It does seem like the world isn’t doing too well; should you doubt it, you just need glance at our op-eds. There’s little sugar-coating and much clear-eyed despair. Far be it from me to disagree with our writers on this one.
But at the same time, there’s some good in the air.
Some of it comes from nature. Other parts of the country have to deal with freak storms and subarctic temperatures and droughts and other disasters. Here, although we know that the unnatural warmth we’ve enjoyed all winter is not at all a good thing, it certainly feels good.
And spring is coming. There are some crocuses, there are some other dark-green leaves pushing their way up through the earth, and there are more and more baby-green and slight but bright yellow bursts of color on trees. Even if the groundhog was right last month, it’s been almost six weeks since it made its prediction.
And some of it comes from the great strides toward inclusion that institutions in north Jersey have been making.
A few weeks ago, we headlined the Teaneck-based but multi-county-wide Sinai Schools, which provide carefully tailored education to its developmentally disabled students, along with inclusion in the wider community.
Today, we’re doing the same for Yachad, an Orthodox Union program that also provides a safe, comfortable, exciting, stimulating environment for people with developmental disabilities (it’s pretty amazing to have something that’s both safe and exciting, isn’t it? But Yachad manages to do that). Yachad’s programs are after school for school-age participants; it also provides day programs for participants who are too old for school.
Yachad also opens its programs to volunteers, most of them high-school students, who learn not only not to be intimidated by their special-needs peers, or so puzzled by them that they turn away from them, but actively to enjoy being around them. They become friends for real, sometimes friends for life.
Both organizations work actively to destigmatize special needs, and both have achieved noticeable success.
Both work mainly although not exclusively in the Orthodox world, and their leaders understand how their highly developed sense of community helps with the work of destigmatizing. It seems that once that community decides that something is good, that it should be included, then they work hard to make it happen. The community has decided that destigmatizing and including people with special needs is consonant with Jewish values — that in fact it’s Jewish values at work — and so they do it. They are bringing up generations of children who become adults who remain comfortable with people who look and act in some ways unlike they do.
With all the bad stuff all around us, it is wonderful to see so many people surrounding all of us with things that are actively good.