To learn the secret to Jewish unity, go to the experts in unconditional love—Yachad.
Twice a year, families from across the spectrum of Jewish life, from secular to Satmar, come together for the Yachad Family Shabbaton. They come together for one purpose: to share their experiences of raising children with special needs.
“It’s one of the few places in the Jewish world where you see every kind of Jew coming together,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, national director of Yachad/NJCD (the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities). “People walk through the door on Friday afternoon wearing jeans and no kippah, Chassidic garb and everything in between.” Although love for their children brought them there in the first place, it’s the bonds they create with other parents that keep them coming back.
Over the course of the Shabbaton, parents, irrespective of their background, connect with one another. “It all starts because they both have children with Down syndrome or on the autistic spectrum,” says Dr. Lichtman. “But then it branches out, mother to mother, father to father and the siblings coming from markedly different worlds forge lasting friendships.”
Dr. Lichtman says there is a lesson at hand for everyone. “On an organizational level, the lines are so taut, so tight, but these parents break the lines. You see them in the lobby, in the dining room; individuals whom you know would never be talking to each other otherwise are talking to each other.”
“We are all in the same boat,” says Alan Forman, a Yachad parent from Manhattan. “Any differences in outward appearances simply disappear. We’re all Jews with a common purpose, in a place with a spirit of commonality and support. We leave feeling a lot stronger.”
The same holds true for Our Way, the OU’s program for Jews who are deaf or hard of hearing. “We had a Shabbaton at a Modern Orthodox shul that Chassidim attended,” says Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, director of Our Way. “Everyone grew from it.”
Yachad/NJCD also assembles conferences on special education and Inclusion, bringing together Jews from diverse populations. “Educators, rebbeim, school psychologists and administrators of every Jewish affiliation are sitting together concentrating on giving our children a Jewish education,” says Dr. Lichtman. “When we focus on what we have in common, we have what to learn from each other.
Daniel Schein of Woodmere, New York, a high school student, and Tzvi Burston, a Yachad member from Los Angeles, California, enjoying a game of basketball at Yachad’s Inclusive summer program Yad B’ Yad Israel.
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.