Friday, January 30, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #5: Divorce in Israel

Divorces have gone into the 5 digits for the first time in recorded Israeli history, with 10,225 Jewish couples divorcing in 2008 (Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post). What I find interesting is that the divorce statistics were not released from a demographic agency (in the U.S. it would be the Census Bureau) but rather from the Rabbinical Court Administration. Further, Wagner's article states, "The Rabbinical Courts are empowered by law to impose sanctions to coerce one of the sides, usually the husband, to give a get (the document of Jewish divorce). These sanctions include blocking exit from the country, freezing bank accounts, halting welfare payments, and suspending drivers licenses." There was no discusssion in the article re why the divorce rate increased.

On a different topic, I interviewed Mayor Shaul Goldstein of the Etzion Block of communities (just south of Jerusalem) re the role of communities in marriage and childbirth celebrations. As I waited for Mayor Goldstein in the lobby of the Shalom Hotel in Bayit Vegan, candidate Bibi Netanyahu appeared. When I quickly grabbed for my camera, let's say it didn't evoke many friendly faces amongst his security team.
Look for a future post on the Goldstein interview.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #4: Legend and Heartbreak

Two stories about the war in Gaza are still spreading like wildfire here in Israel.

The first story is that 2 Israeli soldiers in Gaza were told by a woman as they were searching house to house that they should not enter a particular house and she told them to go in the opposite direction. They listened to her and saw the house that they had intended to infiltrate, explode in a massive fireball. "Who are you" they asked the woman who saved their lives. She responded, I am Mother Rachel and she walked away.

The second story is of the father of a young soldier killed by friendly fire. He televised a message to the Israeli tank unit that caused the mishap and the tank unit received the message, even as the family sat shiva (Jewish week of mourning).

Here is an excerpt from Matthew Wagner's article (Jerusalem Post Jan 11, 2009)titled, Family of IDF soldier Who Fell to Friendly Fire: 'Everything that happens Must be for the Better'
Rabbi Amos Netanel, whose son Capt. Yonatan Netanel was killed by friendly fire several weeks ago in Gaza, told the Israel Defense Force tank crew that fired the fatal shot he wasn't angry. "You did not kill Yoni," Netanel told them. "Yoni sanctified God's name at the exact time that it was decreed in the heavens. You were the sacred messengers who carried out God's will. Better that your pure hands kill him and not the defiled enemy hand. Evildoers could not have hurt him." At Rabbi Netanel's request, the IDF Chaplaincy helped him contact the tank crew, currently fighting in Gaza, before the Sabbath.

"The family very much wanted to communicate our message to the soldiers before the Shabbat," Netanel said. "It was something that we wanted to resolve."
Netanel told the tank crew that he and his family were conscious of the fact that casualties caused by friendly fire were part of every war. "Under this working assumption Yoni went out to war, under this working assumption we sent him out to battle. We accept this as part of the struggle to overcome the enemy, and we love you and embrace you." We cannot control what happens in this world. We can only control how we react."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #3: Israeli Marital Disagreements

When Ezra, our tour guide, asked the group: Do you know what the 2 biggest disagreements in Israeli marrages are? he quickly got my attention.

1. Hot versus Cold: The temperature of the home and the car are an ongoing source of conflict. I can certainly identify with this as my wife claims that I have a "broken thermostat". For most of our 31 years of marriage, I have been hot and she has been cold.

2. Chol Hamoed Tiyulim: "Chol Hamoed" days are the in-between days of the holidays of Passover (in the spring) and Sukkot (in the fall). Husbands and wives have this basic disagreement: whether to travel the beautiful land of Israel from top to bottom in day trips....or to just sit home and be couch potatoes.

Postscript on previous blog post re lack of rain: This is the worst January rainfall in recorded Israeli history according to today's Jerusalem Post.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #2: Divorce and the Aguna

The daily newspaper is a good way to get the pulse of a people.
While most of todays's front page articles of the Jerusalem Post pertain to President Obama, peace in the middle east and the truce in Gaza, there was an interesting front page article relating to the "Aguna" (literally a chained woman). In this painful predicament, a husband refuses to give a "get" (hebrew word for divorce document) to his wife and thereby divorce her.
It is an intiguing story that spans the globe titled, "From Jerusalem to Jakarta"
I tried to get the link posted here, but did not suceed. It is an indication that urgent social concerns here in Israel rank up there with peace and politics.

Selfish note: The weather has been magnificent here. It's selfish because there is no commodity as valuable here in the middle east as water. It's the rainy season and Israel needs the water desparately.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #1: Parents of Soldiers

If you want to know what the people of Israel are thinking, go straight to the source: the taxi drivers. At the exact moment when our new president began his speech, our taxi driver, while speeding through narrow Jerusalem streets, turned the volume way up. "Nasee" (hebrew for President) Barack Obama began his inaugural speech with simultaneous hebrew translation. Our driver, like other Israelis are not convinced, as many members of the US media seem to be, that this Gaza campaign was timed to end before Nasee Obama took the oath of office.

As far as the parents of Israeli soldiers in Gaza who I have spoken to thusfar, there is a split in opinions between:

1. Thank God they are coming home.
2. Mission not accomplished; they are pulling out of Gaza too soon

Stay tuned from gorgeous sunny (slightly chilly) Jerusalem.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Are Commuter Marriages (a temporary necessity) Detrimental to Couples?

The NY Times had an interesting piece recently by J Conlin called "Living Apart for the Paycheck"
The Census Bureau reported in 2006 that 3.6 million married Americans (not including separated couples) were living apart from their spouses. It quotes Prof. David Popenoe, who I've known for many years; he's brilliant. There are certainly challenges in one of these marriages, but I have to say that I believe it is possible for a strong marriage to endure this, but not for a sustained period of time. One of the best points Conlin makes is how the bulk of the responsibilty for the children falls on the at-home mother. She has to be the disciplinarian while her husband comes home from afar and gets to be "Mr. Fun". Nice plug for Skype too (Online Maven take note!). It's a quick and worthwhile read; I recommend it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

MSNBC's Melissa Schorr Cites Dr. Singer on Delayed Childbearing

My recent conversation with Melissa Schorr resulted in a nice shout-out on today's MSN home page. She approached the topic from many interesting angles and I thanked her for our talk. Bottom line: these are scary times economically speaking, and having a child is a decision that is tied directly to family finances. Responsible parenting means giving careful consideration to your finances, your marriage, and your desire to parent before having a(nother) child. I suggested in my original release, that parents who delay having a child for a year or so in tough economic times is understandable; delaying for 3 or more years could cause some very undesirable consequences.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

President Obama Should Promote National Service

Steve Waldman wrote and interesting piece for the Huffington Post that caught my eye and stirred my imagination.

He contends that the Obama administration may be about to squander an historic opportunity, because the economic recovery plan doesn't include a large-scale national service program. National service members can work on permanent and cost effective national improvements such as energy efficiency or improving schools. He suggests that a "soft goal" would be to plant forever the idea in the minds of most young people (and many seniors) that one of the most fulfilling and useful things they could do is serve their nation for a year or two.

Click here to read his entire post.

I want to take it one step further during these stressful times of increasing unemployment and home foreclosures. I believe it is time to think about giving one day a month to help others by using our profession skills, especially to help those who recently lost their job or their house. As a family therapist, I will set aside one day per month to help couples strengthen their marriage and not charge them a fee. I believe that President Obama and his administration are going to need all the help they can get.

So Here Goes: If this recession has wreaked havoc on your family finances and your marriage is suffering because of it, contact me via email for a marital therapy session at no cost. I rent space in central New Jersey (Highland Park to be exact). Please consider your driving distance before emailing me and briefly describe your financial predicament.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Private Time Indispensable to Marriage by Dr. Alan Singer

Here is my 3rd and final column describing the couples I surveyed who are celebrating their 30th Anniversaries. It was published in the Home News Tribune on December 17, 2008. Robin and Michael refer to marriage as "an evolving state". Is that a good thing? Read below and I invite you to post a comment.

Nine New Jersey couples who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary this year responded to a survey I conducted. This is the third and final column devoted to their responses. I asked each couple what they wanted more time for. Responses included: we want more time together, family vacations and watching our grandchildren grow up. In the fast-paced, two-career family paradigm that is so prevalent, what couples want is more time together. But, two comments concern me. Susan explained, "I wish I made more time for myself and my husband, but in my life, everyone else came first." And Heather stated, "Once the kids were born, we never made time to be alone, just the two of us." Whoa! Red flag!

When couples have a child, they tend to put their marriage on the back burner. That is one reason that researchers have found that marital satisfaction tends to decrease with the arrival of each child. After life-with-a-newborn settles into a routine, couples must dedicate themselves to nurturing their marriage as much, even more than nurturing their children. Children need their parents to have a strong marriage first and foremost; to be Super Mom and Super Dad comes second.

These couples believe that the institution of marriage has changed in 30 years and not necessarily for the better. Susie and Barry: Divorce is less of a stigma. Larry and Judy: People give up too easily and get divorced without trying to resolve their problems. Linda and Leonard added, "Marriage is not a toy, that if you don't like it you find something else; It's a lifetime commitment." Professor Bill Doherty (University of Minnesota) in a lecture delivered in 2001 refers to marriages today in the context of our consumer society where everything is temporary: "New is what sells — the past is meaningless. Only the future counts. Will my rewards be there in the future and am I getting enough out of this relationship?"

Last are several responses to the question, what is the most important thing that you learned about marriage? Most important to Linda and Leonard is, "The effect of being loved and showing love can only make you a better person." (Research supports them on that.) Suzie and Barry go a step further: "Love is not enough to sustain a marriage; you have to work on maintaining the love and the relationship."

Robin and Michael learned that marriage is "an evolving state." That response intrigued me, so I asked them to elaborate. "Nothing in life stays the same; it changes each day with each new experience and the challenges that life presents." They added, "As we grow and mature and are molded by what life brings us, it necessarily affects marriage. The hope is that your spouse helps you through those changes and that your relationship is flexible and can accommodate change."

In a 1998 lecture, psychologist John Gottman similarly describes the importance of "shared meaning." He contends: "Everyone is searching for the meaning of life in this journey of ours. The idea of creating this meaning together with someone else in a family is very key in building this friendship in marriage using the narratives, metaphors, symbols, roles, goals, and rituals that make life meaningful. This has a great impact on friendship in the marriage and on buffering transitions in the marriage, such as partner-hood to parenthood." Thank you to the nine couples who participated in this survey and Happy Anniversary!

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Babies Born in Winter Months Are Less Intelligent?

In a 12/22/08 article in USA Today Rita Rubin described new research that suggests, on average, that winter babies grow up to be less educated, less intelligent, less healthy and lower paid than people born in the spring. Many of the reader comments were from people projecting (and rejecting) this research based on their own lives and those of their children or siblings.

Click here to read the article.

Here are my comments which I posted to the USA Today website:

This is interesting research that reminds me of the family size and intelligence debate. As family size increases, intelligence of children tends to decrease. Researchers found that it is not that more kids means less time and money to educate kids, rather that lower IQ parents tend to have larger families.

Also, can everyone who is angry at this research study please remember that correlation is not causation. You've heard it many times; that's because it's true.
If this same data for birth month are analyzed for day of the week and it shows that Tuesday babies have the highest IQ, would you tell your doctor to schedule a c-section for Tuesday?

And if the data show that the smartest babies were born between 3 and 6am, and your water breaks at 3 pm, do you tell your Ob/Gyn to put on the brakes for 12 hours? Clearly not. It's just some interesting research; not to worry.