A personal reflection following OU West Coast Convention’s workshop entitled “the Exceptional Family”
In the great symphony of life, we all have important parts to play. While some people are best suited to be conductors or soloists, their contributions would be diminished considerably without the individual musicians that lend their artistry to the fullness of an orchestra. The magical accents of the percussion might sound random and out of place without the music they accompany. But any one member of an orchestra, doing less than their best at their particular part, can destroy the harmony of the whole piece, such is their importance. Because all of our contributions are valuable and integral to the success of the whole, Yachad and its members with disabilities thrive within the “orchestra” of the Jewish community which creates unison and a beautiful melody.
Rabbi Dovid Cohen highlighted the purity and uniqueness of a soul of a person with special needs. Directly quoting from R’ Moshe, Rabbi Cohen explained that self growth is the primary goal of a Jew yet making an impression on the community, or world at large, is secondary. Because children with disabilities have entered this world pure and remain a virtuous soul throughout their life, their mission in this world is to strengthen, educate, and influence those around them. The spiritual component of nurturing, befriending, and working with disabled persons goes far beyond the common relationship; it is an exceptional relationship which transforms us to better appreciate and relate to others while uplifting us to a newly found spiritual level.
Dr. Ernie Katz emphasized that very often parents of children with disabilities will harp on the WHY component of the disability, especially at birth. Understanding why the disability occurred within the family only inhibits progress forward because while trying to discover the past they are missing out on the present. Dr. Katz encouraged parents to focus on the WHAT component of the disability so that they can fully accept, comprehend, and allow themselves to focus on the necessary steps to a positive future. He encouraged families to weigh the disability or diagnosis and equate it with the amazing accomplishments of life. Within the session, Dr. Katz advised parents of twins with disabilities to face each challenge, each new milestone, with the same WHAT approaches they used throughout their teenage daughters lives. By placing the WHY behind them and the WHAT in front of them parents of special needs children can continue to pave the way for future success.
At Yachad Los Angeles we implement social components in an inclusive atmosphere, which naturally continue to improve our members’ ability to socialize, which is otherwise a challenge for so many. Throughout the years we have witnessed tremendous spiritual and psychological growth amongst our participants which has fluently inspired our high school student volunteers to cherish friendships, continuously laugh, and value every aspect of life. By promoting inclusion, we have given our participants a sense of belonging within the Jewish community while enlightening community members, shuls and schools about various disabilities. We continue to encourage families and communities to play in our Yachad orchestra of life. It is our hope that with advocates such as Dr. Ernie Katz and Dr. Dovid Cohen, along with the support for the OU, we can continue to educate others into the belief that “Inclusion is not a process…it’s a way of life!” (Ian Lurie, Yachad LA)
Perri Tabak is an OU West Coast Coordinator and LA Director of Yachad. Please don’t forget that February is NAIM (North American Inclusion Month). To learn more about what YOU can do to build an inclusive Jewish community, please visit NAIM’s website or consider becoming a sponsor for Team Yachad’s ING Miami Marathon on January 30th!
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.