The Choice

IMG_5605.jpg
Today I am 52 years — and one day — old.

But I’ve achieved this milestone despite a choice I made in 2014. And because I lived to make another one.

I stepped into traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. And I did it because I could not bear the burden of being unloved, unworthy and distrusted by the woman I still loved. I was devastated by a few words she said, words she refused to take back, that cut through me like a knife:

“I’d be better off if you were dead.”

IMG_0511I held the cellphone to my ear as I begged her to recant, as I stood in the fast lane with my back to oncoming traffic. It was not the busiest day ever, but there were still cars, tractor trailers and buses that swerved to avoid striking me. Some blared their horns, but I didn’t budge. I didn’t consider how my suicide might take someone else’s life; I didn’t consider how my wife and kids would feel about me killing myself. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anyone else. And at one point, I hung up the phone, when I realized I didn’t care if Wendy loved me or not.

Because I didn’t love me, either.

I snapped one last picture, and no, it wasn’t a selfie. And it slowly dawned on me, that this was a mistake. I actually laughed at myself, standing in the middle of a highway and unable to end my life without someone else delivering the fatal blow.

“Can’t even succeed at killing myself,” I muttered. “I am a total failure.”

That was the exact opposite of how I felt just a day or two before. I had been well-received by longtime friends, at a reunion in sunny Florida. I had also met my mother as my authentic self, and made every effort to reconcile our differences. I hugged her goodbye, never to see or speak to her again. I left Florida feeling hopeful for the future, and at peace.

On the way home to Connecticut, I had stopped for lunch in my old Jacksonville neighborhood when I received word from my job: I was getting fired, and a young colleague who I had trained had been promoted — to management. Isn’t that a coincidence, I thought.

Just the month before, I had resumed my transition, and my employer had built a bullshit case of “performance issues” based on what this one person reported, in order to curry favor and advance their own career; the kind of transgressions overlooked in a favorite employee and used to blackball someone whose file included the worrisome notation, “business unit growing concerned about headlines” that my transition had generated in the tabloids. Almost all of that coverage was negative.

I was summoned to appear before a meeting of my boss, the head of human resources, and the VP in charge of HR and legal affairs. She was the woman who shepherded me through my transition and all the troubles that followed. My only hope of avoiding — more likely, postponing — my fate, was to take a medical leave of absence.

In a panic, I phoned my therapist and asked for a letter citing just such a need. I told her I was desperate. And to my surprise, my therapist said, “no.”

“I’m thinking you want me to give you this just to avoid being fired,” she said.

Well, duh. I mean, what was happening was clearly unfair. And I wasn’t just looking to avert the inevitable. I was rightfully frightened about my future.

It was the start of summer, when Wendy stopped getting paychecks from her job as a school teacher. My wife and kids were dependent on me until late September. How would I support my family? And I had just moved into my own apartment, my first in my true name, at considerable expense. How would I support myself?

“I’m at the end of my rope,” I told my therapist. “I can’t live if this happens.” She cast aside my pleas and my feelings of desperation, and told me I should go to an emergency room or call 911 if I “really” wanted help. Really? At that exact moment, I fired her, although it felt like she had already fired me.

And so I prepared to face the network firing squad.

It didn’t help boost my spirits that my wife blamed my situation on my transition, as if this path of self-destruction was the only possible outcome, and she let me know she still felt I was worth more to her dead than alive. I felt utterly and completely without value.

We had dinner as a family one last time. She then dropped me off at Union Station in Hartford for the train to New York.

It was raining, which covered up the tears streaming down my cheeks. I stepped up to the platform and dialed the number of a close friend and confidante who I had dubbed my Trans Jiminy Cricket for helping me throughout my tumultuous transition.

Getting no answer, I left a cryptic voicemail, saying goodbye, and stepped in front of the oncoming Amtrak train in an attempt to kill myself, once and forever.

I looked into the eyes of the motorman. The raindrops pelted my face. I closed my eyes and listened to the blaring train horn. It blotted out almost every sound, except one: that of my iPhone ringtone.

The shrill classic phone ring penetrated my contemplation of imminent death, the end to all suffering, and like a child tugging on the hem of my skirt, demanded I heed its call, to life.

10410235_10205381333592954_1886322810314400017_nIt was Maia, my Trans Jiminy Cricket, calling her Trans Pinnochio.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m standing on the tracks, waiting for the train to kill me. It’s coming.”

She didn’t mince words. “Get out of there,” Maia said.

She didn’t raise her sweet, sultry voice or beg or plead. She just told me matter of factly what to do, and waited on the line until I told her I did.

“Good. Now get on the train and I’ll call you right back in a few minutes. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Her calm demeanor made me feel calm; her unemotional but strong way of speaking settled me down.

Maia, like many of us, once considered ending it all. She lost her marriage and left their only child with her ex-wife, so she should live authentically. Maia told me God once spoke to her, and to her that was affirmation enough that this was the life she was meant to lead.

I was still waiting to hear from God, but in a few minutes time, I received a message from author and mentor Jenny Boylan on the train to New Haven. She had heard what I had attempted from Maia.

10245350_10203643378425161_4162073435877127621_n“Don’t do something stupid,” wrote Jenny, in that professorial parental tone millions of people have seen her use on the world’s most famous (and perhaps most politically stubborn) woman, Caitlyn Jenner.

She urged me to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. And so I did. I told the young woman on the other end of the line my story and what was driving me to end my life, and how I was basing my own value on how my wife perceived me.

“Well, you really can’t blame her,” said the woman who was trying to convince me my life was worth living. “She’s been through a lot and she’s being honest with you about her feelings.”

“Yes,” I said, “but I’d like to talk to you about my feelings, okay? Not hers.”

“I understand — Click!”

“Hello?!”

Yes, the Suicide Hotline hung up on me. No, not on purpose; a few minutes later my phone rang and I let it go to voicemail. When I checked it later I heard the young woman apologize for inadvertently hanging up on me.

“Please do call back, if you’re, um, still there.”

I was still there even though I decided to not call back. IMG_0569But I did dial 911, when I got to Times Square, because I found myself unable to leave the subway platform.

IMG_0570Train after train came and left. I watched as men and women of all ages and races and faces and places boarded and disembarked the number 1 local uptown and to The Bronx.

But all I could think was that train would take me to my apartment to spend the night awaiting my doom, and take me back here to Manhattan where my career would be pulverized into dust, my name disgraced and my professional life ended. If I left this platform that step would set in motion the events that would end my role as provider for my family.

I was, to put it mildly, distraught. My call brought the police, and the paramedics, who took me from the subway station… to Bellevue.

The official police terminology for my case is EDP: “emotionally disturbed person.” All those years hearing “EDP” on the police scanners in the newsroom, and in my dad’s home office, and now, I was the EDP.

It was the right call, even if Bellevue was the worst possible place to go. I wasn’t crazy, or insane. I was distraught and needed to get my head straight. But Bellevue? Imagine a holding place chock full of depressed, suicidal and unhinged men and women, stripped of their belongings and with no ability to reach the outside world, or even see it. No windows, no media, no phones, no nothing except beds, chairs and some very disturbed people.

1850_2014_06_09

IMG_1328

#TransIsBeautiful

The only thing they let me keep was a certain copy of Time magazine, with Laverne Cox on the cover. This was my own personal Transgender Tipping Point.

I wasn’t medicated or treated, just allowed to sleep (with the lights on) and to contemplate what had led me here and what might await me when… if… I were released.

After brief interviews with a psychologist and a psychiatrist and some calls to my doctors, wife and therapist, I was determined to be no danger to myself or others, and let go.

And I had been let go from my job, too, without a hearing. It had been a day: I missed the big meeting, I didn’t produce a letter requesting medical leave, and so I was terminated.

I responded to the official email with a proposal that we not bash each other in the media, and they agreed. And after they bashed me in the media — the Daily News quoted “an insider” — we entered into negotiations which, let’s just say, ended to my satisfaction.

All this taught me survival skills, and lessons you can put to use: first among them is that nothing is more important than my children. Had I gone through with suicide, my kids would be orphans now. As one of the 41 percent of trans people and gender non-conforming adults who consider or attempt suicide, I am aware many people are not as lucky as I am to have lived, or to have access to their children.

Second: it’s important is to not let others’ perceptions define who you are. I needed to learn to respect Wendy’s perspective and to determine my own. After a time, she did recant, and agreed the words — although they were just words — were not true. I regained her trust; Wendy came to see me as the woman I am, and even said she loved me, as the father of her children and her co-parent. Time healed the bitter wounds that had broken her heart.

Third was to reach out for help. Thanks to Chloe Schwenke, the late Rick Regan, Maia and Jenny, Susan and even Wendy, I survived these attempts, and got help to get past my acute depression. It took time. It got worse. But ultimately it did get better. And mental health counseling was part of that solution. It’s not something we should stigmatize, it’s something we as a society ought to look at as part of being healthy. I am grateful to those who helped me be the healthy person I am today.

And last was to not take myself so seriously. I found other jobs. We survived the summer from hell. I laughed at my own inability to end my life, and thanked God for such incompetence.

And despite the turmoil and media trashing, thanks to the hard work of attorney Jillian Weiss, I left on good terms with my former employer, and I’d recommend working for them if you’re given the opportunity. Better days hopefully lay ahead.

I wrote this not just in reflection of my birthday, or the fact that Easter is upon us with its message of renewal and resurrection from death, but with the recent suicide of a friend’s transgender son in mind. It is hard to contemplate how anyone can take their life, unless you’ve been there, until life is so unbearable that even death, and the thought of causing pain unto others, doesn’t matter to you. I pray you never experience it. And if you do, that you find someone to help you see that holding on just one more day is worthwhile.

A friend once told me, you don’t need to win the fight. Just remember when you’re knocked down to get back up, one more time… and to do that every time you are knocked down. Because you will be, and the only way to finish the fight is to keep getting up.

I pray for those who couldn’t, and for those left wondering… why.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

“…Hear Me Roar.”

12821493_10208792403027558_5242682184660530926_nA conversation I recently had with a woman who is a prominent author and, to me, a mentor as well as friend, turned from politics to our families to what is widely referred to as “the transgender community.”

I revealed to her something I told her would cause the earth to stop spinning on its axis, something I’ve never said publicly or written about. It’s not a confession, and it’s not something I am ashamed to say. I am expecting, however, I will be excoriated for this. So why say it? Because it’s necessary, now more than ever.

Ultra conservative bigots and zealots have forced my hand. So, too, have the internet trolls who envy my meager accomplishments to the point where criticism crosses the line into jealous rage and unjustifiable attacks. Gays and lesbians who see our fight for transgender civil rights as expendable, as unworthy of their investment, as someone else’s fight, have led me to redefine something that took me years to say to myself, and then to the world.

And most of all, an Olympian who turned her transition into a television spectacle, then found her harshest critics to be people like her — once they learned she was nothing like them — inadvertently inspired me to shout this from the virtual mountaintop, following our headline-generating face to face meeting high above Xanadu, I mean, Malibu.

She told me what she was doing was what made her happy and what helped the transgender community. And she made it clear, she meant to say that it in that order.

So, here it is what I have to say:

I no longer consider myself transgender.

I am a woman.

I’m not a woman in the same way a woman who lived her whole life seen as female, who experienced all the physical ramifications of being raised and growing up and living and loving and everything else female. Instead, I’m a woman in the way that I am. And that’s good enough for me.

12193588_10207941190067766_7495211278931430460_nI live and have lived every day as the woman I am. I care for my children, I mourn my spouse, I do my job, I clean my house, I buy and wear my clothes and shop for things and pay my bills and walk and talk and eat and even use the bathroom as the woman I am.

I work out, shower and change in the ladies locker room. My legal documents and medical records all carry an F for female. Those records include a decade of mammograms and visits to a gynecologist. I’ve lactated and I’ve nursed. I’ve been intimate with a man.

I did not do any of those things as someone transgender; I’m a woman. Can’t you hear me roar?

My voice is actually one of my least favorite qualities, but what matters, truly, is not what’s physical but what’s mental. Our brain is where our gender is, not between our legs.

Of course, you have every right to call me trans, even to say, “she’s no woman!” I would prefer you respect my choice of feminine pronouns if you’re going to deliberately misidentify me, please. But even that is beyond my control. And as my friend Cristan Williams of Transadvocate.com reminded me, despite my preference, I can’t escape being part of the trans political class whether I like it or not.

The only control I have is over how I present to the world who I am. And I’ve come to the realization that calling myself “transgender” isn’t accurate in the same way I don’t refer to myself as “former college student” or “former child model.” Both are true, but seldom relevant to my everyday existence.

I do recognize that to many, maybe even you, I’m still transgender, and the word “formerly” just doesn’t fit. Well, I do recognize that thanks to Google and the tabloids, the word “transgender” will forever be linked to my name, as well as the name I was given at birth. Yes, I transitioned from presenting in the male gender to my authentic gender, female. That doesn’t mean I must carry some kind of Trans ID card. If I had such a thing, I’d turn it in.

11148749_10206741616079166_24414663650444194_nMy recent work for The Advocate, where I was the first transgender editor on staff, reinforced in my mind on a daily basis that I was trans. It wasn’t ordered, but I felt it was akin to a job requirement to represent the transgender voice in our work. Thankfully, I was hardly alone in providing that perspective. Yet it was impossible to separate myself as I have, ever since beginning life as a work-from-home mom whose kids call her “Dad.”

Now, I’m living a totally different reality. I am Mrs. Ennis, the woman of the house, a widow raising three children all alone. I earn next to nothing, but thanks to generous friends and neighbors, state assistance as well as a few odd jobs and part-time work from The Advocate, we aren’t starving. And I’ve made finding a new full-time job my new full-time job.

But every time I fill out a new job application, trust me when I say there’s no space to enter “transgender,” and I would not if there were. Because that’s not how I feel about me. And perhaps if more of us were to say to those who oppose our civil rights, “You can’t oppress me, I’m a woman!” Or conversely, “I’m a man!” it would then change the dialogue from “religious freedom” to discriminate to a matter of self-determination.

This is an argument rooted in our American history: our right to liberty, equality, and to self-determination.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And all women, as guaranteed by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Just as women like Susan B. Anthony and so many others fought for suffrage, I demand my equal rights. Not special rights, nor tolerance, is what I’m after. I expect nothing short of acceptance, and equality, in hiring, housing, and all matters of business and public accommodations. I don’t want separate bathrooms any more than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X favored rest rooms, drinking fountains and lunch counters for “colored people.” Don’t mistake my analogy as equating the civil rights battles for people of color with the oppressed members of the LGBT community; they are separate and while analogous, very different struggles that need to be respected on their own merits.

What I wish would happen, though, is that more Americans would see that discriminating against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women and gender non-conforming individuals is just as wrong as that terrible time in which skin color determined destiny. Sad to say, we haven’t even truly escaped that time. Sadder still, women earn only a percentage of what a man makes in 2016 America. And statistics on domestic violence show one in three women are victims of some sort of physical violence: an American woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds.

With those kinds of stats, why would anyone want to be a woman? Well, I didn’t decide to become one; I decided to stop pretending I wasn’t one. And you’ll have to take my word that finally living as the woman I am is a superior existence to a lifetime pretending to be a man.

Today I stand proudly as a woman, even if I am one who was assigned male at birth, and I don’t ask that you recognize me as one.

Because I am, and that is enough.

A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

Plan B from Inner Space

balda_alps_clouds_sunriseI’m scared.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not “terrified, freaking out, what the hell?!?” kind of scared. 91125

Not “uh oh, the fuel gauge is on E, I wasn’t paying attention and there are no gas stations for miles, only the sounds of banjos playing” kind of scared.

Not “where did I leave my baby/dog/keys/purse/eyeglasses” kind of scared (but don’t you just HATE when that happens?).

Not “the test is today and I didn’t study” kind of scared.

Not “I can’t for the life of me remember what I was supposed to do and I’m in trouble for forgetting” kind of scared.

ed3b324e35788ff7f7b246d5285ee8b8Not “Freddy Krueger is in the house and I’m hiding in a room with only one way out and no closet nor windows” kind of scared.

Not even “I’m watching the original Poseidon Adventure movie and I’m 8 years old and I’ve only seen Disney movies with princesses and talking animals” kind of scared.

pa

(That’s a real thing by the way. I’m talking nightmares. for weeks).

So, back to my point: I’m scared but not for the seven reasons named above or anything relatively ordinary.

I am scared because for the second time in one year, I find myself without a plan. No Plan A, nor a Plan B.

So don’t even ask me about Plan C. Ain’t happening.

As Commander Adama used to say on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (man, I miss that show), when he wanted a very brief explanation of everything in short order and just the highlights: “SITREP!” That’s short for Situation Report.
bsg_chars_william-adama_01_web
The fact he doesn’t even bother saying all the syllables and just barks “SITREP” always impressed me. I thought, “That is so cool. Like a BOSS! Just says two syllables and everybody stops to give the old man the low down. Cool.”
So here’s my “SITREP:”
  • I need a full-time job and a place to live (in that order, preferably).
  • My unemployment money is running out, probably right around February 14th. Valentine’s Day.
  • I have already moved five times in 20 months: first to Danbury, then back to West Hartford to convalesce after a seizure, and then back to Danbury, then to East Haven…connecticut_map
  • Then, last summer I moved to The Bronx(it’s at the top of the map; you know, “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down!” No? Fuggedaboudit)…
2010june_mtamap
  • And now I am in Marietta, Georgia.
2000px-Map_of_USA_GA.svg
  • My roommate here in Georgia, who took me in after I realized I could no longer afford a New York City apartment without a New York City salary, is moving out. Our lease is up February 14th. Once again, Valentine’s Day. And that’s fitting, because she’s in love, which is wonderful. She and her boyfriend are moving in together, and I’m very happy for them.
  • So, her moving out of this spacious two bedroom furnished apartment means I am, too. I don’t earn enough to afford the rent by myself, I didn’t find anyone to be a roommate and, frankly, it’s a little too dark here for my tastes. But it was home.
  • And now I’m not sure where to go. My dream is to go to my real home. Where my kids live, with their mom.
She’s the reason I don’t live there now, and she’s the reason I had to leave our home on May 1, 2013. I didn’t want to. But I certainly wasn’t about to kick the mother of my children to the curb, and she couldn’t live with me as I am.
And I am living as I am. There is no going back, no more than you’d ask a butterfly to wear a cocoon because you liked her the way she used to be. butterfly_PNG1056
I’m blessed to have had offers of help, a room, a couch, some money, and prayers which mean more to me than anything.
But I need to find a job. As much as I know I have to find a place to live, I must find some kind of job before the benefits run out and a bad situation gets worse.
A few hours ago, I got a text about my youngest son, age 8. He opened the fridge door and asked his mother, “where’s all the food? You need to go get some. I’m hungry!”
His mother didn’t share this to make me cry, but how could I not? My little boy is hungry and sees clearly that we don’t have what we used to. We’ve made it this far on the generosity of friends, through trips to the food bank and the occasional paychecks I collect for doing my two part-time jobs, and from her jobs as a teacher in a public school and at our Sunday school.
This cannot continue. I cannot draw money from our severely limited funds to rent another apartment, and  yet I know returning to our humble home will make life difficult for at least one of us in this strained, almost 19 year marriage. That, too, must end (once we can afford a divorce), because the butterfly must go on flapping its wings. rclrs
Last night, I dreamed I was that free, to fly where I wished. I was nothing special, and yet that made me feel so wonderful: I was welcome in the clouds among the flying things that didn’t care whether I could always fly, or had just learned how to.
I dreamed of soaring over the heads of my children, seeing them looking up at me, laughing, filled with joy, my own face grinning at their smiling faces, and knowing the love they felt for me could rise up into the sky to touch my faraway heart.
I dreamed that this was not a dream, but a wish fulfilled. One that allowed me to descend into a careful, deliberate and smooth flightpath, sticking the landing in a wonderful hangar where I could do what I do best.
With my wings, I painted on a blank, electronic canvas all sorts of fanciful ideas and songs and spiritual, soul-enriching concepts, which in turn filled a cauldron of edible emotions and fermented barrels of liquid ecstasy, as a calliope of words filled the air.
And when I awoke, it was not with a bright smile, but to face a dark truth: I do not have a safe place to land. I cannot fly where I wish, and I am not accepted in the way I wish I could be.
Most importantly, and to the point of why I am so very, very scared: I do not know what to do next. I can’t stay. I can’t go home. I don’t know where else to go if not home. I can’t get my bearings, and damnit, I need to find my bearings.
“A good producer always has a Plan B,” I often said. “And a really good producer has a Plan C, too.” I can easily hear my old voice saying those words, over and over in my 30 year career in the broadcast television news business. I was a good producer. But right now, fuggedaboudit: I don’t even have a Plan A.
What shall I do?
On Sunday, I received a priest’s blessing (I’m a recovering Irish Catholic). The week before I did penance, after making my confession. I’m all ears, God. Anytime now, Let me have it! I’m here… okay, ready! Are you there, God?
god_margaret
[CRICKETS]
Sigh. Must be talking to Margaret again.
Well, for right now, my plan is to go to bed.
To sleep, perchance to dream (oooh! I so wish I could take credit for that!)  and to wake up tomorrow giving thanks for another day.
Like Bonnie Hunt, I guess I just have to take this One Day At A Time.gty_bonnie_franklin_ll_130301_wmain
And maybe, in a few days, maybe I’ll find out whether dreams really can come true.
High_Above_The_Clouds_by_AllyBear24

The Worst Father of All Time

NO, the title of today’s entry does not refer to me or anyone I know. Except maybe in the “biblical sense” of the word.

Today I’m using my blog to share with you an excerpt from a book written by a friend, “What’s In It For Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.” Now, before you roll your eyes or start thinking I now believe I’m on a mission from God, or that this is an advertisement for Christianity, bear with me: no, I’m no missionary and this is the farthest thing from an ad for the Church.

It could be construed as an ad for my rabbi.

10559922_10152655754749451_5307532620442114423_n

As you may know, I’m not Jewish except for that part of me that I share with every New York native in which I know just enough Yiddish to have a conversation with my bubbe, and my license to use the word, “Oy” is still valid. I am married to a Jewish woman, 18 years next month, which is a very lucky number in Judaism. “Chai” it’s called, and that’s pronounced “ZSCHZCH-hi” as if you mean to spit, not in my direction if you don’t mind. And we are raising three beautiful children as observant Jews in the Reform tradition.

Okay, except for my daughter (whose name is of Greek origin), the boys’ names are not so much Jewish. BUT there are Irish Jews, even in Ireland, and before we had children my bride and I visited just such a synagogue and were warmly received.

I call him “my rabbi” even though I have no plans and never did to convert. I am Roman Catholic and continue to practice my faith, even if Church doctrine doesn’t recognize me as a Catholic in good faith — since I am transgender. I figure if Pope Francis can be so non-judgmental on gays and divorced Catholics, he might come around some day. Until then, my family is very active in our synagogue and have been since joining Congregation Beth Israel a decade ago.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs officiated at our youngest son’s brit, and has taught our two oldest in Hebrew School. He’s aware of both our interfaith marriage and that I am trans, and is one of my strongest allies and supporters. Our only disagreement in a decade was over an OpEd in which he opined that Hanukkah is a minor holiday “just like St. Patrick’s Day,” which triggered a blustery letter to the editor from me defending this significant day on the calendar of my Irish heritage (and our love of Hanukkah). Out of respect for each other’s views and in keeping with the tradition of reconciliation, we have allowed this gaping wound to heal.

Now, on the Hebrew calendar we are approaching a time known to Jews as The High Holy Days, their most important and most solemn days of the year. First up is Rosh Hashanah, next week, followed by Yom Kippur, and the beginning of a New Year. It is a time of reflection for Jewish people, and since Jesus and his mom and dad here on earth were Jews, I figure it’s worth understanding even for Christians and others who revere Jesus.

Rabbi Fuchs has been blogging excerpts from his book, now on sale on Amazon, and today’s entry is about what I have called The Worst Father of All Time. That is being heavy handed, admittedly, since Abraham did not in fact murder his son, he only planned to do so, and God knows a lot of parents have muttered something like “I want to kill that kid” at one time or another. But if not Abraham, who is the Worst Father of All Time? Here’s a guy who agrees to sacrifice his only son — a boy that he and his wife struggled mightily to conceive and bring into the world. I’ve been very strict with my kids but I can’t recall ever considering human sacrifice as an appropriate punishment.

Close. But I am nothing if not a typical Irish hothead who blows her top and then cools just as quickly.

So take a few minutes as Rabbi Fuchs takes us through the Torah or Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, and think about why something like this is even in the bible. It sounds about as relevant as the legalization of polygamy in the time of Moses. But you might see things differently after reading this excerpt which also includes the tragic story of a young British singer who fell from the height of stardom to poverty, self abuse and ultimately, death.

The rabbi begins with an introduction from Europe, where he and his lovely wife are spending ten weeks as he gives talks and tours Germany. Thanks!

As I sit here in Germany, site of the horrific human sacrifices that forever changed the course of our people’s and all of human history during the Shoah, I think of the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) that we read in a few days from the Torah on Rosh Hashanah. I feel many people completely misunderstand the story’s vital message. I hope this excerpt from my just released book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives enables the story to speak directly to us.

Perhaps Scripture’s most puzzling and profound stories is the near sacrifice of Isaac. How, we wonder, could God ask such a thing? How could Abraham agree? Why does Abraham, who stood up to God and protested mightily on behalf of the strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, not object when God instructs him: “Take your son…whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Genesis 22:3).

The answer is that after his argument with God over Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham knew God was just and knew that he could trust the Almighty even when God asked him to do something seemingly unthinkable: Sacrifice his own son. Some interpreters assert that by taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, Abraham failed God’s test. Others opine that while he might have been a great religious leader, he was a failure as a father to Isaac and a husband to Sarah. How else, they ask, could a good man be willing to sacrifice his own son? I contend, respectfully, they miss the point.

Human sacrifice was the principal scourge of the pagan world to which the new covenantal religion objected. The new religion that evolved into Judaism completely rejected human sacrifice. It is that horrific practice, which, I submit, the story of the Binding of Isaac decries. In beckoning Abraham to Mount Moriah to slay his son, but staying his hand, God sends a message that humanity still struggles with today. No civilized religion can accept human sacrifice in its name. From the ancient world out of which the covenant emerged, to the Spartans of ancient Greece, the Incas, Aztecs, Mayan, and Hawaiian civilizations of other hemispheres, pagan religion has always involved human sacrifice.

Indeed, a serious student of the Bible understands that the perceived efficacy of this horrific form of human behavior was difficult to uproot from the mindset of the ancient Hebrews as well. No fewer than fifteen times does the Hebrew Bible protest human sacrifice or cast it in a shameful light. Does a parent ever tell a child not to do something fifteen times when the parent has no worry whatsoever that the child will do that thing in the first place? Of course, not!

No biblical story illustrates how difficult it was to convince our ancestors that human sacrifice was an abomination better than the story of Mesha, King of Moab (ca. 850 BCE). Mesha had paid tribute to King Ahab of Israel, but rebelled after Ahab’s death. In the ensuing battle, the Israelites were routing the Moabite forces until (in the words of the Israelite biblical author), “Seeing that the battle was going against him, the King of Moab…took his firstborn son and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to their own land” (2 Kings 3:25-27). The point of this amazing story is that the biblical author clearly believed that Mesha’s act of human sacrifice is what turned the tide of battle in his favor.

When we evaluate the revolution in human thought that the God of the Hebrew Bible represents, I contend that the absolute rejection of human sacrifice is even more significant than the insistence on one God as opposed to many gods and the rejection of idol worship!

Critics of Abraham’s behavior in the story of the Binding of Isaac point out that God never again addressed Abraham directly after the incident. So what? This does not change the reality that Abraham remained God’s active covenantal partner until the end of his days. His acts of covenantal responsibility at the end of hislife were every bit as significant as those earlier in his covenantal career.

Why did God ask such a thing of Abraham? And why was Abraham willing to do it? God and Abraham had a unique relationship, which illustrated a brand new way of experiencing God to the world. Unlike the pagan gods, God in the Torah is not simply a force to appease. Rather, God is the source of moral and ethical values that brought a much higher level of civil thinking to the world. One of the vilest aspects of the pagan world was human sacrifice. It is befitting, then, that God and God’s unique covenantal partner, Abraham, should present a dramatic demonstration to the world that human sacrifice should never occur. That is why God could ask Abraham to do the unthinkable. That is why Abraham, who protested so forcefully for the sake of strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, so willingly complied with God’s request.

Suppose for a moment a parent called me and said, “Rabbi, you will not be seeing Petunia in religious school anymore because this morning, God told me to take her to the mountains and offer her as a sacrifice.” Naturally, I would do everything possible to convince the parent that the voice he or she heard was not that of God. Moreover, I would do everything, including notifying the police, to stop him or her from doing this.

Of course, the scenario I just proposed is absurd. Nevertheless, we have yet to learn not to sacrifice our children. It happens all the time. It happens each time we send our children to fight wars over conflicts that could better be settled by negotiation. It happens each time we force our children into pursuits or professions to satisfy our own ego’s needs. It happens every time we overwhelm our children with pressure to succeed, never letting them feel that they are good enough.

The great British entertainer Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999) is a case in point. Born on the tiny Scottish Isle of Bute, Lena Zavaroni was an amazing musical talent with a magnificent voice and boundless charisma and charm. As a little girl, her aunt whisked her off to London to pursue fame and fortune. She achieved both in spades. By the time she was ten years old, she had appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, toured Japan, and sung for Queen Elizabeth and President Gerald Ford. By the end of her teenage years, she had starred in three successful British TV variety series. She was the highest-paid entertainer in the United Kingdom. View her YouTube video clips. She was amazing.

Ah, but when she was still a young girl, people began to tell her that she looked a bit pudgy. To make a long, sad story short, Lena Zavaroni⎯once the richest teenager in the world, adored by millions⎯died broke and penniless from complications of anorexia at age thirty-five.

Beautiful, precious Lena Zavaroni was every bit as much a human sacrifice as Jephtha’s daughter (and the rabbis of the Midrash condemn Jephtha as a fool) in Chapter 11 of the book of Judges. Every time I watch her sing, I want to reach into the computer screen, hug her and promise, “I won’t let anyone hurt you!” But it is a promise I could never make, let alone keep. And Lena Zavaroni, who appeared thinner and thinner with each passing year of her young life, is just one of millions of examples of horrific human sacrifice we have offered throughout the centuries and continue to offer today.

Yet many contemporary rabbis and others bemoan the fact that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. They just don’t get it! They just don’t get that God and Abraham tried to teach the world a vital lesson⎯a lesson we still have not learned.
Rabbi-Fuchs-bookcover-300x228