Monday, December 19, 2011

Chanukah: done

Listening to the Manic Mommies complain about Christmas preparations (via podcast) on my ride home today, I couldn't help but compare their preparations to my own. My Chanukah preparations. (You can stop laughing now.)

I have attempted to buy presents for my family, I really have. I requested a list from both my husband and son: no lists have appeared. J will periodically (i.e. daily) tell me about this or that thing that he wants me to buy him, but he does that even when it isn't Chanukah. A just says he doesn't want anything, as usual. So I've been trying to find some creative things for them. I've been somewhat successful - we'll see when I actually give them the presents. The stress is that you are supposed to give something every night. And J doesn't want small things anymore. So what are you supposed to do?

I sent my parents a small gift. I need to send something to my niece and nephews. That about does it.

And tomorrow night is the first night of Chanukah. I need to get out the Chanukah menorahs, dust them off, and dig out the wax from last year (if you are Jewish, you know what I mean...). I need to make sure we have Chanukah candles...I'm pretty sure we do, as we tend not to use them all, for some reason. We have a box of old Chanukah decorations in the attic - I should get that down, although many of those things are too child-like for J now. And I should make sure I have potatoes so I can make latkes tomorrow night. And...that's about it. Chanukah: done.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Too soon

J attended his first bat mitzvah party last Saturday night. All the kids from his class were there. The girls were dressed in party dresses, some in heels, some in strapless outfits. They looked beautiful, and very grown up. The boys were mostly wearing button-down shirts, some had on ties, some even wore jackets. They looked good -- handsome, even -- but vaguely uncomfortable.

This party came right on the heels of J's first middle school dance last week. Most of the bar/bat mitzvah festivities for J and his friends will take place in 7th grade, but there are a few kids having celebrations in 6th grade. So this party, and the dance, are the first time these kids have been in this situation. I'm thinking they may be a smidge too young for this sort of thing. Most of them are barely in puberty. Or "pubertized," as J likes to say.

But there's another issue, too. With these dances and parties, J is being asked to look at the girls differently than before. They are supposed to now be objects of desire. But he doesn't feel desire for them. They are the same girls he's gone to school with since kindergarten. They are friends. How is he supposed to make this transition?

"Slow dancing is stupid," he commented. "All you do it put your arms around the girl's waist, and move back and forth. It's boring."

Well...yeah. Until it isn't.

Trouble is, he's just not there yet. These kids are 12. Some are still 11. This is too soon.

Maybe next year.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sperm donors and ethics

I can't stop thinking about an article I read in the Globe yesterday. It was about a lawyer in his 30s who was a sperm donor for about 3 years while he was in law school. Now he finds out that his sperm was used to father 70 children. 70! And because people are so much more connected these days, many of the families have connected with each other and with him online. So now he has a dilemma: what is his relationship with his biological children supposed to be? It's fascinating, and scary. You can read the whole article here.

What I don't understand is: why isn't there a limit to a number of times that a single sperm donor's sperm can be used? If a woman is an egg donor, is there no limit there, either? I can't believe that no one has thought of this before.

The thing that fascinates me is that kids really do have a need to know where they come from. I'm seeing this more and more with J as he gets older. He was thrilled to meet a bunch of cousins in Chicago this summer who share his last name. I think it helped him feel more grounded, connected. So I can understand why the kids, whose fathers are nothing more than a sperm donor number, are interested in learning about these men.

I tried to bring this topic up at breakfast this morning, and A gave me a look. I think he knew where it was going before I did.

I explained the situation to J, and he thought about it a minute. He wasn't at all interested in the ethical dilemma.

"How does the man get the sperm out of his penis?" he inquired.

A looked at me.

"Um, he masturbates, and then the sperm comes out," I replied somewhat vaguely. J has recently learned about masturbation, although I don't think he fully gets it. Yet. At least I didn't mention the pornographic magazines offered at the sperm bank.

"Where does the sperm go?"

"Um, in a cup. Then the sperm bank saves it and uses it if people want to get pregnant and for some reason they don't have sperm."

J thought it was pretty funny that men would go somewhere to masturbate into a cup, but he was impressed to find out that they could get paid for it. I'm afraid my discussion of the ethical issues of sperm donation didn't go very far.

Oh, well. I tried.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life on the fifth floor (part 4)

Many, many years ago -- I guess it was probably around 1986 -- I was just out of grad school and temping at Emmanuel College, and a friend was going to school at Harvard Medical School. I remember meeting him on "the quad" one day, and thinking: this is lovely! It's a huge field of green grass surrounded by stunning, impressive, white buildings with enormous columns.

Now it's 2011, and here I am. It's still beautiful.

On Wednesdays during the summer, there is music (see the little white triangle?) in the quad for everyone to enjoy, put on by Berklee students.

This is the email that goes out on Wednesdays:

... take a break from your research, patients, paperwork and other tasks to enjoy a series of concerts on the HMS Quad and in the Kresge Courtyard. The concerts, featuring musicians from Berklee College of Music, take place on Wednesdays from 12:30–1:30 pm. Sit back, relax and enjoy some music with your colleagues.

Today's concert wasn't spectacular, but it was nice to sit in the sun for a few minutes. There's a nice focus on "quality of life" here. I like it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life on the fifth floor (part 3)

My new project -- and Harvard in general -- uses a lot of acronyms. A LOT. Some of them absolutely crack me up.

KFC. What does that mean to you? Well, to me it means Kentucky Fried Chicken. Here, it means "Key Function Committee." But every-time someone says KFC I think of chicken.

CHIRP. What does that mean to you? To me, it's the sound that a bird makes. Chirp, chirp, chirp. Here, it is (embarrassingly) the name of my program. Community Health Innovation and Research Program. CHIRP. Not sure how we will ever get anyone to take us seriously with that name.

R-Nav. Pronounced "ar-nav." It probably doesn't mean anything to you -- yet. It's actually a pretty cool thing. The Research Navigators (or R-Navs) are "PhDs who serve as scientific liaisons to facilitate clinical and translational research." They connect people to each other and to research opportunities. There are 4 R-Navs, and they are very nice. And very smart.

Translational. What does that mean to you? Here, it isn't about translating something into another language. It means translating a scientific discovery into something that can be used by people. Everyone's always talking about translational this and translational that.

TAP is the tuition assistance program. HUGHP (pronounced "hug-up") is the Harvard University Group Health Plan. PeopleSoft is where you log your time, and ASPIRE is where you apply for a new job (if you ASPIRE for a job...get it?). PMP is the performance management process. Although at the Med School, we do PPR - Performance Planning and Review.

And now...back to the 5th floor. Here is a photo of my wastebasket. Have you ever seen anything like that? It's a little teeny tiny waste basket that is hooked onto the side of a blue recycle bin. The message is: recycle most things, throw away just a little. Of course what I end up doing is completely filling the little tiny waste basket, and not putting much of anything into the recycle bin. I guess I'm lucky, though. My friend, K, over at the School of Public Health, doesn't even HAVE a wastebasket. None. At. All. They take recycling very seriously over there.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Life on the fifth floor (part 2)

There is a hierarchy to the floor plan on the 5th floor: there are those folks with offices (and windows), and those with cubes (and generally, no windows). The important people (directors, managers) get the offices and the windows. The working people (myself included) get the cubes. The cubes are quite small, and there is absolutely no privacy. None. If you make a phone call, everyone can hear. And you can hear everyone else, too. If someone chooses to talk on speaker phone, it's really, really distracting.

Some of the folks in the offices don't have a ton of privacy either, to be honest. My boss shares an office with another person. Whenever either person has a meeting or talks on the phone, the other person can hear every word. I guess privacy isn't something that is needed now-a-days. Transparency in everything, right?

Turns out that several programs in the office are moving to a new location "across the quad" in a few weeks. This will probably reduce the density of the office somewhat, although I don't think I'll score an office quite yet. Sounds like once the programs move, I'll be moving to a cube closer to my two main co-workers.

So back to the library. There are some amusing aspects to the library, one of which is the recent introduction of Cooper, the Countway Therapy Dog. Yes, a dog. In a library. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can "check out" Cooper, a registered therapy dog, for a half hour of doggie deliciousness. You can play with him, take him for a walk, or just snuggle with him. He really is very cute. Take a look at this face.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Life on the fifth floor

My friend K is writing a blog about her experiences at her new job, and another friend, A, suggested that we write "dueling blogs," as it were, about our experiences. I like how K is writing about the small details of her new work-life, so I'm going to try it here. Here goes.

My office is on the fifth floor of a medical library, this rather nondescript building to the left. But every day when I get off the elevator, I walk right into an exhibit of old medical paraphernalia which is formally called the Warren Anatomical Museum. The exhibit consists of old medical instruments -- some of which are very scary looking -- and also skulls, anatomical models, statues, and all kinds of weird things. A co-worker just informed me that there is a tray of gallstones. Ugh. Every day, people come up to look at the museum. Groups of students. Little kids and parents. People who are clearly tourists.

Click here to see a photo of what it looks like right outside my office suite.

On the walls of the fifth floor, there are also some strange formal portraits of men who must have been physicians a long time ago. Perhaps some of the founders of the medical school. Several of them have rooms and buildings named after them. But the real question is, why do you think this guy looks like this?

He looks very uncomfortable, doesn't he?

Here is another view of the library, a view of the staircase winding its way down.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's getting better

The new job is getting interesting. I'm currently working on topics as varied as medical uses of marijuana, chlamydia, food policy councils, and something called "hospital community benefits offices". I'm meeting different professors in the school of public health, physicians in the area hospitals. I'm meeting with folks in the state and city departments of health. I'm starting to feel a bit more confident. I'm starting to remember the names of the people in the office. I'm getting used to the commute (which actually isn't so bad, in the summer, at least). I have a friend on campus who just started here a few weeks ago, and we meet for lunch about once a week - so nice! Harvard is kind of an amazing place to work. There is so much here. And the work environment is very humane. I think I'm going to like it here.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Being new is hard

It's not that I'm not grateful. I am so very grateful for this new job. It came at a great time, just when my old one was about to end. The new job is at a great institution, I found convenient parking, everyone seems very friendly and very smart, I've pretty much settled into my little cubicle (no office for me here, no door, no window, no privacy).

But I just feel so awkward.

I don't really know what I'm supposed to do yet. I'm getting an idea of what my new project is about, but I don't know exactly what to do. Is that crazy?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Let the party begin!

Well, I've thought about it, ruminated on it, worried about it, ignored it, been distracted by it, and thought about it some more, but now it's here. It's June 2011. In 25 days, I'm turning 50. The big 5-0. There is no denying it, and no turning back.

One way I'm dealing with it is by making plans. I have things planned for each weekend (and more) this month. I'm going to a ballgame with A; having brunch with some of my women friends; going to NYC with two close women friends to see plays, go to museums, eat wonderful food, and experience that which is New York City; and on the actual day of my birth, I'll be with my birth family for the start of a week-long vacation on the Cape.

In addition, I'm ending my current job, and starting a new one.

Let the party begin!

Friday, May 20, 2011


As promised, here is the link to my essay that was published this week in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)! It's very exciting!

Unfortunately, JAMA will not provide you with the full article, unless you happen to be at work and your work has a subscription to it. So if you want to read the whole thing, and you can't find a hard copy of the journal (usually the public library has it), send me an email and I'll send you a copy!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Random thoughts

I'm sorry I haven't been posting more on my blog. It's not that there hasn't been a lot going on...

Yesterday I had jury duty. I spent 3 hours in a court room on a very hard wooden bench as part of the jury pool. The judge and the two lawyers spent this entire time questioning potential jurors in order to pick 14 for the jury. They picked one, excused one, excused two, picked one. When they had 14 jurors selected, and we all heaved a sigh of relief. Then the lawyers conferred and excused 4 of the seated jurors! Back to questioning potential jurors. It seemed like an inefficient process, but I guess that's how it works. It was a very long day.

* * * * *

I just learned that a good friend has an abnormal mammogram, and has to go back for an additional mammogram and an ultrasound. This made me very sad. Hearing about more and more people dealing with cancer diagnoses and potential cancer diagnoses is just...awful.

* * * * *
J and some of his friends are suddenly interested in the show Jersey Shore, and he's been watching it, so I've been watching some it, too. It is, by far, the worst display of human behavior I have ever seen in my life. Period. The cast members curse, fight, call each other names, go to clubs late at night, pick up strangers, make out with said strangers, bring them back home, have sex with them, and then do it all again the next day. I think J is trying to figure out what adults do, and that's why he's so fascinating with it. It's so awful it's actually funny. I hope J isn't scarred for life after watching this.

* * * * *
I have an article coming out in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association)! It's not a research article; rather, it's an essay I wrote about working on the end-of-life study. It comes out on May 18th in a section called A Piece of My Mind. I'll put something up on the blog once it's officially published!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


There are two kinds of cancer: the type you get better from, and the type you really don't.

I was lucky. I had the first kind.

But lots of people aren't lucky. They have the second kind.

I subscribe to a blog called Mothers With Cancer, and this is what popped up today:

Some Things

A year ago when I was rediagnosed with breast cancer I was diagnosed with stage IV Metastatic breast cancer. which basically means my cancer had spread outside my chest area to other parts of my body. I kept this pretty private to the girls and tried to make it as easy on them as possible only making some details known to them, to protect them in a way.

Lately my scans have been good I have had some set backs but I believed I was on the up swing. I had another round of scans last week and my scans reviled a shadow that my doctor wanted to check out a little closer. So I had a brain scan on Friday morning, by two o’clock my doctor called me with the results. The cancer has spread to my brain in one spot on the right side in the back of my head. I also had questionable spots throughout my brain.

So this has been really hard to soak in. It’s not an easy thing to process. Yes I have cancer, in my brain what will happen to me? So I start radiation to my head tomorrow, and they will treat me for two weeks everyday. Then we will work on the spot of cancer if it needs to be treated. they will stop my chemo until then, they don’t like to mix the two together.

So that is what we are facing right now, it’s hard and scary and I hate sharing it all with you, but you are all a big part of me and my recovery and my blog has pulled me through some really tough times. So I thought I could share this with all of you.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and support


Eleven people commented on her post on Mothers With Cancer, and 121 commented on her personal blog (so far). Lots of people are praying for Sarah. I don't know Sarah, although I've been following her story for a few years. The truth is, she isn't going to get better. She doesn't know how long she has. She probably doesn't have very long at all.

This is unacceptable. There has to be a better way.

That's why I'm focused on prevention.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I just made some lunch, which consisted of a can of Trader Joe's tuna in olive oil, mixed with cornichon pickles and Goya chick peas, also from a can. Yum.

My place of work just sponsored a month-long Can Drive and collected over 500 cans of protein (tuna, ham, etc.) to donate to a local food pantry. Hooray!

And I received an email this morning from the Breast Cancer Fund:
We know BPA is all around us, and the CDC tells us the chemical is in almost 95 percent of us. And we know that laboratory studies have linked BPA to breast cancer, along with a whole host of other serious health problems. But what is the leading source of the BPA that contaminates our bodies? If we removed that source, how much would our BPA levels drop?

The Breast Cancer Fund and Silent Spring Institute conducted a study, published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, to find out. We enlisted five families for a week-long investigation. First, the families ate their normal diets. Then, we provided them with three days’ worth of freshly prepared organic meals that avoided contact with BPA-containing food packaging, such as canned food and polycarbonate plastic. Finally, the families returned to their normal diets. We measured their BPA levels at each stage.

While the families were eating the fresh-food diet, their BPA levels dropped on average by 60 percent.
Those with the highest exposure levels saw even greater reductions: 75 percent.

These groundbreaking results tell us that removing BPA from food packaging will eliminate our number one source of BPA exposure.

Scary, isn't it?

The email continues:
That means you can make changes right now to reduce your family’s levels of this chemical linked to breast cancer. It's as simple as cooking at home with fresh foods and making some very basic changes in your kitchen, such as limiting canned foods, choosing glass and stainless steel food and beverage containers, and not microwaving in plastic. You might also consider eating fewer meals out—especially at places that don't use fresh ingredients.
But how about those 500 cans of food we just donated to the food pantry? Is it better to eat something that might have BPA in it, or not to eat at all?

I think this is an important study, and it certainly will help raise awareness of BPA and its connection to the food supply. But I also feel that this issue is bigger than us. The email continues:
But while we can take steps to reduce our BPA exposure, we need big-picture solutions to ensure that everyone is protected from this chemical. Together with you, we are working tell industry and government that we want safe, non-toxic food packaging now.
So now what? I will continue my work with MBCC to continue to fight for reducing chemicals in our environment. I will continue to prepare and serve fresh veggies as much as possible from our CSA, from our garden, and from the grocery store. Will I stop using canned food altogether? Not sure. Not yet.

Here is a link to info about that study from the Silent Spring Institute
Here is a link to info from the Breast Cancer Fund

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rules, guilt, and seders

I listened to the latest podcast of Vox Tablet recently as I drove a short distance from my office to pick up some lunch. Vox Tablet is the audio arm of Tablet Magazine, "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture." While I don't read the online magazine that often, I do listen to the podcasts frequently. I like the host Sarah Irvi. She's smart and spunky.

So this week's episode is about Cokie Roberts, of NPR fame, who -- surprise! -- is married to a Jewish man. Cokie was raised Catholic, and married her culturally-but-not-at-all-religiously-Jewish husband Steve Roberts in the 1960s. Trying to figure out a way to integrate Judaism into their home, Cokie was the one who decided that they should have a seder. And the rest, as they say, is history. They just published a new book, a haggadah actually, called Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families.

Back at the office, I'd eaten my lunch, and I was strangely annoyed. And trying to figure out why.

These are my thoughts. It's one thing to say -- I'm culturally Jewish, and I'm going to have a Passover seder, and that's all I'm going to do -- and keep it to yourself. But to put it out there as a model of what people should do? It feels unfair to me. Judaism is a lot more than conducting a Passover seder. How about all the laws, all the rules, all the guilt? (especially all the guilt?)

I don't know. This whole thing sounded like a white-wash, if you will, of what Judaism really is. Judaism isn't just a Passover seder, for goodness sakes. Sure, a seder is a good thing. But what about cleaning for Passover? Changing the dishes? Buying the Kosher for Passover foods? Purging the house of all the chametz? And so on? Passover is huge, and takes a month or more of preparation. It isn't just a seder.

I realize that this is ironic coming from me, the one who breaks all the rules. But is it better to break the rules knowing what they are, than to blithely do some rituals, not even knowing about the rest?

Or here's another example that I vaguely remember from my past: is it better to eat a cheeseburger knowing that you are breaking the rules of kashrut (and having decided to break the rules) than to do it unknowingly?

That's the issue.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I found a baseball in the backyard today

I found a baseball in the backyard today
It had been covered by a layer of snow
(Five layers, actually)
We had five snowstorms this year
Each layering on top of the other
Like layers of sedimentary rock

But today
The snow is almost gone
A plastic bag, a candy wrapper, soggy pieces of paper
And the baseball
Appear in the yard
The baseball is soggy, dirty, but intact

If I move the wet layer of leaves
I can see the first signs of daffodils
Pushing green out of the cold ground

Yet somehow
The baseball is an even
More hopeful
Sign of spring.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Not for children

I love listening to This American Life, and while on a plane heading home from Florida yesterday, I plugged in and started listening to a recent episode. The theme was people who delay doing things, which sounded innocuous enough, although there was an odd warning before the first piece. Don't play this in front of your children. Okay, I wasn't playing it in front of children. And then the piece started.

It was about a reporter who decided to kill the man that, as a teenager, had raped him at age 7. Not fondled him, not touched him inappropriately: raped him. Then threatened him, and he never told anyone. Until now. You can read the piece in full here, if you'd like. Or maybe you'd rather not.

The piece was fascinating and horrifying. And somehow familiar. Oh, yeah. Scott Brown.

Last week, our illustrious senator started promoting his new book by appearing on TV shows. Turns out that he was molested by a camp counselor when he was 10. He never told anyone about this, until now. Didn't even tell his wife. Didn't even tell his mother.

And then, in today's paper, a vivid article about a physician at Boston Children's Hospital who apparently molested young boys for years under the guise of providing medical care to them. He was about to be charged. He killed himself.

In the This American Life story, the mother reads an old childhood diary and finds out about the rape years later. She actually calls and confronts the family of the rapist. I guess this was the part of the story that spoke to me: what would I do if I found out that this happened to my child? And how do I make sure this never happens to my child?

But the other mothers -- Scott Brown's, the mothers of the boys molested by the physician -- never had a chance to do anything. The boys didn't tell them what had happened. They were too ashamed, too confused. They didn't have the words. They didn't feel that they had any power.

As frustrating as I find my son some days, I am glad that he has a strong sense of self, and is able to express when someone does something to him that seems unfair or unjust. I hope that if something terrible like this happens to him, that he will come to me and let me help him. But really, I hope something like this never happens.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The trouble with school

J isn't in love with school these days. I think he enjoys parts of it, but overall, school --and homework -- just gets in the way of his free time. I don't think this feeling is atypical of 11-year-old boys. But it's becoming somewhat of an issue.

Last week, I received two emails on the same day (one from each of his two main teachers) about things that he wasn't doing. He didn't finish an assignment. He didn't do an assignment. He did poorly on a test. He isn't trying. He isn't showing effort. And so on.

So A and I talked with him very seriously about it. We took away video games during the week, to reduce distractions. We told him to make sure to write down all his assignments, not just some of them. And we are checking more to make sure he does what he needs to do.

But in addition to the things that he is and isn't doing, I think the teachers are pretty cranky, as well. I know that some of the 5th graders are very silly, and I'm sure it's hard to teach when kids are laughing and joking all the time. Apparently yesterday J and a friend were sent out of class for laughing. They met with an administrator, who not only chastised them for their behavior, but also chastised J for not being as good a student as his friend. It took J a while to tell me this story, but he finally did, and he cried. "My grades should just be between me, my teacher, and my parents! He shouldn't have told my friend." He was right.

We dealt with it, and the administrator has apologized, but I'm still left feeling...sad. I want J to feel empowered in school. I want him to feel good about school. He actually is a smart kid, very insightful, intelligent. His writing skills are excellent. His math skills are better than mine. His Hebrew is much better than mine was at his age. But his teachers are focusing on his deficits more than on his strengths, and it's wearing him down. It's wearing me down, too.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

D'var Haftarah for Mishpatim

This Shabbat was Sisterhood Shabbat once again at my shul. I was not on the planning committee this year, which meant much less angst for me. The day went very smoothly, and the guest speaker, Galeet Dardarshti, was wonderful. One of my roles was to deliver a "d'var haftarah" - a Haftarah introduction. This one was not easy to write, but I think it came out well in the end. Enjoy!

* * * * *

This week’s Haftarah is from the book of Jeremiah. Like most Haftarah portions, it was chosen because it echoes some of the themes of the Torah portion. In the Torah portion that we just read, you might recall, there were a number of laws about the treatment of slaves. The Haftarah portion deals with a very specific instance of keeping and freeing slaves.

But let’s back up a little. What is all this about owning and freeing slaves? It is important to understand, first of all, that during biblical times, slavery was something that was accepted as common practice, even though it seems abhorrent to us today. In addition, there were different categories of slaves. Hebrew slaves were treated differently – and better – than non-Hebrew slaves.

So why would a Hebrew become a slave? Sometimes this was legislated through the court, to pay for a crime – or to pay off a debt – or even to escape poverty. In this case, the person would become a slave – really more like an indentured servant – and there was a time limit on this, six years. At the end of six years – in the seventh year – they would become free once more. Again, this practice sounds very strange to us, but clearly was common and acceptable at that time.

The laws in Mishpatim, in the Torah, actually are revolutionary in that they create a system of laws around how a master treats a slave, something that wasn’t found in other cultures.

So now back to the Haftarah. In this Haftarah portion, the upper class Hebrews of Jeremiah’s time were not following these laws we just discussed. They weren’t letting their slaves go after 6 years of service. Also, the city of Jerusalem, ruled by King Zedekiah, was about to be attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. What happens next is very interesting The text reads:
King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were in Jerusalem, to proclaim freedom to them; That every man should let his manservant and every man his maidservant, a Jew and a Jewess go free, that none should hold his Jewish brother as a slave. Now all the princes and all the people who had entered into the covenant hearkened that every one should let his manservant and everyone his maidservant go free, no longer holding them in slavery; then they obeyed and let them go. But afterwards they turned and brought back the manservants and the maidservants whom they had let free, and forcibly made them into manservants and maidservants.
Two questions come to mind here: Why would the king decide to have the people free their slaves? And why would the slave owners then force them back again into slavery?

In my research for this talk, I found two explanations for freeing the slaves. The first explanation is practical: since the Babylonians surrounded Jerusalem, laying siege to the city, King Zedekiah released the slaves in order to increase manpower: the slaves could help defend Jerusalem from the Babylonians. Another explanation – more theological - is that the slaves were released – as they should have been anyway after 6 years - to appease G-d, to persuade G-d to be merciful during the attack by the Babylonians. Once the siege was lifted, however, the slaves were forced back into slavery.

Jeremiah reminded the people that just as they made a covenant with the King Zedekiah to release all of their slaves, God made a covenant with their ancestors after God freed them from slavery in Egypt. By taking their slaves back, the people renege on their covenant with Zedekiah, and on the covenant that their ancestors made with God.

The issue – here – isn’t the fact of slavery. It’s that the people didn’t follow G-d’s law of releasing slaves after 6 years, and that they broke their covenant. The fact that they refused to follow the law, and then went back on their promise is what made G-d so angry. And G-d is really really angry. A litany of bad things – which you can read for yourself in the text - will befall them for what they have done.

This is an interesting Haftarah alongside the Torah portion because it shows that setting down the laws (Mishpatim) are one thing, but actually following the laws is something else. The Torah sometimes shows an idealistic view of things, and we imagine the Jews in biblical times living a very moral life, following all the laws that are presented. In reality, following the laws wasn’t easy. The people in Jeremiah’s time didn’t want to give up their slaves every 6 years. They probably didn’t EVER want to give up their slaves. Jeremiah had to remind them of the covenant they had made, and threaten them with very harsh punishment if they didn’t obey.

The Jewish Study Bible
The Women's Haftarah Commentary
and others

Friday, January 21, 2011

25 years ago

An article in today's paper reminded me that 25 years ago, on January 28, 1986, the Challenger Shuttle exploded and Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, lost her life.

This happened half my life ago, and I can remember that moment exactly.

I was a working at the New England Telephone building in downtown Boston. I was fresh out of grad school (the first time) and I couldn't find a job in my field, so I was temping to bring in some money. Turns out that my typing skills were more valuable (job-wise) than any of the other skills I gained during college and grad school.

So I was typing, at my temp job, and suddenly the news spread that the shuttle had exploded. Televisions were turned on, and everyone was watching the news on TV. It was true. That lovely teacher with the small children at home had died. It was horrible.

Also around that same time, my mother called to inform me that she had breast cancer and that she was having a mastectomy. The winter of 1986. My mother was 47, just about to turn 48, the same age that I was when I was diagnosed breast cancer. I remember getting permission to call her from work to find out how she was doing after her surgery. Waiting to hear if her lymph nodes were clear (they were). That's about all she ever said about her cancer. The case was closed after that.

1986. Half my life ago. A lot happened that year.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Yesterday was the official Delurking Day 2011, and I missed it by one day. Lurking, in the blogging world (for those who don't know), means those who read blogs but don't comment on them. I don't mind, really, if you read but don't comment. I do it myself. On the other hand, I'd love to hear from you! If you are so inclined, please post in the comments!

Friday, January 14, 2011


I won't bore you with the details of last Friday's mammogram. It was pretty much the same as the other times. Lean into the machine. Lean more. More. That's it. Relax. Don't breathe. Hold it. Hold it. Okay, now you can breathe.

The only thing different this time is that after my mammogram, they kept me waiting in the waiting room (watching Nate Berkus, and then The View) for over an hour. Still not sure why that was. And I had an appointment at the surgeon's after-wards. It made for a very long morning in the hospital. I'm still a bit cranky about that.

Anyway: here is the official result from the radiologist:
INDICATION: History of right breast cancer.
COMPARISON: July 2008, January 2010, and January 2009.
The breasts are extremely dense and nodular, severely limiting sensitivity of mammogram for detection of masses. A focal area of architectural distortion is noted in the right retroareolar region, consistent with prior surgery. This is marked with overlying scar marker. Surgical clips are noted in the lumpectomy bed. There are multiple microcalcifications seen scattered in both breasts which remain stable. Microcalcifications scattered in the right lumpectomy bed also remain stable since January 2010. Microcalcifications in the right upper-outer breast, posterior to the lumpectomy bed, remain stable dating back to 2009.
No spiculated masses or unexplained areas of architectural distortion.
IMPRESSION: No evidence of new or recurrent malignancy. Findings discussed with the patient.
BI-RADS 2 - benign findings.
So, believe it or not, this is a good report. She didn't find anything in particular that concerns her. Although this is the part that kills me: "the breasts are extremely dense and nodular, severely limiting sensitivity of mammogram for detection of masses." What this means is: we really can't see anything.

Dense breasts are a risk factor for breast cancer. So far, no one has been able to tell me how to make your breasts less dense. I think as you get older, the become less dense. One good thing about aging...

What's ironic is that yesterday, I received a report on this mammogram in the mail. This is what it said:
The mammogram you had on JAN 07, 2001 was NORMAL. That is, the mammogram did not show any evidence of cancer...Mammograms are useful in detecting breast cancer but will not find all breast cancers.
So first they tell you that it's normal. Then they tell you that it didn't show any evidence of cancer (but could the cancer be there without evidence?) and then they tell you that mammograms don't find all breast cancers.


Today, just to add to all the fun, I had a follow-up visit with the radiation oncologist. That's where I had my radiation treatments 1-1/2 years ago. I saw the nurse, who is lovely, and one of the radiation techs. Everyone there is very kind.

The radiation onc checked me, asked a few questions. Everything looks good. See you in a year.

I actually said to her: "so the radiation is supposed to prevent a recurrence in my right breast, and the Tamoxifen is supposed to prevent a new primary cancer in the left breast. Is there anything else I should be doing, except waiting?"

The reply: "that's all you can do."

So that about sums it up.