Monday, June 23, 2014

Korach: Dissent, Leadership & Divinity

Some of my strongest memories are of protests. I have yet to stay dry-eyed as the crowd's passionate cry for justice swells within me. Fighting first so my parents could marry, then so I could marry, was such a personal dissent that I couldn't help but imbue each step with my heart's cry for justice.

But it's not just the personal fights that make me cry for the fight. I've chanted alongside my friends, family, co-workers and strangers in favor of same-sex marriage and in opposition of war. I've painted protest signs for fair wages and transgender inclusion. And I've walked miles so that we can repair this broken world.

Korach's dissent is something I have said before. In this week's parsha, Koarch says to Moshe, "You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" For this, he is swallowed up by the earth.

Commentators, troubled by the death of a messenger of justice, create reasons for such troubling conduct. They say that Korach had improper intentions - that he publicly advocated for justice, but he wanted the power for himself. Moshe, on the other hand, was divinely given the power to lead. 

As someone who believes an an amorphous G-d, with each of us having the reflection of G-d within us, I find the idea troubling that leadership is divinely determined, excluding some from positions of power.

The scariest part of the adoption process is that we first must say "Yes!" and only then can we meet our child. This is for the child's protection, to keep him or her from feeling rejected and not good enough, and a good policy. Yet, how can we pick the "right" kid when we only can meet their social worker? How can we not feel guilty for excluding a different child from our family?

In my daily life, I try to trust that everything will work out. I have been extremely lucky in my life - I have a wonderful wife, I own my home, I have a great community, and I am pursuing my dream career - and there's no reason to expect that I shouldn't trust my future too.

I believe that there's divinity in each of us, and that our energies combined can change the world. At the same time, this trust in divinity doesn't guarantee anything about my future child. Just because they are G-dly doesn't mean that they're the right fit for us. Ultimately, I disagree with classic rabbinic teaching. I don't believe that divinity (which I think is universal) entitles us to anything - including leadership - nor will bring us anything specific - such as the "right" child. 

I know that the "right" child is a myth, but it doesn't keep me from worrying. I know that the child is "right" because we nurture it and share our spark with the child. Our universal G-dliness doesn't divine anything about our future, but it should inspire our present. Connecting to each other - to our future child - is the most important thing. We are there to nurture our child's spark - no matter who they are. They are "right" because they are our child.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Shelach: Pomegranates, figs & grapes

Kate and I sent books to our immediate family, to help prepare them for the adoption to come. Adoption is not just a process for me and Kate; our family must also navigate the emotional twists and turns of bringing in a new family member. By sending them a book, we wanted to share with them some of the answers we've come to, as well as help them find their own answers.

As each family member got the book, it felt like a virtual hug. My brother, overwhelmed with emotion, called and told me he "can't wait to be Uncle Izzy." My father told me that the book helped him feel included. My moms couldn't wait to read it. Kate's mom picked our her grandmother name, and I was so touched & overwhelmed that Cecilia picked out a name too. Kate's dad and wife - living in Ohio - finally received the book as well, and are excited for us.

After my hard conversation with the social workers, it was like the spies of my past returning with sweet things to savor, not harsh words to worry about. So much has changed since my childhood, and I'm so glad to have a supportive family that loves me and looks to see my family flourish.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shelach: Trust yourself

The last obstacle can be the scariest part of the journey. You must confront the reality that your life could change completely, but also that you must still fight hard to reach that goal.

Kate and I are in the last stage of the process before we get to "search" for our child. We're interviewing with our social workers about who we are, where we came from, and what type of parents we want to become. As someone with a traumatic childhood, yesterday's personal interview was hard.

In this week's parsha, twelve spies return from the land of Canaan carrying delicious bounty of the land's sweetness (pomegranates, grapes & figs) and tales of warriors "more powerful than we." The people, afraid, did not trust that they were strong enough to win, and they were punished by wandering the desert for forty more years. The people failed to trust their own strength, intelligence, and faith.

Yesterday the social workers asked me about my parents, and how I want to parent compared to them. My parents gave me many great treasures – my father's capacity to love, my mother's boundaries – but my childhood was also burdened.

Yesterday, I rushed home from work to meet with the social workers. My work at legal aid triggers traumatic memories of my childhood, and I was unprepared to give the measured, thoughtful answers I had thought out beforehand. In that moment, I didn't trust that I could be a better parent to my child or that I could be a parent at all.

I almost cried. I almost said so many things that my wounded youthful heart wanted to say, but aren't part of my truth anymore. I wanted to say I was unfit, that I know from firsthand experience love doesn't conquer all, that my parents didn't love me the right way, that I spent my childhood afraid. But these things aren't my truth anymore, and I summoned my sanity and revived myself and my story.

I am strong. I am smart. I know how to love, set boundaries, and empathize. I will be a perfect parent, not because I will always be right, not because I know what I'm doing, and not because I won't mess up my kid. I will be a perfect parent because I will unconditionally love my child and do my absolute best to parent them.

Yesterday, the spies of my childhood returned, and they brought forth the good and the bad – and Kate and I are ready for what's next. This is the last battle before our "search," and I do not have to fight it alone. I have friends and family surrounding me in this process. We have our community, who will bring us pomegranates, figs, and grapes – as well as play dates, used clothes, and lots of love. We trust our strength, intelligence, and faith – and, most importantly – one another.

Only by trusting in myself, my partner, and my community can we take on the commitment of raising a child and believing that we can become the parents we want to be.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Behaalotecha: Raising Light

This summer feels so busy. Days after finals, Kate and I left for New Orleans, and after we returned she went back to work, and I started my new job. At night, we continue to rearrange our home to become kid-ready or sit down and watch one of our new favorite shows, The Office. Every morning I drag myself from bed, spiritually exhausted from the day before. I make promises to myself about the day to come - taking time to read, eating well, getting enough sleep - but I break the promises as easily as I make them. 

The child-to-come is not in my mind as much as s/he's in my heart. My heart bursts with anticipation, but my brain is calculated and calm. This week we began the final process before the child-picking process - the home study! As we get closer to "search," my daily tasks are in preparation for our lives to change completely, even as I mentally leave room for the possibility of the timeline extending many more months. But even as I keep the unknown child close, I fail to take care of myself - a necessity as a busy parent (I hear).

In this week's parsha, G-d tells Aaron to "raise light" in the sanctuary's menorah. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the spiritual significant of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is that a person should be a "lamplighter" who ignites the latent potential within "the soul of man, a lamp of G-d." He taught that the lamplighter should ignite a flame so that it "arises of its own accord," making the other a self-sufficient luminary, so that the new flame should kindle the light in others.

Prior to having a child in our home, it's important for us to kindle our own fires as brightly as possible. The road ahead will not be easy, as we try to kindle love, self-sufficiency, and loving-kindness in our child. The brighter our flame is, the easier it will be to share it, so that our children can share their flame with the world. 

Tonight is Shabbat, and I look forward to the calmness that can invoke us during this special time. Turning off electronics, work, and non-community building life, it's a practice in being present in what's right in front of you and appreciating all the blessings you have. By growing that appreciation, I find myself being kinder to others, and refreshed to continue the hard work of repairing the world.

Shabbat Shalom!