money-and-sympathy website says her breast milk must be tested for alchohol as " she drinks on Shabbat, a Jewish religious day." Another site, discussing the family’s first visit with their kids in 2 years, says, “The announcement of the visit was made on Friday, to which Mrs. Henderson said, “Baruch Hashem!” which in Hebrew means “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” Today began the Jewish festival of Passover, celebrated to mark the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.”

Why doesn’t it just come out and say they’re Jewish?

image Things looked sketchier and sketcher as I poked deeper into this. At one point, after a court trial, mother Erica Michelle Henderson apparently tweeted that "we really felt the Holy Spirit there." Not to mention that that post also shows the father sitting in court wearing a tallis - a little odd, to say the least. (I have known about a bazillion frum lawyers, none of whom have EVER worn a tallis in court.)

They have repeated begged for money in various online forums, drawing on Jewish sympathy, I'm sure, but there is no indication anywhere that they are actually Jewish themselves.

And those appeals for money have been somewhat successful, raising at the very least thousands of dollars for a cause any one of us can get behind.  Or can we?

Here’s what I turned up. According to this post, "For background, the Hendersons are proponents of homeschooling, home birthing, no vaccines, and are Messianic Jewish by faith."

Why do I have a problem with that? Who cares what their religion is?

Here’s the problem: “Messianic Judaism “ is, by definition, a lie. And to be very blunt, if they’re lying about their religion, what else are they lying to us about…?

image I’m sure it’s true some so-called Messianic Jews truly believe they’re following the right path, and honestly think they are Jewish. But I wonder how they think it’s possible to join themselves to a thousands-of-years-old faith just by wrapping themselves in a tallis, drinking Kiddush wine on Shabbat, or saying “Yeshua” instead of you-know-what?

As I’ve said here many times before, the truth as I see it is that American Protestants are sick of the way their faith has been gutted of its symbolism, depth and beauty. Not to mention its history. They’re looking for something older, deeper and more “authentic.” And for many, Judaism – in a bastardized, ripped-off Messianic form, is it.

Actually, I later did find another reference – accompanied by a picture of a seder table – saying that the first 2 days of Pesach “were high holy days for the Hendersons, who are Jewish.”

Lying about your religion isn’t a crime. And I’m sure there are lots of nice people who belong to Hebrew-Christian “messianic” organizations, acting like Jews and teaching their kids all about their odd hybrid religion. Again, it’s not right, but it’s not a crime, either.

What rubs me the wrong way here is that their appeal was being circulated in a Jewish context. Somebody told somebody they were Orthodox Jews, perhaps even “very Orthodox,” that mythical beast that everybody imagines existing in some black-hat enclave somewhere.

They certainly never objected to being thought of as Jewish… and presumably soaked up the Jewish sympathy right along with the PayPal dollars that came with it.

image I also discovered more background on the Hendersons and their battles with authority in the form of an L.A. Times article that goes waaay back to 2005. "They're a very interesting couple. Let's put it that way," said the U.S. Forest Service Ranger who reported that the couple had circumcised their baby themselves at home under non-sterile conditions: a backwoods cabin with no running water. There were also allegations of violence against the father, Jeffrey Henderson, although at that time, they were given back their children (despite the backwoods bris!).

I’ll be honest:  I believe people like this prey on the good intentions of folks like you and me.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for money.  I have given to online appeals for various families, and even organized one myself, collecting and forwarding donations for an Israeli homeschooling family who suddenly lost its father a couple of years ago.

Here’s something you might not know about me. I’m secretly a soft touch: I care about moms and kids, and families of all kinds. And I get mad when any so-called authority steps in to take kids away from the families where they are thriving.

A few years ago, CPS took away our friends' long-term foster son without cause. You can bet that I demonstrated (here’s a picture of me speaking at that event) and wrote letters and organized people and fought as hard as I could to get him back. (Sadly, we failed…!)

image Regardless of religion, I believe the Hendersons' is a story I could seriously get behind... if it was true.  Just as so many others online have adopted them as a cause celebre:  the poster family for discrimination against homeschoolers, home-birthers, no-vax’ers.

But everything that I found online has convinced me: this is not a one-time Bad Thing that happened to Good People. Everything that I have learned about the Hendersons points towards one crucial fact that most of the nice people sharing their story don’t realize – because they’re not sharing the full story:  This is nutty people doing things to their kids that they ought not be doing. And honestly, that's what CPS is for.

If you have seen an appeal for this family online, please share a link to this post so others can find out the truth.