Today is Purim. It is a joyous holiday where Jews celebrate the defeat of Haman’s plot to annihalate the Jews of Persia. And while I was excited to attend our community’s Purim Carnival, I tossed and turned last night. What if a bomb threat was called into our JCC in the middle of the Carnival. What would be our plan to get out quickly and safely?
Luckily, our community’s Purim Carnival was joyous (& full of security). However, as I scrolled through Twitter this afternoon, I learned JCCs in Rochester, NY, Milwaukee, WI, Indianapolis, IN, & Vancouver, BC had a bomb threats on what should be a festive day.
I long for the days when my greatest concern was whether or not we’d be able to find a close parking spot. Walking through the cold seems trivial now since there are real concerns.
Nevertheless, people were not deterred. I saw more people I knew at our JCC for today’s Purim Carnival than I have in the past. That is a wonderful thing, right?
It’s late and I’m falling back on a format I use when I’m short on time.
Things I’m Pretty Sure of Today: Having your baby sleep through the night again is better than a new piece of jewelry; My heart filled with pride when Isabelle’s teacher lent me her drawing and writing book, which is filled with her Kid Writing; Isabelle is much more into Purim than I ever was as a kid; My father saved the day (yet again) by stepping in to help Isabelle with her Purim costume; I need to pull back from a project that got forced upon me. This became crystal clear when Isabelle walked into my office and said, “You’re working at your computer again?!!?”; I enjoyed going out for dessert with several Kindergarten moms tonight, but I was delighted to return home in time to put Ari to sleep.
Yesterday our local JCC was one of many that received a bomb threat. My family was personally affected by this evacuation. Friends and colleagues from across this country reached out to me when they heard the news. Their phone calls, emails, text messages, and Voxes reminded me there are many people who do not seek to do the Jewish people harm.
Last night, I wrote four letters – thanking various people for their efforts to keep evacuees calm and safe during the two hours everyone vacated the building.
Today I will return to my JCC to exercise. Sure, I could go elsewhere for a mommy-and-me barre class. However, I choose to take it at my local JCC.
And as soon as my shoulder feels strong enough for swimming, I will frequent the lap pool at my local JCC again.
I lived in Manhattan on September 11th. Initially, I was afraid. No one knew where the next attack would come from. However, as New Yorkers, we went about our daily lives by riding the Subway, eating at restaurants, and — once air space reopened — flying on planes. If there’s one thing I learned from those fall days in 2001, it’s that you have to keep living your life or you allow terrorists to win.
I am appalled by the continued bomb threats whose goal is to instill fear in America’s Jews and the many non-Jews who use Jewish Community Centers. I am disheartened by the lack of response from many in positions of power. I am dismayed this story — this fifth wave of bomb threats in two months — isn’t the leading news story on every major television network. But let me be clear, I won’t be afraid.
I wish I could share a story about my kids today, but I can’t. My mind is consumed with a “news story” that is personal.
In case you haven’t heard, Jewish Community Centers, or JCCs, around the United States (and one in Canada) have been targeted with coordinated bomb threats since the beginning of 2017. Yesterday, a fourth wave of bomb threats was called into 11 JCCs around the country. Some people were working out when they were evacuated. Senior citizens were enjoying camaraderie when they were evacuated. Children were playing at day care when they were evacuated. Thankfully, all of the bomb threats have been a hoax. However, they have struck fear in the hearts of those – Jewish and non-Jewish – who work and play at their local JCCs.
Our lives revolve around our JCC. One of us is in the building… sometimes up to six days a week. I will be at the JCC three times today alone! And do you know what I’m thinking about as I prepare for my midday trip to the JCC with my son? Let me tell you, it isn’t about where I’d change a diaper blow-out if one were to happen. (I’ve got that covered, thank you very much.) Instead, I’m planning how I will evacuate the building if there’s a bomb threat with my son in tow. (I’ve decided I’d ditch the stroller, strap him to my body in the baby carrier, and run out of the building.) THIS IS NOT NORMAL!
I grew up in the New York Metropolitan Area where I encountered very little anti-Semitism. I remember a handful of classmates repeating Jewish stereotypes to me they’d probably heard their parents say at home. I had one teacher, in all of my years, who gave me grief about needing to attend synagogue, instead of play practice, on a Friday. (And that was one of the handful of times in my entire school career my mother ever called school to handle a problem for me.) Even though I had to take off from school for the Jewish holidays, I never felt victimized because of my religion.
Yesterday, there was a statement issued by the White House Press Secretary condemning the “hatred and hate-motivated violence.” Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. A forceful condemnation needs to come from the POTUS. Short of that, this “hate-motivated violence” – towards Jews and other minority religious groups – will continue.
As a reader of this blog, I am asking you to do something for me. Please stand with those of us who are being terrorized by these bomb threats – even if they don’t impact you. (Just this morning, a Muslim civil rights group offered a $5,000 reward to anyone with information about the bomb threats.) Here are some things you can do:
Share articles (Like this one, this one, this one, or this one.) on your social media accounts. We must stand together against hate. Unfortunately, I don’t feel there has been enough coverage of these bomb threats outside of the Jewish press.
Contact your elected officials. Ask them to speak out against religious intolerance.
I will not allow fear to change the way I live. As an American Jew, I shouldn’t have to since this country was built on religious freedom. It is my hope to raise my children in the kind of America in which I grew up.
UPDATE (10:23 a.m. EST on 2/21):
About a half-hour ago (which is about an hour after this blog post went live), President Trump made this statement:
Trump: anti-Semitic threats targeting Jews are “a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate & prejudice & evil” pic.twitter.com/amGUFjnxw3
I didn’t cover my eyes for the Shema prayer, which is a declaration that there is one G-d, until I was a freshman in college. I was shocked to see so many people covering their eyes at Hillel during my first Friday night service. Being someone who’s never buckled to peer pressure, I didn’t close mine. Instead, I waited a few weeks to ask someone about the significance of closing the eyes for the Shema. I was told one covers their eyes for the Shema as a way to concentrate fully on the meaning behind the prayer. That wasn’t the custom in the Reform synagogue in which I grew up. However, the reasoning behind covering the eyes made sense to me so I started doing it. However, instead of covering my eyes with my right hand, I opted to close my eyelids.
Fast-forward 21 years. I say the Shema prayer with Isabelle at bedtime. This past year, as part of her first religious school experience, she learned the Shema. We chant it every night using the exact tune and tempo her teacher taught her. Everything was going along swimmingly with our nightly Shema until sometime last week when we were on vacation. Apparently, Isabelle uncovered her eyes one night and found my eyelids were closed, rather than covered by my right hand. She’s been bugging me about covering my eyes ever since. Whatever, I thought. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.
This evening, at bedtime, the prayer police got on my case again. “Mommy, cover your eyes.”
So I did. And it wasn’t because I felt pressured. It’s because I wanted to see what would happen if I did. Would Isabelle notice? Because if she did, that would mean her eyes wouldn’t be closed.
I know I was supposed to be concentrating on the prayer (Hence, the reason for the covered eyes), but just before the final word of the Shema, I peeked through my right hand to see what Isabelle was doing. Not only were her eyes opened, transfixed on the wall, but she had her finger over her lips as she sang. Whaaaat?!?!?
Just before I kissed Isabelle good-night, I asked, “Were your eyes covered for the Shema?”
“Yes,” she said.
While it’s possible they were up until that last moment, I kind of doubt it.
I see a conversation in our future — long before bedtime hits tomorrow — about WHY we’re supposed to close and cover our eyes for the Shema. Clearly, she’s been told to do it. And I’m sure her teacher explained why they’re supposed to cover their eyes. However, I think it’s time for a refresher because no one wants to have the prayer police on their case!
A couple months ago, I was lamenting to a friend (though I can’t remember WHO I was talking to) about Isabelle not wanting to re-wear her Halloween costume for Purim since it was too cumbersome. My friend suggested that Isabelle, who many people consider to be my “Mini Me” should dress like me and I should dress like her. I thought it was a genius idea. I could wear a purple shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a bow in my hair while Isabelle could wear all black (and no bow). I suggested it to Isabelle. She went for it.
Today was our community’s Purim Carnival. Isabelle and I did, indeed, trade places. She dressed in “black-black-black” so as to impersonate me and I dressed like her, complete with a purple bow in my hair. When Isabelle saw the bow she giggled and said, “You look silly, Mommy!” I felt pretty silly. But, hey, it’s Purim. If you can’t be silly on Purim, then when can you be?
Since you can’t see the hilarity of the purple bow in the Waterlogue of Isabelle and me, here’s a photo to help you envision how silly I looked (up-close):
But today we went to an Orthodox synagogue in town since her religious school teacher was leading the kids’ service. I figured it would be a good change of pace for us. And it was! Even though the setting was new, Isabelle seemed at-ease since her teacher was there. I was floored watching Isabelle’s level of participation in the Pre-K/Kindergarten services. She sang prayers like Modeh Ani, Sh’ma/Va’ahavta, and Adom Olam. She even did the hand motions her teacher taught her and her peers in class. When it was time for a story, she left my side without hesitation to sit on the floor with the other kids. I sat – alone and astonished – marveling at how different she was today.
I’m not about to switch to an Orthodox synagogue (I’m an EgalitarianConservative Jew.) as a result of today. Rather, I’m going to keep today’s experience top of mind, especially the next time I find myself in our synagogue with an unengaged kid. In the right place, Isabelle does just fine. More than fine… she does great!
I have taken at least one photo of Isabelle nearly every day of her life. When I realized I didn’t have a picture of her just before we were ready to light the Shabbat candles, I grabbed my phone and snapped one. But I couldn’t get her to stand still.
Isabelle was standing on her helper tower, waiting for Shabbat to begin, jumping up and down. (Something we’ve cautioned her about time and time again since her helper tower wasn’t designed for jumping.)
A minute before I lit the candles, I captured this photo of her:
I like this one better, but the one of her jumping makes me think she was just as excited as I am for the weekend to be here. Or perhaps it captures her age and the fact that she doesn’t stay still for long.
After months of pushing the “clean out Isabelle’s sock drawer” task down on my to-do list, I cleaned it out last week. It was something I hadn’t done in about three years! Sorting through the tiny socks was a walk down memory lane. The little Eiffel Tower socks matched her first day of preschool outfit. The socks with blue piping coordinated with one of her outfits I wished I could have had in my size. The black and white panda bear socks reminded me of an early conversation she had with the bears on her ankles. Of course, there were oodles of white ones — nondescript and representing all of the regular days of our lives — but the printed ones brought back special memories.
As I sorted and saved the pristine-looking socks in a plastic bin, I wondered, “Will I have another girl* who will wear these some day?” Tears welled-up in my eyes at that thought. Even the smallest of things, like packing away baby socks, can make you sad after you have a miscarriage.
We were expecting our second child. And perhaps that’s what made the news about a too-slow heartbeat and not-enough growth excruciating to hear. It wasn’t just a fetus that wasn’t developing. It was our child — the one we already had hopes and dreams for — who we learned was not going to make it.
We took a lot of care with the decision to expand our family. We waited until Isabelle made significant progress with her speech. We started calculating our next child’s due date, what the nursery might look like, and how we’d share the news with our family as soon as we found out we were pregnant.
I was cautiously optimistic even though we were giddy with excitement. I knew the reality of being 38 and pregnant. One’s eggs are considered old when you’re 38. They could have problems. Our child could have a genetic syndrome or some horrible disease because of my “old eggs.” But I choose not to focus on that. Instead, I was filled with joy and anticipation for the next two-and-a-half weeks.
The thing about being a reproductive endocrinology patient is that you’re followed closely during the first weeks of your pregnancy. There are blood tests and early sonograms, which is reassuring when things are going well. But when they’re not, as I found out this past summer, those early appointments are excruciating.
I heard my baby’s heartbeat at my seven-week appointment in mid-July. I smiled and silently said the Shehecheyanu as I lay in the darkened room. When I finished my silent prayer, the doctor’s grim expression registered in my brain.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“The heartbeat is 69 beats per minute,” he replied.
“Is that too slow?”
“We’ll talk about it across the hall. Get dressed.”
My heart began to race. What could be wrong? There was a heartbeat. It was early in my pregnancy, but there was a heartbeat. That was a good thing, right?
Five minutes later, I was dressed and talking with my doctor. He told me that at my point in the pregnancy the fetal heart rate should be about 100 beats per minute. While he had seen a couple of live births with a heart rate as slow as my child’s, he said it was unlikely. He offered me progesterone and the opportunity to come back in a few days. But he told me that in five days time there would most likely be no heartbeat.
My cautious optimism was traded for extreme sadness. Even though my family and close friends prayed for me, I found it hard to offer up prayers to G-d once I checked Isabelle’s baby book for her fetal heart rate at seven weeks gestation. (It was 142 beats per minute.) I wanted to pray, asking G-d to intervene, to perform a miracle and help my unborn child live, but I found it hard to ask for what seemed impossible.
The next five days were the most excruciating of my life. I sobbed by myself, to my husband, and even on my Isabelle’s shoulder. (Isabelle never knew I was pregnant and didn’t know why mommy was so sad, but offered me hugs regardless.) I was convinced my child had died inside me the day before I went back for a sonogram.
But I was wrong. I returned to reproductive endocrinology to learn the heart rate had increased to 110 beats per minute, but there was no growth. The doctor told me the prognosis for my pregnancy was poor. He gave me the choice: stop taking the progesterone or keep taking it to see what happened. My husband and I talked through the options with my doctor. I decided to keep taking the progesterone just in case there could be a miracle.
In the week that followed, I found words to pray to G-d. I thought that perhaps the prayers of my friends were being answered and that it was time for me to pray too. Maybe there was a chance this pregnancy could materialize.
But a week later, when I was out of town for a conference, I sought a second opinion. And there, in a strange doctor’s office, a heartbeat was no longer heard. I laid there, in yet another darkened room, watching a motionless fetus inside my womb feeling an emptiness I had never felt before. Where there had once been life, there was now nothing.
I kept taking progesterone supplements until I returned home a week later. The drug that felt like a curse — leaving me with cramping and acne — was also a blessing. It held the pregnancy inside my body until I could go home to have a D&C in mid-August. Being able to have a D&C gave me a shred of control in a situation that felt out of my control.
The body is supposed to heal faster than the heart after a miscarriage. Unfortunately, neither my body nor my heart have fully healed yet. I’ve had worsening abdominal pain for the past eight weeks, which concerns my doctor and me. On Wednesday, I’ll have surgery to determine the cause of the pain so it can be fixed. Afterwards, I have been told I am to do virtually nothing (e.g., no lifting more than five pounds, no exercising, no cooking, no doing laundry) for two weeks. I’m frustrated about this, but I know I have to listen to my doctor if I want my body to be restored.
The slow heartbeat was detected about a week before Mark Zuckerberg made his announcement that his wife was expecting a baby after three miscarriages. Even before Zuckerberg made it less taboo to talk about miscarriage, I knew I would share my story. But I kept waiting for a good ending. You know, one where I was feeling like myself again. Or better yet, one where I could announce I was expecting another child. Even though that happy ending hasn’t happened yet, I felt it was time to put this slice of my life into the world. You never know who might be going through the agony of losing an unborn child… It is my hope that if someone is going through a similar experience, they will find comfort in knowing they are not alone.
I’ve talked to several women who’ve had miscarriages. One woman had more miscarriages than I could count on one hand! Even though she has healthy, living children, she told me she’s never gotten over her miscarriages. To this day, she still feels sad about those little lives she had so much hope for, but that weren’t meant to be.
“But some souls are never ready to leave. They are too sublime, too pure, too sensitive to be thrust into the harsh realities of worldly existence. It would be simply too cruel to plunge such a gentle soul into a body, to enter a world polluted by evil and selfishness. So instead of descending further, these souls float back to where they came from the higher and holier realms where they feel at home. Perhaps they will come down some other time. Or perhaps their mission is fulfilled, having come down far enough.”
I’ve thought about Rabbi Moss’s words for the past two months. They helped me realize the child I was carrying was not ready for life on Earth. I will never know why. I like to think that the soul of the child I was carrying is in a better place now. That notion has given me comfort and has allowed me to have a return to joy and laughter in my life, despite the longing.
*= Even though my thought was about a girl, I will happily take a healthy boy or girl if we are lucky enough to have another child.
I came home from synagogue in a surly mood this afternoon. It goes beyond Isabelle not participating in the Mini Congregation service (which I blogged about earlier this month). I’m tired because my husband has been in Chicago since Thursday morning. It partially has to do with being tired. I’m tired exhausted from spending hours at the computer revising a manuscript. But what I’m really tired of is Isabelle’s demeanor towards people at synagogue. We’re in one of those vicious cycles of her refusing to be pleasant towards people who directly address her. But instead of writing a surly slice of life about my daughter’s behavior, I decided to find my happy thanks to a blog post I just read over at Kim Koehler’s blog, Live, Love, Teach.
When I make it to main service by Ein Keloheinu, even if my child wiggles in the seat next to me, I’ve found my happy.
When I find food I can eat during the Kiddush, like noodles marked “gluten free,” I’ve found my happy.
When I catch up with friends as my daughter runs around the synagogue, also known as “getting exercise,” I’ve found my happy.
When I think of how Isabelle made it through Passover last year, without consuming any chametz, I’ve found my happy.