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When Judaism didn’t offer rituals for a stillbirth, a grieving couple created their own

(JTA) — On Nov. 29, 2021, Ilan and Sherri Glazer announced to the public that they were expecting a baby after three rounds of IVF.

The following day, during their 20-week ultrasound, they learned that their baby’s brain wasn’t forming properly. Multiple scans and visits with other doctors confirmed that their long-awaited baby’s condition was not compatible with a good quality of life, and the couple made the difficult decision to terminate at 26 weeks.

They named the baby Shemaryah, meaning “God watches over.” The name comes from Psalm 121, which the couple sang every night during the pregnancy before going to sleep. They continued singing the psalm following the 20-week checkup, and sang it once more at Shemaryah’s funeral.

Two years later, Ilan Glazer, a rabbi and musician, is releasing an album inspired by his family’s experience, with lyrics drawn from Jewish liturgy, including poems and psalms. The melodies came to him throughout the IVF process, while most of the words emerged as he and Sherri grieved the loss of their son.

Now, Ilan hopes his album, “Gam Ki Elech: Turning Our Sorrows Into Songs,” might provide solace to others in cases where Jewish liturgy, law and custom are limited in what they can provide for parents experiencing the early loss of a child.

Glazer said it was particularly painful that the local Jewish burial society declined to wash Shemaryah’s body following his death — a ritual known as tahara — because he was less than 30 days old. Jewish law does not require traditional mourning or burial practices for a baby who lived fewer than 30 days.

Instead, the Glazers spent the Shabbat following the stillbirth ritually preparing Shemaryah’s body for burial with assistance from friends.

“The worst thing that you can tell a family just after a loved one has died is, ‘We’re not going to help you,’” Ilan said. “And that was especially jarring.”

He added, “Grief over child loss is not widely discussed in the Jewish community.”

“One of the hardest parts of stillbirth,” said Rabbi Idit Solomon, CEO of Hasidah, a group that provides grants and support for Jewish families undergoing IVF, is that “we have advanced emotionally and societally and the Jewish community is still kind of religiously immature and theologically immature.”

Historians and anthropologists say there is a compassionate — and also pragmatic — motivation behind a tradition that does not mourn stillbirth and miscarriage with the rigorous rituals applied to the death of an older child or adult.

“Until the 20th century, you had very high infant mortality rates,” said Michal Raucher, associate professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. “If we instituted all of the mourning rituals that we have for a child or an adult for every miscarriage and stillbirth, for every infant that died in the first couple of weeks of life, people would be in mourning all the time.”

The decline in infant mortality and other advances in neonatology have led families to seek new rituals. While saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for a stillborn baby might be rare, Raucher says in recent years she has seen more informal and online communities emerge to connect members of the Jewish community who have experienced stillbirth and miscarriages. Community members are typically willing to bring a meal to the house of a family mourning a stillbirth or a late miscarriage, replicating “some of the ways that the Jewish community supports people who have experienced loss,” Raucher said.

In 1998, a “grieving ritual following miscarriage or stillbirth” was included in “Lifecycles,” a landmark book of new Jewish rituals created by and for Jewish women. In her 2007 study “Inventing Jewish Rituals,” religion scholar Vanessa Ochs writes that new rites developed since the 1970s surrounding miscarriage, stillbirths, infertility and abortion “mark events linked to women’s bodily experiences that previously have not evoked formal Jewish responses.”

When the Glazers opened up to their rabbi, it led him to discuss the subject from the synagogue pulpit, recounting in sermons how the mothers in the early Genesis stories dealt with their own challenges in conceiving, Sherri Glazer said.

But, she said, “it doesn’t help that those same Bible stories that talk about women struggling end with the women ultimately having kids.”

“The Jewish community can definitely do better,” she added. “I think that’s why we’re speaking out. This is our experience. This is who we are.”

In addition to choosing their own Jewish mourning rituals, Sherri Glazer created a mosaic, the concept for the design appearing to her in something like a vision.

“I kept having this imagery show up in my dreams of Shemaryah in the clouds, of him playing ball, of him being a kid,” she told JTA. “And that image really stuck with me. It showed up more than once.”

On Shemaryah’s first yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death, she hung up the mosaic behind the family’s Shabbat candles. The commandment to “keep” and “remember” the Sabbath, shamor v’zachor — corresponding with the Shabbat candles — shares a root with Shemaryah’s name.

On Friday nights, the Glazers say the blessing for the children to connect with Shemaryah, even though he’s not there.

“He’s very much part of our ritual lives,” Sherri said.

Acknowledging the loss publicly, both parents say, has been crucial to their grieving process, and made it clear to their community members this is not something they would keep silent about — especially since so much of Jewish community life is predicated on childrearing.

After they announced the death of their son, multiple Jewish couples reached out to the Glazers saying they had also experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth or pregnancy termination, and they created a Facebook group for this community.

“We decided that, not entirely for selfish purposes, but we needed to hear from other couples about how they had gone through it, because there was so little material out there for us from a Jewish perspective,” Ilan Glazer said. “Obviously, everybody’s story is a little bit different, but how do you go forward? How do you talk about the death of one child to another child? How do you mark the anniversary of a death? There are things that only those who have faced this have to think about and it’s been very meaningful to have that place.”

In addition to the Facebook group and their synagogue community, the Glazers hope to have plenty of opportunity to discuss what family looks like after loss. Sherri is pregnant again, due in March. (The couple chose embryo donation after learning that Ilan has a mild version of the same syndrome that caused Shemaryah’s brain condition and could pass it on to another child.)

“It’s even harder to plan for a new baby after having a loss like we had. Until this baby is actually here in our arms, it’s really hard to really even envision them being here,” Sherri said. “It is clear to both of us that we want them to know about Shemaryah, that Shemaryah will always be their big brother.”

Much like with their rounds of IVF and as with Shemaryah, music and Jewish ritual played a big role in this pregnancy.

Sherri and Ilan went to the mikveh, or ritual pool, before the embryo transfer, and for Jewish inspiration consulted a fertility guide from Mayyim Hayyim, a Boston-based mikveh and spirituality center. It was there that Sherri found a verse in English that she wanted as their next song.

While the song won’t be on the 13-track album, Ilan performed it at the close of the album release show two weeks ago at Beth Am Baltimore, the Conservative synagogue where he and Sherri are members.

“I want this to be a healing experience,” Ilan, who is also an addiction recovery coach, said. “Every time I share these melodies with others, people tell me that it allows them to process grief that they’ve been carrying, in some cases, for many years. And I’m truly honored by that.”

The post When Judaism didn’t offer rituals for a stillbirth, a grieving couple created their own appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Shameful Podcast Host Praises Guest Who Claims US Gov’t Controlled by 457 Jews

A man holds a sign promoting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory across the street from the former World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Photo: Luigi Novi via Wikimedia Commons.

Of all the vile antisemitic conspiracy theories I’ve heard, there is a bizarre one that may take the cake.

On his 600th episode, “Fearless” podcast host Jason Whitlock hosted E. Michael Jones, who claimed President Joe Biden is not in control, and that America is run by Jews. But wait! He has an exact number.

“First of all, Joe Biden is not in charge of the government,” he said. “…There are 457 Jews who are running the Biden administration. They’re the people in charge…”

The context was that Jones said that Jews have “spent their entire time in this country” undermining the moral fabric of America, such as being responsible for pornography and other things. He also said Jews have hurt Black people the most.

Whitlock answered that he didn’t disagree, but asked why Jones was letting Biden off the hook. He also praised his guest as being “fearless.” Spreading lies doesn’t make you fearless.

I followed Whitlock when he was covering sports, and I have watched many episodes of his podcast. His political takes are sometimes articulate and intelligent, but other times, he delves into conspiracy theories. He often has a good sense of humor.

He has 427,000 followers. I criticized him before in The Algemeiner for insinuating that the backlash against NBA player Kyrie Irving, who tweeted an antisemitic film, was not due to the film, but for his refusal to take the Covid vaccine. Whitlock inquired in an online message if I would come on his show, and I replied that I would via e-mail, but perhaps he never got the message.

Does Whitlock believe that 457 Jews control the government? I doubt it, but if he takes his job seriously, he should have done what any real journalist should do and asked, “What is your evidence for that?”

But Whitlock is more interested in garnering attention, and he is not alone. Podcasters are pressured to be as controversial as possible, truth and results be damned. It creates more content when you can have other episodes explaining the controversial one.

Whitlock may have been wronged by some network or organization, which made him go off on his own. But that is not an excuse for letting antisemitic conspiracy theories go unchecked. Whitlock correctly said that a journalist should have the right to interview anyone, regardless of their views. It’s fine to interview the devil, but it’s not okay to let him go unchallenged.

I do not believe in cancel culture, but it’s become shockingly clear that if you want attention, one of the best things to do is to scapegoat Jews. There are some who say Whitlock should have stayed in his lane and stuck to sports. I disagree. Anyone has the right to speak about whatever topic they choose. But if Whitlock wants to be a person of God, as he claims to desire, he should not stoke antisemitic flames. And if he wants to ignite controversy, he should choose a topic that doesn’t involve scapegoating Jews.

In an intro to the episode, Whitlock said that listeners would need their big boy pants for the episode. Nope. There is nothing adult or manly about spreading conspiracy theories. It’s childish and cowardly.

In life, some have no voice. Whitlock has a big one. He is charismatic. There are many who look up to him and see him as a role model. I expect more from him, and he should expect more from himself.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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‘Hamas Members, Like All Palestinians, Just Want Freedom’: Rashida Tlaib Appears with Speaker Who Defended Hamas

US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaks at a rally calling on Congress to censure President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 30, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Aaron P. Bernstein.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib participated in an event late last week with a pro-Palestine activist who has defended Hamas, doubted that it engaged in sexual and gender-based violence during its October 7 terrorist attack, and compared Gaza to Auschwitz.

Tlaib appeared with the speaker, Huwaida Arraf, at a Zoom event last Thursday to launch the new political wing of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, whose goal is to end military aid to Israel. 

Arraf, who is a civil and human rights attorney, founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and former staffer at Seeds of Peace, posted a graphic on October 7 suggesting that Hamas’s attack was not terrorism.


What Western “leaders” and mainstream media will have you believe… #Gaza

— Huwaida Arraf (@huwaidaarraf) October 7, 2023

The image of the hang glider became synonymous with the idea of “Palestinian resistance” in the days following October 7. However, it was Hamas operatives on hang gliders who massacred more than 250 young people at a music festival that was taking place in southern Israel.

Two days later, on October 9, Arraf wrote “No matter how much Israel bombs, starves and kills Palestinians, they will never be able to extinguish the Palestinian desire to LIVE FREE. Support for Israel’s brutal aggression will only fuel more resistance. #Gaza”

In a statement to The Algemeiner, Democratic Majority for Israel wrote: “It’s reprehensible that Congresswoman Tlaib would associate herself with those who deny or even celebrate the terrorist group Hamas’ horrific attacks of October 7 that resulted in 1,200 deaths and included raping, burning, mutilating and executing women and children.”

In November, after disclaiming that she does not support Hamas in part due to its religious ideology, wrote that “Hamas members, like all Palestinians, just want freedom. They have always warmly welcomed people, irrespective of religion and nationality, including Jewish Israelis, who come in solidarity, not as occupiers.”

Then, in December, Arraf posted doubting that Hamas engaged in sexual and gender-based violence during its October 7 attack, writing “Israel continues to refuse independent investigations into its claims that Hamas raped Israeli women and girls. If it happened, it is a war crime and should be dealt with accordingly. So far though, all we have is inconsistent claims from someone who says she saw something (not a survivor of assault herself) and statements from someone tied to the Israeli government who has started a project. And, of course, Israeli government claims.”

However, independent investigations by newspapers such as The New York Times and The Guardian, based on eyewitness testimony and video, have found that the use of sexual and gender-based violence was widespread on October 7. Both investigations were published after Arraf’s post, but she did not respond to a request for comment asking if the subsequent investigations changed her view on this particular subject. She also did not respond to a request for comment on any of her other posts.

Tlaib’s Communications Director did not respond to a request for comment on whether the congresswoman was aware of Arrafs’s views prior to the event.

Most recently, after The Algemeiner had already reached out to Tlaib’s office, Arraf posted a graphic comparing Israel’s war in Gaza to Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

During the event, they spoke about, among other things, how to make Palestine a local issue.

Tlaib said that most taxpayers don’t want their money to go to “death and destruction” and “apartheid.” 

Arraf said “The forces that we’re up against are so very great. And recognizing the interconnectedness of the struggle — the fact that we’re likely fighting the same forces trying to keep us down and that profit from our oppression — is important to strengthen our voices.” 

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Russian FM Slams Suspension of Funding to UN Palestinian Refugee Agency as ‘Collective Punishment’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shipenkov

Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday slammed more than a dozen UN member states for announcing a freeze on funding for UNRWA — the UN agency solely dedicated to Palestinian refugees and their descendants — following revelations that several of its employees participated in the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel, in which more than 1,200 people were murdered and over 200 seized as hostages, amid atrocities including mass rape and mutilation.

As the US House Foreign Affairs Committee prepared for a special hearing on Tuesday afternoon to examine UNRWA’s “mission and failures,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused those countries that have suspended aid of meting out “collective punishment” to Palestinians in Gaza.

“From the very beginning, condemning the October 7 attack, we clearly said that it is necessary to fight terrorism in all its manifestations, but to fight with means that do not in turn violate international humanitarian law. What happened and is happening is a collective punishment prohibited by international humanitarian law,” Lavrov declared at a press conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Gambian counterpart Momodu Tangara, in remarks reported by the official TASS news agency.

Lavrov expressed support for an investigation into the accusations. “But if the investigation is replaced by collective punishment of UNRWA, and most importantly, those to whom UNRWA provides invaluable assistance, then I believe that this is the wrong decision,” he stressed.

Russia’s criticism is unlikely to shift the position of more than a dozen countries — among them the US, Japan, Germany, France, the UK and, most recently, New Zealand — that have paused funding to the agency. Moscow has faced punishing sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, with the EU agreeing on Monday to set aside billions of euros of windfall profits from Russian central bank assets frozen in Europe, the first step of a plan to help fund Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction.

The EU may also suspend funding to UNRWA depending on the outcome of the UN’s investigation into the participation of at least 12 UNRWA employees in the Oct. 7 atrocities. The European Commission (EC), which coordinates aid for Palestinians paid for by joint EU funds, said in a statement on Monday that it would “review the matter in light of the outcome of the investigation announced by the UN.”

A handful of western countries have meanwhile confirmed their willingness to continue funding UNRWA, including Spain, Luxembourg and Ireland.

“UNRWA’s 13,000 employees provide lifesaving assistance to 2.3 million people at an incredible personal cost, with over 100 staff killed in the last four months,” Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin wrote on X/Twitter on Sunday.

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