Thoughts From a Fly on the Wall at the Midwest Family Yachad Shabbaton

28 Mar 2012


By Shira Masha Frishman, Minneapolis, MN

Shira Masha Frishman, 21, is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota

As I drive back from an inspiring Shabbat at the Hartman Family Midwest Family Yachad Shabbaton in Chicago, I want to put my thoughts about Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integration and its incredible staff and volunteers into words. Yachad, this beautiful and crucial organization, is something that until my brother Shlomo Frishman, currently president of Yachad’s high school board in Chicago, became involved with, I knew absolutely nothing about.

Now, however, Yachad is a part of my family, and I cannot imagine life without it. As someone who is merely a sister to Shlomo, I nevertheless feel a strong connection to Yachad, and I truly wish that I had the maturity to give of myself in high school the way that I saw so many of the young volunteers doing this past Shabbat. The high schoolers and the advisors at the Shabbaton demonstrated that teenagers and young adults can exhibit exemplary selflessness, at a juncture in life when selfishness is preferred and often encouraged.

Throughout the Shabbaton, I felt that my contributions to Am Yisrael pale in comparison to what the volunteers give of themselves in just an hour to Yachad. I watched as high school freshmen took leading roles in activities that average teens would be too timid to take upon themselves until they reach the “glory” of senior year. I saw college students seeking advice from younger kids, and I saw teenagers who could be engaging in aimless pursuits, pursuing Inclusion among all of the Yachad participants.

What truly inspired me, however, was not just the camaraderie among the Yachad family, but the notion that externals do not matter; it was almost as if everyone wore their neshamot on the outside instead of their clothes. At Yachad, no one is a “type;” no one has to be anything other than themselves. In Yachad, you are not “Charedi,” you are not “Modern” and you are not “off the derech.” You are simply a Jew who is striving to connect to Hashem with your “diffabilities.”

The highlight, for me, at the Shabbaton was the Melava Malka, which was made especially enjoyable by the highly skilled and talented Skokie Yeshiva band. As I watched the Yachad members dance with all their hearts and energy to “Yerushalayim” and “Anachnu Maaminim” I understood that they can connect to Hashem in a way in which I can only dream of doing. Throughout the dancing, the pasuk of “mi ke’amcha Yisrael (Who is like you, Israel?)” came to mind, and I felt grateful to be a part of such an amazing nation –a people who can come together, who can be b’yachad, with all their “diffabilities.”

In the past, sometimes when I saw a person who looks “different,” I was afraid of saying something stupid, afraid that the special needs individual would see right through me. Yachad has shown me that these feelings are unwarranted. I don’t have to be afraid. If I am myself, if I embrace the kochot that Hashem has given me, and use them to honestly connect with Him and others, I can make a difference in the lives of all.

The Stone Cutter’s Story:

Leora Claire, a high school volunteer, beautifully told the story of the stone cutter who wished he could be anything other than a stone cutter, until he realized the most powerful thing that he could be was exactly who he was. Although I have heard this story numerous times, Leora’s strong and passionate delivery caused this tale to resonate with me more so than ever. As a college student, I am often defined by my major area of study. Sometimes, I feel inadequate. Sometimes I feel that I have to be someone who I am not, by studying something that I may not like, or not even be good at, just to feel important. Yachad, and Leora’s story, have convinced me to be and like who I am, and to strive for success in areas which Hashem has gifted me.

My outstanding brother, Shlomo, has impacted so many lives, including those in my immediate and extended family. He is about to graduate from high school, and he leaves behind a legacy that many people 30 years his senior cannot match. In order for Shlomo to do what he has done, he has had to be mevatel himself. He has nullified his needs, for the needs of others. As Shlomo enters a world where he will be met with cutthroat competition, his challenge will be to find a balance between the words of Chazal: “Im ain ani li, mi li, ukshe’ani le’atzmi, ma ani?” If I could extend a beracha to Shlomo, if I could express a wish for my brother it would be this: Shlomo, you should take your needs into account a fraction of the amount that you do for Yachad and ultimately the Jewish people. Shlomo has shown that his kind heart is made of gold. He has helped to build up an organization which our brothers, Akiva and Eli, can continue to lead with pride.

Yachad’s Crucial Work:

Yachad, your work on behalf of Am Yisrael is crucial. Our mightiest leaders in the Tanach were often shepherds who were chosen to lead, not based on their popularity among the great, but the way in which they cared for, and were concerned about, the seemingly small and insignificant. Yachad teaches us that there is something to learn from everyone. May Hashem give you continued hatzlacha in your avodat hakodesh, and may all the Yachad chapters throughout America and Canada unite in Yerushalayim, and dance together with the Skokie Yeshiva band playing in the courtyards of the Beit Hamikdash.

Family activities at the Yachad Midwest Family Shabbaton

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life