Foster Parenting: Part Two

It was a big decision for us to begin fostering again. The journey is different now that we have a daughter. There were many considerations that we made before we decided to jump back into the Foster Care system:

  • Do we have the time and energy to care for babies in terms of our sleep-schedule, demands of daily-life, our relationship, and longer-term plans?

  • How will Aracely respond to children coming into our home and leaving our home?

We tested out the latter issue by bringing a child into our home in June to provide respite for his foster-family for a ten-day period. Our two-year old daughter struggled with sharing our time and attention but ultimately viewed this as an opportunity for her to care for the baby. She declared, “This is my baby. I am a big sister.” When he left, we explained that we were helping another family take care of him. She adjusted back to life as it was easily.

After this positive experience of providing respite care, we decided to test out the waters to begin fostering again. We called our social worker to see if there were any babies who needed a home. The need was immediate. We brought a child into our home that week. 

Since we have begun fostering again, our daughter has been even more interested in holding the baby, helping changing him, feeding, and comforting him when he cries. We make sure to give her lots of individual time. And it is still, “Her baby.”

The first few weeks of fostering proved to be incredibly challenging. Adina got the flu the first week. It was up to me to take care of our daughter, the baby, and Adina. I did it for the first few days, then it became too much. We decided to make use of the emergency respite option. That night, another foster family, took our foster son for two nights. We were going to have him in longer, but Adina recovered, and we were excited to have him back with us. Again, we explained to our daughter that just like we helped a family take care of a baby, another family was helping us take care of our baby for a few days.

The next week, the baby got a fever in the middle of the night. Adina took him to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a virus and sent back home in the morning. The next day, though, he was called back into the hospital because a test came back positive for a Urinary Tract Infection. Adina stayed overnight in the hospital. It turned out that it was a false positive and they were discharged.

After this whirlwind of challenging events, it has been nice settling into a routine. We share the nightly feedings and give each other opportunities to take naps when possible. I am grateful that the synagogue lets me work with him in my office when such challenges occur. Adina and I are suited for this loving service. Adina advocates for the baby’s medical needs. She sets up appointments with agencies, reports on his progress, demands services for his needs, and coordinates his care with all parties.


We are strong proponents of reunification and co-parenting through the process of reunification. We also are confident in our ability to be a safety-net by providing the option of permanency if that is what is needed. In the meantime, this child needs a loving home and we have one to offer. We enjoy the blessings this baby brings into our lives in the moment. We let go of future possibilities and focus on the beautiful demands of now.

This has also allowed me to recalibrate my priorities in life. With so many unknowns of what may happen this year, we are placing our focus on our family. Our family has the strength and the love to be open to this little person who needs a home right now. I am grateful for that.

Building Bridges of Understanding Out of Slavery

This is the piece  published on my blog at Times of Israel:

Building bridges of understanding out of slavery | Ruven Barkan | The Blogs | The Times of Israel

At the march in Selma last month, Dr. Susannah Heschel gave a fiery speech in the prophetic social justice spirit of her father Abraham Joshua Heschel calling upon the Jewish community not to turn inwards. With the threats against Israel, the rising anti-Semitism in the world, and the challenges of the changing Jewish community in America there is the inclination to hunker down and take care of one’s own. How can we care about the rest of the world when we are struggling ourselves?

While all of these are real issues, I agree with Dr. Heschel that we must not respond to them by turning inwards. Yes, we must stand up for ourselves, but if we are only for ourselves then what are we? This Pesach, the repeating imperative in the Torah to care for the “other” is calling out to us:

“You shall not oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Torah reminds the Israelites that when they are established in the land they must not forget the lessons of their enslavement and vulnerability in Egypt. Instead, they must look to their humble origins to access empathy for those who are in such a position when they reach a position of power in the land.

This ancient message remains timeless and relevant for us as a Jewish community. While we are facing our own serious challenges for simply asserting our Jewish identity, there are others in our midst who are suffering. Whether it is racial, religious, or economic discrimination, we know that there are serious issues that plague our society.  By turning away from those who are oppressed as a Jewish community, we bear a share of the responsibility by being complicit in perpetuating the ills in our society.  We can not avoid, excuse, or attempt to remain neutral in the face of others’ suffering.  Again, in the words of Heschel, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

There is a progression in the intensity of the moral imperative of this mitzvah as it is repeated through the Torah.  It begins with, “You shall not wrong or oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20).  Building on this it says, “You shall not oppress the stranger for you know the soul of the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).  Then the Torah goes even further, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 20:34).

When we follow the Torah’s prescription of turning outwards to care for the “other,” we place ourselves in a position of strength. This may be why the Torah uses the word “stranger” and not “slave” in these cases when describing our experience in Egypt.  For when we reach out to the other we transform our negative experience of being enslaved into empathetic strength that we can access to protect the others in our midst who may be vulnerable. The Torah is teaching us that by taking action on behalf of others we transform the way that we perceive ourselves and our history – from helpless slave to empowered and empathetic defender of the other.

Once we shift our treatment and perception of the other in our midst, by protecting the stranger as one of our own, we fully redeem ourselves from slavery’s lasting legacy. This can be understood in the ultimate command at the end of the Torah that further challenges our empathetic capability: “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land. Children born to them may be admitted into the congregation of the Lord in the third generation” (Deuteronomy 23:9). The Israelites’ experience in Egypt comes full circle by incorporating the Egyptian stranger into their society, the descendents of those who once enslaved them. The Torah sets a high moral standard for us to strive towards.

Building  relationships with other races and religions in our midst is a crucial first step to build bridges of understanding in our two diverse societies of America and Israel. In my experience, grassroots dialogue with other communities gives each person permission to inhabit his or her own faith, racial, and ethnic identity. While we may interact with people who very different from us on a daily basis, we rarely engage people in the fullness of our respective identities. Engaging in such encounters is sacred. To create such a space, we must intentionally pierce through our routine transactional ways of relating to people by intentionally listening and embracing the other as a person created in the image of God. This sacred encounter provides the opportunity to learn from the other how we express our common human experience differently and ultimately celebrating the varied world that God designed with wisdom.  Building such bridges with others most effectively occurs person to person on the local level.

When we live up to this moral imperative, when we garner the strength and confidence to reach out to the other, even those who were our enemies in the past, when we change our self-perception of being weak by lifting up others in our midst, then we know that we are fulfilling the Torah’s challenge regarding the stranger.  Let us heed this timeless message of Torah restated by Dr. Heschel by reaching outwards to those who are strangers in our midst.  Building these bridges of understanding we redeem ourselves and those around us.

חג כשר ושמח May you have a joyful and kosher Passover!


Source: Building bridges of understanding out of ...

Jews, Christians, and Muslims: Why can't we all just get along?

People often associate religion as being a source of irrational beliefs that lead to division and, ultimately, war.  They hold that religions promote a triumphalist mindset that say, "I am right and you are wrong.  Someday you will see the light, and if that day doesn't come soon we may just force you to see it."  What then is the point of dialogue with people who can't listen to one another?  The conversation ends here and all religions suffer.  What many religious people do in response is remove their religious identity from the public sphere.  Others simply throw out religion altogether, saying, "Let's ignore our differences and convictions or simply abandon them so we can build a world united in our common love for humanity."  These two poor choices between an isolationist absolutism and a watered-down universalism are the primary extremes people draw from when building a religious or non-religious identity in our complex diverse society.

In this sermon, I present a third option.  One in which we proudly affirm our unique religious traditions, but we do so with a spiritual humility that acknowledges, in Heschel's words, "God is greater than religion."  I articulate this vision of interfaith dialogue drawing heavily upon Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's essay, "No Religion is an Island."  (You can read his essay here).  When we develop such a pluralistic mindset, religions serve as a source of common values that bind us together even as we celebrate our differences.  This has been my experience of interacting as a Jew with Muslims and Christians that I share and promote here.  This deeply religious viewpoint encourages one to build his or her particular faith identity while honoring and lifting up other peoples' faith identities at the same time.  I welcome your comments and experience in response.  The future of our world depends on it.