Category Archives: Finch

Boy, you gotta carry that weight, carry that weight a long time…

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I have to be honest, Rosh Hashana never really feels like a new year.  I don’t know if it is because I am a convert, or if it’s because I live life on the Gregorian calendar, I don’t even know if other people feel this way.  But generally it’s just a nice day to spend with family, go to services and eat.   The feeling I get on December 31st is not the feeling I get on Erev Rosh Hashana; the anticipation, the traditions, the leave-it-all-behind attitude to start anew, none of it is there.

However, this year it feels a little bit more like December 31st is fast approaching.  I feel rundown and long to take a deep breath.  But I also feel hopeful.  That’s generally how I feel as the year ends.  The last two weeks have been complete madness.  For days I worried about the safety of my loved ones (and, admittedly, about the safety of some of my worldly possessions).  I packed up my apartment, prioritized my belongings and went on a journey northwest (Tampa).  The northeast (Orlando).  Then braced for the inevitable (Irma).  My parents decided not to join us on that journey at the last minute.  It, inevitably, caused a huge blowup before we parted ways.  I left in tears and filled with regret.  I wondered if I would see them again.  I cried for some of the drive and apologized as best I could from afar.  Another blowup followed a day later.  We were all on edge and not handling it well, at all.

Yet, what followed was a week of witnessing humanity at its best.  Family and friends from afar checked in filled with love and concern.  They all helped as best they could.  My sister sent me weather updates when we lost power and had no radio, my mother-in-law helped us find dog-friendly accommodations, a cousin I reconnected with online offered here home, another offered her calming voice.

The monster storm passed and we were all safe.  I felt great relief when I was able to communicate with my parents again, despite the spotty cellular signal.  We got on the road early Monday, eager to reunite.  We returned to find our city rattled, but not broken.  Our homes were fine, albeit dark and hot.  I made friends with neighbors and we helped each other as best we could; we shared information, food and comforting words as necessary, even some laughs.

Sleeping in our apartment without electricity to power our air conditioning was not easy (especially for Finch and my mid-western husband, in that order), but we were quickly taken in by my aunt and uncle who had electricity, with love and a spare room to share.  The news from loved ones trickled in: my friends were safe my grandparents were safe, extended family members were safe.  Facebook became a lifeline for information and everyone was willing to share what they knew and offer what they could.  My grandmother was able to send a few e-mails from Cuba to let us know she was okay and how things were progressing there.  My grandfather’s home in Key Largo weathered the storm for the most part.  Some weren’t so lucky, like my aunt, but they knew their material losses would be restored with their loved ones by their side.  I felt infinitely grateful.

This week I have seen the worst of Miami make a comeback -the rude drivers, the short tempers, the self-centeredness- but it will not phase me (too much).  I am grateful for the safety of my loved ones, I am grateful to have weathered the storm both literally and figuratively, and I am grateful for an unexpected lesson on letting go of the stuff.

Before we left on our evacuation journey I secured what I felt was most important (family pictures and what I consider heirlooms) and felt at peace with coming back to an empty wardrobe and no electronic distractions. I had never felt so detached from the stuff that clutters my apartment.  It was freeing.  Now, I won’t lie and tell you I am not psyched to have come back to a closet full of nothing to wear and hours of mindless television to watch, because I am, totally; I have invested a lot of hard-earned money into both.

Still, I will carry that feeling into the new year with me, this new year that is feeling so new.  I will carry that gratitude and freedom, I will carry that love and that view of humanity into 5778 (and through what’s left of 2017).  I am taking my leave-it-all-behind attitude to start anew, carrying with me only what is necessary and truly important, and trying to peacefully leave all of that other stuff behind.

Shanah Tovah Umetukah

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All You Need is Chesed

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“Mankind’s true moral test . . . consists in its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.” ― Milan Kundera

I have never doubted my Jewish soul.  Yet more and more I feel it revealing itself to me.  For my year of change I embarked on a journey to humane and cruelty free living.  It has not been easy; it has been challenging and at times it feels impossible, but I will not give up.  More and more I have excised things from my life that come as direct result of the suffering of a helpless living creature.  I have researched the food I eat and try my best to purchase strictly humanely raised and certified humane.  I have found that the most difficult item has been milk, I have yet to locate milk that is certified anything but “organic” and that means nothing in terms of how the cow is treated.  Organic Valley has grass-fed and “pastured” dairy products, but that doesn’t seem to be regulated.  I have found great eggs (conveniently sold in the Fresh Market and Winn-Dixie), meat (sold at Whole Foods, just ask the butcher), and chicken (sold at Publix by the Greenwise) that are now staples in my home (FYI, there’s an app for that!).

So I decided to shift to the next cruelty free aspect of my home, an area I have indulged in for decades: cosmetics.  I was horrified to find out most of the products I was using come from companies that test on animals.  I was horrified.  I simply could not continue to be this consumer, so I started researching.  First, I learned that a lot of companies basically lie about their animal testing, which is shameful.  Second, I learned that most companies are forced into animal testing because their products are sold internationally and other countries have rules about that sort of thing, like China.  Thankfully I was able to find great guidelines online from several sources like Peta and Paula’s Choice.

What I also learned along my journey is that my newfound passion is super Jewish.  On my quest to learn about cruelty free living I came across the phrase tza’ar ba’alei chayim.  According to Wikipedia it “literally means the suffering of living creatures.”  It turns out that I have been concerned with tza’ar ba’alei chayim, a little known mitzvah, my entire life.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis explained that while medical research on animals is acceptable if it will save human lives, animals should not be subjected to pain during these experiments or be used in frivolous experimentation, like for cosmetic testing.  In terms of consumption, Professor Richard Schwartz notes that although “Judaism forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, today most farm animals – including those raised for kosher consumers — are raised on ‘”factory farms”’ where they live in cramped, confined spaces and are often drugged, mutilated . . . and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise and any enjoyment of life before they are slaughtered and eaten.” I am, therefore, inclined to believe that consuming an animal that has been made to suffer is not keeping kosher.  Rabbi David N. Young is quoted in The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic as explaining:

 God commanded Adam and Eve to be vegetarians. That was what God wanted for our dietary practices. God commanded Noah to eat whatever he wanted, as long as it was dead. That is what humans want for our own dietary practices —unrestrained omnivorism. In ultimate wisdom, God offered a compromise: God commanded Moses concerning prohibited and permitted meats and forbade boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. These were developed and evolved by the Rabbis of the Talmud into the dietary laws called kashrut. If we are able to live by this compromise, that is wonderful. If we are able to live closer to what God wants and go vegetarian, even better.

There is another phrase that I feel goes hand-in-hand with tza’ar ba’alei chayim and that is shomrei adamah.  According to an article on My Jewish Learning humanity is charged with the task of protection and renewal of the earth, “[w]e are told very early on in our Jewish history of the importance of ruling over our lands responsibly, of tilling and tending to them as shomrei adamah, guardians of the land.”  It is a natural extension to think that includes all of the living things on earth and this extension is clear from several passages in the Torah.  In 2007 the Union for Reform Judaism adapted from Edith Samuel’s Your Jewish Lexicon an installment of 10 Minutes of Torah that directly addresses these mandates:

The Torah shows exquisite sensitivity to the feelings of animals —sensitivity rare in the ancient world. On the Sabbath, domestic animals as well as human beings must rest (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14). Deuteronomy 25:4 prohibits the muzzling of an ox while it is threshing (it may want to eat). An animal may not be slaughtered on the same day as its young (Leviticus 22:28). Before the days of tractor, farmers were forbidden to plow with an ox and an ass yoked together (the ox, being larger, might cause pain to its smaller partner). Deuteronomy 22 spells out additional injunctions for Jews living an agrarian life: If you see an ox or an ass collapsed on the road under its burden, you must help it get on its feet; if you find a stray sheep or ox, you must return it to its owner or, if the owner is unknown, you must care for it until the owner claims it.

The Rabbis of the Talmud and of later generations went even further: Jews were enjoined never to sit down to eat before their animals had been fed; they were prohibited from buying an animal unless they could afford to feed it; and hunting for sheer sport is brutally cruel and hence forbidden to Jews. Slaughtering animals for food must be done as quickly and as painlessly as possible to avoid unnecessary or prolonged torment for the animal. In Modern Hebrew, tsa’ar ba-alei chayim is refers to the mitzvah of the “prevention of cruelty to animals.”

Further, Judaism101 notes:

In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes, while those who hunt animals are villains. Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17). A traditional story tells that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'” Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife (Gen. 24).

Tza’ar ba’alei chayim really seems rooted in one of my favorite (and sometimes most difficult) things about Judaism: thoughtfulness.  You are encouraged to think beyond yourself even about things that may make you uncomfortable or may create difficulties.  Sure, it is easier to live in ignorance and to lead your busy life day to day as best you can, but it is much more meaningful to make time to think about your life and how your actions affect others.  Tza’ar ba’alei chayim also goes hand-in-hand with tikkun olam, the call to repair the world through social action, and with another of my favorites, chesed, loving-kindness.

So in furtherance of this mitzvah I have decided to share my favorite cruelty free products and I welcome any and all comments and suggestions you may have on this topic.

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While fully recognizing the Jews don’t have a patent on humane living, but simply because the lessons here stem from Jewish teachings and values, I encourage everyone to be a little more Jewish on this issue.

Shabbat Shalom

A Long December…

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…it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last…

To the Counting Crows it may just have been a long December, but for me it feels like 2013 has been a very long year.  It has been a year of ups and downs, I cannot recall a more eventful year in my twenty-something years on this planet.  On the ups list I can note passing the bar, moving in with my fiance, getting a job, getting another job, getting yet another job, completing my conversion process, getting engaged, celebrating my grandfather’s birthday by his side.  On the downs list I can note studying for the bar, taking the bar, juggling three part- (but really full) time jobs, still living at home, having my grandfather hospitalized for several weeks, having my grandfather released from the hospital with complications, having my heart inexplicably and unexpectedly broken, still having my grandfather remain in a not-quite-so-great medical condition, my Finch going from fine to paralyzed overnight.

Over the last week this has really taken a toll on me.  It truly has been too much to handle.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was last weekend when Finch had to undergo emergency surgery.  I have been tired, I have been working long hours, and generally spreading myself to thin professionally, but my personal life was okay.  Thursday morning my fiance flew home to spend Thanksgiving with his family and I stayed in Miami with mine.  Everything seemed  fine as we went to have a very small gathering at my uncle’s.  When we returned Finch didn’t want to eat, I figured he was being temperamental since his dad had left him and his cranky grandfather was in town.  I took him for a walk and we all went to bed.   Friday morning, however, he was still down.  I inevitably began to worry, especially when he refused to go for a walk.  My sister and I had planned a fun weekend of wedding planning, but I couldn’t even think about it.  We rushed to the vet and he told us Finch could have some back problems.  He x-rayed his back to be sure and explained something about his discs being close together, but told us that the x-ray would be sent to some sort of specialist.  He recommended 4 weeks of crate rest and prescribed some pain killers, he also gave him a shot for the pain.  I was puzzled,  I never thought Finch had back problems and I honestly believed the vet was wrong.  Finch seemed to be feeling better when we got back, although his right leg seemed to be bothering him.  I dismissively assumed it was numbness from the pain.  That night Finch ate dinner and I happily thought everything would be okay.

Saturday was a nightmare I still expect to wake from.  I woke up with Finch at my feet and greeted him warmly.  He stretched and tried to get up, but it wasn’t working.  I didn’t understand what could be the problem so I carried him down to the floor.  He didn’t stand.  I encouraged him to, thinking his leg may still be numb, but neither of his legs seemed to be responding.  I freaked out.  I have never felt such sense of hopeless panic.  I immediately called the vet.  He wasn’t available.  He called me a few minutes later.  He told me the specialist had looked at the x-ray and that the problem was really severe.  When I told him he couldn’t walk he told me that was a huge problem and that he would need emergency surgery that day.  He told me I could wait until Monday, for a cheaper surgeon, but that he didn’t recommend it.  Instead he gave me the number of a colleague, a neurologist, who would be very expensive, but very good.  I called him immediately.  It was his day off so I had to wait for a call back.  I wept.  The neurologist called me back right away, he explained the gravity of the situation and the expense I would incur.  He was straightforward, which I appreciated, and explained how we could pay for the surgery.  He gave me fifteen minutes to think about it.  I got off the phone and cried.  I cried for about five minutes feeling utterly alone and hopeless.  I couldn’t afford to spend $6,500 on anything, regardless of how much I wanted to (my fiance and I live at home with my mom, our finances are less than stellar, and our school debt is generally insurmountable).  I tried to reach my fiance, but he wouldn’t answer.  I talked to my mom, my dad, my sister.  I took a deep breath and applied for a Care credit card.  It’s basically a credit card for medical needs, the neurologist recommended it as the best option.  My baby is only about three or four years old, I love him more than anyone can imagine, I could not give up or risk his life at the hands of a less skilled doctor.  I got approved and called the neurologist right away.  He asked me to come in within the hour for a check-up and an MRI if necessary.

When we met I was sitting on the floor with Finch.  Finch seemed scared, confused, and frustrated.  I imagine he didn’t understand how he lost his ability to walk overnight.  I couldn’t stop crying, but he talked to me calmly and explained everything thoroughly.  When he told my mom that we would have to leave Finch with him until Wednesday she wept.  Saturday he kept me informed as to everything that was happening.  The surgery took about four hours and he explained that the damage was extensive.  His regular vet checked in with me and told me it was the worst case he’d seen.  I still don’t understand how it happened.

Finch is home now.  He won over everyone at the neurologist’s office.  The receptionist called him “a little rock-star.”  Every single day he seems to be improving.  I can sleep again for the first time in a week.  None of this process has been easy, but it has unquestionably been worth it and I am reminded every time I see him gallop happily, his wide ears flopping in the wind.

If you feel inclined to help please visit www.youcaring.com/fundforfinch.              
Any donation is welcome and greatly appreciated.

Son, you know you’re a Finch, don’t you?

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230192_951760173008_7045624_nI love animals, especially dogs.  I grew up with several dogs and cats, I don’t ever remember not sharing my life with at least one pet.  However, a couple of years ago I adopted my very own ball of never-ending energy.

217716_951760472408_4649493_nFinch and I met April of 2011 in the Humane Society of Greater Miami while I was volunteering.  It was love at first sight.  He was the sweetest puppy when we first met, and perfectly behaved when I brought Ringo (the family dog) to meet him.

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However, the second we got him home everything changed.  He has what is apparently commonly known as a “beagle howl,” the sound it unlike anything I’d ever heard before and generally quite loud and startling.  He also has the terrible habit of eating everything in sight (this includes shoes, pants, and  cat poop).

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We had never lived with such a difficult pet, but he was a member of the family and we made adjustments,  there was no more leaving shoes in common areas, we closed all the doors possible and I got him a crate.  The crate situation was extremely short-lived; my mother thought it was a horrifying form of torture and banished it to the tool shed.

253600_993494417248_287976_nStill, despite his faults Finch is an absolutely incredible dog.

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He makes everyone fall in love with him. He will not relent until you pay attention to him, he will yell, jump, and cry until you show him love.  I have witnessed several people who are not particularly fond of dogs fall in love with my baby.

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He also hates rain, it terrifies him and it is heartbreaking to watch shiver and shake as it pours (which is a common occurrence around these parts), his honey-brown eyes wide.  Once the storm passes he curls up by himself and falls asleep for hours.

230154_951766864598_2628675_nFinch also hates being alone.  When I go to work, if no one stays with him, I return to a fifteen minute beagle howl monologue, presumably expressing how I’ve wronged him.

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Whenever I get upset at his misbehavior, he looks up at me just the right way and I am completely disarmed and dissuaded; his expressive face allows him to get away with everything.

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For his first birthday (since we don’t actually know the date we celebrate the date we adopted him) my mother wrote an ode to the Finch:

Este es Finch. Hace hoy un año que llegó a nuestra casa. Es un perrito especial, nervioso, muy testarudo, cariñoso y juguetón. Mi hija lo encontró, sin buscarlo, en una perrera. Yo no sé cómo ni por cuánto tiempo soportó este animalito tan sensible la calle y la dura vida de un perro en una perrera, tal vez en una jaula, sin nadie que lo consolara cuando llovía o tronaba, sin el enorme caudal de amor y atención que necesita cada día. No es un perrito fácil. Cada vez que se acuerda de quién es, se come algo caro y que a uno le gusta mucho: un ajustador de Victoria’s Secret, una manta de cashemira, el lápiz de ojos preferido. Después te mira con sus ojos de caramelo y sale corriendo con sus patitas cortas, levantando la derecha a lo Charles Chaplin, y no hay nada que hacer, solo sonreír y echarse la culpa a uno mismo por dejar las cosas donde no debía. Tiene uno de los peores alientos perrunos que haya olido en mi larga experiencia con la raza canina y una voz alta, aguda y demandante que taladra los tímpanos. Pero su alegría no se compara con nada, la manera en que busca que lo quieran, sus ocurrencias, singularidades y su tremenda “personalidad” (ya quisiera mucha gente que conozco tener la mitad de su gracia). Nunca sabremos qué día nació realmente este perrito, pero nuestro Finch nació hace exactamente un año, cuando él encontró una familia que entendiera sus peculiaridades y nosotros, el perrito precioso y simpático que completa nuestro hogar, que ha llenado desde entonces con su alegría.

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