Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

12 Sex Ed Things That Aren’t Even About Sex

Even if you are pro abstinence only education (and you believe that it works) there are crucial things you can tell young people without even talking to them about sex at all. While I am mainly aiming for girls here, most of these topics do apply to young boys as well.

By the way, I am in favor of comprehensive sex ed far beyond what is listed below. These twelve items made it into the post because I think there is no excuse for not giving this information to young people regardless of your religious beliefs.

  1. Self Image. No matter what you look like, you are beautiful. This is so important, especially for young girls, at any age. Fat is not a synonym for ugly. Girls should be taught to love their body because this is an enormous measure of self worth for women in a society that places so much importance on how we look.
  2. Options for your period. It’s 2016, and disposable pads and tampons are not the only options anymore! Not only are there other options, but disposable pads and tampons are just about the worst choice for any woman these days. Girls should be provided with information about cloth pads and the menstrual cup, both of which are significantly less expensive, more environment friendly, and healthier by far than the disposable options.
  3. Gender identity. Most people are lucky enough to be born with the sex organs that match the gender they were assigned at birth. But not everyone’s gender is the same as their sex. That is an important distinction that seems irrelevant to those of us who are cisgender. But for transgender kids and teenagers, this conversation could save lives.
  4. Sexual orientation. Surprise! Not everyone is straight. Not all preteen girls start to like boys. And that’s okay, and it’s normal.
  5. How your body works. Even programs that sell themselves as comprehensive sex ed mostly only cover basic anatomy of the internal reproductive organs, and if you’re lucky it’ll be scientifically accurate. The vagina is not the only significant part of a woman’s body just because it’s the one the penis goes in. We need to know what are all the different parts we have and what they do, at least in the same way we understand that we have lungs and arteries and kidneys. What is the clitoris? Is it the same as the urethra? Also, why don’t my lady parts look like that porn star’s? Am I weird?
  6. What is virginity? Is it important? Can I lose it to a tampon? No, you can not lose it to a tampon. Your virginity is not defined by your hymen. If you have one. Also, what is the hymen? Where is it and what is its purpose? (Hint: it is not a layer of saran wrap buried deep inside your vaginal canal that is punctured the first time you have sex. If that were true, where would our period come out of?) Laci Green explains this expertly in her video, “You Can’t POP Your Cherry!” 
  7. Relationships. Even if you believe young people are not having sex, there’s no denying they are having relationships. They need to know about heartbreak, how to deal with it, how to move on. And please do not underestimate the amount of pain an eleven year old can experience from being dumped. Just because their bodies are small doesn’t mean their emotions are not strong.
  8. Abuse. Early warning signs of abuse. What are the red flags they should look out for when dating someone? What if you are being abused right now? How do you get help? How do you know if you are being emotionally or verbally abused, if it’s not physical? For more info, see Common-Warning-Signs-of-Domestic-Violence  and teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a
  9. Safety. It’s not just about condoms. It’s also about wearing a seat belt, and not getting into a car with someone you don’t know, or someone you do know who is drunk. For girls, often it’s about how to set clear boundaries, how to say NO, how to throw a good punch without hurting yourself.
  10. Consent. This should have been higher up on the list, really. What does consent look like? (Hint: it only sounds like an explicit and enthusiastic “Yes!”) When do you need to get consent from your partner? (Hint: always) Does it ruin the moment to stop and talk about things?
  11. Respect. Girls deserve to be respected by their partners. If someone does not respect you, get rid of them. You deserve respect.
  12. Sexual Desire. Whether or not you give kids information about sex, they need to know that it is normal and okay to have those weird and new feelings that they are experiencing. Especially girls. Even if you emphatically encourage young teens not to have sex, they still need to know that it is okay to want it.

If you are in favor of kids and teens knowing about sex – great! If you are not – at least give them the knowledge they need to be healthy, self confident, and not have to spend 200$ a year every year from age 10 to 60 on something they didn’t choose to have.

Posted in Writing

Jewish Wedding In Rozmberk – Poem

Is there a better time than now
To sing of my identity?
To wave my flag of Jewish pride
And dance beneath the golden glow
Of castle walls in Rozmberk

And in this town will sleep tonight
A dozen Jews with bellies full,
Content and warm, where once before
The Jews had but a footprint left.

Is this what Hitler thought could be?
If I could force that man to watch
As families unite with joy,
Unafraid and unashamed
Of who we are and how we live,
Drinking wine from silver cups
And passing on a diamond ring,
Free of fear and free of him,
That would be enough for me.

My people lives! My people lives!
And from the ashes, like a phoenix
We are born to live again.
And what a life it is. Amen.

Posted in Writing

New Short Story!

The Spaniard on the Amazon

*Based on a true story*

The two travelers were soaked from head to toe by the time they reached the Spaniard’s home. The canoe pulled up into the mud and they toppled out of it, grateful for the chance to stretch their legs. They thanked the local and handed him a sack of coins, which he stared at confusedly for a moment before pocketing it. As the canoe pulled back into the river, they heard the local man laughing to himself. Grinning at each other, they looked up at the small hut which camouflaged into the forest.

The Amazon. They had finally done it.

This is a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I heard it first hand at a party about three years ago and was fascinated. So bear with me, keep reading and I promise you an adventure.

Read Story –>

Posted in Remember Being a Child?

Totally Normal

For my summer job, I’m working at Camp Shutaf – a summer camp for kids with and without special needs. I double as a councilor and a personal guide for a teen with Down Syndrome.

Yesterday during lunch, I was handing out cups of water to the campers and as I observed the room out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly found myself thinking: wow, this is so normal. I was reminded of going to summer camp myself: color war, swimming, relay races, getting popsicles at pickup time. Had I been observing the camp from the outside I may never have guessed that “special needs” is even in the mission statement of the Organization.

First it made me think I must have special needs, if such a scene felt so normal to me. Then I remembered one of my favorite quotes from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon:

“Everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.”

There were two incidents at camp which really made me think later that afternoon. The first was with a kid who is almost ten years old but not even three feet tall. Right before my eyes he burst into our homeroom and spilled every cup with liquid all over the floor before I could stop him. When asked why he did that, he replied simply, “I was upset.” I thought, hey, sometimes I feel like tossing a few cups of grape drink across the room when I’m upset. But I don’t, because I’m an adult and I learned not to. The important thing is to recognize that these instincts still exist inside of us, and just because we may have learned earlier to restrain them, does not mean we are different from this boy. He just has special needs, one of them being that sometimes he needs to be physically restrained when he is upset in order to calm down.

The second incident was with a camper with Down Syndrome. I was playing catch with her when a CIT approached us and requested she join the group activity. I had not had a lot of experience with this camper so I could not anticipate how she would react. She told us clearly that she did not want to join the group, and preferred to stay where we were and continue our game of catch. We talked her into it using bribes and ultimatums and whatever else we could possibly think of, and finally managed to convince her to join the group. Immediately my camper started hitting other campers. I didn’t see the first time and was not able to stop her the second, so I took her hand and kind of dragged/lead her upstairs to see the camp director and have a talk. After the fact it seemed obvious. She had told us clearly what she wanted, and we refused to pay any attention to her preference, so she got mad and started acting out. Wouldn’t it have been better to just stay where we were and keep playing catch? Kids with Down Syndrome don’t always communicate clearly, so when they do, I thought, maybe we should pay close attention to what they’re saying instead of holding the camp schedule as a higher priority. I recognize that there could potentially have been other technical challenges such as shortage of staff hands or not wanting to spoil her, but neither were relavent in this particular situation.

Because I’m a nerd, I’m going to borrow a metaphor from the world of mathematics. In Vector Algebra, a vector is called “normal” if it is at a right angle to another vector. The consequence of this idea is that normal vectors show us new dimensions. Any time a new “normal” vector is added, we have another direction to explore. The world grows. Lots of new combinations can be formed. On the other hand, staying on the same line or the same plane isn’t necessarily normal; in fact, in most cases it’s not.

Following this idea, here’s a list of what I think would be considered normal and not normal:

Normal:

  • allowing for lots of alternatives
  • recognizing that each child is unique
  • striving for individuality and celebrating differences

Not Normal:

  • trying to stick with one plan
  • assuming that all children move in the same direction or fit into the same space
  • striving for homogeneity and discouraging creativity

I believe there are endless valuable lessons to be learned from kids with special needs, because when you deal with special needs kids, you have to get creative. Usual methods we use in public schools just don’t work, because the kids are not necessarily even rational thinkers. Some kids will just sit down in the middle of the street and refuse to budge no matter how many times you explain to them that they could get run over by a car. You can’t just pick them up and physically force them to move, because they could be 19 years old and six feet tall. You have to find ways to appeal to them, you have to treat them with utmost respect and give them unconditional love, because they don’t respond to anything else. With non special needs kids it’s easy to forget that they need these things too, but if we look at the success of schools around the world, it is clear that love and respect are just as crucial to a child’s growth whether or not they have special needs.

And anyway, as we know, everyone has special needs.

 

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

The Jewish Woman’s Cloak of Invisibility

Do you ever find yourself walking down the street on an ordinary day, and experience a stranger purposely avert their eyes from you as you walk by them?

* A little background for those unfamiliar with the phenomenon: In ultra-religious Judaism there are strict rules about separation of men and women. There are many reasons behind these rules, some of which are perfectly sensible, and some which are not as clear. One of the implications of these rules is that often, an ultra-religious man will avert his eyes when a woman is in sight, whether or not he knows her, regardless of other people present. My understanding of this action is to avoid sexual temptation.

I don’t dress provocatively. I usually wear loosely fitted jeans, a baggy sweatshirt and clashing colors. And yet when I experience a person purposely averting their gaze from me in a situation such as crossing the street, I feel dehumanized. I am made into a sex object. Because what they say with their eyes, at least what I receive is, it doesn’t matter if you dress modestly, or act modestly, the fact that you are a woman means you are automatically a sexual tempation.

Well, most of the time that is not how I view myself. I try to keep a positive self image. I’m a musician, a writer, an artist. I’m a mathematics student. I’m not such a bad cook. I’m a sister and daughter and friend. Of course, I’m not one to give power to a stranger by letting them reduce me to a sex object. I’m just saying, they’re obviously wrong if they think that’s all there is to me. And I think I can say in the name of most women that that is true for them as well.

Objectification of women goes beyond strangers on the street. In some extreme cases – and do note these are extreme cases – children and babies are sexualized in a similar way. Young girls above the age of three are criticized for dressing immodestly if their skirts do not fall below the knee and their sleeves are not elbow length. Male siblings avoid changing baby girls’ diapers. In my opinion there is a message in these actions which is wrong, and that is the message that all things female are sexual temptations. Babies are not sexual. Girls are not sexual. People who sexualize girls and babies are called pedophiles.

Once, while I was working at the hospital for National Service, a man came up to me and, staring at the floor, asked if he could get by. I was standing next to the food cart preparing meals for a patient. There were a clear two meters behind me, and yet this man wanted me to put down the food I was balancing and step back so he could pass in front of me. I did not understand why that was necessary since I was not blocking the hallway. Luckily the head nurse saved the day by explaining to me that this man held by a tradition which prohibited walking between two women. I glanced across the hall and noticed a woman standing there, talking to someone else. The hall was wide enough so he wouldn’t have any contact with either of us as he walked by, and yet I had to put down the tray I was organizing and step back from the food cart to let him pass.  The whole time the man refused to look up at me and stared at the floor. I was wearing a standard hospital scrub three sizes too big for me (provocative?). It made no sense to me. I felt humiliated and belittled.Why did he feel he couldn’t walk between me and the other woman, seven feet away? And regardless, why did he feel he couldn’t look me in the eye when asking me a favor? Where was his respect for an eighteen year old serving her country? I’ll never know. All he saw in me that day was a sex object. And I was probably feeding his father.

In conclusion, let me just say what I think is the core of the Jewish religion. Love and respect for the other overrides the little everyday rules we’re supposed to follow. When someone offers you their hand to shake, a person should use their judgement and decide whether it’s more important not to touch a woman or not to cause her shame, a much worse offense people tend to forget about sometimes. It seems that some streams in Judaism have forgotten that loving our neighbors like ourselves is our highest law. Unsure about that? I learned a song in kindergarten about how Rabbi Akiva says, “Love your neighbor like youself, that is the entire Torah.”

Posted in Living in Israel

Mom, Dad, Couldn’t You Have Used A Better Picture?

So, is he really home?

It seems so hard to believe. Only a few months ago we were watching so many protests which appeared to have no effect at all. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s a deal for his release. Before we know it, there are photos of him hugging his family. How did that happen?

Before Gilad was released there were rumors about what sort of bargain the government was going to make to get him home. Seven years ago, the Israeli government traded 400 terrorists for the bodies of three soldiers. I was thirteen at the time, and I remember feeling confused and afraid. Why would the government release so many terrorists just to get dead bodies? I felt scared thinking about all of those criminals running amok. It didn’t seem like a fair deal in my thirteen year old mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he’s home, and it does seem like it was the right thing to do. It gives me hope to know that sometimes it does happen. But I’m not going to say I like the deal they made. I don’t like to think that one Israeli soldier is worth a thousand terrorists – as poetic as that may sound. I think it’s important to remember that although that was the deal, it does not mean that any one person is worth more than another. That sort of mindset will not help us evolve into a better race. Terrorists, as terrible as they may be, are still humans, and I don’t like the idea that their government is teaching them that they are not even worth one thousandth of an Israeli soldier. Or trying to make it look like the Israeli government thinks that, which I’m sure they will do, because why pass up an opportunity to blame the Jews? It doesn’t seem like a healthy mindset to me.

Gilad Shalit
Mom, Dad, couldn't you have used a better picture?

Back then I was not in favor of letting a bazillion terrorists out of prison to rescue Gilad. I was afraid that it would cost us more than one Israeli soldier. And who knows? Maybe it will.

But right now I feel differently. I don’t feel any more afraid with more terrorists on the loose; there will always be terrorists. But I do feel safer knowing what my country would be willing to do for me to get me home.

Posted in Book Reviews, Mirror, Mirror

Book Review: The Time traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveller's Wife  The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit: I didn’t cry when Dumbledore died. But I was moved to tears by The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This is not the kind of book which is impossible to put down. Instead, you get to read it at your leisure, enjoy it, and actually remember it when you’re done. The author succeeds in giving the reader the same experience as the characters. Clare moves through time linearly, to keep the reader grounded, while Henry jumps from time to time and allows the reader to experience the suddenness and confusion he does. The love story pulls the reader into the book so that even when you aren’t reading, Henry and Clare are present at the back of your mind, as a real life lover would be.

Audrey Niffenegger writes with a lot of words, but she uses them masterfully. Her metaphors and descriptions only contribute to bringing the book to life.

“I eat ten Oreos, slowly, gently prying each one apart, scraping the filling out with my front teeth, nibbling the chocolate halves to make them last.” (page 31)

And yet, it’s not just long breathtaking cookie eating scenes like this. In some places the writing is so concise you do a double take and ask, did that really just happen? For instance, I think this is the shortest sex scene I’ve ever encountered:

“[Henry] says, ‘Does that door lock?’ and I flip the lock and we’re late for lunch.” (page 165)

From the first page, the book is ringing with moral dilemmas and existential questions. The author asks her own questions through the characters, but also uses the questions to tell the story. The fact that her characters ask makes them even more human, especially because it makes the reader wonder if they will change their answers as the story progresses.

“But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to just be okay for your whole life?” (page 231)

Any book in which one of the characters is a cellist becomes an automatic favorite of mine. In this case, the cellist is Alicia, Clare’s younger sister. There aren’t many references to it, but the few were done well. “Alicia is seventeen and a senior in high school. She’s a cellist.” (page 16) It is as if being a cellist explains everything about her character, which is quite accurately how we cellists feel about ourselves. 🙂

It is rare to find a love story which begins in childhood and continues through entire lives, especially in books which are meant to make money. This love story is so detailed and so real, and still it is so gripping as Henry and Clare grow up and get married. Their relationship changes, and their lives change, but the love story is intriguing to the last moment. There is one moment where Clare describes them sitting on swings on a playground which made me think of how a love story can be thought of as a sequence of memories – the moments we choose to string together into a chain we call “romantic.”

“I try to put my heart into hers, for safekeeping, in case I lose it again.” (page 370)

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