BioWeld1: Bye to stitches, staples

Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring. BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma. 

Plasma is a gas in which a certain proportion of the particles are ionized. It has been shown to offer manifold benefits, including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells. However, plasma has enjoyed a limited role in surgery due to the high temperatures it creates and resulting harmful effects on body tissue. 

IonMed’s scientists found a way to make use of cold plasma as the power behind the BioWeld1. The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches and does not require complex training.

“No one has done this before — and more than that, the platform of cold plasma is a technology that is not available in medicine yet,” said Ronen Lam, IonMed’s co-founder and vice president for business development. “We will probably be the first.” 

The company anticipates receiving the CE mark of approval in Europe by the end of the year. After closing its next financial round, IonMed would then look into beginning trials in Europe and in the United States toward getting approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launching its next cold plasma-based product. 

BioWeld1 is the brainchild of Ronen’s brother, Amnon, who led development projects at Tower Semiconductor in northern Israel and at Intel’s Israeli research center. Prior to that, he’d been a medic in the military. His familiarity with cold plasma from Tower — where it was used for etching semiconductors — gave him the idea of welding together his two areas of expertise. Amnon Lam saw the potential of cold plasma in health care, and toyed with applications in cosmetics, dental and skincare. 

“At the end of the day, he found wound closure the most attractive one,” Ronen Lam said. That was about three years ago.

“Tissue reconnection has been done for thousands of years with sutures, and in recent years with staples and glues,” Lam said. “It is time for something new in this traditional market, and that’s why we decided to start here.” 

With half a million dollars in seed money from the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist, IonMed joined the Trendlines incubator in northern Israel and developed the concept to the point where it closed a $3 million financing round in 2011. The company now employs six people in its office in Yokne’am Ilit. 

Lam explained that many companies have been bringing advanced surgical staples and adhesives to the market. 

“But our cold plasma technology is unique because of its impact on tissues and the wide spectrum of applications it can address, so there is a lot of interest from big players,” he said.

The BioWeld1 generator delivers the cold plasma through a variety of disposable tips. The skin closure procedure is performed using a cold plasma jet to apply a trademarked biological film called Chitoplast to weld the tissue together. Other applications in development do not require Chitoplast and rely solely on the tissue effects of the plasma jet.

The company’s three clinical trials, which have so far focused on closure of Caesarean section incisions, showed BioWeld1 to be excellent for sealing the incision and promoting healing and tissue disinfection, Lam reported. It also has potential for reducing hospitalization and operating room usage.

“We are focusing on the Cesarean section first, because we found it will be the easiest path to market due to the importance of achieving a superior cosmetic result while reducing time in the operating room,” Lam said. 

“We are in the midst of strategic discussions right now in order to chart our next application. Areas under consideration include external closure in plastic surgery, treatment of chronic wounds as well as internal applications in abdominal, thoracic and colorectal surgery.”

The re-‘birth’ of hope?

Truisms are born to be disproven. The assertion that the era of the two-state solution is over has been frequently propounded of late by Israelis from left to right. To make their case, they point to the irreversibility of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. 

Another truism of great resonance, especially in the American Jewish community, is that Israel’s PR efforts are woefully inadequate. I mention these two — among many truisms pervading the Middle East—because they were the subject of withering scrutiny on an eye-opening visit I paid several weeks ago to Molad, a newly formed think tank that rests atop the popular Burgers Bar restaurant on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. Molad, which means “birth” in Hebrew, describes itself as the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.  The group undertakes various research projects with an eye toward regaining some of the ground of democracy lost in recent years in Israel. Looming over all is a grand, 10-year vision: to overturn more than a decade of right-wing control in Israel by returning progressive forces to political power (quite akin to the concerted plan laid out by the Center for American Progress in the United States to return Democrats to power after the Bush era). 

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Molad is the path followed by its youthful leaders. Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon are both 30-something, American-educated political theorists who were among the organizers of the weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem where Palestinian families who have resided for decades have been forced out of their homes and replaced by Jewish settlers. A third leader of Molad is Mikhael Manekin, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, the group of former and current Israeli soldiers who report on aberrant or illegal behavior committed by the Israel Defense Forces.

A few years ago, the three were, figuratively speaking, throwing stones at the establishment. Today, they are methodically attempting to gain control over it, through democratic means — and, indeed, through the expansion of democratic principles in Israeli society. It is stunning to behold the lightning transformation and maturation of these three from radicals to pragmatists, a process so rapid that they are, in some cases, more moderate than their parents — a curious inversion of the generational norm. For example, I had assumed that the youthful leaders of Molad would have maintained that a tipping point has been reached on Israeli settlement activity, and that the challenge ahead was to think of a post-two-state world. Quite to the contrary, they maintain that Israel doesn’t have the luxury of such despair. The two-state solution, they argue, is the only one that can work in a land riven by bitter conflict for over 100 years. To believe otherwise is to engage in delusional fantasy. Accordingly, they are devoting all of their substantial intellectual energies to restoring the two-state idea to the top of the political agenda.

This requires dispatching with facile assumptions through careful and uncompromising research. One of the latest examples to emerge from the Molad shop is the study undertaken by researcher Shivi Greenfield regarding the efficacy of Israel’s hasbara, or public relations, efforts. The conventional view in the Israel advocacy community, as we hear on occasion on the pages of the Jewish Journal, is that Israel is losing the battle on the public diplomacy front. The argument goes that Israel’s hasbara operation is far less sophisticated than that of pro-Palestinian forces, including but not limited to advocates of BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The result is a deep erosion of Israel’s standing in the international community. 

The Molad report examines the various claims and arrives at three important conclusions. First, there was a marked improvement in Israeli public diplomacy following a scathing report condemning previous efforts by Israel’s State Comptroller in 2007. More centralized control of various government public diplomacy outlets has yielded a more coherent and effective voice. The report utilizes seven criteria (e.g., coordination, crisis management and branding) to challenge “the common perception that the Israel hasbara apparatus is ineffective.” On the contrary, it concludes, “Israel has an elaborate, professional and sophisticated hasbara apparatus.”

The report then moves on to a second conclusion that flies in the face of what we often hear in Jewish communal conversation: that supporters of the Palestinian side belong to a well-oiled, sophisticated and amply funded PR machine. Using the same seven criteria discussed in the case of Israel, the report points to the absence of a single centralized anti-Israel hasbara operation — not in Iran, not by Hamas, not by the Palestinian Authority nor by the advocates of BDS. Its various organs are poorly coordinated, often excessively shrill in tone, and diffuse in their use of media and branding. The lack of coherence reveals a measure of organizational chaos that helps explain why “Israel earns widespread sympathy in the United States, much more so than Palestinians in general and anti-Israel organizations in particular.”  As a general matter, the report asserts, the anti-Israeli “public diplomacy network can be said to be significantly inferior to Israel’s.”

This leads to a final, powerful, though barely articulated conclusion. To the extent that Israel is the target of international criticism and has a negative image, it is manifestly not the result of failed public diplomacy. It is about Israel’s 46-year occupation of the West Bank, in the absence of which the country’s international standing would not be faltering nor would there be calls for boycott. 

Molad’s mission in investigating the claims about Israeli public diplomacy is not to give Israel a bad name, but to do the hard work of distinguishing between ikar and tafel, between what is central and what is peripheral. The organization’s youthful leaders want to save Israel’s body and soul by declaring with Carvillean bluntness: “It’s the occupation, stupid!” Seeing their rare combination of piercing intellect, political realism and future-oriented vision can, at least for a fleeting moment, cure one of a fatalistic certainty regarding the end of the two-state era.  Whether they ultimately turn out to be right, it would be foolhardy not to place a bet on this group of supremely talented and committed young Israelis.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

Report: Coerced contraception behind 50 percent decline in Ethiopian-Israeli birth rate

Israeli and Jewish aid officials are denying an Israeli TV report alleging that Ethiopian immigrant women have been coerced into taking contraceptive shots.

The report, which aired Saturday night on Israeli Educational Television, charged that coercive contraception is behind a 50 percent decline in the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel over the last decade.

Ethiopian women interviewed in the program, called “Vacuum” and hosted by Gal Gabbai, said they were coerced into receiving injections of Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control drug, both at Jewish-run health clinics in Ethiopia and after their move to Israel.

Rachel Mangoli, executive director of the WIZO chapter in Katz Village, told the TV show that she realized something was amiss when during a full year in her Ethiopian program just one Ethiopian baby was born.

“I went to the health clinic and I was told that Ethiopian immigrants were given the contraception because they couldn’t be relied upon to take the pills every day,” Mangoli said.

In the report, a woman identified as S. said she was told at the Jewish aid compound in Gondar, Ethiopia, “If you don’t get the shot, we won’t give you a ticket.”

She recalled, “I didn’t want to take it. They wanted me to take it. But I didn’t know it was a contraceptive,” she said. “I thought it was an immunization.”

Another Ethiopian interviewed for the program, Amawaish Alane, said, “We said we won’t accept the shot. They told us, ‘You won’t immigrate to Israel. You also won’t come into this clinic. You won’t get help and medical treatment.’ ”

“We had no choice,” Alane said. “That’s why we took the shot. We could only get out with their permission.”

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs the health clinics in Ethiopia for prospective immigrants to Israel, says it offers contraception among its array of services but that it is purely voluntary.

“At no time did JDC coerce anyone into engaging at family planning at its clinics. Those options were totally voluntary and offered to women who requested it,” a JDC spokesman in New York said. “They chose the form of contraceptive based on being fully informed of all the options available to them.”

The TV program alleged that coercive contraceptive tactics continued once the Ethiopians immigrated to Israel, where health clinics have been administering the contraceptive shots. The shots, which must be taken every three months, normally are given to women who cannot be relied upon to take daily pills, such as the mentally ill, according to health experts cited in the program.

The TV show sent a hidden camera into an Israeli health clinic, where an employee told the undercover reporter that Ethiopian women are given the contraceptive shots “because they forget,” “explanations are difficult for them” and “they essentially don’t understand anything.”

The Israeli Health Ministry has denied any systematic suppression of Ethiopian pregnancy or coerced contraception.

Watch the show here (Hebrew):

Court rules Judaism, not place of birth, is grounds for Israeli citizenship

The Haifa District Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal submitted by Professor Uzzi Ornan, who sought to compel Israel’s Interior Ministry to recognize his citizenship based on the fact that he was born in Israel, rather than on the grounds that he was Jewish.

Ornan, a linguist and member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, who is also the founder of the League against Religious Coercion in Israel, petitioned the Interior Ministry in 2010 to recognize him as an Israeli, not on grounds of being Jewish but because he was born in Israel.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Daniel Fisch said that it was without a doubt that the petitioner, Prof Uzzi Ornan, was born to a Jewish mother, and was therefore Jewish, which the law of return states as the source of his citizenship.


Gaza attack victim’s widow gives birth

The widow of the victim of a Gaza rocket attack on southern Israel gave birth to a baby boy.

Lilach Shoshan gave birth on Yom Kippur in Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center.

Her husband, Yossi, was killed in August when a Grad rocket fired from Gaza struck him in Beersheba. He was 38.

Shoshan said she will name the boy Shimon after her husband’s father, as the couple had planned.

The couple had two other children, daughters aged 7 and 4. They will choose the baby’s middle name, according to reports.

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.”

A Manual for the Auntie-to-Be

It seemed that lots of people — including total strangers —
had plenty of advice to offer my sister and my brother-in-law before the birth
of their first child, an event the entire extended family anticipated for late
summer 2003. And it wasn’t just a matter of kindly (if ultimately incorrect)
projections about the baby’s gender or rueful warnings about all those
sleepless nights to come.

“I heard that you’re not supposed to eat tuna fish when
you’re pregnant,” one woman in a New York City deli remarked, loudly, when my
sister sank her teeth into her once-a-week tuna treat during her seventh month.

The willingness of so many people to “share” scarcely
surprised me. Like the suggestions that streamed in for the bridal couple
between the engagement and the wedding, child-related counsel appeared to come
with the territory of a pregnancy. And if the pointers weren’t enough for my
sister and brother-in-law, they could count on the insights and instructions
buried within the books that quickly crowded out the suddenly antiquated
wedding prep manuals on their bookshelves. Not to mention the countless classes
they soon registered for, on everything from how to bathe a newborn to
negotiating the relationship changes “when two become three.”

I confess that before my sister’s wedding, I didn’t sense
too much that was personally life changing for me. And since I’d previously
served as a bridesmaid, it wasn’t very difficult to perform that job again.
Bridesmaiding seems a contract position of sorts, which ends as the band packs
up and the bridal couple drives away in their limousine.

But I quickly found preparing for the birth of a first niece
or nephew to be different, especially as a still-single and childless future
aunt. For one thing, while there is plenty of advice, these days, even for
bridesmaids — and perhaps ironically enough, my sister has co-founded a popular
Web site on that topic ( — there is little written to
provide counsel for the more significant lifelong position of aunt-to-be. Nevertheless
I was surprised by the events and changes — some subtle, some less so — that I
experienced in the months between sister’s announcement of her pregnancy and
the baby’s birth. Others might be just as surprised by analogous “symptoms,”
such as:

Feeling the Baby Kick — Sure, I have lots of friends who are
moms, and I’ve watched the growth of their families very attentively, but no
matter how long I’ve known them or how many secrets we’ve shared, it’s never
quite seemed appropriate to ask, “Can I touch your stomach?” It wasn’t until my
own sister’s pregnancy that I could press my palm against a mother-to-be’s bare
skin — and wait to feel a baby kicking her from within.

Consulting on the Baby’s Name — As a writer I have the
opportunity to name characters all the time, and I’d owned a book titled,
“6,000 Names For Your Baby,” expressly for that purpose long before my sister
started thinking about beginning a family. But one of the biggest surprises —
and privileges — of my sister’s pregnancy was my role as “consultant” and
confidant in the name selection process (and there was an extra bonus — being
allowed to remain in the room for one final confidential discussion after the
baby arrived but before her name was announced).

Expanding My Consumer Savvy and Lexicon — Babies “R” Us.
buybuy BABY. I didn’t know about any of this before. Frankly, I didn’t care.
And I certainly never saved those Pottery Barn Kids catalogs that for some
reason arrived regularly in my mailbox. Now they are stacked with pages marked
and items circled. Like the first-time grandparents on both sides, I get to
spoil this baby.

Learning Infant and Child CPR — OK. Some details of
obstetrical procedures I probably didn’t really need to hear about. There are
reasons I chose not to go to medical school. Twenty years ago, as part of the
middle school “health” curriculum, I had received certification in first aid
and CPR. But thanks to my sister’s insistence that anyone who planned to be
entrusted with solo time with her child needed to acquire some training in
emergency response, I contacted the American Heart Association. I enrolled in a
Heartsaver CPR for Infants and Children Course. I studied the manual and
prepared for my class — two weeks before the parents-to-be.

I learned a lot in that class that surprised me. I hadn’t
realized, for example, that, this year, one in every five children would be
injured significantly enough to require emergency treatment. I hadn’t realized
how many preventive measures could be taken to avoid crises situations. And I
certainly didn’t know about other aspects in the “chain of survival.” I’d
already understood the best way to place an infant in her crib (“back to
sleep”) and known something about car seat safety, but I appreciated my
instructors’ additional tips on how to handle 911 calls and other strategies
(that of course I hoped I’d never have to use). I was proud to report that I’d
only missed one question on my written test — a record my sister matched; my
brother-in-law, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and tops in his law school class,
scored a perfect 100. (You can imagine the pressure on the grandparents.)

But the biggest surprise was how much closer my sister and I
— who certainly had our share of sibling struggles over the years — became
throughout her pregnancy. From speaking on the phone only occasionally, we
found ourselves speaking multiple times each week. We planned a trip to buybuy
BABY (with grandma-to-be) that would include Auntie Erika, visiting
specifically for the occasion, as well. Everyone in the family referred to the
baby, whose gender remained a mystery until delivery, by the nickname I gave
it: “Kicky.” Via e-mail I viewed every single sonogram and smiled over
photographs of the baby’s newly assembled bassinet. And when my sister was
admitted to the hospital (for the real thing, after having stalled preterm
labor for several weeks) I only hoped I’d reach New York in time.

That, I’m not sure anyone expected. Â

Erika Dreifus is a Massachusetts-based writer and teacher. Her fiction and essays have appeared in such publications as the Boston Globe and Lilith. Â

Cherishing Passover

As a child, Passover seders in my family were rushed affairs more about the meal than the meaning of the holiday. Hungry children and adults quickly read through the haggadah.

Surreptitious bites of matzah were silently swallowed. And all the while the aromas from the kitchen tickled our noses into reading as fast as we possibly could.

If you had asked me what Passover was about, I could tell you of all the delicious foods that were served, but not why my family gathered together to endure this strange ritual each year. And the finale was the biggest mystery of all. "Next year in Jerusalem" was a meaningless phrase we all shouted with glee — probably because we knew the night was ending.

As an adult I made a conscious effort to learn about my Jewish roots, which commence with the reason we commemorate the events of the very first Passover.

One of the purposes of the Passover seder is to teach our children the story of how the Jewish people came to be. Passover is a history lesson taught not by impersonal teachers in a sterile classroom, but by our families seated around the dining room table. When done correctly, the Passover seder should instill a sense of pride. Because with knowing who we are, we should feel proud to be Jews.

Passover commemorates the departure of the Jewish people from Egypt some 3,000 years ago and marks the birth of a nation. This is as much a celebration of our spiritual freedom as it is a jubilation of our physical liberation from slavery.

During our time in Egypt we were greatly afflicted. We were slaves of the lowest order. The men and women were separated so that no new Jews would be born. Yet, the women defied this pharoah’s edict. They snuck into the fields where the men slaved away and had relations with their husbands. No matter how hard pharoah tried, Jewish babies continued to be born. The women recognized that the nation’s existence was in danger and they took action to assure that not only would the nation continue to subsist, but it would grow and thrive as well.

We can easily draw a parallel to the Holocaust. Despite the attempts of Hitler to wipe out European Jewry, babies continued to be born in the camps, in the ghettos and in the forests.

One of the Passover lessons we need to teach our children is that the will of the Jewish people does not crush easily. We are a people to be reckoned with and we do have a place in this world. Just look at Israel today. Despite the constant threat of terrorist attacks, life goes on, babies are born.

This year, we mark the one-year anniversary of the Passover massacre at the beachside Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel. On the day we commemorate our roots and proclaim our physical and spiritual endurance, a terrorist walked into the dining room of the hotel and detonated an explosive device. Of the 250 people attending the seder, 29 were killed and 140 people were injured, 20 seriously. Victims ranged in age from 25 to 90, and Holocaust survivors were among them.

Yet, we continue to defy our enemies. In Egypt we slaughtered sheep, the animal most worshiped by the Egyptians. In essence, we threw their holy sheep in their faces. We defied Hitler by surviving. Today we defy the Arabs by our very existence.

The Passover seder is instrumental in strengthening our will and our continued defiance of our enemies. It is at the seder that our children learn who we are and where we came from. They hear the first instance of a nation’s defiance and the miraculous way in which our nation was born. The seder you have today will shape the Jew your children will be tomorrow and will ultimately affect the future path of all Jews.

Passover is a yearly proclamation to the world, but more importantly, to ourselves, that the Jewish nation is alive and well and will continue to exist and thrive despite the best efforts of our enemies and detractors. Passover is our yearly reminder to ourselves that to be a Jew is something special to be cherished and protected, nurtured and prized, relevant and treasured.

And we finish each seder with the words "Next year in Jerusalem." Next year — meaning we will be around next year, and we will continue to outlive our enemies, to defy all predictions of our demise.

Marisa N. Pickar is a freelance journalist living in Laguna Woods.

The Firstborn

I remember the moment I was in the doctor’s office staring at the screen. The technician was pointing to the monitor where I could see the heartbeat of the fetus growing inside of me. I saw it pulse and was both delighted and awestruck. Then I asked, “Does it have the same heartbeat as I do?” She smiled and looked over to me. “No, it’s its own being, separate from you.”

Wow, that hit me. Of course it has a different heartbeat than I do, but how could it? I’m carrying this fetus inside of me; it’s me. Or is it me?

Once the moment of birth occurs, the separation is much more evident. Or is it? Not only do we want the best for our children, but if the “best” happens to match our own views of success, then all the better.I was hit with this reality on the 30th day following my daughter’s birth. We held a pidyon habat (redemption of the firstborn daughter) in our home. Traditionally done for the firstborn son, we changed some of the language to make it gender appropriate. In this ceremony, based in part on this week’s Torah portion, we redeem, or “buy back,” our daughter from the Kohanim, the priestly class, who are legally entitled to keep the firstborn child of every Jewish family for service to God. “For every firstborn among the Israelites, man as well as beast, is Mine [God’s]. I consecrated them to Myself at the time that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt” (Numbers 8:17). In planning for the ceremony, I had never really contemplated the meaning of this event until just before our guests arrived. Essentially, by having a pidyon habat, my husband and I were agreeing to a concept that I’m not sure I was ready to accept.

I felt a sense of separation and disappointment when we announced that we wished to redeem our daughter from God’s possession. I realized that by redeeming my daughter from God, I was, in essence, recognizing that God owned her life from the start and we only had her on loan. In addition, by redeeming her from a specific duty of work for God, I was acknowledging that she would choose her own destiny. And then the disappointment set in. I admitted that my heart would jump for joy if my daughter decided to pursue the same career that I have chosen, yet I stood in front of friends and family saying that she could do and be whatever her heart desired. I recalled the heartbeat story and smiled, admitting that I never controlled her in the first place.

As parents, many of us believe that we can try to shape the direction of our children’s lives. If Jewish life is important to us we can celebrate Shabbat and the holidays at home, read Jewish books to our children, take them to Jewish cultural events and regularly talk about God’s presence in our everyday lives. We hope and pray that these values, customs and conversations will make a lasting impression and form memories of joy and holiness for our children. Then we hope and pray that when they grow up they will find their own meaning in our tradition and choose to pass it on to the next generation in their own way. But in the end we can only hope and pray. Ultimately their destiny is in their own hands and God’s.

Perhaps God first reminded us that God owned all the firstborn children and then commanded us to redeem them (Numbers 18:15) as a subtle way for parents to begin the separation process from the very start. How wise, and how difficult.

Michelle Missaghieh is rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

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.