Dear Readers, Please Don’t Send Me Your Anti-Vaxxer Narishkeit

To those of you who have tried to enlighten me about the dangers of vaccinations since my last post – you are wasting your time. As to the email I woke up to this morning beseeching me to watch a 1 1/2 hour video of complete bs, I can’t bring myself to sit through that, even for the purpose of educating myself on the misinformation being spread about vaccines.
 
I know better than to argue with anyone brainwashed by this bunk, so I’m not even going to try. The only thing I can do is attempt to keep myself and my family safe from the total misguided ignorance of those who think they know better than medical professionals in this matter.
 
There is now a confirmed measles case in Chicago. The victim was a baby who had received their first measles vaccine on schedule, right before traveling to Lakewood. There, they were exposed to someone with measles. Although the child had just gotten vaccinated, it takes a few weeks for the vaccine to kick in. As such, the child wasn’t protected when they were unexpectedly exposed to the disease. Most parents are unaware that the vaccination is not immediately effective, and we haven’t had to be aware since measles was thought to be virtually eradicated.
 
The child returned to Chicago and their daycare (they had no symptoms yet but were contagious), exposing a number of other young babies to measles. Now all those babies are under quarantine for 2 weeks with terrified families. I know because my husband is fielding calls from some families for advice on what to do and what to look for. Shuls and schools are worried and have had to issue warnings about exposure from the child and other potentially exposed children who were out in the community before the case was confirmed.
 
The woman who runs the daycare has to pay a professional cleaning service to sanitize her home and worry for her own family. She also must be losing at least 2 weeks worth of income.
These are people who are all victims of the anti-vaccination movement. Every single person affected in Chicago so far has been a vaccinating family put at risk by people who have chosen not to vaccinate.
Now, everyone is just holding their breath that none of the other babies come down with measles and that the infant who does have it will be alright.
 
Also, those of you trying to argue with me about the safety of vaccinations might not have read the part of my post about my son being immunosuppressed after a recent bone marrow transplant. The transplant effectively wiped out all the vaccinations he has gotten since birth. He has to get them all again on a controlled schedule when his immune system has reconstituted itself to hang onto them.
 
His doctor has assured us that a case of measles would be life-threatening for my son, and he can’t get the live measles vaccine until 2 years post-transplant because it could trigger graft vs host disease. He is counting on herd immunity, which means other citizens doing the responsible thing and getting vaccinated!
 
If there is a larger outbreak in Chicago we might have to consider moving back near his hospital out of state until things die down in the Chicagoland epicenter. This will disrupt my son’s life even more than it has been. We have already been away from home for 6 months earlier this year and things are finally returning to a semblance of normal, even though he still can’t go to school or be around lots of kids or crowds.
 

A Facebook friend gave this to her physician husband for Chanukah, and I thought it was quite apropos for this time in cultural history. My own pediatrician husband could use the same mug too.

HT Alex Fleksher

Sorry, but you picked the wrong person to preach to about not vaccinating. I wish all of you and yours luck being vaccine free. If any of you live in a frum community, you’re going to need it, as this outbreak isn’t dying out anytime soon – especially with the upcoming Yeshiva week winter break where travel, mixing and mingling are on the agenda for many families.
 
G-dspeed to us all.
 
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Akeres Habayis Hotline and P.E.A.C.H Spread Dangerous Anti-Vaccination Rhetoric To Orthodox Women

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I don’t post all that often anymore, and that’s for a few reasons. However, the most prominent reason is that I’ve been busy for the last two years with a family situation that has taken almost every ounce of energy I have and also changed my outlook on life in a profound way. My youngest son has been battling a virulent form of leukemia, called AML, for the last two years. After a first go around with this disease, after which he was declared to be in remission for one year, he relapsed again. Earlier this year, he underwent a bone marrow transplant, and once again (thank G-d!), has been in remission for the past six months.

No matter how great, energetic, or “normal” he looks and feels, we have spent the past few months keeping him in as much of a bubble as possible until his immune system fully reconstitutes itself, hopefully by the spring or summer of 2019. Until then, he is unable to go to school, shul, crowded indoor places, or anywhere there are young children who tend to get runny noses and not follow the best hygiene practices. This means he hasn’t seen his beloved younger cousins for months, and quite frankly, neither have the rest of us in the immediate family. All of us who live with him must be very careful not to put ourselves in situations where we could be exposed to contagious people and inadvertently bring illness back to my child. We were particularly warned by our doctors about being careful this winter because of the flu and other contagious viruses going around. My son currently has very little immunity against viruses.

Imagine our dismay when we got word that measles, a horrible viral disease that had just about been eradicated from the United States, began appearing in Orthodox Israeli communities. In the last few weeks alone, an 18-month-old unvaccinated baby died, and a father and his infected unvaccinated six-year-old son exposed dozens of newborns at Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak, where they had to ban all children from the facility until the threat cleared.

As the Orthodox world is a small one, and all interconnected, with members traveling the globe to each epicenter and back, an outbreak in one geographical location means every geographical location is at risk. Yeshiva World News has been publishing updates on all of the latest outbreak locations since this became a crisis. Lakewood, Rockland County, Brooklyn, Passaic, and Detroit have all reported active cases of measles. Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland, and other Orthodox communities across America are revising their school policies requiring vaccinations for admittance and attendance. Unvaccinated children are being told that they cannot return to school until this current outbreak has run its course, and the goal for many is not to readmit unvaccinated students at all. Parents with vaccinated children are in an uproar over the revelation that their kids have been attending schools with unprotected children.

Vox published an article and the accompanying CDC graphic below to illustrate the numbers of outbreaks in recent years, and the Orthodox community features prominently

Measles_cases__2_

The exclusion of unvaccinated students from day schools has caused a rift in many Orthodox communities. These are communities where there are anti-vaxxers fighting vocally against the current backlash, who believe that vaccines are responsible for any variety of childhood afflictions. Many seem to view physicians as little more than sheisters in the back pockets of big pharmaceutical companies, creating “cash cows” out of kids whose families pay for shots that will ensure their children will be repeat customers due to the damage vaccinations cause.

As a “medical mom” who has had more than my fair share of contact with physicians about the care of my son (not to mention all of my other children over the years), I simply can’t fathom this attitude. I know that I have a perspective that most moms (thankfully) don’t have. However, I have seen such heroic efforts on behalf of my child. I have been privileged to meet researchers who have devoted their entire lives to curing pediatric cancer. If vaccines were causing all of the terrible childhood illnesses still suffered today, these selfless people would be the first lobbying Washington and shouting from the rooftops to stop vaccinating! Honestly, I think they could only wish that the answer to some of these resistant illnesses were reactions to vaccines. That would make the cure so simple. Sadly, the human body is a complex thing, and the answers are usually never so obvious, nor easy to fix.

Being the curious cat that I am, I wanted to know where frum parents were getting their misinformation from. I was not aware of any open movement in my own community against vaccinating, I only knew that there were nameless random families that came up with this aversion perhaps through Google searches, or books, or because a diagnosis of some sort had befallen their own family that convinced them of a link between the disorder and their child’s vaccinations. I also knew that there were a few poskim who hold the view that vaccines are dangerous, and that the illnesses vaccinations are meant to prevent are more benign than the vaccines themselves. However, it seemed like this attitude had spread beyond a few families and turned into a movement.

How is the paranoia about vaccines being spread?

Like most movements, being an anti-vaxxer requires communal support and validation. The Orthodox anti-vaxxer movement is no exception. Through my online reading, I found out about an organization called P.E.A.C.H,  or Parents Teaching and Advocating for Children’s Health. This is an organization that devotes itself to spreading fear against vaccinations to Orthodox Jewish mothers, convincing them that they are causing harm to their children by allowing pediatricians to vaccinate. This organization has put out several booklets and articles in Jewish magazines.

 

The articles I found were actually paid advertisements in a publication called Tachlis magazine. The issues are a few years old, so I don’t know if the magazine is still in publication, but it was very glossy and professional looking. Here are some samples from its pages of the misinformation and fear-mongering P.E.A.C.H is spreading

They also run a hotline, which used to be called the PEACH Hotline, but now it’s called the Akeres Habayis Hotline. Hidden among the Chanukah recipes and life coaching tips is a section that educates Jewish mothers on “the truth about vaccines.” Akeres Habayis has a Facebook account with 1,457 friends, mostly mothers from all walks of Orthodox life. The Facebook account, much like the P.E.A.C.H organization, is run by someone (or a few people) hiding behind a pseudonym. There were a number of videos posted from speaking engagements at Chabad-Lubavitch of Markham in Ontario Candada, although that doesn’t mean that they authorize or sponsor P.E.A.C.H or the Ateres Habayis hotline. Although I couldn’t find any current reference to the hotline under the name of P.E.A.C.H, the advertisement at the back of the P.E.A.C.H Vaccine Safety Handbook lists the Akeres Habayis number as the P.E.A.C.H Hotline number.

An old thread from a 2014 imamother.com post discussed this very issue of a link between P.E.A.C.H and the Ateres Habayis hotline. The poster suggests that the hotline is unaware of the damage that they are doing by sharing P.E.A.C.H sponsored information and providing a social network for anti-vaxxers to support each other in their unpopular beliefs.

When you call the hotline you have to first listen to an advertisement for Shaklee Vitamins, then press 6, then press 4 to hear the “truth about vaccines” and it gives several different options. Option 1 is to hear over 140 lectures on why parents shouldn’t vaccinate – the first lecture was from a pediatrician!! I am dismayed that this hotline seems to have such a wide reach in the frum community. Especially for women who don’t use the internet, this hotline is like a “Telephone Facebook.” It’s packed with loads of information that would be of interest to Orthodox women, particularly in local New York communities. There are phone conferences where women can speak on any number of topics, and a place where women can record messages that are kind of like voice “letters to the editor” regarding previous lectures or conference calls. It’s actually a pretty amazing service, and most of the content is completely benign, which lent all the more legitimacy to the anti-vaccination rhetoric being spewed in their health section.

I am flabberghasted and so worried about the future health of our communities. I think it’s important to know what is motivating people behind the anti-vaccination movement, and how we can counter false science and correct faulty facts. We need to know that there is an entire underground movement of Orthodox parents, primarily mothers, who are being given information that could negatively impact not only their own families but the entire Orthodox community at large. If they knew the danger they were causing to kids, like my own son, who have compromised immune systems, young babies too young to vaccinate, pregnant women, older people with lower immunity, and people who got vaccinated long ago and no longer have full immunity, surely they would want to do their part to keep the community safe by vaccinating their children.



The Yanny/Laurel Debate and The Miracle of Shavuos

As a Jew living in the 21st Century, it’s hard to imagine that any proclamations made today outlining new Jewish laws incumbent upon us, even if uttered by the greatest gedolim of our generation or Gd him/herself, would ever be unequivocally accepted by Klal Yisroel and subsequently passed down to each new generation.

We live during a time where no singular truth is accepted by all. This refers to the truth proposed by rabbis of our generation, but also to the truth of Gd’s laws – at least in the sense that our individual interpretations of Gd’s words are what become our truth – even if the meanings we ascribe to the words of Torah aren’t universally accepted as such.

We all hear what we want to hear in 2018. Nothing could showcase this more than the current raging online debate of Yanny vs. Laurel. Some people listening to a computerized voice hear it say the name “Yanny,” while others distinctively hear the voice say “Laurel.” Each side of the spectrum is convinced that they are correct and can’t imagine that someone else could hear something that should be completely obvious (the obvious being whatever they heard).

This highlights what a miracle it was that Gd’s thunderings during Matan Torah were given and understood in every language known to the world (I believe 70 in total). Today we cannot even hear 2 words and agree, yet when Gd gave us the Torah we all heard his pronouncements with complete clarity – a feat even Google Translate has yet to accomplish.

It seems to me that one of our tasks today is to get back to that level of understanding. Not an understanding that we all necessarily agree upon – obviously the different factions of Jews walked away from Matan Torah with various interpretations of the same laws, as evidenced by the many different legitimate Jewish communities we have today.

Rather, the understanding I refer to is the common understanding that we can all be following the same Torah, yet be attuned to slightly different nuances and frequencies that are legitimately present. We can be “Yannys” or “Laurels” and still all be right. The miracle of Shavuos wasn’t just the giving of the Torah, but the giving of mutual understanding and respect.

May we merit to get back to such a place in the coming year.

Modern Orthodox Publications and Haredi Advertisers – Between A Rock and a Hard Place

The latest uproar in the saga of Women vs. Orthodox Jewish Media is taking place in the Modern Orthodox publication the North Jersey Jewish Link. The NJ Jewish Link serves a large and thriving Modern Orthodox community and has always featured photos of women and girls in its publication. In it’s current issue, however, it allowed a travel company to place an advertisement for a Pesach getaway that showed full colored photographs of all of the male speakers and entertainers, but showed a witness protection outline of the one female speaker, Lori Palatnik (a very popular international speaker, writer, and educator who is regularly featured on television, radio, and Youtube videos).

While there are people who are saying, blame the advertiser not the publication, the publication allowed such an advertisement to be printed. Modern Orthodox publications have the right to set advertising guidelines, just as the Haredi publications do. It is up to the Modern Orthodox media to take a stand against this type of discrimination and not give it a platform – even if it means losing advertising dollars! For a long time now, many savvy companies wanting to advertise in Orthodox Jewish media have been making two copies of advertisements, one copy including women and another copy not including women, so that they can advertise in all of the different Jewish publications. Of course, that costs extra money and time. Now, they have been given the green light to only make advertisements without women’s images, which will be sufficient for use in both Modern Orthodox and Haredi publications everywhere. This makes it cheaper and more efficient to erase women!

WARNING – SCOPE CREEP SIGHTING AHEAD!

Advertisers in Modern Orthodox Jewish publications need to be told that they can’t place ads that alter women’s images, use outlines/cartoons/objects/babies/children to represent them, or leave out their photos where their male peers’ photos are used! The NJ Jewish Link and all other Modern Orthodox publications need to create an equal policy for how men and women are represented, even in their advertisements.  If they can’t survive without the money from Haredi advertisers, then they need to insist that men be given the same treatment in the ads. They will not run copy with women blurred out, made into a cartoon, a child,  profiled in silhouette, or an outline – unless the men receive the same treatment. Blur out everyone or blur out no one. Exclude all human photos or exclude no one.

Here’s the problem – publications feel like they are between a rock and a hard place. If they push back on the kind of content advertisers can submit, they risk losing those precious dollars, plus angering those with extra “sensitivities” regarding women’s photos for being anti-Haredi. If they publish advertisements like the one above, they risk angering their readership – the very audience their publications are meant to serve.

However, women against erasing women face a similar quandry. For example, Mishpacha Magazine’s news editor Binyamin Rose, in a 2015 Haaretz interview said – 

“This is how we avoid the objectification of women,” Rose answers to me in an earlier meeting. “Our policy is that we do not alter pictures as they are. If there is a woman in a photograph, we’ll simply use another picture.”

If you look at the Haredi press, the preponderance of their articles and event coverage focuses on men. If you can’t use pictures of women, and pictures are an important method of enhancing the impact of an article, it makes sense to avoid the problem all together by not writing about women – either as individuals, groups, or any entity that they are largely involved in. It’s simply easier to exclude women altogether than worry about what accompanying graphic to use alongside an article – especially when women are so touchy these days about having their pictures pixelized or being represented by a bunch of flowers! So making a stink gets women excluded and erased even more.

In the case of the Pesach program above – there is only one woman out of nine presenters – and that is a coup in and of itself! I haven’t done any research, and I’m certainly not a regular Pesach getaway vacationer, but most of the program flyers I’ve seen either don’t have women speakers at all, or maybe only one, such as the program advertised in the NJ Jewish Link.

There was a fascinating Time magazine article this January called, How Diversity Training Infuriates Men and Fails Women. The article talks about how when men feel like they are being scolded or being called racist or sexist, any prejudices they do harbor actually increase and they end up feeling like a victim of unfair judgement. Not only does this type of training not help to reverse discrimination by men in power, it actually perpetuates and reinforces it. For example:

“Perhaps more to the point is the fact that the training infuriates the people it’s intended to educate: white men. “Many interpreted the key learning point as having to walk on eggshells around women and minorities–choosing words carefully so as not to offend. Some surmised that it meant white men were villains, still others assumed that they would lose their jobs to minorities and women, while others concluded that women and minorities were simply too sensitive,” executives Rohini Anand and Mary-Frances Winters noted in a 2008 analysis of diversity training in the Academy of Management Learning & Education.

Training done badly can also damage otherwise cordial relationships. Women and minorities often leave training sessions thinking their co-workers must be even more biased than they had previously imagined. In a more troubling development, it turns out that telling people about others’ biases can actually heighten their own. Researchers have found that when people believe everybody else is biased, they feel free to be prejudiced themselves. In one study, a group of managers was told that stereotypes are rare, while another group was told that stereotypes are common. Then both groups were asked to evaluate male and female job candidates. The managers who were told that stereotypes are common were more biased against the women. In a similar study, managers didn’t want to hire women and found them unlikable.”

So here is yet another rub – people make a stink about a female speaker being represented in a disrespectful or undignified way in the event ad, and what is the most likely outcome? Next year they won’t include a woman in the program. Complaining often does more harm than good. However, not complaining lets the issue progress to the point where even Modern Orthodox publications are including offensive images meant to erase women. People who care about this issue are between a rock and a hard place.

There is a growing contingency of women and men, both Modern Orthodox and Haredi, who are getting fed up. They are tired of playing nice and being told to be patient and respect the process, when nothing changes; when the people who created the process and can also reverse it, act like their hands are tied; when the people who made the policy remain just as hidden as the women in their publications – and they like it that way. Being the publisher of a newspaper or magazine comes with a social responsibilty. If the publisher and advertisers have one agenda, and their readership has another, something’s got to give. The time is ripe for some new players in the Orthodox Jewish Media. Sometimes some good old fashioned competition is the thing that helps “speed the process along” where asking nicely and being patient won’t.

Update – the North Jersey Jewish Link has promised to publish the alternate version of the same Pesach vacation ad that includes Lori Palatnik’s photos. Apparently, as is the norm, the advertiser made two copies, and the wrong version was included. Maybe an accident, maybe testing the waters? Time will tell, but at least the NJ Jewish Link is being responsive.

Where is the accountability for deleting faces of the Holocaust?

Last night, after receiving multiple emails and phone calls outraged over the pixelation of female Holocaust victims in a Mishpacha Magazine article, Sruli Besser (a Contributing Editor at Mishpacha Magazine), took to Facebook to justify Mishpacha’s actions. He blamed the Hebrew Edition of Mishpacha Magazine, and an individual female graphic artist who inserted the already pixelated image, assuming that was the way the English version of the magazine wanted it too.

And why wouldn’t she assume that? After all didn’t Mishpacha Magazine’s news editor Binyamin Rose, in a 2015 Haaretz interview say – 

“This is how we avoid the objectification of women,” Rose answers to me in an earlier meeting. “Our policy is that we do not alter pictures as they are. If there is a woman in a photograph, we’ll simply use another picture.”

“I can only put it like this,” he says. “Based on community standards, there are constraints for our work.”

“Mishpacha isn’t going to be the first to introduce women into the magazine. If the standards were to change, it’s a subject that can be reconsidered. But I don’t like to make predictions. Today, a significant readership would object to images of women – we won’t break ranks with them.”

Obviously, Mishpacha has now started violating the policy of not altering pictures as they are. Since they changed that standard, perhaps they can change the standard of not using women’s photos too?

In terms of Besser’s response, throwing a female artist under the bus is a brilliant deflection.  First of all, it let’s all of us angry women know that it wasn’t a man who included the pixelation, but one of our own. Second of all, it gives the illusion that if a senior member of the editorial staff had seen the photo, Mishpacha wouldn’t have pixelated it. We can see by Binyamin Rose’s own words that if an editor higher up than the graphic designer had “caught” the pixelated photo before publication, in the past they wouldn’t have included it at all. However, now that Mishpacha’s policy does allow for altering photos, the same decision would have been made to publish it that way!

The only thing that is sure to change now, is that when Mishpacha searches for Holocaust photos to publish, the English version will make sure not to use a photo with women in it.  They will make sure not to pixelate female Holocaust victims by not including them at all, giving future generations the impression that the Holocaust was something that only happened to men, while the women remained safe at home. As far as pixelating photos of women in general? It seems the Hebrew version will continue to do so, but maybe the English version will be wary now.

Mishpacha is running out of people to blame for their no women’s images policy. Now they are turning against the Hebrew version of their own publication and trying to separate themselves from it. At the end of the day, it’s the English version’s decision and choice to exlude or pixelate women’s faces from their magazine! No one else’s.

Mishpacha is working hard to craft a policy acceptable to halacha? What halacha states that a woman’s face cannot be seen in a photograph? Now this trend is halacha? And who are these readers who feel uncomfortable and disrespected by seeing a tznius woman’s picture? The only people being disrespected here are the female readers. Is Besser referring to the possibility that Mishpacha will disrespect male readers by showing women’s photos? Disrespect its advertisers who wish to live in a female free society? Who is the magazine worried about disrespecting, because its doing a lousy job of not doing so.

Maybe it’s time to consider some of the players financially enabling Mishpacha to run its magazine this way, and perhaps even encouraging them to – their advertisers.

This is only a sampling of the advertisers that pay Mishpacha to showcase their products in its pages, emails, and online. Supposedly Mishpacha is afraid of losing their dollars were they to publish women’s photos. Is this true, or are these companies simply another entity for them to blame for their own home grown editorial policy? Maybe its time to ask these brands?