By Robin Finn
As an advocate and a mom of a child with ADHD, I’ve learned to pick my battles. For me, my son becoming a bar mitzvah wasn’t an option; it was a must. But I wondered how he would approach these studies and what challenges might arise. Would he have the focus and patience required for tackling Torah?
The night we met with the cantor, my almost-13-year-old son announced from the back ofHe embraced learning and gave a thoughtful speech the car: “I’m a scientist, and also I’m an atheist.” Great, I thought. This was a great time to tell us as we turned left into the synagogue parking lot. But my husband and I took it in stride.
“That’s fine,” I said. “You can discuss it with the cantor.”
And he did. The cantor went over the long history of great Jewish scientists and thinkers. My son was impressed. He was on board to begin his studies.
Over the next year, my son studied Torah. He got to know the cantor who would be officiating at his bar mitzvah. In the week of the bar mitzvah, to my surprise, he agreed to come to the 7 a.m. minyan and lay tefillin. He stood among the multi-aged congregation, wrapped in tefillin, and took his place among them as a man. Afterwards, the old and the young shook hands. Tears formed in my eyes.
My son’s bar mitzvah was a beautiful moment in our lives. He embraced learning and gave a thoughtful speech on the meaning of the week’s Torah portion. He talked about respect for your elders, your neighbor and yourself. I reflected on the many challenges we’d been through as a family as he had grown into himself. After Shabbat, the congregation gathered on the bimah to celebrate Havdalah. We swayed together, watching the glowing light of the candle.
For my son to become a bar mitzvah was important to me as a mother and a Jew. I wanted him to fulfill this Jewish rite of passage. And it truly was a “coming of age” as, before my eyes, I saw my son pass into manhood. His command of the material was wonderful, but his embrace of the meaning of the moment truly touched me. As he stood in front of the congregation, confident and compelling in his words, I understood why bar mitzvah was so important. He became a link in an unbreakable chain.
As an advocate, I appreciated the inclusive nature of the bar mitzvah process. It wasn’t about showing off your Hebrew fluency. Or sharing your knowledge. Or even showcasing your wisdom. It was about something larger—about taking your place within a community that goes back 3,500 years. As a mother, I hadI appreciated the inclusive nature of the bar mitzvah process struggled mightily over the years with not feeling accepted. A hyperactive, impulsive child is rarely at the top of the birthday party Evite list. Often, teachers don’t understand the challenges of ADHD, even well-meaning ones, even in a Jewish school setting. I had wounds that festered from preschool about unfair judgments and feeling left out, and my son being misunderstood. His bar mitzvah was not just a rite of passage for him, but a healing process for me.
Whatever my son’s challenges might be, the community wanted him to succeed; they were rooting for our family. I felt the love and support from the rabbi, the cantor and every person sitting in the sanctuary. We had been part of this community for a very long time. The sense of inclusion, acceptance and inspiration I experienced healed some very old wounds, and made me think about how love and acceptance can do that. Now more than ever.
At my son’s bar mitzvah, I was inspired by my child’s embrace of the community into which he was born. And their embrace of him. There were many lessons shared that day, but that one will stay with me always.……from Rabbi AzoulayDear Friends,This past week I had the honor to be part of a great event in the city; the Zareinu Learnathon. Zareinu is a Jewish school and treatment centre for children with a wide range of physical and developmental challenges. For the last 7 years they organize a learning event and fundraiser at Petah Tikva, that is very well attended.When thinking about children that are born physically challenged, thoughts of pity and sadness come to mind. But in the spiritual sense it’s totally opposite.A couple who had a down syndrome child were feeling down when a great Rabbi told them that they have to view this child as a true gift and as if “they hit a homerun!”. He went on saying that when a normal child is born the parents must raise him in the proper way and ensure that the pure soul that he received will be returned to The Creator in the same pure form. But a child who is born with physical disabilities, his soul will be returned in the purest form because any “sin” that he does, he will not be held accountable for. The Hachamim in Kabbalistic works reveal that the soul of a person born with developmental challenges was once the soul of a great person who just needs to come to this world to correct and fix his soul. – Therefore such a child is a total blessing, as the parents are entrusted with caring for a pure and great soul.This is a paradigm shift from our normal thoughts on this topic. The truth is masked in the physical disabilities that are visual to us.This concept is the message of Purim as well. We dress up on Purim, in the entire Megila Hashems name is not mentioned and the story looks like many coincidences all strung together. But that is all the mask that covers the essence of the story which is that Hashem is behind the scenes running every moment and detail with the utmost precision.Purim is a holiday that we don’t recite Havdala after it concludes, because this message of Purim is not separated from us but rather constant and must permeate to our entire year. This is also why Purim will remain a holiday even after the Mashiach comes.May we relate to this message and look beyond the mask in our lives and in the challenges that we face; all to realize that Hashem is there holding our hands elevating us to a higher spiritual plain through our day to day struggles.Shabbat ShalomRabbi Azoulay
NONE IS STILL TOO MANY
According to Prime Minister Trudeau’s tweet, “Diversity is our strength.To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”
Perhaps my sense of goodness and decency are differently defined. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, permanent residency cannot exclude according to faith, gender, religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Sadly, one group remains dismissed. A child or adult with disabilities is considered too burdensome for the system and the family is often rejected. The Act continues to reflect the stereotypical image and sends a clear message to Canadians with disabilities that their lives are not as valued.
Adults with disabilities wish to be contributing and respected members of society, like their parents, siblings or peers. They are capable and characteristically hard workers. As Minister Qualtrough, the MP from Delta, BC , stated at the First National Jewish Disability Lobby Day in Ottawa last week, “Employing adults with disabilities is not only the right and ethical thing to do-it also benefits businesses.” I suppose that it is all just perspective: a liability or worthy ?
We’re missing the boat on Jewish continuity
Jewish philanthropy that is focused on Jewish causes, such as trips to Israel, books to families, supporting Jewish education and summer camps, and the likes, is geared toward keeping our community Jewish and combating assimilation. We can agree that to ensure the future of our culture, we have a vested interest in ensuring that our younger generations embrace their Jewish identities and are proud members of our community. However, if our goal is to have a vibrant, growing community, we cannot afford to exclude a fifth of our community – that is, all those of us with a disability. About 20% of our population has a disability and instead of ensuring that they are fully included, we alienate them and their families through segregated sub-minimum wages workshops, separate education programs and inaccessible synagogue
Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy organization focusing on the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society
This is not only wrong in and of itself, but the fact is that this kind of segregation alienates our younger generations. Younger people overwhelmingly embrace inclusion of all people and frown on segregation. If we stay comfortable with excluding a fifth of our community, our young people will turn away and find inclusive communities elsewhere. We cannot afford this loss of a fifth of our members, and with it the loss of our future.
On January 17, our Boston Mayor Marty Walsh delivered his State of the City address in which he made a powerful claim. He said, “At a time when cities must lead, Boston is the leader of cities.” If you don’t agree with him already, it is easy to dismiss such a statement as fancy rhetoric at best and self-aggrandizement at worst. While I can’t speak for the city as a whole, I can speak for Boston’s Jewish community. We have one of the most holistically inclusive communities in the country and offer a model that can, and should, be replicated in all cities.
These are unprecedentedly wealthy times for the Jewish community in the US and there is no reason that community leaders working together can’t transform their locale into an area that embraces inclusion. Collaboration was the first step to our journey as well.
Twelve years ago we partnered with Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) to ensure that Jewish day schools in our area became inclusive through our Initiative for Day School Excellence. Unlike public schools, private day schools are not by law obliged to be inclusive and offer education to students with learning disabilities, or any other disabilities. This meant that if a family wanted to give their child a Jewish education, if that child had a disability, they would be facing a lack of support and in some cases, a lack of welcome. If you exclude children from our schools, you exclude their families from our community. This simply is not a way we strengthen our communities. Quite the opposite.
However, Jewish educaation is of course only one aspect of our lives. To create truly inclusive communities, we have to think holistically and across a person’s full life span. This is also why we collaborated with CJP as well as Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) to create our Transitions to Work—an initiative that provides effective, hands-on training for young adults with disabilities to become gainfully employed in a competitive job market. We have to date partnered with over 75 employers in our area. This approach is crucial because similarly to education, there are not many, and sometimes not any, support systems for young adults with disabilities who have graduated school, but don’t necessarily have the skills, or social skills for employment. According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor statistics, only 20% of people with disabilities participate in the labor market. That means that 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed.
The exclusion that occurs without gainful employment is not only a financial one. For most of us, our work is where we socialize with others, forge friendships, and find a sense of meaning. It is absolutely imperative that communities practice inclusive hiring to strengthen the cohesion and productivity of all its members, while also strengthening the local businesses who benefit from loyal and competent talents they would have missed out on otherwise.
And of course we couldn’t have achieved a holistic approach to inclusion without ensuring that our synagogues valued all members of our community equally. In partnership with CJP, we launched the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project where we’ve created a network of synagogues committed to sharing innovative inclusion approaches that enable all members of our Jewish community and their families to attend services and fully participate. Our project includes synagogues from all denominations; after all, there is no group of people that does not include people with disabilities.
Statistically nearly all of us will become disabled at some point in our life. People with disabilities make up the largest minority in our country. It simply does not make sense to not fully include this huge segment of our population in all of our social milestones and life stages. So I challenge all Jewish communities to ensure that we live in accordance with our Jewish values and transform our communities into beacons of inclusion. For cities to lead, communities need to lead first.
Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy organization focusing on the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society