Actress Scarlett Johansson gives birth to daughter


Actress Scarlett Johansson has given birth to a girl, her first child with her journalist fiance, the actress' representative confirmed on Thursday.

Johansson, 29, and French journalist Romain Dauriac welcomed daughter Rose, the first child for both of them. The couple have been engaged since September 2013.

The “Captain America” actress was previously married to actor Ryan Reynolds. They divorced in 2011.

Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Lisa Shumaker

Brooklyn baby named for three murdered Israeli teens


A Brooklyn baby was named Eyal Gilad Naftali in memory of the three murdered Israeli teens.

The name was announced at the baby’s bris on Monday, according to the NRG news website. He is the son of Yankee and Bina Teitelbaum, who live in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

Reports that circulated on social media saying that a set of triplets was named for the boys proved to be false.

The teens who were kidnapped and killed last month are Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16.

Two of the couple’s other five children also were named for terror victims. Their daughter Shalhevet was named for Shalhevet Pass, an infant who was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2001, and their son Ehud Daniel was named for the captive and murdered Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser, whose body was recovered from Hezbollah in 2008, and Daniel Agami, an American soldier killed in 2007 in Iraq.

“Those three boys are our family, even more now that we gave our own son their names,” Bina Teitelbaum said in an interview cited by NRG. “We called him this name because we want him to continue the unity the boys have brought to all of Israel — united in prayer, and then reunited in grief.”

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher expecting baby no. 1


The production of beautiful Jewish babies has officially begun! Ukrainian-Jewish actress Mila Kunis of “That 70s Show” fame and her fiancé Ashton Kutcher are expecting their first child, according to E! Online.

Kunis, 30, has been dating the 36-year-old “Two and a Half Men” star for around two years. They announced their engagement less than a month ago. Since then she has been spotted around town with a big diamond ring and a small baby bump.

In December RadarOnline reported that the couple plans on raising their future children in the Jewish tradition.

As Jews traditionally say, b’sha’ah tova.

A couple’s surrogacy mitzvah


Orit Harpaz loved being pregnant with her son Theo, now 9. The Sherman Oaks-based photographer got pregnant quickly, had no trouble carrying the child, and delivered at home with her husband, Gal, also a photographer, at her side. At the same time, she watched her best friend struggle through an unsuccessful in vitro fertilization and then research adoption. When the friend raised the idea of pursuing surrogacy, Orit, without hesitation, offered to do it herself. 

“Seeing how painful it was for her and how something that came so easy to me and was such a joy to me, that was what triggered the idea,” Orit said in an interview.

The friend declined. But the idea stuck with Orit, fitting with her desire “to do a mitzvah, to do something really selfless and kind for someone else.” And so, last year Orit gave birth to a healthy boy, Aaron, for another family.

Every marriage has its challenges, its high and low points, agreements and disagreements, but not every marriage is tested by the emotional charge of creating a new life on behalf of someone else. And, to be sure, the surrogacy was a decision the couple made together and was clearly not something that Orit and Gal entered into casually. Already married for 14 years, they were also intimately familiar with the process. One couple they were very close with had had five children via surrogates. It was a completely “rosy” picture, Gal said. Still, when Orit first raised the idea in earnest, he was unsure.

“I was worried about going through a pregnancy for someone else, about complications,” he said over coffee in the couple’s breakfast nook, his wife at his side. “I was worried about what kind of toll it would take on our family, and Theo’s involvement. But once I saw it was something ingrained in her, it didn’t take too much for me to come around.”

“The way we work is,” Orit said, “I’ll have an idea, and he’ll say, let’s do the research. How hard I want to work on something gauges to him how strongly I feel about it.”

“Ultimately, it’s one of those life decisions that, once the seed has been planted, I don’t think it goes away,” Gal added. “You either start to grow together with it or start to grow apart.”

It was a two-year process of connecting with an agency, being matched with a family, meeting with lawyers, contracts and more contracts, and, ultimately, the egg transfer. 

Orit recalls the day she and Gal sat down with Theo. “I remember saying, ‘We’re going to help another couple have a baby because they can’t have a baby.’ ” Naturally, Theo wondered if the baby would be his brother or sister. 

“And it was like, ‘No, it’s not going to be related to you,’ ” Orit said. “We had to have the little ‘how babies are made’ talk. He seemed to really understand it.”

Friends and family generally had one of two reactions, Gal said. “There were people who were, like, ‘That’s the most amazing thing I have ever heard,’ or, ‘You guys are completely nuts.’ ” Several relatives wondered why the couple did not simply have more children of their own. The answer: They were happy as a family of three. 

Orit tried to steer clear of the naysayers. “Whenever there was someone who was negative about what we were doing, Gal was always the knight in shining armor who wanted to protect our decision to do this and educate people,” she said. “That also brought us closer together.”

When Orit and Gal started on this journey, they did not know if they would maintain any sort of relationship with the other family after the delivery. Theo did want to meet the baby at the hospital. They knew that much. But beyond that, they would simply wait and see. 

The delivery itself went smoothly, however, immediately afterward, Orit had to be rushed to an operating room. Her life was in peril, and she needed an immediate blood transfusion. Despite this complication, she said she has no regrets. 

“I feel as long as I have this faith in something larger than my own life and my own world, I’ll be taken care of in the way I need to be,” she said. “That the decisions I make will lead me to a better place, even if things don’t go quite as planned, even if there is trauma or disappointment or something bad happens. Those are always lessons.”

Today, the two families have grown quite close. They go on hikes together, with Aaron bopping along in a baby carrier on his dad’s back, or they meet for lunch, and celebrate each other’s milestones.

“We have a wonderful bond,” Orit said. “We have a child that bonds us. So in a sense I call them my surrogate family.” (Theo calls Aaron his “surrogate bro.”)

“I also feel like they would be there for us if we really needed something,” Orit said, “not just because they feel indebted to me, but because we’ve come to have an amazing relationship.”

Transgender Israeli mother recognized as ‘father’


Israel’s Interior Ministry has for the first time recognized two biological fathers of the same baby.

The baby was born to Yuval Topper-Erez, the first Israeli transgender man to get pregnant, and Matan Topper-Erez. Yuval Topper-Erez in December 2011. After Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and the chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, Miri Regev, intervened on behalf of the couple, the ministry recognized both men as the child’s biological parents.

Previously, the ministry had refused to recognize Matan as the baby’s biological father, saying it would not register two male biological parents. At a hearing a year after the baby was born, the ministry said it wanted to register Yuval as a female.

To effect the registration, Yuval was first identified as female in order to register the child with his spouse, and then his registration was changed to male.

In the past, one of the parents of a same-sex couple was required to adopt the child for the couple to be listed as the parents.

Bonding at Baby U


For new parents, having their first child can be scary, stressful and utterly stupefying. 

Westside Jewish Community Center hopes it will be a little less so thanks to Jewish Baby University, a five-week class designed to prepare people for what parenthood is really like.

The program, which launched this spring and begins its second session July 28, is open to anyone expecting his or her first child. It incorporates Jewish themes and teaches parents how to plan, in both a practical and spiritual function, for their incoming son or daughter. 

“The class is attractive to people who have a Jewish background but need a reminder and to those who really don’t know where to start,” said Lauren Friedman, program coordinator of the Westside JCC. “This is their starting point into Jewish life.”

Jewish Baby University is based on existing programs at Jewish community centers in Phoenix and Denver and funded by a grant from the Maurice Amado Foundation. It’s taught by Rabbi Dalia Samansky, a mother of two from Woodland Hills, who focuses on pastoral work and assists with baby naming ceremonies in Los Angeles. 

“As a young mom, it’s a great class to teach,” she said. “[Being Jewish] and parenting are both such sacred journeys in and of themselves.”

Each class incorporates a new theme and features a guest speaker. In terms of Judaism itself, attendees learn about rituals surrounding childbirth, as well as how to create a Jewish home and find a Jewish community in Los Angeles. Although religious practices are discussed, the class is suitable for Jews from all different backgrounds, Friedman said. “It’s more cultural and traditional. We have couples from all the denominations, so we don’t want to impose anything on them.”

Expecting parents find out about financial planning, medical practices involved in pregnancy and birth, and how to adapt emotionally and mentally to being a parent. Speakers in the inaugural session included Dr. Andrew Shpall, a mohel; Yana Katzap-Nackman, a doula; Debra Markovic from JKidLA, a resource of Jewish educational opportunities from BJE-Builders of Jewish Education; and Dan Feinberg, a financial adviser with Wells Fargo Advisors.

Richard Weintraub, a psychologist, visited the class on the last day to talk about how parents can focus on the present and stay calm about the pregnancy. He described how babies, even before they are born, understand when their mothers are at peace or anxious. Weintraub also stressed the importance of physical contact between parents and children. 

For the first session of Jewish Baby University, which took place from April 14 to May 24 and ended with a Shabbat dinner, seven couples signed up. One of the students was Genevieve Goldstone, a Jew by Choice who said the class made her feel more secure about the prospect of raising a Jewish child. 

“The class validated my knowledge and allowed me and my husband to have some more directed conversations about our practice so that we could be more on the same page going into parenthood,” she said.

Beth Cohan, another participant, said the class was an opportunity to meet other couples who were having their first child. But it was more than that.

“[My husband and I] came from similar backgrounds, but we were interested in figuring out which traditions we’d like to bring into our home,” she said.

It’s especially important to decide upon these traditions before the baby is born, Samansky said, because “a lot of what you do in the beginning becomes habitual. Humans crave routine and normalcy, and to make something like this part of your life and to make decisions ahead of time makes it easier on the family.”

Jewish Baby University was designed by the Westside JCC not only to educate expecting parents, but to connect them and provide a social outlet. Because many of the couples are transplants to Los Angeles, they are still looking for a community and friends, Samansky said. 

Johanna Schmidt, who moved to Santa Monica with her husband shortly before joining the class, said, “One of our goals in taking the class was to meet other couples. We’ve done that, so we’re really happy.”

Now that the first session has ended, looking back, Friedman said that it was successful. “We’ve had such great response from the couples. We’re building something that will feed into all the other JCC programs.”

After reviewing evaluations from the initial group, Friedman and Samansky are going to change and update the course as needed. The next session also will be five weeks long and cost $200, just like the original. 

Other options for expecting Jewish parents do exist — Cedars-Sinai has single-day, three-hour workshops — but Friedman believes that the comprehensiveness of Jewish Baby University is “filling a really important void.”

Alicia Silverstone opens vegan breast milk sharing service


It seems Mayim Bialik isn’t the only vegan Jewish actress/author in Hollywood who happens to also be an outspoken breastfeeding advocate.

While Bialik has provided advice to fellow moms, Alicia Silverstone is now providing them with actual breast milk. According to Us Weekly, Silverstone, mom to Bear Blu, 2, and author of The Kind Diet, has just launched Kind Mama Milk Share, a service for vegan mothers unable to produce enough milk on their own.

In a recent blog post Silverstone wrote of a woman in her community who had trouble nursing due to a breast reduction surgery and didn’t feel comfortable accepting donor milk because “it was almost impossible to figure out what kind of lifestyle choices the donors had made.”

Using someone else’s breast milk—and insisting that person be a “clean eater”– might seem extreme, but Silverstone is no stranger to extreme baby-feeding methods. Last year she uploaded a video of herself practicing premastication, i.e., transferring prechewed food from her mouth to Bear Blu’s.

“I can understand that [pre-chewing] would make some people feel uncomfortable possibly, because it’s new to them,” Silverstone told ET. “But I do want to let you know that this has been going on for thousands of years. [It's] still going on all over the place. And it’s natural.”

We’re just hoping there are no plans for a Kind Mama Prechewed Food Share on the horizon.

A poem by Emily Kagan Trenchard


My Bubbie mumbles a Yiddish invective every time I mention

getting some new item for the baby not yet born:

the crib, a blanket, a book case.

I can’t argue her out of the world she knows.

There is no word in Yiddish for the small

whooshing sound of a heartbeat on a sonogram.

And her logic is simple:

A child isn’t a child until it has proved itself in blood and strength.

I think of the noise my heart will make if I regret cutting the tags

off the tiny green jumper,  or washing the new sheets.

How my Bubbie will hear that wail all the way from Brooklyn

and return it in kind. How ashamed I would be

to hand this woman anything other than fat, warm, gurgling life.

She feels better when I tell her

everything is still in its box.

Emily Kagan Trenchard holds a master’s in science writing from MIT. She was the recipient of an honorable mention in Rattle’s 2009 Poetry Prize, and received a Pushcart Prize nomination in 2011. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

Getting ready for baby


Rabbi Julia Weisz found herself in a bit of a conundrum when she became an expectant mother.

On the one hand, the rabbi and director of education at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas was cautious about holding a baby shower. In the earlier stages of her pregnancy — she is due to have her first child in July — she said, “It seemed uncomfortable for me to celebrate something that wasn’t here.”

However, her Reform congregation wanted to honor her pregnancy. Ultimately, she agreed to have one in May. 

“A baby shower is a good way to bring the community together around something positive,” Weisz said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to do something to help.”

When it comes to Jewish laws and customs, there are many different opinions on every lifecycle event — from birth to marriage to death. Baby showers are no exception.

While some Jews and clergy have no problem with throwing baby showers, others won’t even select a name for a baby prior to birth. There are no textual laws banning celebrations before the baby is born, but in some circles, it’s customary not to hold them. 

“It’s a little bit arrogant to assume the baby is going to be born,” said Rabbi Chaim Bryski of Chabad of Thousand Oaks. “Traditionally, we don’t tell anybody about the pregnancy, not even until the third or fourth month. To make a party to honor the baby would be uncomfortable from a traditional perspective, but there is no law that says you can’t.”

Some believe that if a baby’s name is uttered or his or her life is celebrated before birth, the evil eye, or ayin harah, might harm it, according to Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a Conservative shul in Encino. 

“In our tradition, there is the theological and religious idea that a new life is very tenuous,” he said. “One of the superstitions is that the evil eye knows who to run after because they know the name of the person. If someone gets really sick, they can change their Hebrew name to escape the angel of death. We don’t do a lot to celebrate the baby in order to protect it from the possibility of its own demise.”

After a baby is born, more traditional Jewish families will celebrate by sponsoring Kiddush meals at their synagogues or hosting a shalom zachar, or a drop-in party for a baby boy, on the Friday night after he is born. 

Bryski suggests registering for gifts, and once the baby is born, they can be delivered. He said that if something happens to a baby, it adds to the pain the parents experience to be surrounded by presents.

Still, Rabbi Jonathan Hanish has no hesitation about having a baby shower, particularly because of modern medical advances.

“In today’s world, where you know a baby is healthy and you have such a high rate of successful pregnancies, a baby shower is totally acceptable,” said the rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Woodland Hills.

One of Hanish’s congregants, Sarah Knopf, a mother of three, had a baby shower for her first son. Although she grew up with a superstitious grandmother, she wasn’t convinced that there was anything negative about it. 

“I needed to have everything done and organized before he came,” she said. “I’m a planner, so that made me feel better. I would have gone crazy.”

Farkas said that at VBS, which has 5,000 members, traditions vary. 

“Most of the congregation does do baby showers of different types. In our community, it’s not homogeneous by any means,” he said. “Some in the community will give babies names, and then there are some who [won’t do anything before a baby is born]. Some are in between. That reflects the larger Jewish community.”

Like Knopf, VBS member Nikki Eigler chose to hold a shower because she wanted to plan before the baby arrived. She said, “I’m a person who needs to be prepared. I did not want to come home from the hospital without having anything in the house.”

Allison Lotterstein, a congregant at Kol Tikvah, had no concerns either. She, like many expectant mothers, just wanted a way to commemorate a new life coming into the world. 

“Every pregnancy should be celebrated,” she said. “In my mind and in the minds of the people who threw me a shower, my baby was a blessing.

New age or new edge


You’re getting sleeeeepy. Verrry sleeeepy.

Then — bam! — it’s all over, and you’ve delivered a baby.

OK, it’s not nearly as easy as that, but you might be surprised by how hypnosis is being used these days. It’s not just about getting people to stop smoking or lose weight anymore.

Hypnosis is quietly helping athletes increase their performance and surgical patients manage their pain. And yes, it’s even gained the notice of prospective mothers.

“When the mind is relaxed or the woman is not in fear, she’s able to relax her body. When the body is relaxed, when all the muscles are relaxed, normal, natural functions [such as childbirth] don’t need to hurt,” said Hayuta Cohen, an Israeli-born hypnotherapist in Encino who has led several classes in HypnoBirthing.

This is simply one way that treatments once considered alternative are evolving to become more widespread. In addition, many of these therapies are being integrated with traditional medicine. For proof, look no further than the existence of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, founded in 1993, which doesn’t offer hypnosis therapy but blends Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine.

“There’s definitely a move toward integration or bringing the best of multiple traditions,” said Malcolm Taw, assistant clinical professor at the center .

More than one-third of American adults used some sort of complementary medicine in 2007, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Taw said the reasons are simple.

“Overall, the patients want this,” he said. “They want to avoid potential medications or other interventions, whether surgery or injections, and they want to try other treatments that have less of a side-effect profile.”

Some have tried Western medicine without success. Others are looking for a less expensive choice or one that is natural and uses the body’s inherent abilities to heal itself. Many of these therapies, often termed complementary and alternative medicine, have roots that go back decades, if not centuries, in other parts of the world. The way practitioners are tinkering with them and using them in conjunction with Western medicine, however, is modern and ever-changing.

Just ask Uri Kenig.

The psychotherapist from Israel set up shop in Encino 23 years ago, and at first glance his office looks like any other. There’s a large window letting in plenty of natural light, a comfortable couch for the patient — of course — and soothing music available at the touch of a button.

But there is something unusual in the corner of the office: a high chair, the kind you might find at a patio bar, and in front of it, a short stool. This is where Part Two of Kenig’s unique form of treatment takes place — the part that comes after you’ve told him your life story. It’s this part that has attracted the attention of approximately 1,000 of his colleagues in Israel.

“Something was always missing for me about the incomplete process of talk therapy,” Kenig said. “I found myself hearing, time and time again, clients saying to me: ‘I understand my problem. What should I do about it?’ ”

The conundrum led the 60-year-old to look at the mind-body connection and how chronic emotional problems may lead to chronic physical conditions. Kenig’s investigation took him beyond traditional talk therapy, and into the world of energy healing and touch therapy. That’s where the chair in the corner comes into play.

As part of a system he developed called IPEC (Integrated Physical Emotional Clearing), Kenig sits on the low stool and asks clients to hold out both arms. He pushes down to check muscle resistance and either touches the hand to different parts of the body or asks questions.

“I’ve devised, in a very accurate and planned way, by questions, to get slowly a feedback from the body, from the unconscious mind,” Kenig said. “On specific words, the muscle will go weak. On specific other words, it will be strong. … There is a psychological story. The client is completely unaware.”

He then cross-checks what he says the body tells him against numerous charts and two large, colorful, home-made matrixes filled with hundreds of words that lead him to an assessment. Kenig, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the California Graduate Institute, said he has used IPEC to trace one patient’s migraines to problems at work and another patient’s breathing problems to an issue dating back to the client’s birth.

Kenig then uses LED light therapy or vibrating massage directed toward certain organs or body parts considered to be the source of the problem. He also uses music and meditation. The underlying theory behind the method is that the universe is made of energy and every individual has his or her own energy fields. In order for change to break through that field and restore a normal balance, it needs a little push — in this case, aided through things like light or vibrations.

The most recent statistics show that more than 1.2 million Americans sought some sort of energy healing therapy in 2007. That’s minuscule compared to the nearly 39 million people who used nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products, such as fish oil and ginkgo biloba — the largest category measured — and a much smaller segment than even the 3 million-plus who turned to acupuncture for relief.

Despite the increasing numbers, it’s still a field that has a lot to prove, believes Dr. Larry Bergstrom, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I haven’t found these types of therapies to be helpful,” he said. “They distract from addressing important aspects of each person’s illness.”

He further explained, “The people who invent and use these techniques fill a niche for a patient for whom conventional medicine has failed. I don’t think the [technique] is the issue; it is listening to the patients, believing them and creating a scenario where the patients can help themselves become better.”

Portman baby’s name reportedly is Aleph


The baby boy born last month to Jewish actress Natalie Portman and her fiance Benjamin Millepied reportedly was named Aleph.

The name was reported Wednesday by People magazine, citing an unnamed source. Portman’s representatives have not confirmed the name.

Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The boy is the first child for the couple, who met on the set of “Black Swan.” Portman, 30, won an Academy Award as best actress for her portrayal of a disturbed ballet dancer in the film.

She was born Natalie Hershlag in Jerusalem; Portman is her grandmother’s maiden name.

Natalie Portman delivers baby boy


Actress Natalie Portman has given birth to a baby boy, her first child.

People magazine was the first to report Tuesday that Portman gave birth; the report did not say when the baby was born or where the birth took place. Portman’s publicist had not confirmed the birth as of Wednesday morning.

Portman and the baby’s father, New York Ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, are engaged to be married. The two met on the set of the film “Black Swan,” for which Portman won the Academy Award for best actress.

Millepied is not Jewish, according to Hollywood insiders. Portman was born Natalie Hershlag in Jerusalem; her father is Israeli and her mother American. She has lived in the United States since the age of 3.

Portman told the Israeli news site Ynet in an interview in 2006, “A priority for me is definitely that I’d like to raise my kids Jewish, but the ultimate thing is to have someone who is a good person and a partner.”

Israeli soldiers deliver Palestinian baby


Israeli soldiers delivered a Palestinian woman’s baby boy inside a military ambulance.

The woman, a resident of the Jordan Valley, called for help early Monday morning, according to the Israel Defense Forces. She lives in an area unreachable by ambulance, so the soldiers gave the family a stretcher to bring her to the waiting ambulance.

During the ride to the hospital the woman gave birth, assisted by army paramedic Sgt. Gilad Nesher. There was no equipment in the ambulance for delivering babies.

At birth the baby was not able to breathe on its own, and Nesher administered CPR for an hour before the boy began breathing.

“There is a great deal of satisfaction in giving life,” Nesher told Ynet.

Mother and son are reported to be in good condition at Hadassah Medical Center-Ein Kerem.

Sandra Bullock’s Baby’s Brit


For most media outlets, the headlines from People’s recent interview with Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock were that she was dropping her cad of a husband and was in the process of adopting a baby from New Orleans.

The big news for Jewish publications: She reportedly helped welcome Louis Bardo Bullock into her life with what she is describing as an at-home brit.

Some corners of the blogosphere were citing the report as proof that Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson have competition for Hollywood’s most beautiful Jewish starlet award. But plenty of celeb-obsessed Web sites were saying the opposite, insisting that what’s newsworthy here is that a non-Jewish movie star chose to go with a Jewish ritual circumcision.

Take this snippet from Hollywood Life: “It is surprising that Sandra opted to have a bris, considering neither she nor her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jesse James are Jewish (not to mention Jesse’s apparent interest in Nazis, as captured in photographs).”

Oh, wait, the celebrity Web site quickly added, there is a Jewish connection of sorts: “The only Jewish person connected to Jesse, that we know of, is his godfather, who Jesse says gave him the Nazi hat he was photographed wearing.”

Earlier this year, soon after Bullock won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in “The Blind Side,” reports surfaced of her husband’s philandering. Next, a photograph emerged of him sporting Nazi paraphernalia.

“This is not the man I married,” Bullock told People. “This was stupid, this was ignorant. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, anything Nazi and a boatload of other things have no place in my life.”

As for her circumcision decision: “A friend of ours helped arrange for a bris at the house because we couldn’t go [to a hospital for the procedure]. The mohel came to us. You have never seen adults more panicked about what was about to happen to their son, but the celebration and the amount of love we felt and the pride in the little man whom we love so, so much became the greatest moment I have ever had in my life.”

No word on whether Bullock talked decorating with pop star Christina Aguilera, who made headlines two years ago by dotting her home with anatomically inspired balloons for her son’s ritual circumcision.

Bullock’s decision to go with a mohel is more common than you think—at least if you believe what you read in the Forward.

Back in 2007, the newspaper published a story titled ““Mohels Give Non-Jewish Babies a Slice of Tradition.”

“Although commonly recognized as performers of the brith milah, or Jewish circumcision, an increasing number of mohels are finding themselves handling the rituals for non-Jewish babies,” the Forward reported. The practice, according to one mohel quoted in the story, is “very widespread.”

Baby, How Times Have Changed: A Look at Childbirth Through the Ages


Humans have been mystified by pregnancy and the birth process since Cain first peeped his head out of Eve’s womb. In our desire to perfect the way in which the next generation is brought into the world, we’ve scrutinized both childbirth and the women going through it.

In her new book, “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank,” Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, a medical journalist, explores the myths, medical advancements and intrusions of everyone from family members to male midwives in the birthing process. Delving deep into the annals of history, she writes about the practical and not-so-practical ways that women have attempted to have healthy babies — everything from eating rabbit’s testicles (the secret to having a boy in the Middle Ages) to the insistence of feminists that women be placed under twilight sedation during labor at the turn of the last century.

Epstein offers a practical history of birth and the ways in which societal norms have shaped the process over the years.

Jewish Journal: What gave you the idea for the book?

Randi Hutter Epstein: As a doctor, journalist and mother of four, I’ve always had this interest in childbirth. When I started to investigate, I saw that the history was just fascinating. I’ve also always had this interest in what I call the great dawn of medicine. What doctors tell you to do is often based on hunches and common sense, but what’s common sense today wasn’t common sense years ago. I focused on childbirth for another reason — the patients are healthy and it sets up more tension between doctors and patients. Lastly, I’m just fascinated by the science of sperm and egg.

JJ:There’s still so much that we don’t understand. Did you learn anything new about what causes pregnancy to actually happen in the first place?

RHE: We figure that the sperm that is the fastest and swims the straightest has to be the one that gets to the egg first. I spoke to a scientist who does sperm research, and he said that some of these loser-looking sperm that are swimming around crooked or slower or going around in circles might be the winners, because they might be the ones sniffing out where the egg is.

JJ: What was the most interesting thing you learned about childbirth or the history of childbirth?

RHE: When I started doing the book, I thought things are so different today. Those of us who [have gone] through pregnancy in the last 10 to 20 years [were] just bombarded with advice, and a lot of times [it was] conflicting advice. But I was surprised at all the pregnancy advice books that were written way back when. Women have always been bombarded with advice, and we’ve always tried to figure out which advice we should listen to, which we shouldn’t — whether it was: Do we have a midwife or a man? Do we use forceps or not? And of course today, all these questions about which tests we need.

JJ: In the book, you discuss the way that the man-midwife became popular several hundred years ago. Yet men considered it akin to adultery, and it sounds like it was no picnic for women [the vagina was required to be covered by a sheet for decorum, so the physician could not see what he was doing]. How and why did the man-midwife take off?

RHE: From my research, when forceps came about, that was considered high-tech. Men were doctors and male midwives had the forceps, and there was a feeling that, gosh, maybe we should go that high-tech route. That, combined with the fact that in the late 1800s, obstetrics as a specialty in medicine started to professionalize and [they] wanted to increase their status.
I think that also male midwives felt smarter than [female] midwives. Even though they might never have seen a baby born, the feeling was: Why would you want to be delivered by this grandmother in your village, even if the grandmother had tons of experience?

JJ: In discussing feminism’s influence on childbirth over the years, one of the things you said was that a push for twilight sleep [at the turn of the 20th century] was ironic coming from feminists. Do you think that there is a feminist way to give birth in the modern day?

RHE: I think that the feminist way to give birth today is to be very informed, which of course is more difficult now because there are so many tests and so much to know. I would say that the feminist way to give birth is to inform yourself and be able to have an educated conversation with your doctor.
We are also so judgmental about the way other women give birth that there are women who feel badly if they choose to go for the epidural. Know what’s going on, and then once you’re informed, if you feel that you want the epidural, fine. And if you feel you want to go natural childbirth, that’s fine.

JJ: With documentaries like ‘The Business of Being Born,’ do you think that the arguments about C-sections are just another way of rebelling against the authority of doctors?

RHE: I think that these are repeats of what we’ve done in the ’70s. ‘The Business of Being Born’ was very pro-natural childbirth, and I think it’s so easy in anything where there is a gray area — whether it’s medicine or politics or whatever — to take one side of view. Natural childbirth is not for everyone. And not everyone needs a C-section.

JJ: What is the future of childbirth?

RHE: It’s so hard to predict. I think that [with] everything that comes along, we’re all shocked. IVF was shocking. Doctors come up with these ideas and we think they’re obscene, and then everyone does them. But I think people are going to laugh at what we’re doing now. People will say: That’s the way you chose embryos, that’s the way you choose sperm? Women were smoking in the ’50s, until that was considered unhealthy. Who knows what we’re doing now?

Going in After Katrina


After a catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina, sometimes an aid worker helps by delivering a baby, sometimes the job is just delivering a cheeseburger — or perhaps a thousand cheeseburgers. And sometimes the simple act of providing a yarmulke to an old man can provide solace.

So it was for Rabbis Chaim Kolodny and Tzemach Rosenfeld of Hatzolah of Los Angeles, an organization of emergency-medical volunteers with particular expertise in assisting members of the Orthodox community. When they decided to embark for the stricken Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina, they wanted to be available to help Jewish victims who could benefit from their knowledge of religious practice. But they also were prepared and eager to help anyone they could, and they had no trouble locating storm victims and relief workers who needed all sorts of assistance.

“Tuesday night we helped deliver a baby,” Kolodny said. “We got there, and the lady was in her ninth month. They didn’t even have an OB kit for delivering. We had our kit.”

The Hatzolah duo helped a Maryland pediatrician deliver a healthy baby girl. Reached on his cellphone, Kolodny described nonstop, 20-hour days of paramedic work amid what he said was “devastation beyond comprehension.”

On another occasion, the two Orthodox rabbis spent $1,000 to buy cheeseburgers for shelter residents.

“It was the first hot food they had had in a week,” Kolodny reported. “There’s no running water. There are no showers. The Army Corps of Engineers keeps saying they’re going to build them…. For this country, this is not right.”

The two rabbis were among many Southland Jews who streamed into the region to help in the roles of volunteer foot soldiers, professional aid workers, health professionals or coordinators for nonprofit organizations. West Coast Chabad Rabbi Mordechai Nemtzov, for one, went to Mississippi as Chabad’s field coordinator there.

Kolodny and Rosenfeld took more than 20 suitcases filled with kosher food and medical supplies. They found themselves amid exhausted nurses and crying doctors.

“By our counts, we treated close to 280 medical patients,” Kolodny said. “We’ve slept maybe three hours in the last 48 hours…. We’re sleeping in our cars. We’re surviving on crackers and tuna fish.”

Still they can count themselves lucky in a place marked, he said, by the aroma of death — a “sweet, sickly smell, plus it doesn’t leave you.”

Kolodny was too busy in Mississippi’s rural areas to go elsewhere. “I think they’re all second fiddle to New Orleans, because it has the loudest bark,” he said. “We saw a boat six blocks inland.”

In one shelter, Kolodny said they encountered an elderly nursing home resident who overheard them talking and said, “You guys speak Yiddish?” They lit yahrzeit (memorial) candles with the man. “We gave him a yarmulke,” Kolodny said.

Kolodny returned to Los Angeles Sept. 11 to restock medical supplies. “Everything that we brought — 22 suitcases — empty,” he said en route home. “The stethoscopes that I had around my neck, I literally gave them away.”

He planned on returning to the disaster area in a few days, heading this time to Louisiana.

Rosenfeld had a personal emergency, his father’s heart attack, that prompted his return to Los Angeles Sept. 8. When Rosenfeld determined that his father would be OK, he made immediate plans to return to the Gulf Coast.

“There’s so much to be done there,” Rosenfeld said from his Los Angeles home. “You can drop yourself anywhere in that region, and you find yourself helping within minutes. I have to go back. I can’t sit here. The devastation, the sense of gloom and despair — we showed up at one of the Red Cross shelters, and the nurse had one stethoscope with a missing earpiece for 600 people.”

 

A Noodge Too Far


 

When I got engaged, my mom’s dearest girlfriends, whom I affectionately call “The Crones,” all sent me a card. On the front it said,

“Now that you are engaged, no one will ever ask you again ‘When are you getting married?'” On the inside it read, “So, when are you going to have a baby?” Although meant in jest, I have found that card to be profoundly true.

Every week, I read the columns written by singles, many of whom I know and some of whom I dated, and I empathize deeply with them. For many years, I was the single girl at the wedding or family gathering. Until I got married at 38 1/2 years old, I was constantly asked, “Are you dating anyone?” “When are you going to get married?” “Have you tried JDate?” (or fill in any other “helpful” suggestion).

It’s horrible. It’s painful. It sometimes makes you want to cry. I wanted to tell people to butt out, but I didn’t want to be rude. I would have liked to have said that I had a very satisfying life in many respects: I had an interesting career and lots of terrific friends; I enjoyed my home and my pet. But the married folks, especially older relatives, have only one thing in mind: They want you to get married. For the record, you likely want that, too, and you really don’t need them to remind you.

I thought, naively, that once I did get married last May, all my problems would be solved, including the matter of nosy and painful questions from well-meaning friends and relatives. Boy, was I wrong.

First of all, marriage is tough. You don’t just break the glass, kiss, leave the chuppah and live happily ever after. It is a ton of work. You have to compromise about everything. All of your quirks — eating cereal for dinner, wearing socks to bed — are discussed and dissected. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and the home we have created together. But there are things about my single life that I miss. Marriage doesn’t change everything. You are still you, with all your problems and issues, but now you have someone else around to point them out to you.

And then, there’s still a question — a much more personal and maybe more painful one then the dating and marriage questions. It’s the “When are you going to have a baby?” question. I get it from everyone, all the time, even though we’ve only been married six months. We don’t even have our wedding album back from the photographer.

My sex life is, apparently, an appropriate topic for conversation with anyone, anywhere. Those same well-meaning people who told me where to go to find a mate are now telling me how often and in what position to have sex to best increase our chances of conception, or suggesting herbs, acupuncture or other fertility-increasing remedies.

Recently I had a miscarriage, as at least 25 percent of pregnant women do. It’s been hard on my body and hard on both of us emotionally. It feels like a death in the family. The prospective grandparents, aunts and uncles are very upset too, since this would have been the first grandchild on both sides of the family.

Apparently miscarriage is very common. Both of our mothers had one, as did many of our dearest friends and relatives. For the most part, no one told us, so we’re just finding out as we shared our grief with others. Infertility is an issue among our friends, too. Our generation has waited longer than previous ones to try to start families. (Maybe they should have tried JDate.)

Every time someone asks me when I’m going to have a baby, I feel a stab of sadness about the failed pregnancy. I want to yell and scream and ask them what business it is of theirs. Or tell them that I miscarried just so I can see the look on their faces. But I don’t. I just mumble something about, “We’re trying” or “When it happens, it happens” to placate them.

I really think it is no one’s business but my husband’s and mine. We have only been married a short time and only recently started trying to have a baby. I can only imagine how hard that baby question must be on those who have had multiple miscarriages or endured painful, expensive and heartbreaking fertility treatments.

So, please, be sensitive to the single folks, who really want to get married. They don’t need you to remind them that they are single. And please, be sensitive to the married folks who don’t have a baby — yet.

Jill Franklin grew up in Los Angeles and is a freelance writer and attorney living in Chicago. She can be reached at jillfr@aol.com.

 

A Real ‘Baby Boomer’


Israelis are outraged by a picture of a Palestinian baby dressed as a suicide bomber. The baby was photographed wearing a mock suicide bomber’s uniform, complete with sticks of fake explosives and a red headband that read Hamas. Israeli newspapers published the photograph, seized in a raid on a suspected terrorist’s home in Hebron, on June 27. The baby’s family described the costume as a "joke," but a Palestinian journalist said such costumes were common among Palestinians. A Palestinian Authority official said Israel distributed the picture to "tell the world that the Palestinians are teaching their children how to hate Israel and how to act against Israel — and I just want to say this is correct," Ha’aretz reported. — Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Bundles of Joy


The stork has been awfully busy lately.

It seems as though everyone I know is having a baby. A couple I haven’t heard from in months sent a postcard with a picture of what I thought was a Sharpei puppy — it turns out the little boy’s name is Jesse. I didn’t even know they were expecting.

Of course, in the bargain, I’ve lost all my friends. They’re no fun any more. They’re very busy doing not very much. They can’t go anywhere, especially if they’ve got more than one child. When they do get out of the house it’s all they can talk about and, honestly, there isn’t that much to say about a little baby. You see these people with the 1,000-yard stare at Blockbuster, returning the overdue videos they haven’t had time to watch, despite the fact they’ve been home every night for months.

I’ve been to visit a lot of these babies. I don’t understand how The Gap can be in a sales slump with all the baby gifts I’m buying. If you’re not one of the parents, there’s not much for you to do. You look the kid over, rain praise on its incredible good looks, hold it long enough until it emits some vile fluid or hurts itself, and then you hand it back to its owner to mop up. It’s like a slow, sloppy game of “hot potato.”

A visit to a newborn should take an hour at most, by the end of which time you will have determined if the child looks more like the mother, the father, Winston Churchill or Lyndon Johnson. That important business concluded, you’re free to leave these people behind and do whatever you want. Going to “see the baby” is a lot like going to see a convicted felon.

I have a single friend named Gina, who is determined to have a child in the next year. Gina has also decided that she doesn’t need a man’s help in getting the job done. Not much, anyway. She’s come to the conclusion that, at age 35 with no “significant other” in her life, she’ll get the baby thing out of her system so she can get on with her life. She doesn’t want the pressure of having to rope some guy, get married and then hurry up to have a child. She reasons that men run from the scent of desperation, and maybe she’s right. You might argue that two parents are better than one, but where’s poppa when you need him? She’s got a gay donor-daddy and an eminent fertility doctor — and they’ll do just as well in a pinch.

I’ve heard stories from the old days about young women getting pregnant and leaving town, going to stay with a relative until the baby was born. There was a time when being a single mother was a shonda. Not now. At some point, having the fellow around is basically a nuisance. Meanwhile, Gina’s family has rallied around her with unbridled support, beaming grandparents-to-be waiting for the fatherless child.

So here’s the rub: I want a child. My biological daddy clock is happily ticking away with no sign of wearing out. The warranty is still good for another several years, but suddenly the snooze alarm is broken. I’m not exactly hanging around schoolyards getting all misty, but the idea is getting more and more appealing to me. I’d prefer one that already walks and talks, but I understand they don’t come that way direct from the factory.

Now I want diapers and runny noses and little, bitty clothes and brightly colored toys and big books by Dr. Seuss and one of those walker things in the kitchen. I want to get woken up at ungodly hours and struggle with a baby seat, and I want to call a pediatrician “just to be safe.” I also want my friends back. None of their behavior will seem nearly as odd when I’m in the same boat with them.

Incredibly, it seems, I’m going to have to get a woman involved somewhere in the process. I feel like Frank Sinatra in my best pressed tweeds: All I really need is the girl.

J.D. Smith is expecting @ www.lifesentence.net.

Diagnosis: Grandfather


"The Grandfather Thing" by Saul Turteltaub (Tallfellow Press, $16.95).

Saul Turteltaub, whom I’ve known for a good many years, is a funny man and a funny television writer. If you laughed at "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Jackie Gleason Show," "That Girl" or "The Cosby Show," tip your hat to Turteltaub, because they are among the 30 major TV shows he has written or produced over a 40- year span.

Then he became a grandfather. In the beginning, he vowed to observe the arrival of grandson Max with strict objectivity, and he stuck to his resolve for the first two months of Max’s wrinkled and screaming babyhood.

But then Turteltaub weakened, and within months he was off showing photos of Max to strangers in the next car at traffic lights.

The only possible diagnosis was that Turteltaub had caught "The Grandfather Thing," which happened to be the title of his book, complemented by, "the real poop by Max, age 1."

In the slim, 96-page volume, the author chronicles, month by month, Max’s progress and the increasingly affectionate relationship between grandfather and grandson.

Fortunately, the author also records Max’s observations on life, and even a poem, at each of the 12 stages. For instance, at five months, Max rhymes:

"I notice when I laugh and smile
My parents do it too,
But when I cry they only sigh
And don’t know what to do.
‘He’s tired, hungry, or he’s wet,’
Are all the choices that I get.
I’m five months old,
Why don’t they guess,
‘Perhaps he wants a game of chess.’"

At the end of 12 months, Max observes, "Just because I don’t talk doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. Stand by."

The final page contains famous, and famously unsentimental, grandfather quotations, such as Nancy Spence’s "Grandchildren are the only justification for not having killed our kids," and Turteltaub’s own "There is no woman more precious than the daughter who will not allow her father to change her child’s diapers."

Shalhevet’s Funeral


Have you ever been to the funeral of a 10-month-old? It has to be one of the most unnatural of human experiences. The burial of an infant who was deliberately murdered by terrorists is all the more tragic for the baseless hate it represents.

On Sunday, in the ancient cemetery of Hebron, Shalhevet Techiya Pass was laid to rest beside other Jews who were victims of earlier Arab hatred.

Shalhevet’s grieving family sat under the hot midday sun in the forecourt. Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, they braced themselves for the difficult hours to come. Almost a week had passed since the murder of their baby, but on the advice of their rabbi, they had postponed the burial with the demand that the IDF retake the Abu Sneinah hills that harbored the terrorist who took Shalhevet’s life.

Yitzchak Pass, Shalhevet’s father, sat ashen-faced. Released from the hospital just before Shabbat, he was unable to walk due to the leg wounds he sustained as he tried to protect his daughter. He wore a yellow baseball cap emblazoned with the slogan "We are here."

As the psalms began, many mourners quietly sobbed. Pass, clutching tissues in his hand, grabbed the arm of his father-in-law for support. Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba gave the first eulogy, a fiery speech calling for the government to avenge the murder of Shalhevet.

A simple gray car carried the tiny body, draped in a dark-blue velvet cover adorned with a gold Star of David, through the streets of Hebron where Shalhevet spent the brief days of her life. Many of the mourners wore pictures of Shalhevet around their necks.

All the stores were shuttered and the streets empty of their Arab residents — a strict curfew had been imposed to ensure safety. Dozens of IDF soldiers lined the route and were three deep at Gross Square in front of the closed road leading to Abu Sneinah.

In the crowd of quiet marchers, the only public figures visible were former MKs Geula Cohen and Elyakim Haetzni, MK Yuri Shtern and former refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich.

The procession wended its way under the harsh sun, up the short, steep hill of Tarpat Street and past the cemetery gates. At some point, Pass, immobilized in his wheelchair, held the body of Shalhevet on his knees. At her graveside, there were more eulogies given by Mendelevich and Hebron pioneer Rabbi Moshe Levinger.

As teenagers hugged each other trying to contain their grief and men closed their eyes deep in prayer, the mournful prayer for mercy was sobbed out again before Pass barely managed to intone the mourner’s kaddish for his only child.

Another brutal act of hatred entered the annals of Jewish consciousness as the unnatural act of burying a murdered baby was completed.

Hoo-wah!


Memo to first-time fathers: If your baby is crying, she’s probably wet.

Or tired. Or hungry. Or angry. Or confused about what’s happening in the big, new, strange world she lives in.

Unless it’s something else.

My daughter is seven months old now, and she has the poise of a prom queen compared to the way she was a few short months ago. The hardest time was when she was about five weeks, which is when she developed the ability to smile (not gas but the real thing), and the ability to cry inconsolably.

We’d been waiting for both because all the baby books, and we’ve read all of them, promised both smiles and what they refer to as "fussiness" around this time. We just never expected both at once.

I’d rather have someone stick a knife into my intestines and yank it up and down than watch my daughter’s face cloud over at some indefinable insult and hear those uncontrollable, racking cries. She had her own language of misery: not just "Waaaah," the standard expression for unhappy babies, but "Hoo-wah." As in, "Hoo-wah, hoo-wah, hoo-wah, hoo-wah, hoo-wah!" on and on, into the night.

That’s when I became convinced that I was destined to be a failure as a parent. My mind leaped to the future, envisioning my daughter, fully grown and pouring out her heart to a nodding and empathetic therapist, saying, "My father never met my needs."

What needs? I didn’t know what you wanted, and I didn’t know what to do for you, aside from carry you around, murmur loving things, sing off-key and try not to make your misery worse.

I started questioning God at those moments of unstinting pain and fury. There must be a better way to accomplish desirable ends than through screaming. Does the shrieking expand their lungs? Do tears help regulate brain function? Hey, God — why couldn’t you make those things happen without making her, or us, so miserable?

And then she’d cry herself out, or whatever triggered the unhappiness passed. My wife would breast-feed her, or she’d fall asleep, or she’d just turn back into Cute Baby. I was totally mystified. Where’d the upset come from? Where did it go?

The baby literature wasn’t helpful. There’s a tendency to refer to crying as "fussiness," which strikes me as a horrible word. "Fussy" implies oversensitivity, an inability to think rationally. Excuse me, but if I’d spent nine months in an environment where my needs were met before I knew I had needs and suddenly I was thrust out into a world of varying temperatures where nutrition and comfort were more than a millisecond away, where natural forces like sunset and heat waves bewildered and pained me, where I sometimes found myself swaddled in pee and poop, even for five minutes — hey, baby authors, I’d fuss, too.

My baby wasn’t fussy. No baby is fussy. Babies are tiny people trying to grasp an alien situation with very limited comprehension and communication tools. So my wife and I made a decision: we supported our baby’s right to cry. We didn’t understand it, we didn’t like it, but we knew that’s just the way it was. We wanted her to feel all of her feelings so that she would grow up emotionally stable and strong and not need a therapist to trace through her childhood and figure out exactly where her narcissistic and dysfunctional parents went off the rails.

But our resolve collapsed in the face of our baby’s next crying jag. Gone was all that brave talk about letting her feel all her feelings. All we wanted was to find a way to get her to stop crying. Sigh. It’s so hard to be a modern, self-actualized father.

At five weeks, my true role was that of mother’s helper. My wife was staying at home to take care of the baby, and my most important job was to do whatever she wanted me to do next. I’m not trying to sound like a hero — I just don’t flatter myself that I was someone with much influence over my daughter’s future at that moment. I was just one more regular visitor in her life who couldn’t offer breast milk. I was the No Milkman.

It’s okay. Whether or not there’s a long-term payoff for my daughter, it sure is fun now to hold her, to sing to her, to bathe with her, to watch her eyelashes grow. And best of all, at seven months she cries rarely and briefly. There is a God after all.

Birth Pangs


The other day, I got a sample of Pampers in the mail. It doesn't happen very often now, fortunately. For a while there, almost every day brought free diapers, coupons for baby food, baby lotion, baby photographs. I passed them on to my sister, who has a year-old son, and told myself that it's not their fault. How could they know, after all? It's just that I'm on some kind of list — a “new mothers” list, probably through my doctor's office — and so they keep sending me these products, products I'd rather not think about just now.

It happens to people all the time. That's one of the things you learn when it happens to you. Suddenly, you're part of a new sisterhood, a new brotherhood — people who have gone through a miscarriage, lost a baby, suffered a stillbirth. You had no idea how many people around you had such an experience, because most of them never said a word. Only now, when it happens to you, do they let you in on their secret.

They tell you about their losses because they want you to know they understand. They don't think you're ridiculous for mourning over something that wasn't even really a baby — just a coiled-up ball of life, maybe half an inch long. Except that, for you, of course, it was a baby, and it belonged to you, and you loved it. They understand the crushing sense of failure, and the guilt, and the questions that you know are irrational and pointless but you ask yourself anyway: Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this if I'd taken better care of myself, stayed off my feet, cut down on stress?

Later, when the pain eases and you stop tormenting yourself with questions, you find yourself dwelling on one simple idea: how many people have walked this path before me. How very common pregnancy loss is, and what a miracle it is to carry a healthy baby to term.

“Women don't need to lay tefillin,” a traditional Jew once said to me. “Your womb is your tefillin. Your power to nurture new life within your body is what connects you to God.”

If we come to this week's portion expecting a lyrical celebration of women's special bond with the Creator through the miracle of childbirth, we may be sorely disappointed. Parashat Tazria spells out all that the Torah has to say about rituals for the new mother — eight verses in all. For more than a month, she must undergo “blood purification,” forbidden to touch any sacred object or enter the holy sanctuary. After her period of separation, the woman brings two sacrifices — a burnt offering and a sin offering — and she is then reintegrated into the community (Leviticus 12:1-8).

Nothing of the joy and wonder of childbirth seems to rise up from this brief legal passage; it speaks instead of ritual impurity, isolation, purgation. But under the dry, compressed language courses a river of emotion. The emergence of a new human being is awesome, tremendous — a mysterious, soul-shattering event. Surrounded by blood taboos whose precise meaning we can no longer decode, childbirth in the Torah is fraught with danger, electric with the energy of life and death, touched by the sacred. It changes a new mother permanently — separates her from who she was, and from all those around her. For a while, she withdraws, dazed and disoriented, from normal life; her world consists of nothing but the baby. Only gradually does she return to herself and her community. Spiritual, psychological and cultic processes merge in the Torah's ritual of reintegration.

At the tail end of the 20th century, human reproduction has become “domesticated” — subject to scientific understanding and manipulation. But for the Torah, birth retains its primal strangeness and elemental power; it is outside the human domain; it belongs to the Holy One.

We are taught: “One must offer a blessing over the bad just as one offers a blessing over what is good” (Mishna Berachot 9:5). I'm still wondering what blessing can come from the loss of a baby. But maybe pain, as well as joy, can awaken us to the miracle of birth. Maybe if we learn how often things go wrong with the intricate, elegant process by which life comes into the world, we'll cherish, all the more, those times when everything goes blessedly, stupendously right.


Rabbi Janet R. Marder is director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Pacific Southwest Council.

Grandkids Inc.


Grandkids Inc.

Until children reach a certain age, parents seethem simply as beloved offspring. Flesh of their flesh. Withbittersweet nostalgia, they remember all, from the Gerber days tograduation day.

But then it happens: the transformation.

Suddenly, when your parents look at you, theydon’t see the adorable tot who couldn’t say “spaghetti.” Or the boywho learned to bike in the driveway. Or the young man who pinned acorsage on his prom date by the front door.

Now, they see Grandkids Inc. A factory notproducing to capacity. They’re no longer just Mom and Dad. You’re asubsidiary, and they’re co-presidents of the parent company.

They’ve invested big in this enterprise. Andthey’ve been patient, knowing there would be years of huge expensewith no output.

But the time has come. They want results.

“Nanny and Max” by Scott Prior. Painting from “The Artof Motherhood”

Hey, they’re not asking for much — just oneproduct. And they don’t need you to fill a warehouse. Two or threewill do just fine. But, make no mistake, they want ’em.

Fortunately, the pressure’s off while brother orsister subsidiaries are producing. That’s because this is veryspecial merchandise.

Assembly is required. And it takes even longerthan most train sets. It doesn’t use batteries, but you’ll needhundreds for the accessories. And the maintenance requirements areunbelievable — not just applying some oil every six months.

When a new unit comes off the line, that’s whenthe heads of the (grand)parent company get most involved. Spendingtime with the newbie is Priority 1. They can’t get enough.

This bought me a lot of time. The other two subswent into production in the early 1990s. Apparently, both were on aschedule of accelerated output. Together, they popped out six littleguys in five years. For a while, I thought they were trying to fielda company softball team.

These were the boon years. Milk and honey.Precious goods falling off the line like manna from heaven. A periodof miraculous growth, like Japan in the ’50s and ’60s.

Curiously, our family’s bull market coincided withWall Street’s, but I’m not sure which came first. Kind of achicken-and-egg thing.

Yes, it’s been a period of champagne, cigars andvery small shoes. A nonstop celebration. With so many tykes takingtheir first steps, uttering their first words and throwing theirfirst crayons in the dishwasher, not a minute was left for, say,pressuring the third sub about kick-starting his own assemblyline.

But my window of pressure-free time is running outfaster than napkins at a watermelon-eating contest.

The other two subs have reached quota. And thelatest additions to Family Corp. are rapidly approaching 12 months ofage. That means the end of the One-Year Baby Buffer, awell-established principle of grandparent science. For the first yearafter the birth of a grandchild, the newborn’s uncles and aunts areshielded from pressure to contribute additional grandchildren. It’ssafer to walk past a lion that’s been recently fed.

When I talk about family pressure, I really meanMom (and her accomplished mentor, Grandma). In our corporate family,areas of responsibility were divided between the two top executives.Dad was the CEO-PS (Chief Executive Officer of Practical Stuff). Thisincluded lawn care and auto maintenance. Mom was the CEO-EE (ChiefExecutive Officer of Everything Else). This included everythingelse.

So, Mom’s department naturally covers themonitoring of my prospects for a merger. All information is carefullyprocessed. Like cyborgs from “The Terminator,” she automaticallyscans and analyzes incoming data. But Mom doesn’t care about the waragainst the machines. Her decision parameters are aimed at maximizingthe likelihood of future grandchildren. Action options decreasingthat probability are strongly discouraged.

I can tell the Baby Buffer is almost over. Thephone numbers are starting up again — mostly daughters of Mom’sfriends and co-workers. Any expenses incurred along these lines arewritten off as R&D.

Don’t get me wrong. So far, the barometer readsonly mild pressure. Plus, no matter what, there’s always a seat forme at the annual Thanksgiving board meeting. After all, unconditionallove is the company slogan. Still, I suspect only one thing will makethe big cheeses at Family Corp. feel they’ve met all long-termobjectives: when their youngest sub finds a suitable merger partnerand finally snaps into production.

Stephen A. Simon writes for Washington JewishWeek.

Achre 5757


A couple with whom I’m close had their first child, so I ran to the bookstore to get them our favorite book on child care. I had forgotten the exact title (it was always “the baby book”) and the author’s name, so I thought I’d just scan the shelf until it turned up. Shelf? Try shelves — six of them, each 8 feet long and 10 feet high, and all on parenting. Need advice on building self-esteem, teaching morals, successful potty-training? There are volumes to teach it.

There is no word in traditional Hebrew for “parenting.” No term designates the set of skills, aptitudes and techniques necessary for raising children. This certainly cannot be a concept unknown to Jewish tradition. We are, after all, a tradition obsessed with children. Daily we are reminded: V’sheenantam le’vanech — “you shall diligently teach your children.” So why no word for “parenting”?

The Hebrew for “parents” is “horim”, and if we were to choose a noun form of the word describing the essence of being a parent, we would be forced to choose the word “Torah.” We have no prosaic term for “parenting,” because there is no Jewish idea of parenting skills and techniques isolated from the qualities of character, spirituality, wisdom and love. “Torah” — with all its deep, powerful and holy resonances — is the only possible word for what it takes to raise children. But don’t tell that to my local bookstore.

And that’s just the beginning. Move one shelf over, and you discover that “self-help” is now the biggest section in the store. Feeling anxious? Having difficulty communicating? Missing out on life’s joy? Here’s help. At least, here’s technique.

Americans have an obsession with technique, with doing it right. From home repair to lovemaking to parenting, we have this unquenchable thirst for a better technique. Traditional American pragmatism — the faith in the “right tool for the job” — has grown into a conviction that, for every human problem, there is a discrete technique that will lead to its solution.


Traditional American pragmatism — the faith in the “right tool for the job” — has grown into a conviction that, for every human problem, there is a discrete technique that will lead to its solution


But what about the deeper qualities of inner life, once associated with a good life — wisdom, sensitivity, integrity? I’m sure that in one of those books, there is a better way to fix a clogged sink. But I’m not convinced there’s some trick to fixing a broken relationship or some gimmick to opening a closed mind. Certainly, I’ve learned better ways to talk to my kids, to praise and to discipline, to set limits and to encourage responsibility. But, in the end, successful parenting is not a matter of effective technique but one of right living and sensitive loving. It is “Torah” in the broadest sense.

In the 10th chapter of Leviticus, which we read some weeks ago, the two elder sons of Aaron are killed in the process of offering aish zarah — alien fire. And the issue is raised again this week: “The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron.” Still, the exact nature of their infraction is a mystery. So are the circumstances of their deaths: Although they were burned to death, their bodies were carried out of the camp “by their tunics.” What sort of fire burns a man to death but leaves behind his tunic intact?

The Midrash posits a fire that entered the nostrils and destroyed in the inner man. From this, we can extrapolate the infraction: Nadab and Abihu entered the holy place with precise technique and skill. But that’s all they brought. No heart. No compassion for the people whose offerings they carried. No awe in the face of God’s presence. They had the technique down perfectly, but there was nothing inside.

Religion, too, can become a cult of technique — obsessed with detail and oblivious to higher purpose, disconnected from the qualities of depth and inwardness. But reduced to mere technique, religion, as with parenting and loving and so much of life, brings only emptiness. In this week’s portion, Aaron is invited back into the sanctuary — the inner place of holiness — to cultivate compassion, forgiveness and wholeness. And we are invited to go with him.


Ed Feinstein is the associate rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom. He replaces rabbi Steven Leder, who will be completing a book (along with synagogue responsibilites at Wilshire Boulevard Temple) during the next six months.

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