I’ve moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress, where it is now incorporated with my Cryokid website. Thanks for stopping by! All past posts have been imported to this blog and you’ll be able to find articles, by category, just as before.
September 22, 2009
I can hardly believe how the body of knowledge about infertility and assisted reproduction has grown in the year since "Cryo Kid – Drawing a New Map" (www.cryokid.com) was published. Exponential growth barely describes what is happening in this field. Now British scientists are claiming they can create human sperm in the laboratory from human embryonic stem cells (Judy Spiegel-Itzkovich,"Jewish law okays 'artificial sperm," July 10, 2009). These stem cells were taken from unneeded embryos donated by couples who had undergone in vitro fertilization. This is really good news for couples unable to have their own biological children because the male partner's sperm is weak. The female partner will no longer have to rely on insemination through sperm supplied by a man who is not her husband. What a boost for husbandly ego!
Of course, it will be a while, at least five years, before this new knowledge is put into common practice. The new development will also allow researchers to study in greater detail exactly how sperm is formed. As a matter of fact, embryonic stem cells seem to be able to create any type of cells found in the body, including human egg cells (so the same scientific principles apply to women as well).
Oh yes, wonders will never cease. I got a call from my medical provider today asking if I needed more diabetic supplies. With the healthcare reform debate still running hot, do you think insurers are already starting to pull their socks up? I am really looking forward to this Jewish New Year with optimism. Forget all those scary headlines about world events. We need more reportage of all the good things that are happening.
September 18, 2009
The fear and furor largely created by misinformation and political ill will in the debate about U.S. health care reform has taken such uncivil forms, it is refreshing to learn that the Ontario government in Canada (you know, the place with that blankety-blank public health care system)is considering 21st century legislation regarding infertility. With so many women working and having babies later in life today, infertility issues have distressingly come to the forefront. If the new plan is passed, the government will cover costs for three in vitro attempts for women with infertility problems. In addition, the Ontario government wants to start a central adoption agency that will assist people in finding reputable adoption agencies (ones that don't disappear with your money) and in placing the thousands and thousands of Canadian children who are already crown wards. There are people who desperately want children, and children who desperately need homes. Why not facilitate putting them together?
Good news for the New Year, yes? And here's another whoopee! My grandchild, who loves "Reader's Digest", just pointed out an article in the latest issue (October, 2009, p. 14) about Richard Dawkins new book, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Apparently, all living creatures on this planet are descended from a single ancestor, and they share a genetic code made up of 64 "words." Yup, the genetic code is "universal, all but identical across animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and viruses." Of course, there are minor differences too, otherwise we might all end up as viruses or fungi. But since we are human beings, surely we can celebrate our similarities as well as our differences and tolerate one another's views.
I thought the message the White House put on its website (www.whitehouse.gov) today was beautiful. So let me take this opportunity to wish one and all the most joyful of Jewish New Years: Health, happiness, peace, and even prosperity (hopefully)in the year 5770.
L'shana tova and shalom!
August 13, 2009
The Grand Island that I wrote about in my last post is not the island where my sister-in-law had the summer retreat my family often visited. Her property was on Grand Isle, which is near Burlington, Vermont, a relatively short drive from Montreal. Mordecai Noah's Grand Island is in New York State, near Buffalo, a manageable drive from Toronto. Isn't it GRAND, though, to learn about Noah's dream? I am hoping to learn more.
Did you know that many people besides our flamboyant Mordecai have speculated that the North American Indians (in Canada they are referred to nowadays as First Nations) may have been descendants of the lost tribes of Israel? But this belief is discredited by others supposedly in the know. My brilliant nephew, David Schwartz, did considerable research in his college days about the possible relationship between the Indian tribes and the lost tribes. Similar speculations have been made about the Mayan Indians, but again there are a lot of nay-sayers. Unfortunately, most of the Maya disappeared for still unknown reasons.
Some years ago, I viewed an inspiring exhibit in Canada that showed the artistic "cross-fertilization" that occurred between First Nations tribes and early settlers. In one display case, there was what appeared to be a fringed shawl decorated with native Indian designs. "We don't know what it represents," the curator commented. "It's not a traditional Indian garment." Then I noticed what seemed to be "tzitzes" in each of the four corners of shawl. "It's a Jewish tallit," I exclaimed. "A prayer shawl." Pointing to the braided fringes in the corners, I said, "They represent what was thought of for centuries as the four corners of the world. I think it's an excellent example of cross-fertilization between the First Nations and the Jewish people who settled in the New World."
"Oh," the curator said. "Hmm, we didn't think of that." Jewish traders were known to get along well with native North Americans. Both traditions teach us to have respect for our environment.
This morning when I read newspapers' accounts of millions of sockeye salmon that have unaccountably and heart-breakingly "gone missing" from the magnificent Frazer River in British Columbia, I thought of that prayer shawl. I hope those beautiful salmon haven't been "cross-fertilized" with pollution. Let's pray that they won't disappear from the rivers like the bees did from their hives. Let's take care of our earth so that all its living creatures can survive. May our different tribes increase, not disappear.
July 21, 2009
My family and I visited my sister and brother-in-law's lovely summer home on Grand Island often when my kids were teenagers. Grand Island, in that season green and beautiful with stalwart old trees standing guard on the shores, is located on the Niagara River near Buffalo, N.Y, and is within driving distance of Montrealers from Canada. But I didn't know the historic importance of the Island until I found a yellowed old clipping today while I was browsing through my parents' old books. I didn't know about Ararat.
According to a long ago (at least 50 years have passed) article written by David Birkan in a Montreal Jewish newspaper, in the year 1820 a dynamo of a writer/adventurer/politician called Mordecai Noah petitioned the New York State Legislature for the sale of Grand Island. The purpose was to establish a site for a proposed homeland for the Jewish people.
And the petition was granted! Mordecai Noah, who as it happens was also the first Jew to hold a diplomatic position (consul to Tunis) in the U.S. and later entered politics throughTammany Hall, was assisted by a Christian friend who purchased 17,000 acres of Grand Island for the Jewish homeland. It was to be called Arafat. Noah had been motivated by the sad condition of North African Jews that he had witnessed while a consul (and also during his adventures liberating American citizens from the grasp of pirates on the Barberry Coast). He did not think Palestine was a good choice for the prospective homeland because at that time it was a backwater of the Ottoman Empire, and the four Jewish communities he encountered were very poor.
In his advocacy of Grand Island as a home for the Jewish people, he was, according to Birkan, the first political Zionist in the world, pre-dating Theodore Herzl's courageous efforts by three-quarters of a century. What to me was most amazing is that he elicited support for a Jewish state — the first official pro-Zionist statement, long preceding Britain's White Paper in 1917 or Harry Truman's endorsement of the State of Israel — from then U.S. President John Adams as long ago as 1818. To quote from Birkan's article, Adams declared:
"I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation, for, as I believe, the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age …. I wish your nation may be admitted to all the privileges of nations in every part of the world." And then Noah got New York State to okay the land purchase on Grand Island in order to establish a Jewish homeland. He hoped that Grand Island would also become a refuge for the North American Indians, whom he believed to be members of the Lost Tribes, and therefore Jews.
It was indeed a grand idea, but despite an impressive initial founding ceremony (with many officials) on Sept 2, 1825 and invitations extended to Jews all over the world, Noah was the only Jew who showed up. Reluctantly, he gave up his dream of a Jewish homeland on Grand Island.
If the Jewish people had supported him, Grand Island might have become Israel, U.S.A.
June 10, 2009
At the inaugural Canada California Business Council’s classy speednetworking event held in conjunction with Canadians Abroad (www.canadiansabroad.com) last night at the Westin/Bonaventure Hotel in L.A., the energy was high and enthusiastic as lawyers, accountants, real estate specialists, IT specialists, and people from assorted disciplines and age ranges met financial and banking experts and others in the business community. Everybody was trying to make it work, which made it a lot of fun, and most people left feeling newly inspired. Thankfully the number designation (0)I was given (and sported on the name tag on my chest) allowed me to sit on a comfy sofa where I handed out promotional bookmarks on cryokid (www.cryokid.com) to all the number 1s and 2s who visited me for three minutes apiece. It was generally a most enjoyable interchange, but I was surprised when a baby boomer law professor (a number 1) from USC challenged my recollection of the 1950s — surprising because I had lived through and she had not, so whe was questioning my own experience (maybe she was just used to being lawyerly). According to her, the advent of the birth control pill didn’t change anything in the realm of sexual mores because lots of women, she claimed, had pre-marital sex in the 1950s and could easily get abortions. I think should stick to law, because this was certainly not the 1950s I experienced in Quebec, where the Catholic Women’s League routinely blacked out the breasts of “sweater girls” on billboards with black paint, and it was criminal for a doctor to perform an abortion. In desperation, some women tried to do it themselves with primitive implements like knitting needles. Even getting a divorce in Canada was difficult. It had to be based on the grounds of adultery and be approved by the Senate, a lengthly procedure.
“Are you for or against assisted artificial reproduction?” the law prof demanded?
“Read my book,” I replied. “It’s not for or against anything. It’s simply describing what I call the “transformational family.” New kinds of social units have formed, and one of the questions “Cryo Kid” raises is this: How do we transfer the values our society cherishes to these new kinds of families? And how do we make their members feel loved and valued, every one?
I think one of the problems that our social system has to overcome is that, on all kinds of issues, we tend to divide ourselves into “for” or “against” camps instead of trying to find common ground. I am certainly not a proponent of moral relativism, but neither do I see the world in black and white hues. Nature is full of beautiful colors. That’s why I like to take time to look at my garden and smell the jasmine along with the roses.
June 6, 2009
I was misty-eyed at President Barack Obama's courageous attempt to create an atmosphere where peace can begin, to get the Muslim world at large to understand that we can have different views — both commonalities and difference — and still get along. It seems so simple yet it appears to be so difficult to put into practice.
While I appreciated his understanding of the centuries of persecution suffered by the Jewish people and his tribute to those who died in unspeakable circumstances at Buchenwald as a result of the Holocaust, I feel that there is a deeper Jewish relationship to the Holy Land that is not generally understood. It is a mystical connection that goes beyond politics and has been so beautifully expressed by the esteemed Rav (Rabbi)Kook (Eretz Cheifetz 1):
"The land of Israel is not some external entity.
It is not merely an external acquisition for the Jewish people.
It is not merely a means of uniting the populace.
It is not merely a means of strenghtening our physical existence.
It is not even merely a means of strenghtening our spiritual existence.
Rather, the land of Israel has an intrinsic meaning.
It is connected to the Jewish people with the knot of life.
Its very being is suffused with extraordinary qualities.
The extraordinary qualities of the land of Israel and the extraordinary qualities of the Jewish people are two halves of a whole."