Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Learning to swim - for the second time in my life

I was born in a small seaside town in England. We could smell the sea air from our house. My Mother used to take my sister and I to the beach everyday as toddlers. So from an early age I loved playing in water.

From paddling in the sea, I taught myself to swim at age 7. From then on you couldn't keep me away from water. Every chance that came to me, I jumped in to swim. Even the cold, icy sea water of Ireland didn't put me off. On a vacation to Rome, all I wanted to do was jump in the hotel pool. The tourist sites were of no interest to me!

Then we moved away from the sea. But that was not a deterrent for my father. He just dug up our whole back yard and put a swimming pool in its place. For a suburb of London that was rather strange behavior. Our Greek neighbors just thought we were eccentric Jews....

So for the next 20 years of my life if I ever wanted to swim, I could just jump out of my bedroom window. That's a bit of an exaggeration as my bedroom was on the first floor. You also have to take into account that London's weather is mostly cold and rainy. Anyway I did swim a lot, either at home or in an exclusive pool in a trendy gym.

Then I got married and moved to Israel. After 3 kids, and a few brief dips in the Mediterranean, I decided to take up my swimming career again. Our neighbourhood has a big pool with women-only hours. So every Friday morning I rushed to drop off my kids in school, and did 20 laps in the pool. It was fun, except for my collisions with big fat Russian ladies swimming backwards and Israelis that came in the water just to chat.

Suddenly with very little warning after child number 5, my swimming career came to an abrupt end.

I was hospitalized for 4 months with Severe Ataxic Sensory Neuropathy. In lay terms this means I was disabled as a quadraplegic, with all my senses of balance damaged. To give me encouragement, a top Neurologist in Jerusalem bluntly said to me that there was little chance of recovery.

But I didn't cry much. I still had my arms and legs; and could talk, see and eat normally. Believe me, I saw much worse in the hospital.

When I returned home in a wheelchair it took me time to adjust to being a wheelchair-mum. After a year or so, my family convinced me to try swimming again. So a few times I tried swimming with my husband in a regular pool. But for me it was a failure. I had to be held like a baby and I just flapped my hands. The water took away all my sense of balance and I was completely disoriented.

I saw people around me swimming normally, and then I really cried.

I don't know why not being able to swim upset me so much. It hurt more than not being able to walk on my own (I walk with leg casts, a walker and someone behind me). In the end I came to terms with it, and decided to accept it as part of my "new" life.

Then 3 years later, a clever doctor suggested hydrotherapy. But it was winter, I had no careworker, and a dozen other excuses not to go swimming again.

This week the weather suddenly got very hot. So I thought let's go for it, and give swimming a final try. So I took the plunge and went into the water with a professional teacher in a special pool. After slowly easing me to put my head in the water, the teacher gave me a rubber "snake" and told me to swim the stroke I wanted. I chose front crawl, my fave Olympic style of swimming.

Knowing I was in safe hands I gave it my best effort. In less than one minute I swam to the end of the pool. "How was it", she asked in Hebrew. I just burst into tears - tears of joy as it was so wonderful that I could swim again. "Another few sessions in the pool", she said, "and you'll be able to swim on your own".

You can't imagine how happy I felt - and still feel about it. What is the importance of being able to swim? Many people live a very fulfilled life without ever going swimming.

I can't answer this question. All I know now, is that it is a very important part of being "me". So I see that I should never give up trying to be "me", but be the best "me" that I can.

So I truly thank G-d for all he has given me, and hope this inspires others to keep trying to do what they really want to in life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is it permissable for a Woman to breastfeed in Shul?

by Rabbi Moshe Yossef BA (Hons)

It appears that the question of breastfeeding in Shul has not been discussed in the Rabbinic "Responsa", for the simple reason that it was never considered a question!

Breastfeeding in Shul is problematic for the following reasons:

1) Breastfeeding in any public place breaches the boundaries of modesty (tzniut). This would apply even in an exclusively all-female environment. It is true that with caution, it is possible to nurse a baby without uncovering one-self in a way that is at all visible. Even under these circumstances, however, the other issues which will be listed still remain problematic.

2) Breastfeeding in Shul contravenes the laws relating to the preservation of the sanctity of a Shul. These laws are dealt with in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 151. You will see there that, for example, even drinking is forbidden in Shul (according to the Biur Halacha, this includes even water). Of course, drinking from a cup does not exposing oneself at all.

3) Breastfeeding in Shul, even when in the most careful and modest way possible, is likely to distract others from having concentration (kavanah) in their prayers. (This issue could arguably be considered an extension of (2) above).

Furthermore, since there is no obligation for a woman to attend Shul in the first place, there are no grounds to apply leniencies in this ruling. This is all the more so since the taking of a young minor to Shul is in itself forbidden on the grounds of their disturbing others from their prayer (by way of their crying etc) - this issue is well documented in Mishna Brura as the well as in Rabbinic Responsa.

In light of the above considerations, there is no permission (heter) in relation to this issue. Be'ezrat Hashem your child will grow up healthy and strong and make his/her own way to Shul, in time to come.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Happy Passover again!

No, not a mistake or a joke. Today the 14th of Iyar is "Passover the second" or more commonly known as "Pesach Sheni".

Women, you don't have to clean your fridge again! You have another 11 months left before you need to drive yourself mad with cleaning everything in site.

Thought your tummies could have a break from Matzahs for a while? No, sorry about that. The custom is to eat a little Matzah to celebrate the day.

So what is Pesach Sheni?

There were some people who were ritually defiled at the time at which they would have brought the Paschal sacrifice (14th Nisan), and were therefore exempted from the Mitzvah. They approached Moses with a request – even though they were exempted from performing the Mitzvah. They did not want to miss out. What could they do?

Moses agreed to consult with G-d, and a new Mitzvah was declared: that of Pesach Sheni – the second Pesach.

On this day, the Paschal Lamb is sacrificed (by those so obliged), accompanied by similar conditions to that of Pesach Rishon. There is, however, no prohibition against possessing, or even eating Hametz on Pesach Sheni.

Today, when the holy Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed and we are therefore unable to offer any sacrifices, Pesach Sheni is celebrated by eating Matzah only.

So what can we learn from this? Let's ask the Rabbi - my husband! (Rabbi Moshe Yossef).

He says we should always seek to fulfill our moral obligations. Don't take the easy way out in life.

For example, we should respect and give honor to our parents. Even if it comes to the point that we can no longer care for them, and put them in a Nursing Home, our job is not over. Visit them, pay for extra care and give them back the loving they gave you.

Source for this post:

It states in the verse (Numbers 9:10-11): “…anyone who is ritually defiled, or too far to be able to reach the Temple in Jerusalem on time etc.., shall offer the Paschal sacrifice to Hashem. In the second month, on the 14th day…”. The Sages of Israel in tractate Pesochim inferred that, in fact, this Mitzvah applies to anyone who intended to offer the Paschal lamb at the appointed time, but was prevented from doing so as a result of circumstances beyond their control.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

7 Rules for Parents of Jewish Teenagers

Two Teenagers have suddenly entered my house!

Last summer, I was busy raising five kids. All of a sudden in the month of April, two teenagers suddenly entered my house. Who were they?

My own Son (13 last August) and my own Daughter (12 in March).

As a "newbie" to parenting teenagers, this is what I have learned so far:

Rule #1
Don't go shopping with your Daughter for shoes. This one is not "in fashion", this one has too many holes, this one has horrible colors, this one is too high, this one is too narrow, this one is ???

Rule #2
Be passionate about every interest your Son has. You need to keep up with him on gadgets, supercars, bicycles, guns, warriors ... and more.

Rule #3
Become an expert in acne, spots, pimples and any physical blemishes. This applies to both boys and girls.

Rule #4
Don't ask too many questions. If they are late back, they know they are in the wrong. Asking for more detail just starts an argument. Anyway, being Jewish, they will always answer you back with a question.

Rule #5
Be prepared for violent outbursts like chair throwing, glass breaking etc. In fact anything that makes a loud noise. I advise some bodily protection, maybe an invisible shield?

Rule #6
You have to like their music, and know all the names of the most popular artists. I think this applies to both pop music and Jewish music. You must even be prepared to send a Twitter to their favorite celebrity.

Rule #7
Help them with their social networking! No joke, I have opened a Twitter account for my 13-year old son and a blog for my 12-year old daughter As they can just about write English, guess who has to do all the work?

To summarise:
Listen, talk, listen, talk, listen, talk .............

It's fun, but you need a lot of patience!

I would be grateful for any additions to my list of Rules, as I am still learning.