The ProsenPeople

What Does Tisha B’ Av Hold for the Future of the Jewish People?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, David G. Daniel shared how an encounter with a moose, her calf, and a bear reminded him of the difficult questions following a tragic loss. He is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

This year, Tisha B’Av arrives in mid-August. Tisha B’Av commemorates a number of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on this date, including the destruction of the First Temple in 423 BCE, the Second Temple in 69 CE, the crushing of the bar Kochba Rebellion at the final battle of Betar, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Tisha B’ Av is sometimes used to commemorate the six million Jews lost in the Holocaust as well.

In my family, Tisha B’Av has a very personal meaning, beyond the broader mourning for disasters that have befallen the Jewish people. My son, David, who plays a major role in the novel, was killed in a freak accident very close to that time.

But when I taught my children the meaning of Tisha B’Av, I was caught off guard when they asked me what disasters our people should bring to mind from their own experiences.

I recalled that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, my parents had made plans to escape any attack on our home town of Jackson, Mississippi by sailing down the Pearl River in a houseboat. They stocked the craft with food, medical supplies and extra gasoline. Even to me, a five-year-old child at the time, this seemed like excessive concern from my ordinarily very level-headed parents.

Fifty years later, I walked my own children through a new National Archives exhibit in Washington, DC. It displayed secretly recorded White House discussions warning that tens of millions of American citizens in large- to medium-sized cities in the southeast United States might be killed by the medium-range Soviet nuclear missiles installed in Cuba.

In my own children’s lifetime, they had heard on the evening news of Al Quaeda attempts to obtain nuclear and biological weapons, and advisories to Washingtonians recommending that they create emergency kits including duct tape to seal windows against pathogens and toxins.

I advise my children that there is very little danger of weapons of mass destruction being deployed, but they continue to express concern for their aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends in Israel. They are quite avid readers of the news. Recently The Jerusalem Post reported that among the shouts of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” Hussein Salami, Deputy Commander of the Iranian IRGC, boasted that their “ability to destroy Israel is now better than ever,” citing 100,000 missiles in Lebanon at the ready to hit Israel.

This is the real-life background for the drama that unfolds in the latter section of my speculative fiction novel A Life Twice Given, as the Ninth of Av approaches in the year 2032. Nuclear weapons, nobody is sure how powerful, have been smuggled into DC and Tel Aviv. They will be detonated on Tisha B’Av unless Israel withdraws from Jerusalem and all occupied territories and the United States removes all troops from the Middle East and South Asia.

David G. Daniel is a psychiatrist and the author of numerous scientific papers, book chapters, and abstracts in psychiatry. He is currently touring through the JBC Network for the 2016 – 2017 season on his recent novel A Life Twice Given.

Related Content:

How Far Would You Go to Give a Loved One Back Their Life?

Monday, July 11, 2016 | Permalink

David G. Daniel is the author of the novel A Life Twice Given. He is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

Rafting on the Nenana River last week, my sixteen-year-old twins and I saw a grizzly bear chase a moose and her calf out of the woods. The mother and calf took refuge midstream near us (not cool to be that close to a moose) before clamoring up the other bank and escaping, while the bear paced on the other side.

If cornered, a moose cow will defend its calf against a bear. It sounds like poor odds, but a moose weighing a thousand pounds plus can bring its hooves down on a bear with tremendous force.

Seeing the grizzly bear pace on the opposite bank, I thought about what I would do if necessary to defend my sons from the moose or bear. Certainly I would have tried to hold off with the paddles while the twins swam to the other shore. That was a no-brainer.

But it reminded me of a more difficult question: How far would you go to give a loved or dear one back their life?

We know what our Jewish tradition tells us about grieving and honoring their memory. All losses are egregious, but faced with a particularly difficult loss, if you had the chance to bring him or her back, would you?

These were the questions my wife and I were forced to contend with when we unexpectedly lost our seven-year-old son, David, in 2004. At that time I spoke with a scientist who claimed he had taken human cloning to a multi-cell stage.

I wracked my brain over the question at the time: Should we take the risk to try to bring back our son? We assessed the odds. How credible was the scientist. Would he do it? If he did what were the chances it would work?

Tissue would have to have been preserved under very strict conditions. There were no published or credible anecdotal precedents for successfully—or unsuccessfully—cloning a human. Mammalian cloning had been done successfully but was fraught with complications. What unexpected consequences might occur? Would there be time bombs—remember Dolly the sheep? The cells would have to be washed of all the natural substances that tell it how old it is. What if the reprogramming process was imperfect? Might the cloned David age prematurely? If the fetus grew too big it could endanger Lisa. Were there other unknown dangers to the mother?

Even if the cloning process were successful David would no longer be our first born, the leader of his brothers and sister. He would be the youngest sibling of four. Lisa and I were at a very different place in our lives when David was born. Would that change him? Would he emanate the same infectious joie de vivre? Would he have memories of his past life? In some respects a memory is an electronic circuit among brain cells. Could memory be coded by genes in some respect and passed on by cloning? There are basic experiments to support this. If a flatworm is subjected to shock each time a light comes on, it will recoil to light. If you cut that worm in half, the part that grows a new head will remember to curl up to light even without ever having been shocked. This is consistent with the notion that memory can be stored outside the brain.

There was also the ethical dilemma, especially from a Jewish perspective. A few decades ago the process of in vitro fertilization was considered sketchy and the products of it referred to as “test tube” babies. Now the process is mainstream, socially acceptable and has made a difference in countless couples’ lives under the rubric of “assisted fertilization.” Maybe human cloning to bring back a loved one follow the same path to social acceptance: when twins are made, the fertilized egg, the zygote, divides, producing a genetically identical duplicate—one could argue that the process by which clones were is not so different from the process of making an identical twin.

We can rationalize the ethics of it. The real risk is medical—and perhaps moral, too: we just don’t know whether we would be doing David a favor or not. But it’s the only shot to give him his life back.

I thought of David’s laughter, the sound of his voice, I remembered him holding his sister’s hand, pointing at the moon. I recalled he had once said we should have our offices together when he grew up so we would never have to be apart.

“Lisa, what was that scientist’s name again?”

David G. Daniel is a psychiatrist and the author of numerous scientific papers, book chapters, and abstracts in psychiatry. He is currently touring through the JBC Network for the 2016 – 2017 season on his recent novel A Life Twice Given.

Related Content: