Posts Tagged ‘health’

Smokers’ lounge

Take a gander at this painted ceiling in a smokers’ lounge.  Just goes to show you human beings can ignore absolutely anything.


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Saving time

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been exhausted after a day of working, housekeeping, and child rearing, and just wanted to get into bed to sleep.  But before I would drag my weary self upstairs, I would think, “Oh, I’ll just check my email first.”  And then, before I know it, the owl on my Audubon bird clock in the kitchen is hooting midnight, and I’m still at the computer.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the computer is just another addiction.  I’ve never been into smoking, or alcohol, or drugs, or even caffeine.  I don’t have what I’ve heard called an “addictive personality,” which relies on outside substances to wake me up in the morning, keep me going, or get me to relax.  But the computer has become something entirely different.

Billed as a “time-saver,” it’s true that the computer, with email, word processing, and the Internet, enables me to keep in touch with my family and friends on the other side of the world, look up obscure facts in a trice, work from home, and write posts like this one to be read by anyone else who has time to kill.  Until computers came along, I was content with the occasional phone call or letter, ignorance about all kinds of subjects, and working from home and blogging were virtually unknown to me.  But what I really find is that with the convenience comes a hankering to spend even more time on the computer, taking me away from my kids, my other responsibilities, and my sleep.  In the end, what I have found is that to a large degree, the computer is an even bigger time-waster.  Last Friday, I knew that my work had been buttoned up for the week, there was nothing in the news that I felt a strong urge to follow, and anything else could wait until Sunday.  We were having guests for dinner that night and I had to bake for a neighborhood seudah shlishit, so intent as I was on cooking with no distractions, I left the computer turned off all day.  The result?  Except for one stovetop dish, I was finished cooking by 12:30, filled the hot water urn, dusted the shelves in the dining room where my Shabbat candles and the kids’ artwork is displayed, checked my kids’ heads for lice (zero for four, thank God), took a leisurely bath, and read the paper for a little while.  No rushing at the last minute before candle-lighting, no writing emails until I smell something burning in the oven that I forgot about, no showering in the dark after the Cap’n has gone to shul.  It was luxurious.  The computer may save me time for some things, but on Friday, NOT using it is the real time-saver.

I realize some parents severely limit their children’s daily screen time (TV and computer).  I think this is a great idea—so great, in fact, that I think I should probably exercise it on myself, too.

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One of the most useful things I learned from attending public high school was sex ed.  It was taught to girls and boys separately (my first experience of single-sex education), discussed in an honest, factual, unabashed manner, and gave me all the information I needed about biology, pregnancy prevention, and sexually transmitted diseases, to make my choices in life.

My last two years of high school, and my year of high school teaching, were both in girls’ Catholic schools.  My high school (in Monterey, California) was unusual in that the seniors were given a day off from lessons in the spring to spend the day (including a posh luncheon) with a gynecologist imported from San Francisco.  She gave us a presentation about female sexuality, sprinkling her talk with humorous anecdotes from her private practice in The City.  She told us everything we needed to know, and then the floor was open for questions.  We were allowed to ask anything and everything we wished, and our questions were answered in full.  Recognizing that we would soon be off to college and devoid of adult supervision or counsel, the blessed sisters made an effort to provide us with as much information as possible to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

Contrast this with the year I spent teaching in a girls’ Catholic school in Newton, Massachusetts, where sex education comprised lectures about abstinence.  Please note that I was in high school in the mid-1980s, and was teaching fifteen years later.  But the school where I taught espoused the much more traditional Catholic attitude toward premarital sex and, since it was not acting in loco parentis (as my boarding school was), perhaps the administration did not feel at liberty to offer advice that might run counter to some families’ values and parenting.

But I still remember the students filing into my US history class grumbling about the abstinence-only curriculum.  “In two years we’ll be in college, and if we don’t know what we’re doing, we can get into trouble!”  They were angry at the school for denying them the information they knew they would need in order to make their own choices.  And given that one of my students (not in that class) was several months pregnant by graduation time, it’s clear that these girls were done a disservice.

All that came back to mind last week (as well as news of a 10 year old mother delivering her child in Spain recently) when a friend of the Cap’n’s who is a family physician sent him a link to a Slate Magazine article/slideshow on “The European approach to teens, sex, and love, in pictures.”  It is compiled and written by a physician who works for Planned Parenthood, and examines and contrasts advertising and attitudes toward teen sexual activity in America and Europe.  (In a nutshell, it shows that Europeans accept that many young people are sexually active and use humor to teach about condoms, encouraging young people to be prepared.  Americans view youth sex as bad, carrying a condom is perceived negatively both for girls and boys, and Madison Avenue prefers fearful messages  to sell condoms.)  It should interest parents, teachers, media analysts, psychologists and health educators, as well as anyone else who takes an interest in the next generation.

Click here to view it.  I’d be interested in comments from readers on both sides of The Pond.

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Send in the clowns

I have discovered lots of cool things about living in Israel.  While people here are notorious for being rude, small shop owners have sold me stuff on credit (“Just pay me next time you come in”), or even loaned me their own personal knitting needles for a project.  I have never once been catcalled by a construction worker here.  (In the US, I don’t think I passed a single construction site without someone rating my appearance.)  And I just discovered that clowns, which I never found funny, but always thought bizarre and pitiful looking, have been transformed into valuable members of medical teams in hospitals.  Check out this video:

The US has also worked at integrating specially trained clowns into its medical programs.  I’m impressed by what this video shows: how the clowns interact with patients from newborns to tweens, their level of training, and their acceptance–nay, the demand for them–by hospital staff.  For the medical field to take the leap to seeing medical treatment through a very young patient’s eyes, and to work to make the experience of hospitalization and treatment more comfortable for that population, is commendable.

I often despair that life is not a progression from barbarism toward greater civilization.  And then I see videos like this, and hope is restored.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve undertaken some challenging cooking jobs.  Vegan friends sponsored a kiddush, other friends with multiple allergies recently welcomed twins into their family, and a family joined us for Shabbat with a member who doesn’t eat gluten or eggs.  And my in-laws are shortly to join us for a couple of weeks, with my mother-in-law on a diet that at this point allows for plain chicken breasts, lettuce leaves, rice, and peppermint stick ice cream.

My mother thinks I’m crazy to cook as much as I do, but I really enjoy it.  I cook very simply during the week (salads, soups, beans and rice, raw vegetable platters) and save the bulk of my cooking energy for Shabbat.

And it’s also a fact that food, which I always thought was here to sustain us, makes many of us sick.  So it’s not enough anymore just to keep kosher (which was plenty complicated for me to learn at the beginning); now a competent cook needs to have a cooking repertoire that includes dishes for friends who are lactose intolerant or dairy-allergic, gluten-free, vegan, or allergic to tree nuts, eggs, sesame seeds, soy, half of the fruits, the nightshade family, and can’t be in the same room as fish.

Should anyone else find themselves having to make food for friends with allergies or strict diets, I thought I would share some of what I’ve done in the last couple of weeks, and the sources for the recipes where relevant.

For the vegan kiddush I made the following:

Ultra-orange cake (a beautiful, tasty one-bowl cake from the latest Joy of Cooking)

Vegan chocolate cake (not the best chocolate cake in the world, but passable, also from Joy of Cooking)

Apple “pie” (a crustless apple dessert made in a springform pan)

Coconut rice pudding (a very rich, Indian-inspired dish from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food)

Jelly mold (I used bovine gelatin here, which no true vegan will eat, but the kids had to have something to enjoy, and I sprinkled Jelly Bellies® around it for added fun, flavor, and color)

Popcorn (the Cap’n made regular salted popcorn, but one can make caramel popcorn or “sweet” popcorn, adding powdered sugar instead of salt)

For our highly allergic friends’ dinner we took the following:


Spaghetti and meatballs (where I formed the meatballs from ground chicken and beef, but no other add-ins; just be gentle with them in the pan until they’re browned, so they don’t break up)


Raw vegetable platter

Crunch-top apple pie (okay, the kid with the nut allergies couldn’t eat this, but we didn’t call the kids for dessert anyway, and just sat and enjoyed it ourselves)

And for our friends with a gluten-free, egg-free mom, here’s what I made:

Friday night: chicken soup with choice of pasta or rice, cooked separately from the soup

Saturday lunch: Tuscan bean soup, chicken piccatta (sprinkled lightly with rice flour instead of dredged in wheat flour) and schnitzel (for the kids), rice pilaf (wild rice blend with sautéed shallots, olive oil, and fried pinenuts), roasted zucchini and tomato gratin, and coleslaw.  Dessert, the pièce de resistance, was homemade marshmallows, balls of green melon, strawberries, and orange chunks dipped in a warm chocolate sauce.   (Thanks for the idea, Ilana!)

What’s next?  Well, for my mother-in-law, I plan to have pre-cooked and frozen chicken breasts, spun lettuce, and the rice cooker at the ready.  (And since they’re bringing us an ice cream maker, I’ll make homemade ice cream.)  The rest of us will eat bean and cheese tacos, spaghetti with tomato sauce, Caesar salad, and the rest of the normal Shimshonit repertoire.  And we’ve extended an invitation to friends for Purim seudah where the father has Crohn’s, so no raw vegetables or fruits.  But I suppose shepherd’s pie, steamed broccoli and cake should be all right.

Does anyone else have tips, suggestions, or experiences they want to share about feeding people with special diets?

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Relatively healthy

One of the things I have found remarkable about our lives in Israel since making aliyah three and a half years ago has been how relatively healthy our children are.  True, like most new immigrants, we were all dreadfully sick in our first year here.  The Cap’n missed three solid weeks of ulpan while the girls each took a turn with a week-long fever, which would begin on Shabbat afternoon and taper off the following Shabbat morning, to be followed by the next girl’s fever spiking and settling in.  That, plus our own colds, were not fun.

And this is not to say that the Cap’n and I are so healthy all the time either.  We have had our share of colds, but even worse than the occasional virus are the allergies here, especially in Efrat where it seems something is blooming or otherwise reproducing at any given time, and the regular doses of Loratidine we take are more for making us less miserable than for making us actually feel well.

But the children have been in the pink almost every winter.  Banana missed a couple of days with a fever this year, and Peach pretended to be sick last month (which we humored for a day, then sent her packing back to school).  But in general, they go to school feeling fine every day.

Oy—the memories I have of the flu, the chicken pox, the rotten colds that made me miserable for days and weeks on end!  Living in Hingham (Mass.) where my bedroom was an icebox, in Denver where we burrowed tunnels under the snow in the front yard, and in Portland (Ore.) where the rain could keep us indoors for days on end were what I grew up with, and the viruses I caught which kept me miserable cannot be counted.

It’s a particular joy, and one I hopefully anticipated before making aliyah, to see my children healthy (yes, they eat well, including their vegetables) and able to play outside nearly every day of the year.  Even if the wind is blowing or the weather is cold, the ground is usually dry and the sun is usually out.  I suppose if one really wants to live in paradise, one could move to Hawaii which has essentially one season—warm.  But I couldn’t give up seasons altogether, and now the almond trees are flowering, the tulips and narcissus are up and blooming, the cyclamen and anemones are dotting the rocks and grass on the hillsides among the ancient terraces here in the Gush, and we still get a rainy day here and there to keep it all green.  It’s all good.

Except for those allergies…

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In last Friday’s Jerusalem Post, there appeared an article in the Magazine section in which a macrobiotic chef claims she cured herself of cancer through a dramatic change in diet and lifestyle.   A woman I know claims her child with Asperger’s Syndrome has responded dramatically to a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free diet.  And when I was an aide in special ed. reading classes, a substitute teacher claimed that none of those kids would be in there if they were on proper diets.

It’s very bewitching to think that our health—including disease, mental illness, and learning disabilities—can all be controlled through diet.  Despite many great medical advances, many disorders are still not fully understood and the feelings of frustration and helplessness that accompany being—or caring for—ill or disabled people can be overwhelming.  It gives people hope to believe that they can cure themselves of all kinds of maladies, and for those disappointed by the healthcare field (and there are many), taking matters into their own hands through altering their diet gives them back the control they regret ceding to physicians, psychologists, and learning specialists who (for whatever reason) have been unable to help them.

There is only one problem: Since these disorders are still not fully understood, there is nothing to suggest that a change diet is all that is needed to cure them.  I know a woman who, like the woman in the Post article, tried to save her mother from a wasting cancer by putting her on a macrobiotic diet.  She failed.

I have no objection to someone adopting a regimen they hope will help them, especially if it’s going to contribute to their overall health.  I had a psych professor in graduate school who advocated a multi-pronged approach to any mental illness—behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and medication, if warranted.  Had someone suggested to him dietary therapy, he would likely not have shot the suggestion down.

What I DO object to is people who insist, loudly, anytime anyone is listening, that anyone who is sick is to blame for eating the wrong foods, and should adopt their personal regimen for perfect health.  We know that high-fat, high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.  We know that whole grains, fiber, pulses, fresh fruits and vegetables are nutritious and benefit everyone.  But it’s also true that someone like my grandfather can go through life, eating whatever he pleased, smoking, drinking to excess, and still live to a pretty respectable age.  Some things come down to genetics.  Some things come down to a hardy constitution.  Some things come down to regular exercise.

A friend of mine with a child with PDD (pervasive developmental disorder) blogs that she has not found most online resources to be useful to her, since some of them are written by what she calls “hawks,” or people who believe they have THE answers to their children’s problems, if only people will listen to them.  Some of these people, I have little doubt, are skeptical of the value of traditional healthcare solutions (as well they should be) and advocate alternative, sometimes simplistic solutions, of which they should be equally skeptical.

I believe a sensible diet is essential for overall health.  Avoiding foods for which one has no tolerance, substituting adequate nutrition from other sources, and exercising regularly are beneficial to everyone.  If someone has certain needs and those needs are met by a specific diet, they have my blessing.  But pontificating ad nauseum about what works for one person, or against one disease, or in one situation, and proclaiming that as the new gold standard of diet is preachy, bossy, and well, a bit much.

My doctor in the US told me after my kids were born that the best parenting book I can read is the one I write myself.  I would apply this same wisdom to what people eat.

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A Happy & Healthy Chanukah?

I dreamt last night I’d acquired an appallingly large belly after consuming (with reckless abandon) the dozens of cookies left over from a large kiddush last Shabbat.  I woke up this morning feeling great virtual remorse.

Then I checked my email and found…this.

Thank you, Yehoshua Halevi, for perhaps the most paradoxical holiday greetings this Chanukah.

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Praise to HODS

Years ago, while living in the US, flyers from the Halachic Organ Donor Society appeared at our shul giving information and a pitch for traditional Jews to consider donating organs.

Many traditional Jews (and not-so-traditional ones) believe that because Judaism embraces the value of kavod ha’adam (respect for the human body), does not generally support the performance of autopsies, and has very strict guidelines for burial, that organ donation must be out of the question.  This is not true.

The HODS website includes the transcript of an interview with Rav Yehudah Meshi-Zahav, founder of ZAKA, a volunteer organization whose members go to scenes of murders, road accidents, suicides, and terror attacks to ensure that every casualty is as intact as possible in preparation for burial.  (This sometimes involves locating body parts that have been dislocated, or mopping up blood.  Rarely a pretty task.)  In the interview, Rav Meshi-Zahav states that “A person who was killed, or deceased, needs to be brought complete to burial. This is the correct tradition. One the other hand, any chance you have to save a life, this mitzvah is no less important than the mitzvah of respecting the dead. If a person can do chessed [donate organs]…and it’s the same chessed, no less than what we do with the dead…the same chessed, perhaps the last one a person can do after he enters the other world…is saving another person’s life.  There is no mitzvah greater than that!  …The phrase, “One who saves one life, is as if he saved the world” exists in organ donation, as well…Because saving another person’s life is beyond the elevation of one’s soul.  After the person who donated dies, the people [who received the organs] continue to do great things.”

Not all rabbis are in agreement about how to define death; some accept brain death, others do not.  HODS acknowledges that there are different ways halachic authorities rule on this issue, and their donor card allows donors to specify the definition of death for the purposes of donation.  The HODS website has an entire page dedicated to videos of rabbis around the world and their positions on organ donation, as well as personal testimonials.

Uninformed people may believe that they cannot be donors if they are sick or elderly.  This is not necessarily the case.  The website has a page which includes a diagram of all of the organs, tissues, and bone that can be donated, and includes two pages of FAQs for more information (here and here).

I am on HODS’s email list, and occasionally receive emails with news about the organization, updates, and success stories.  In the most recent email, I read that a 24-year-old expectant father in Teaneck, NJ, recently received a liver and is doing well; Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz has recently accepted brain death and supports organ donation; the HODS website is now readable in Spanish and German; and November is Organ Donor Sabbath Month, in which congregations are encouraged to educate themselves about organ donation, conduct donor drives, discuss organ donation as families, and invite speakers (experts, donor and recipient families) to address the congregation.

HODS encourages Jews to become donors by signing up for donor cards, and accepts donations for their very worthy work, which has saved over 100 Jewish and non-Jewish lives.

Just think–a mitzvah one can perform when one can no longer perform mitzvot.

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I hate growth charts

The Cap’n took Bill for his regular well-child visit last week to Tipat Chalav, the children’s clinic where they do weight checks, observe the child’s development, and offer dietary advice.

Back in the US, I used to find these regular well-child visits to the pediatrician’s office pleasant.  Our children were usually healthy, thank God, and doing okay developmentally.  They have always been small (around the 25th percentile) though, and around the nine-month mark they all begin to dip down on the growth charts (usually down to the 3rd percentile). We would usually leave the office with words of praise and encouragement from our children’s pediatrician, who knew our children well and knew to expect these dips as one child after another passed through her office.

Why the dips?  The Crunch children are all breastfed long-term–Beans and Banana for over 2 years, Peach for 15 months, and Bill ongoing.  Growth charts are based on the growth patterns of children who, by and large, are formula-fed.  These children, in addition to lacking the Crunch family’s genetically small frames, tend to beef up faster than breastfed children.  And while healthcare professionals should understand the limited value of growth charts in evaluating breastfed children, they tend nonetheless to use the charts as a measure of where ALL children should be.  (Do they also register the same alarm at finding not all adults of exactly the same average height and weight?  I thought not.)

Nurses and doctors over the years have told us that it’s fine for our children to be small; they just get concerned when the kids dip down in their trajectory, suggesting that their growth has slowed.  And yet there is nothing to suggest that there is anything wrong with our kids.  They aren’t sick.  They haven’t stopped growing.  They’ve just stopped blowing up at the astonishing rate they once did.  And are they not still getting what the public health world claims is Nature’s Perfect Food?  If it REALLY is Nature’s Perfect Food, aren’t the kids getting what they need in the way of sufficient fluids, fats, and balanced nutrition?  Or did Hashem cock this one up, and it’s up to humans (and Better Life Through Chemistry) to fill in the gaps with things like formula, vitamin and iron supplements, and appetite stimulants?

Like a number of mothers I know, I have dropped out of taking my kids to Tipat Chalav.  I am still supportive of immunizations, and there is nowhere else to get them.  But I am truly sick of being badgered every time I have a 9-month-old about how my healthy, typically developing child isn’t measuring up to an arbitrary instrument based on statistics from Norwegian immigrants in Kansas City.  (This last observation is from a friend who trained as a pediatrician.)  So for the foreseeable future, it’s up to the Cap’n (who has smiling, nodding, and totally ignoring nagging females down to a fine art) to take the kids.

N.B. We were warned soon after making aliyah to take what Tipat Chalav nurses say with a very large grain of salt.  Our family doctor in Beit Shemesh went to so far as to encourage us to contact her anytime Tipat Chalav said anything that alarmed or concerned us.  We don’t panic when they harass us about putting Bill on his tummy more, or about giving him more solids and less breastmilk.  But it’s still hard for a mother not to get teary or ticked off at a stranger making free to be so bossy and judgmental.

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Vegetarianism and veganism

Jews are picky about their food.  And it’s not because we don’t like food, but because the Torah instructs us regarding what foods we can and cannot eat, and with which other foods.  As a by-product, it makes it difficult for Jews who observe dietary laws to socialize with non-Jews, and makes traveling to exotic locales more complicated.

The Crunch girls are even more picky about their food.  As kids, they tend to prefer foods they can easily identify, and avoid foods that are combined.  (The main exception to this is any food with ketchup on it.)  Two out of three will try new foods without a fight, and one will usually like what she tries.  (Baby Bill likes most foods, God love him.)  Lately, in an effort to decrease the power struggle that often ensues between parents and children in our house over food, I’ve been making less meat of a Shabbat.  We’ve had at least one dairy meal for Shabbat for the past few months, and sometimes two.  The girls ask where the chicken is when we host for lunch and I’ve made dairy or parve, but I don’t get the feeling they miss it much.  It also allows us greater creativity where dessert is concerned.  Butter, with its superior taste and lack of trans-fats can replace margarine, and milk and cream can replace soy milk or Rich’s whip.  In many respects, Shabbat is made more special by the absence of meat.

But still, for me, total commitment to vegetarianism is a stretch.  I know slaughter isn’t pretty, even when it’s done in a kosher manner.  I know the animal has, in most cases, not led a free-range existence, feeding upon grass or seed, running through a barnyard, bedding down in a deep pile of straw in its own stall at night.  I am aware that stock have antibiotics and hormones coursing through their veins (and, by extension, muscles), and fish—both fresh and salt water—live in waters polluted by heavy metals.  I blogged once about MOOSHY, the practice of confining meat consumption to Shabbat and holidays.  For the most part, my family stands by that.  The occasional bowl of chicken soup, the spicy chicken kebabs at our kids’ favorite restaurant, the burger every month or two are satisfying in a way I haven’t yet found with dairy or parve foods.  These meat dishes are sometimes fattening, but no more so than the rich dairy dishes made with starches, cheese or cream.

I’ve been thinking about this again since friends of ours recently became vegans.  (“Gee, I thought they were still Church of England…”)  It seems they read a book that convinced them that animal products were unnecessary for good health, and that plant foods provide all a human needs for a healthy diet and balanced nutrition.  I’ve little doubt this is true, especially in a time when consumption of animal foods is complicated by ethical issues (for stock and workers), pollution, overmedication, and consumer health issues.  And the sanctimoniousness of certain ethical vegetarians (who by definition still consume dairy and eggs) doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when the poor conditions in which the cows and chickens live are exposed.

Vegetables and fruits, of course, have their own problems with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides used to excess by large-scale farming operations.  Many is the time I’ve brought home healthy-looking vegetables (especially sweet peppers, for some reason) and had to throw them out after one bite when all we could taste was chemicals—not even the pepper itself.

I’m no closer to locking in on a firm diet than I was before I began to think and wonder about all these issues.  Carnivores say that the protein in meat and fish is more bio-available than plant proteins; vegetarians say it’s not.  Carnivores say it’s healthier for children to eat meat while they’re young; vegetarians say it’s not.  Lately, the Cap’n and I have been discussing the discrepancies between what medical science tells us and what messages are put out by the public health industry.  In the end, I’m never sure what to think.

So for now, I think the Crunch table will still see the occasional meat meal.  And because some of the produce we’ve been getting in the stores and at the shuk is so riddled with chemicals, we’ll be looking into organic produce, which seems more popular and readily available in Israel than ever before.

I welcome others’ thoughts on this issue.  I’m already so confused, let’s just make my head spin, shall we?

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Years ago, when I was pregnant with Beans, my first, the Cap’n and I were up late watching television.  There was an episode of “E.R.” on where one of the plot lines involved a kid brought to the hospital after collapsing on a school trip.  It turns out the kid had measles, and ended up dying in the emergency room.  Further inquiry into the case turned up the fact that the child’s parents had opted not to vaccinate him.

How he managed to get through school (especially public school in America) without being current in his vaccinations escapes me.  But the real point was the fact that despite widespread immunization programs in the U.S., diseases like measles have not yet been eradicated.  I remember as a child an outbreak of measles in our area, and my parents taking us on a Saturday to a school gym many miles from where we lived in order to get my sister vaccinated.

This made a conversation I had recently with another mom about our children all the more interesting.  She’s a new immigrant to Israel, and I was telling her about our experiences with Tipat Chalav (the well-child clinic) and Nurse Evil who works there (sister to Dr. Evil, I’m convinced).  She smiled at my stories, and said, “Well, I won’t be taking my children there.”  “You won’t?” I asked.  “No,” she answered.  “I don’t vaccinate them.”

The way she said that last sentence was with the same casual assurance as one might use to say, “I don’t spank my children” or “We don’t eat non-kosher food in our house.”

This fascinates me for a number of reasons.  Most of my home-schooling friends here and in the States don’t vaccinate their children either.  (This mom’s kids go to regular schools here in Israel.)  I suspect their reasons include the fact that their children aren’t in regular contact with children they don’t know, they believe that these diseases are essentially eradicated, they don’t need to vaccinate since everyone else does, and some developmental difficulties have been correlated with (note I don’t say “caused by”) administration of some vaccines.  There may be other reasons as well, but these are the ones I can guess at or have heard.

The Cap’n and I have chosen to vaccinate our children against all the typical diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, and the rest) except chicken pox, which we will do as late as possible.  (Despite the vaccine being given for a couple of decades, no one seems to know how long it’s good for, and when a booster might be required.  Since the result of a woman coming in contact with chicken pox while pregnant is usually quite bad, and because we have three daughters, we will have them get the vaccine as late as possible in the hope that it will carry them through their child-bearing years at least.)  We believe that despite what some people may think, these diseases still exist on the planet, and while the chance of catching them has been drastically reduced, the morbidity and misery associated with them is not worth taking the risk.  Our children are healthy, thank God, and we have observed no ill effects from giving our children the vaccines against them.

What I do find interesting is that in the population I know that doesn’t vaccinate, all the same sorts of anomalies in children exist as in the vaccinated population—developmental delays, ADD, personality disorders, learning disabilities, and sensory integration difficulties.  In other words, their children appear comparable (not superior) to vaccinated children in mental and physical health, intelligence, and every other category.

In the end, it’s up to the parents to decide whether the risks (as yet unproven, to my knowledge) of vaccinating outweigh the risks of a child getting ill, and act accordingly.

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What the world eats

I’m back.  The Cap’n is still seeing what he can salvage of my documents since our last back-up a month ago, but in the meantime, I’ve been jotting down my ideas for posts on little pieces of paper littered around the house.  Here is something I’ve been meaning to write about.

About a month ago, the Israel Food chat list had a comment by a member directing the reader to an online Time gallery of photos entitled “What the World Eats.”  It is a series of photos of families all over the world in their homes, with a spread of the foods they purchase for a week arranged in front of them.  Captions provide the family’s name, location, how much they spend on groceries, and their favorite dishes.  Part I is 15 photos of families; Part II includes 10 more photos of families; and Part III is photos of markets around the world.  These images were shot by the photographer Peter Menzel for his book Hungry Planet.  It’s a fascinating thing to check out.  What kinds of foods do they prepare?  How much fresh fruit and vegetables do they buy?  How much meat?  How much fish?  How much whole grain?  How much processed food?  What do they drink?

For example, the Manzo family of Sicily spends $206.11 a week on a diet that consists mostly of bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, and a few junk items like Frosted Flakes and Pepsi.  The Aboubakar family of Chad spends $1.23 a week on pulses, a couple of limes, and (when they can get it), sheep meat.  (As one looks through these photos, it’s amazing how much of the world eats mutton.)  The Revis family of North Carolina (USA) spends $341.98 on what appears to be pizza, Burger King, Frito Lay products, Coca Cola, and packaged meat.  Except for two bunches of grapes and a couple of tomatoes, fresh fruits and vegetables are conspicuously absent.  (Their food bill would be considerably less if they were to cook at home more.)  The Dong family in China spends $155.06 on meat, fish, eggs, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and one fast-food meal.  The Ahmed family of Cairo has probably never seen processed food in their lives.  Their diet consists of fresh vegetables, rice, a little meat, flat bread, and almost no junk at all.  (And that’s for a family of 12.)  Their weekly food bill is $68.53.  The Ayme family of Ecuador spends $31.55 on plantains, potatoes, a few greens, root vegetables, and rice.  Not a can of coke or a bag of chips in sight.  The Madsens in Greenland spend $277.12 almost entirely on food that comes in boxes.  Their favorite foods are polar bear, narwhal skin, and seal stew.  (There is a picture of them in Part III hauling home a seal they’ve killed themselves.)

If you’re into food and sociology, check it all out.  Notice how many members of the family there are, and how many generations eating under one roof.  What do their dining rooms look like?  How many of them have television sets near the dining room table?  How do the people look (i.e. lean or doughy)?

What would your family’s diet look like if it were featured here?

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Digesting the news

Ilana-Davita commented on my recent post about U.S. President Obama’s speech in Cairo that it was “all the more interesting and insightful as you waited a bit before writing it.”

This has been a habit of mine for some time.  While many people are addicted to CNN and up-to-the-minute news briefs, I tend to avoid news stories about events that are less than two or three days old.  At first blush, there is often little in the way of fact in a news story.  A reporter gets hold of a story and, where the facts are uncertain, uses speculation and surmise to flesh it out.  This was what happened back in the early 1990s when I read an article in the Oregonian about a Black man who had been found hanging from a noose in Idaho.  (For those not in the know, Idaho is the home of several compounds of white supremacists.)  Appearances suggested that it had been a lynching, reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon sport that used to be common in the South in the early 20th century, when the cops didn’t go after the Ku Klux Klan because most of the cops were IN the Ku Klux Klan.  A few days later, however, I was lucky enough to be combing through the back pages of the paper and found a correction to the earlier story.  It turns out that the dark-skinned person found in the noose was an Iranian student, and it was judged a suicide rather than a lynching.

Mind you, that’s a big difference—a lynching of a Black man versus the suicide of a Middle Eastern kid a long way from home.

It’s also why I was one of the few Israeli bloggers I knew of who kept mum about the swine flu.  While news sources were touting this as the new Spanish Influenza, bloggers lapped it up and wrote about how scared they were of what was to come.  It turns out that swine flu carries no extraordinary symptoms and has not resulted in any more morbidity than the regular ol’ garden-variety flu that circulates in one form or another each winter.  (The regular flu kills 36,000 people per year—no small sum—yet that isn’t on a pandemic list.)

I can’t claim any greater wisdom than the average citizen.  But I do understand that sometimes the urge to get the scoop doesn’t always result in accurate details.  I understand that sensationalism attracts readers.  And I understand that since the job of most of the media is not to inform the public, but to sell customers to advertisers, they don’t necessarily have my best interests at heart.  Just ’cause it’s in print don’t make it true.

And besides all that, I read very slowly, take a long time to answer sometimes, and don’t scare easily.  These serve me well when processing the stuff that comes out labeled “news.”

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Risk and salmonella

One of many chat lists to which I subscribe is the Israel Food list, where English-speakers all across Israel and the Diaspora convene to swap recipes, give advice, inquire about where to buy hard-to-find items, and generally do what Jews do best: discuss food.

Recently, a discussion took place about making recipes using raw eggs.  One person asked if there was less risk of contracting salmonella from eating raw eggs in Israel than elsewhere.  Most people agreed that the risk is as high here as anywhere else in the world, but die-hard mousse fans dismissed the risk as an obstacle.  Below was one such die-hard’s response to the discussion:

I think the threat of salmonella from raw eggs is brought to you by the same people who want to put helmets on kids who ride tricycles, or keep them in carseats until they’re old enough to drive. (Seriously, the recommendation in the US now is until age 8. Do you know ANYONE here who would put a 7 year old in a carseat?) It’s the mentality that says that if we do everything “right” that nothing bad can happen to us, ever. As opposed to those of us who have chosen to live our lives here, who understand that life involves risks and balances and that everything ultimately is not in our control.

There is probably a very small, but real, risk of contracting salmonella from any given raw egg, just as there is a very small, but real, risk of getting hit head-on by a crazy driver, or tossed over by an Arab bulldozer, every time you get into a car. You can either give up mousses and Caesar salads and driving, or you can enjoy what life has to offer and worry about the real risks. Like Israeli drivers. They’re WAY more dangerous than salmonella.

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After making aliyah, I heard from many women what a wonderful experience it was having a baby in Israel after having their others in the U.S.  I still had this in mind when I became pregnant with Bill.

However, my experience of pregnancy here was at least as stressful as in the U.S., and in many ways more so.  Because of the intense heat last summer, I was dehydrated several times and had to be treated twice.  I have a doctor here who is less than warm and fuzzy.  The ultrasounds and procedures were all done by strangers in locations spread across Jerusalem (not convenient to Beit Shemesh when I lived there).  And when it came time to register at hospitals, I was unimpressed with what I saw.

In the United States, giving birth in a hospital was a standard procedure.  Most women would go in, get anesthetized, and eventually give birth on their backs, either in the operating theater or in a labor/delivery/recovery room.  They would then be shown to a comfortable room with its own bathroom, food on demand, and the only great inconvenience the bi-hourly vitals checks and vendors wheeling their carts of layette, nursing supplies, and newborn photography up and down the halls.

Here in Israel, hospital midwives oversee all straightforward births, and doctors are only called in if a medical procedure is needed.  Rooms are generally shared, and rooming-in with the baby is much rarer here than in the U.S.  Most hospitals keep the baby in the nursery for hours a day and all night, and mothers are expected “to rest.”  But rest here is even more elusive than in the U.S.  Rooms are nearly always shared, food is served on a schedule, and nursing mothers must be vigilant to make sure their babies are not fed bottles in the nursery.  Moms concerned about being able to eat between meals are advised which hospitals are near malls or commercial areas, so the newly post-partum woman can check her baby into a nursery, get dressed, grab her purse, and leave the ward to get some nosh.

Call me fussy, but I found these conditions appalling.  (And this is completely aside from the horror stories of Arab women screaming in unmedicated childbirth, their families ululating in the hallway during labor, and Jewish women’s families descending in the tens to visit the new mother in her cramped, shared room, sitting on the roommate’s bed, and making a barbeque on the floor.)  When I shared my concerns with a doula I was planning to hire, she suggested that given my concerns, and my trouble-free birthing history, perhaps I should consider a home birth.

I only knew of a few home birth situations.  One woman had had many successful births at home, but the other two had had to be transported to a hospital due to unforeseen circumstances.

I called the midwife who does them, and was surprised when she suggested I might be a good candidate.  She came to my house one evening, looked at my test results, asked me a few questions, answered mine, and we agreed to proceed with plans for me to give birth at home.  She loaned me several books (one for me, two for the children who were deciding whether they wanted to be around or make themselves scarce during my labor) and called to check up on me every few days.

When the day finally came, she called in the morning, and we arranged a time for her to arrive.  I helped my husband get the children off to school, the midwife came, we took a walk around the neighborhood, returned to my house, I climbed into a warm bath, and an hour later, Bill joined us.

I’m not a particularly crunchy person.  I don’t hate modern medicine (though I have a strong dislike of hospitals) but I do recognize that liability and lawsuits are a powerful motivator for interventions and medicalized births.  I would not have chosen to give birth at home to a baby who appeared to be breach, multiples, or for a first birth (though there are women who birth at home successfully under these circumstances).  My requirements were for a quiet place, no fights with hospital staff about how I wanted to labor, no IV lock automatically put into my arm, no fetal heart monitor belts, no bi-hourly vitals checks or roommates (except Bill and the Cap’n), and the comforts of my own bed, clothes, refrigerator, and family around me.

Thank God, Bill is a healthy baby, and my recovery from the experience has been quicker than ever in the past.  I have been delighted to have experienced a much more natural childbirth than I ever did before.  And we have the pleasure of knowing that our son can look at his childhood home in Efrat and say, with greater truth than most can, “That is the house where I was born.”

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Check out Ilana-Davita’s blog for the latest Kosher Cooking Carnival.  This is the Green Edition, with stories, traditional and less traditional recipes, and (in this edition) mostly meatless recipes.  Bon appetit!

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What on earth is “MOOSHY”?

(Please excuse the insanely large picture. It was too pretty to resist.)

My husband recently picked up a free copy of a magazine in one of the stores in Efrat. Its title is IsraTimes, and it aims to appeal to English-speaking immigrants and tourists, both observant and non-observant with short articles and features on health, the holidays, Israeli society, food, and a variety of other subjects of interest.

One of December’s articles that appealed to me was by Aaron Potek entitled, “Consumption Reduction: When Less Is More.” In an issue focused on kashrut, including a kosher meat industry recently wracked by scandal and widespread ill-treatment of animals before slaughter, this seemed an appropriate topic to address. Potek confesses a lack of interest in becoming a vegetarian, though the guilt of not doing so is always present. (“Put simply,” he writes, “matzah ball soup just isn’t the same with a tomato base.”)

So as an alternative to eliminating meat, he has opted to reduce his consumption, creating an organization entitled MOOSHY, or “Meat on Only Shabbat, Happy Occasions, and Yom Tov [holidays].” He explains that its purpose “is to advocate for Jews reducing our meat consumption while elevating it when we do eat it.”

I grew up in a household where meat was served daily and was the centerpiece of every meal. But as I grew older and became responsible for my own cooking, my interest in such heavy, sometimes elaborate meals waned. (Having numerous vegetarian friends, and then dairy kosher kitchens, also contributed to this.) When the first Crunch child reached the age of eating solid foods, I decided to do a little more research on nutrition, and read William and Martha Sears’ Family Nutrition Book from cover to cover. (Okay, it scared me a little and it was a few years before I would eat a doughnut again, but I got over it.) Its thorough discussion of the foods needed to nourish people of all ages, as well as tips for reducing and avoiding foods that can cause disease, were the first real education in nutrition I had received. The Searses strongly advocate a meatless diet, but their enthusiasm for a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, nuts and healthy oils, was what really took hold with me.

The Crunch family is unlikely to give up meat entirely in the short term. We have growing children for whom the bio-available protein in meat is very important and the fats not yet harmful. We live in a Jewish community where lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are high, and where meat (usually chicken) is a standard basis for Shabbat and holiday meals. And meat is usually easier to serve on Shabbat morning than many of the wonderful meatless ethnic foods that can be prepared—Chinese, Japanese, and authentic Mexican, particularly. (Most Indian food can be rewarmed gracefully, but I have met few people in the Jewish world who like the curries, ginger, chiles and coriander that flavor Indian food.)

So without ever hearing of an organization called MOOSHY, we have adopted its principles. I prepare meat for one or both meals of Shabbat, and the rest of the week we enjoy vegetarian cuisine. We get our protein from fish, soy, cheese, and beans and rice, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day. On Shabbat, I serve one meat dish and the rest of the dishes are meatless including vegetables, salads, and whole grains. I never run out of steam with meatless cooking, and find inspiration by following the food columns in newspapers, food magazines, friends’ blogs, and my favorite vegetarian cookbook, Linda McCartney’s Linda’s Kitchen (a beautifully written and photographed compendium of meatless recipes).

Potek posits that some of the reason for the manifold problems affecting the meat industry is high demand. By reducing that demand, he hopes consumers will be able to influence the industry to improve the conditions for animals and workers alike, while in the process improving their own health. Since one of the goals of Judaism is to elevate the mundane to a level of sacredness and significance, this seems very much in keeping with the spirit of Torah.

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Yesterday the Cap’n and I took a tour of Bikur Cholim Hospital’s labor and delivery unit in preparation for the Space Invader’s arrival, b’ezrat Hashem, next month.  Bikur Cholim is the oldest hospital in the city, built in 1866.  Over the years, as the other larger hospitals were built in more outlying areas, Bikur Cholim’s finances and facilities suffered neglect.  (We saw a friend last night who said, "That place is a dustbin, isn’t it?")  But as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy a few years ago, Russian millionaire and philanthropist Arkady Gaydamak (who just lost his bid for mayor of Jerusalem) purchased it, and one of the first departments to be renovated was the birth and maternity wing.  While very small (there are five LDRs, each about a quarter of the size of the LDRs at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital), it is cheerfully decorated, the equipment modern (no birthing stools in sight) and the midwives trained to cooperate with whatever sort of birth plan a mother chooses to adopt.

When the Crunch girls were born in Boston, we were offered the opportunity to bank some of their cord blood privately in case of family illness for which therapy using their cord blood might be required.  After consulting my obstetrician, the Cap’n and I discussed the matter between us and decided not to pay to have our children’s cord blood cryogenically preserved.  The expense of the collection and storage and the relative unlikelihood of our needing it helped us decide against it.

So I was not terribly curious when part of the Bikur Cholim tour included being handed flyers and forms for banking the Space Invader’s cord blood.  But my attention was arrested slightly when I looked at the cover of the flyer.  Next to the photograph of a sweet-looking newborn were the words, "Hamitzvah harishonah shelo—his first mitzvah."  That wording seemed rather strong for a family privately banking their infant’s cord blood for their own personal use.  But it turns out that cord blood banking is done differently in Israel.  Donating cord blood here is done publicly, so that rather than saving the cord blood only for a family member, the potential treatment benefits of banked stem cells are available to any member of the Israeli public who is a match for them.  And while collection, processing, and storage of cord blood are expensive, grants from Israel and abroad are available to cover these costs so that the donor may donate without charge.  In addition to the flyers and forms, the hospital employee who made the presentation also handed out a teudah (certificate) signed by 19 rabbis, including former (Sephardi) chief rabbis Rav Ovadiah Yosef and Rav Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, endorsing the donation process halachically.  While the flyer reports that there have been few donations to this Public Cord Blood Bank, there is hope that over time donations will increase, thus increasing the probability of a good genetic match for a patient who requires it.  

The low rate of donation of cord blood to the public bank here is probably due to the fact that much of the Jewish population in Israel and the Diaspora is uninformed about halachah’s position on donation of blood, organs, and tissues.  The Halachic Organ Donor Society in the United States was founded "to save lives by encouraging organ donation from Jews to the general population (including non-Jews) by educating them about the different halachic and medical issues concerning organ donation."  They offer current information on medical issues (such as age and health of donor, brain death, live donation, and the transplant process), halachic issues (such as videos of prominent American and Israeli rabbis, articles, and halachic links), and educational options including audio and video lectures, or scheduling educational seminars with the HODS educators in one’s own area.  And HODS issues halachic organ donor cards to those who request them to be carried in wallets or purses.

Both of these organizations are worthy recipients of charitable contributions.  Donations can be made to HODS through their website, and Bedomaich Chayi (which funds the Public Cord Blood Bank in Israel) can be contacted by email at cb@doryes.com or in the USA at 718-218-8180.  

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