Thursday, April 17, 2014

Funny You Don't Look Jewish!

Many of my Christian friends and family members will be celebrating Easter this coming Sunday. Once I think about it, it has been ten years since I last celebrated Easter.

You see, I identify as a Jew and was officially adopted into the Jewish community eight years ago. My husband comes from a Jewish family. Raising our son as a Jew was a no-brainer. I am currently a Board of Directors Co-Chair for a local Jewish non-profit organization. I feel no different from any other Jew. I have never really looked back. If anything, I feel more authentic.

Except when Jewish geography inevitably comes up. I get puzzled looks when I explain I was born and raised in Wisconsin where I never saw one day of Jewish day school or Hebrew school.

Other times, people say once finding out that I am Jewish:

"Funny you don't look Jewish!"

But what does Jewish look like anyways?

Over the years, I met Jews of every possible color-even Jews of African descent with corresponding dark complexion and kinky curly hair. As far as I could see, there was not a single Jewish phenotype-only stereotypes.

My response has always been the same.

"You mean that I do not look like I am of Eastern European ancestry?

At that point, most people smile sheepishly. They know I am right.

It even led to confusion with my midwife. On my medical documents, I had the box for Jewish under religious preference checked off. When I was pregnant with Teddy, my midwife insisted that I get tested for Jewish genetic diseases. I then had to explain why such genetic tests would be unnecessary.

There was a period in my life where I wanted to pretend that the first eighteen years of my life never happened. There would be less explaining to do that way. And I also didn't want to feel like I needed to justify my Jewish choice to some people who wanted further explanation to help them understand better how someone of a Christian upbringing could become Jewish. It was just the frequent explaining that got rather tiring over time.

But then my appearance would give me away. I simply could not pass for a stereotypical Eastern European Jew. What does that make me then? An Old Black Witch?

I was attending religious services one Shabbat morning when an adorable blond-haired girl of four years approached everyone with the same question:

"Are you Jewish?"

The answer was always the same.


She asked me the same question.

I nodded my head affirmatively.

She ran to get what I could see was a photo book and plopped on the seat next to me. The girl looked at me and said, "You are exactly like me. Did you know that I have two birthdays? One is the day I was born and then the second was the day I became Jewish."

She was adopted from Russia by the cantor and his wife after they couldn't have children.

The girl showed me series of pictures from the day she took dips in the mikveh. "Now that is how I became Jewish!" she exclaimed, grinning.

Then I came to realize that there are Jews with a wide variety of religious backgrounds and upbringing. I am simply a part of that diversity. Since then, I became more open about my childhood years. I still visit my family for Christmas, even though it is not really "my" holiday. It is more about getting together.

Even though I have religious and philosophical differences with Christianity in general, I still wish people nothing but good things for Christian religious holidays.

Happy Easter!

And Happy Passover!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten Modern Plagues According to Sara

Before we know it, Passover will be here. I cannot think of any other holiday that has as much symbolism as Passover. I am looking forward to seeing friends who have become something like a second family. Now...eating matzah for eight days straight-not so much.

As any observant Jew knows, the ten plagues are recited as a drop of wine is removed with our finger for each one during every Passover seder. There are various interpretations of this simple act. One such interpretation holds that the ten plagues, which describes the affliction of the ancient Egyptians, represents negative energy. As wine is spilled from the cup, the cup is then left with only blessings.

Briefly, the ten biblical plagues are as follows:

1. Blood

2. Frogs

3. Bugs

4. Wild Animals

5. Pestilence

6. Boils

7. Hail

8. Locust

9. Darkness

10. Death of the First-Born

However, these events took place quite some time ago when the world looked very different from today. I have been particularly fascinated with modern adaptations that also includes a list of ten plagues for our time. After seeing a few modern adaptations, I decided to come up with my own list of ten modern plagues.

So here it is! I would be interested to see what you think and whether you have anything you'd like to add to this list.

1. Crowded Metro platforms during rush hour.

We are an one-car family. In the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, having a car is really more of a liability than anything. Parking can be expensive. Since both Teddy's child care center and my workplace are located near to a Metro stop, Teddy and I ride the Metro together most weekday mornings and evenings. It became our special one-on-one time. However, it also coincides with the rush hour where Metro platforms can become really crowded.

It seems like people become more outright rude the more packed trains are. They elbow each other to get through. Additionally, they are not always considerate of people who might require a little more time getting on or off the train and allowing these people to go first.

2. Texting.

While texting can be a wonderful tool for keeping in touch as you are out and bout, some people don't seem to understand that texting does not necessarily translate to best writing practices. It annoys me every time I receive a hand-written letter or a business correspondence riddled with abbreviations such as "LOL" and "LMAO." While I would say that such abbreviations has its place and purpose, it does not require too much time to actually spell the full word(s) and should when drafting certain documents. The extra effort does not go unnoticed.

Also, texting while driving is not safe. It should be banned everywhere. Enough said.

3. Sleep deprivation.

It can be a challenge to get a full recommended eight hours of sleep during the week between working full time, social obligations, errands, and having an active preschooler in the house. The weekends are usually full of children's birthday parties, family and/or friends, and catching up on whatever errands I did not finish during the week.

If I had an extra hour each day, I would spend it sleeping. Sleep does so many wonderful things for you and seems to make a lot of things better.

4. Low battery.

Just when I need to get in touch with someone regarding an urgent matter, the iPhone battery dies. And then I realize I did not bring my charger with me. Fun.

5. Able-bodied people using the elevator.

During the weekdays, I walk past a group of high school students waiting outside the elevator to the Metro stop while there is at least one person in wheelchair. As soon as the elevator doors open, they push their way inside and fill the elevator without any room to spare for the person in wheelchair. The person in wheelchair has to wait another five minutes for the elevator to come back up just to get on.

One day, I decided to confront the students and pointed to the nearby escalators. It was not even twenty steps away. They had legs that enabled them to walk as far as I could see. They responded with some rather snide remarks.

There is a reason why elevators are there. And it is to provide accessibility for all people and those who needs it more than others should have the luxury of using it first. The rest of us can walk. Yes. Really.

Also, this brings me back to the first item on my list and ultimately boils down to having common courtesy for one another.

6. Traffic.

Washington, D.C. officially ranks among the top ten cities with the worst traffic according to this report.

7. Jaywalkers.

When I drive in Washington, D.C., I am amazed by the number of jaywalkers. They do it even in front of police vehicles and never get a citation from what I see. If jaywalkers started getting cited, I wouldn't be surprise the government of Washington, D.C. would see a budget surplus for that year.

8. White on white.

While I am no fashionista, the obsessive part of me kicks in every time I see someone wear a white top with a light khaki. Not many people can pull off this particular look. I keep thinking that the "whites" should match if doing a white on a white and consider a light khaki to be the equivalent to a white piece of clothing.

9. Telephone trees.

"If you want English, press one."

"If you want Spanish, press two."

Telephone trees drives me crazy because it might mean that I would be on line for at least twenty minutes trying to get a hold of a live person to get my question answered that hasn't been answered with the information already provided as a part of the auto-recording. It becomes very impersonal way of doing business.

10. Unfiltered information overload.

One of the best classes I ever took was actually when I was in middle school-Media Literacy. In that class, we learned about various sources of information and how to determine whether such information is actually a trustworthy source.

Anyone could start a website and put whatever information they want on there. While there are definitely some good information to be found on the Internet, newspaper, radio, and other media outlets, there is also a lot of misinformation out there. The challenge is learning how to filter out the bad to get to the good. It is an important skill that should be taught to every child.

There are times, however, when the constant barrage of unfiltered information can become quite tiring. I have gotten to the point where I take most information with a grain of salt.

Friday, April 11, 2014

KODA Speak

As a mother, I have a confession to make. I have not been particularly good about writing down things in Teddy's baby record book. I do have his birth-related statistics and information written down. But that is pretty much it.

As I was getting ready to graduate from high school, my mother and I put together a few scrapbooks chronicling the first eighteen years of my life. We shared funny stories as we pored through the pictures. My father filled a guided journal with his fond memories of me growing up as a part of his graduation gift to me. It was the best gift I could have ever asked for from both of my parents.

I wanted to do the same for my son, Teddy. So, I started to write brief notes here and there shortly after things would take place. It is important to me that I remember even the smallest details. If I don't write them down, I will surely forget.

During Teddy's last year in high school, my plan is to collect all of these notes I've written to date and turn them into a book about his life. The truth be told, I occassionally revisit these notes and take a journey down the memory lane. It is hard to believe that Teddy will be turning five years old this coming July!

For those who are not in the know or joining us just now, Teddy is a Kid of Deaf Adults (KODA). Which basically means that while he is hearing, both of his parents are Deaf. During the week, he attends a child care center where he is exposed to spoken and written English. Then on the weekday evenings and weekends, he is completely immersed in the Deaf world. Only time will tell whether Teddy self-identifies as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) or something else.

While there is a lot of literature available related to the language acquisition, bilingual education, and cognitive development of Deaf children, I discovered-to my surprise-that similar literature on KODAs is rather scant in comparison.

My husband and I simply went with our instincts and signed to Teddy ever since he was born. Besides, both of us have unintelligible speech anyways. Even though Teddy's first language is American Sign Language, he expressed a strong preference for English. I also suspect he is a strong auditory learner, which might also be a factor. However, one of my hopes for Teddy is that he be equally conversant in both languages.

After all, Teddy explained to his grandma when he was just three years old, "Mommy and Daddy talk with their hands and I talk with my mouth. And I have to try very hard."

In writing such notes about Teddy, I inadvertently documented Teddy's learning progress in both languages. After re-reading such notes, I made an interesting observation and wonder whether there might be a research-worthy nugget to be found in these notes especialy in relation to the language acquisition in KODAs.

You see, Teddy frequently mixes English and American Sign Language (ASL) similar to what one would see in Spanglish. From time to time, he chooses signs that is not correct for what he is trying to express in ASL. However, his sign choices are quite compelling and offers some insight into his inner workings.

The following are the top five most common areas that I identified for when Teddy mixes up English and ASL. Sometimes it does require some creavity on my part to understand what he is trying to say.

1. Visual and/or Conceptual Similarities.

One day, my husband and Teddy were playing and getting some quality father-son time in. Teddy came up to me and said, "I am going to creep up on Daddy!" I was caught a little bit off guard because instead of signing something that would signify a crawling action for "creep up," he signed crab. As in a physical crab found in or near the water.

But, it did make sense. He was thinking of how a crab moved across surfaces. And it does creep, after all. Brilliant.

2. Speechreading Similarities.

On July 2, 2012, I wrote the following note that I feel sums this pretty well:

"Was slightly caught off guard today. Isaac kept on signing, "Pancakes. Mommy, I want pancakes"-yet he kept on pointing to his elbow. I asked him if he wanted me to make pancakes for dinner. He said no, and insistently pointed to his elbow. He said, "I need pancakes to feel better." Suddenly, it hit me: pancakes=Band-Aids! I didn't realize that both words looked very similar on the lips!"

As a child, I went for speech therapy where I learned how to speechread as well. However, it never even occurred to me before Teddy that people who are hearing are just as capable when it comes to speechreading. After all, pancakes and Band-Aids don't sound anything alike from what I gather.

3. English "Compound" Words and ASL.

Even though the trusty dictionary defines a compound word simply as the result of two words being joined, there are compound words and then there are "compound" words.

What do you mean?

In English, there are a few compound words that I consider to be true compound words. For example, a doghouse. A doghouse is a place where a dog sleeps. It seems rather logical to me, after all.

Then there are a few words that looks like it is made up of more than one English word, but is not really a compound word. For example, carpet. Carpet has nothing to do with cars nor pets.

One day on the way home from the child care center, Isaac promptly informed me that they talked about feelings during circle time. He learned the meaning of the word, "upset." However, he did not know the sign for "upset" and signed the word for "up" and then "sad." This example is really a combination of #3 and #4 (see below).

4. Sound.

While ASL is a visual language, Teddy sometimes takes an English word and chooses a sign for another word that most closely resembles what he is trying to express based on the sound alone.

He would use the word "allowed" when saying that he is not allowed to do something. But I always have to smile every time he signs the word, "loud" instead of "allowed."

5. Incorrect Form.

This is relatively self-explanatory and is actually quite common source of confusion among anyone who is learning any language for that matter. In English, there are many uses for the word "run." It could mean a person is jogging or leading a meeting (as in "running a meeting"). It could even mean water is flowing from a faucet ("running water").