Friday, April 30, 2010

Failure to Bond

A Mother in Israel had a recent blog entry asking what we thought about the following news item:

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The author of this blog felt that the language of the piece was a little strong, characterizing the mother's behavior as "pathological" when the same would not have been said about a runaway husband. What did we, the readers think, she wanted to know.

The truth is, we know very little about why this mom left her husband and child and I don't want to damn her without having the facts at hand. The mother doesn't want to issue a statement or explain her actions. The father says he doesn't blame her. The viewer has very little information on which to base an opinion.

We are left to read between the lines or try to translate the facial cues of the major actors in this piece. The father, well, to be kind, he seems kind of dim-witted and vacant. He seems drugged or perhaps has a mental handicap of some kind. The mother has an odd smile lurking at the corners of her mouth. Is this psychosis or just a knee-jerk response: a nervous smile that has nothing to do with mirth?

So, not having any firm information, I had to admit that unlike the other women who added comments to that blog, I agreed with the experts who felt that there was something quite wrong with the mental status of this mother. It's not that I feel that a mother can be held to a different standard of behavior than a man. I am adamant that any parent who walks out on a spouse and child without warning is wrong and sick. But there is something deeper going on when the parent is the biological mother of the child who is abandoned.

All parents have an age preference regarding children. Some parents only begin to derive pleasure from their children once they smile, others enjoy their children most once they learn the knack of speech. I like newborns best; whereas my husband finds newborns kind of, well, creepy. Dov does an awesome imitation of a newborn pummeling and scratching at his own face because he lacks basic neurological control of his own limbs.

Dov is a wonderful father, connected and involved, but is just a touch squeamish when it comes to newborns. I decided that maybe some of this had to do with the natural disadvantage that a father has in bonding with a newborn infant.

After a baby is born, it is usual for the infant to be placed on the mother's stomach. There may be some skin-to-skin contact between mother and child. At any rate, there is no doubt that what happens between a mother and a baby just after birth is a kind of magic. Studies have been done that prove a baby will, on its own, inch up from the mother's stomach to her heart and breasts where there exists the sources of love and nutrition.

During this time the mother experiences a great rush of feeling as she connects with the baby she has harbored over the past nine months deep inside her body.A connection is forged between mother and child which lasts a lifetime.

A father is forced to look on at a bit of a remove from these mystic goings on. He doesn't get to partake of an experience in which he is the first and foremost human to enter the life of the child. He is excluded from the mother/child cocoon in which no one else may ever enter. The significance of the father comes into play at a much later date.

When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I decided that when it came time for the midwife to hand me my son, I would direct her instead to hand him to Dov. I wanted him to have that taste of enchantment, that singular experience of delicious insularity that can exist between two beings, and so it was.

Yehoshua was born just after we ushered in the Sabbath eve. I motioned to the midwife that she should place the baby in my husband's arms. I watched them gaze deep into each others' eyes and lo and behold, this infant, just a few seconds old, smiled at my husband. Smiled!

Dov looked at me open-mouthed--had he really seen the baby smile?? I nodded: I'd seen that smile, too. It was real. Dov said that Shua was filled with the joy of the Sabbath and that this was the reason for this beautiful gift, that first smile, in the first moments of our child's life.

I was so happy to give my husband this gift of being the first, of getting that bit of bonding in FIRST.

I can't swear that being the first to hold Shua meant that the two of them have an eternal bond that is unbreakable. I don't know whether Shua's bond to Dov is greater than my own. I don't want to make any false claims.

But I do know that my bond to my children is unbreakable and I would include Shua in this, since after all, I nursed him for two years. I could never walk away never to return--not from Shua and not from any of my children.

I can only conclude that the mother in this news item failed to bond to her child. There must have been some kind of psychological stumbling block, perhaps postpartum depression, perhaps something else, that got in the way of the magic.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

National Psychosis

ere in Israel, we suffer from a sort of national psychosis. We live with fear and anxiety on a regular basis. We go about the daily act of living knowing that any moment, tragedy could change the tenor of our lives forever.

But no one could really function like that. You can't make tuna sandwiches, hang laundry, balance your checkbook, drive your kids to their piano lessons, or shop for groceries while expecting the sky to fall on a continual basis a la Chicken Little. It won't work. The asylums would run out of room and there would be no one left to administer them.

So we Israelis learn to bury those feelings. The feelings remain just under the surface of the everyday man/woman and lie in wait in a state of deep submersion.

Shoot me for heresy now, but this is the reason I do not believe that just anyone can live in Israel and I don't pressure my American friends to drop their lives and come live here. Not everyone can live like this. We don't all possess such flexible psyches that have the ability to switch emotions on and off as need be, in order to cope with day-to-day functioning.

Of course, as an American-born, middle class Jew, I had the luxury and privilege of choice. Not everyone can choose where to live. I chose to pledge my troth with Israel knowing full well I didn't have to do so.

It helps that I am a Litvak, a Jew of Lithuanian heritage. We Litvaks are known for being cold and unemotional. The truth is, perhaps we just internalized our emotions way back when in Eastern Europe Pogrom-Land, in the same manner as Israelis must do today. My Litvak personality is expressed in sarcastic, glib humor and in the way I do not like chick flicks. It takes a great deal to make me cry.

When I was thrown out of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, my mother was called in for a meeting with the principal at that time, Rabbi Lerner. He described how punishment seemed to evoke no response from me. He pointed to an ashtray on his desk and said to my mother, "Your daughter has no more emotion than this jade ashtray on my desk."

My mother was very upset, but since she is also a Litvak, she held her counsel and resolved that even if the school were to allow my return, she would not ever want me there again.

Rabbi Lerner was wrong. I felt the anger of my teachers at those times. It hurt. But I knew that they were trying to break me. It was a contest of wills. I was not someone they could break. I was a human being and not a horse.

Now I am an Israeli. You cannot break me no matter how much terror you throw at me. I will not leave. You cannot make me. You can't have my land, no matter what you do to me. You can bring the entire force of European and American opinion against me and it will not matter.

Yet, this morning I woke up to the sound of an airplane flying much too low. I didn't become frightened, I waited. This is how it goes. The beginnings of tragedy knock on the door and you wait to see how it evolves. You don't react right away.

I waited. And more planes flew overhead. I thought: this is it--we're in a war. Something has happened with Iran. I had been aroused to full wakefulness. I waited some more.

And then it was over. No more planes. No sirens going off, no rush to retrieve gas masks, no need to rouse the children and hustle them into the mamad--the "sealed room" that every apartment in Israel must contain by law. I turned over and went back to sleep.

This happens all the time. The feelings rear their heads whenever necessary--the time the cops descended on a female suicide bomber three people away from me in the line going into the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, the time I heard footsteps too close behind me in a silent alley, the time there was a bombing at the Machane Yehuda souk right around the time I knew my husband would be shopping there, or the time the bus driver got suspicious about a potential passenger trying to board--and then recede as if they had never been there. Israeli adrenaline is under strict control and can be summoned or bid farewell at will.

It's called the fight or flight response. But in Israel, the response has been honed and fine-tuned to a masterful point.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Every month, I write 100 web content articles. My deadline is the 25th of every month. I hate having a deadline hanging over my head, so my normal work mode is to slave at my computer double-time so I can hand in my invoice early. This time I earned four free days--more really--since I have yet to receive my May writing assignments.

I experience a marvelous sense of freedom each time I manage this feat, but rather than rest on my self-congratulatory laurels, I cast about for something else to do. I don't know how to not be busy. It makes me feel guilty to be unproductive. So I get to work on my blog which lies in sad neglect most days of the month.

Yesterday, I worked on a blog entry for hours. At last I decided it was ready enough to publish. Maybe I embedded too many graphics and it looked a bit messy, but I made a point--a heartfelt one--and I was satisfied. I published the blog and then waited in a state of expectant tension for the comments to come in.

I got one comment from a faithful friend who never neglects to weigh in, always with a great deal of valued insight--I suppose he knows how much a writer appreciates feedback--but a big zero from everyone else. I told myself that with the time difference, maybe it was too early to expect much. I went to bed thinking that perhaps in the morning, I would find my in-box flooded with notifications of comments on my blog.

But no. Not a one.

Folks, the writer's ego is fragile. A bruised psyche means we may retreat into a corner to lick our wounds and stop producing words. But encouragement has the opposite effect and makes the words flow from our brains to our fingertips to your screen.

I try to encourage my friends who enter the blogging world by leaving comments and then feel a bit sad if they don't respond in kind. I have decided that just as there exists a code of etiquette for the internet we call, "Netiquette," there needs to be blog etiquette or, "Bletiquette," too. Here's my version of Bletiquette:

1) If a friend takes the time to blog and lets you know of a new entry, take the time to comment. A lack of response is hurtful. Even a simple phrase like, "This was well-written!" can make a blogger's day.

2) Quid Pro Quo--if you comment on a blogger's blog and the blogger doesn't return the favor, you are off the hook and need not comment on their thoughts in future.

3) Be polite. I had a total stranger comment, "good grief - this is the most ignorant thing I've heard in a long while."

4) If you are the blogger who receives the hurtful comment, give a thoughtful response. The writer who called me ignorant had a point as I discovered when I looked into the matter. I apologized and she confessed she'd been a bit rude and apologized in kind. She appreciated that I took the time to research and retract my stance.

5) Always attribute quotes and where appropriate, seek permission before naming names. Do those people a favor by linking their names to their websites or blogs to give them a bit of publicity.

6) If you leave a comment, sign your name or otherwise identify yourself. We want to know who you are!

Conflict Resolution

For months now, I have been watching the relationship between America and Israel crumble. I have listened to what Ed Koch calls, "…the deafening silence," of American Jews to the stance their elected president has chosen to adopt toward the only country the U.S. can depend on without question as a true and unwavering friend. I have been waiting for Americans to speak out.

The wait has been sheer torture for someone like me, who cannot separate politics from the mundane, who cannot maintain the apathy toward the roiling of the Middle East arena that seems to be associated with a certain type of maturity I do not possess.

I know how I appear: I am someone on a soapbox for a cause that is not popular, for a cause that for some, has become an embarrassment. My cause is the 27 state peace plan: 26 states for the Moslems, one small state for the Jews.

I lecture, I become strident, and I plead. I post too many pro-Israel articles on Facebook knowing that my friends may have "hidden" me. Some of my friends comment that there is no point to these efforts. Others just tell me straight out: they are sorry for my pain, but do not share my agenda.

But I feel such urgency that I cannot quit being a nudnik on behalf of Israel. Sometimes I fear my non-Jewish facebook friends find me "too Jewish," and then I chide myself for being a Jewish Uncle Tom. I am this person, this too Jewish person. It won't change and I can't be anyone else.

At last, the Jews made a rally. The attendance was paltry—a mere 3,000. The Jewish population of New York alone, where the rally took place, stands at 1,970,000. It hurts, hurts to the core. They said it was the driving rain. But I don't believe the rain kept too many people away. How can only 3,000 Americans plead the case of 6 million Israeli Jews?

When my friend Ann Goodman's son Yosef was buried after perishing in a military accident, a huge crowd of us did not let the wild storms keep us away from the cemetery. I remember feeling that we were all one, that soaking wet, frozen crowd, and that the rain was an initiation rite of sorts showing our caring for the Goodman family during the worst of an unspeakable tragedy and our devotion to giving Yosef the honor he deserved for serving and protecting us.

The rain over Har Herzl that day felt like the very heavens were crying over the loss of this defender. The more it rained, the more I felt comforted by what it meant that such large numbers would gather as one in spite of the inclement weather. The stormy weather seemed to fit the situation.

I feel let down by those Jews in America who chose not to attend the rally—rain does not come close to serving as a valid excuse for the nonattendance of most American Jews at what might have been a major event, but fell far short of this goal. I feel that their absence, silence, and expressed lack of concern have dealt a huge blow to the cause I hold most dear in my heart: the Land of Israel as a haven for all Jews, everywhere. I feel hurt, ashamed, let down, depressed, and angry.

Even through the gloom of these emotions, I want to thank the 3,000 who did brave the weather to show support for Israel.

Today, I took the time to listen to the video clips of several of the
speakers at the rally. Pamela Geller was the best of the bunch. She spoke irrefutable truths and is a rousing and gifted speaker--a gift from God to my cause! She asked the crowd, "Where does history start? Where should we start history? Who decides? Should it start 5, 768 years ago with the Jewish people? Should it start 1400 years ago with Mohammed when he beheaded an entire tribe, the Jews of Medina, the Qurayza tribe? Who decides?

Does it start in 1921 when the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem wiped out the Jews in Hebron? Does it start in 1929 when the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem wiped out the Jews again? Does it start in 1941 when the Mufti went to Iraq and aligned with Rashid Ali and wiped out the Jews of Iraq? Where does it start? I am asking you."

Rabbi David Algaze also spoke. His speech could not compare with Geller's for fire and passion. But I received a reward for staying with him until the end. "The Arab Israeli conflict is not about territory. The Arab Israeli conflict is about the destruction of any non-Islamic state in the Middle East. It is not about territory. Territory will not solve it … The only peace the Arabs will accept is the destruction of the State of Israel and that is not going to happen," said Algaze.

As Rabbi Algaze continued his speech, he wrapped up with an important point, one I have often pondered and have been unable to get across in an adequate manner to my friends: Sometimes there is no way to resolve a conflict. That is the case here. The conflict between Israel and the so-called Palestinians cannot be resolved. Pursuing the two-state solution, imposing a peace process, it's all wrong-headed and cannot have a positive outcome for the simple reason that the Arabs will never accept the State of Israel in any form. They will never accept our presence in the Middle East. We will always be an infidel nation. That is the Islamic dialogue. Period.

Over the summer, I took a trip to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While there, I visited an old friend whom I had not seen in 30 years when both of us were teenagers. Leslie taught me guitar and had a huge impact on my musical tastes and preferences. She also woke up my political awareness, though we somehow ended up on opposite sides of the fence as adults.

Leslie and I have since been trying to find a way to dialogue without butting our heads too hard. Sometimes we fail. But there is one thing on which we agree in absolute faith: we will not apologize for Israel's right to exist.

Leslie and I discussed the conflict during my trip to Pittsburgh and at one point, she asked me, "So, what is the answer to the conflict? How can we achieve peace?"

I tried to tell her that there may not be a way to achieve a resolution but I fear I was not as articulate as Rav Algaze. Leslie looked at me in astonishment, like, "C'mon…there has to be a solution."

But Rav Algaze was right on when he said, "…you know the problem that we have in the world…the problem is the people who cannot accept that a conflict has no resolution. Not every disease can be cured, not every social ill can be resolved. Not every problem can be fixed. Sometimes, we have to learn that we are going to live with a problem. And to be able to deal with it, Israel, America, the world, have to accept the fact: we have an implacable enemy and that enemy is called Islam."

Islam is not only a religion. Islam is a political platform to control the world … those who propose a two-state solution are proposing the suicide of the State of Israel."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Red Lines

Last week, I sacrificed the feelings of a friend on the altar of humor. I heard about a Facebook page with a clever name that made me laugh and I couldn't resist signing on as a fan. As my finger hovered over my left mouse, a little voice niggled at me, "Some of your friends may be offended by the sentiment expressed here—Rhonda, for instance."

The idea put forth by the name of that group crossed over societal red lines by expressing the hope that someone holding a hallowed American office would die. But the way it was worded was so clever! I didn't so much care about the meaning of the words, I just liked the wording. So I ignored that little voice and it's been bothering me ever since. Why did I choose humor over the feelings of a friend?

It isn't the first time I've crossed red lines for the sake of humor. I offended another friend around the time of Michael Jackson's death by quoting an MJ joke on Twitter. The same thing happened. A little voice said, "This might be offensive to Viki, for instance," and I stilled the voice and ploughed forward.

I cannot figure out why I ignored the little voice, not once, but twice. I know that people's feelings matter to me. I did not have the intention of hurting feelings. I think I hoped that the humor would prevail over any offense caused. But why was I so misguided? Why did I repeat and compound the error by ignoring the voice a second time?

I decided to explore the psychology of humor with my limited resources to see if I might gain insight. I discovered the work of psychologist Rod Martin whose research involves studying the ways in which people employ humor. Martin says that being funny may not be an expression of social skills, but rather the sign of a personality flaw.

Humor can be used to improve relationships or help the individual to cope with difficulties. But humor can also be self-deprecating or antagonistic. "It's a form of communication, like speech, and we all use it differently," says Martin. The clown who puts himself down has low self-esteem. When the put-down is directed toward someone else however, it may be an adaptive response. The tense air of the office can be lightened by ridiculing a tyrannical boss in his absence.

The world abounds with Jewish comics. Jews have long used humor to cope with oppression. It breaks the tension. Laughing or causing laughter takes away the stress of the situation. Making fun of the enemy knocks him down a peg or two. Remember the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where the Hassid asks his rebbe, "Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar?"

The rabbi says, "Of course my son, there is a blessing for everything," and thinking a moment recites, "May God bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!"

Humor is a key facet of my personality. I've always loved generating laughs. Sometimes I'm not even aware I'm being funny until someone laughs. Making others laugh involves generating a kind of surprised gut reaction. Socializing involves a certain protocol, being polite and adhering to norms. Laughter, on the other hand, is genuine and comes unbidden. It needn't conform to the standards of Emily Post. It just is.

So making someone laugh is about the nicest thing I know how to do. I like it better than anything. I don't even care about the sense of the words in the joke. I just want to hear those laughs. But maybe there's something else going on.

President Obama scares me. He poses an existential threat to me, my family, my country, and my fellow Israelis on many levels. I feel a sense of urgency that is not shared by many of my friends. Was my joining that page perhaps a way of pushing the boundaries, saying: "Please see my situation: my dilemma?"

I think so.

So, how do I explain away the MJ jokes?

I guess it boils down to how I view Michael Jackson. He had to change anti-Semitic lyrics in the song, They Don't Care About Us. He swore that these lyrics were benign. But then, in 2005, tapes were aired on Good Morning America, "They suck … They're like leeches. … I'm so tired of it … It is a conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose."

It doesn't matter a bit to me that he changed the lyrics of that song to accommodate the ADL or got in bed with Shmuely Boteach. As far as I'm concerned, Jackson was an anti-Semite—a very talented person, but an extreme anti-Semite. I can never again listen to his music without the thought of his anti-Semitism coming to mind.

It isn't just his anti-Semitism, though. I also think about the baby-dangling incident. To me, MJ was not a good person. The court cases don't have anything to do with these feelings. I only look at facts. The facts makes him fair game as the butt of jokes—but NOT at the expense of my long friendship with Viki.

I think that joking about these two personalities boils down to wishing that my friends would share my passionate beliefs or at least see and recognize my feelings and fears. I crossed their red lines to make them see my own red lines. I think I would rather make my feelings known through humorous asides than by lecturing or being strident. But twice now, all I succeeded in doing was to cause offense.

I think what I learned from these two incidents is that friendship is not predicated on agreement. No matter how urgent an issue feels to me, it does not follow that a friend must agree. It's hard to take this in when I feel the issues are existential. But losing a friend is even harder.

I resolve to listen to those little voices, the next time they whisper a warning. I don't promise not to fail sometimes, but I hope that setting down my thoughts like this will firm things up in my mind and help me avoid future pitfalls that threaten my friendships with the people I love.