As a parent of child with special needs I have struggled to find a home for my child within the Jewish community. We have left Jewish schools and synagogues in search of a home for Joshua. Joshua is now 13 and after early attendance in Jewish day school and two years of Hebrew school, he could no longer handle the social pressure and dropped out eight months prior to his 13th birthday. Rabbi Avi Friedman from the Summit JCC sat down with us and respected Joshua’s uniqueness and left the door open for future individual study.
I reached out to the Friendship Circle. They accepted and encouraged Joshua to be a volunteer, despite his having a high functioning form of autism, to those children who have what Joshua perceives as a “more disabling condition” than his own.
After his first night of volunteering, Joshua declared that the Friendship Circle could be his “bar mitzva project.” Then he decided to call Rabbi Friedman and ask to start bar mitzva lessons. We were four lessons in when Joshua was asked to participate in “Shabbat Shalem” or “Jewish Disabilities Awareness Shabbat” by the chair of the program. Josh was told they wanted to honor his role in helping others with disabilities. Much to my surprise he agreed.
At a recent Shabbat service, not only did he receive his certificate, he also spoke to the congregation about the children he has known in the community who have “bigger disabilities” than his own but how having his own disability makes him want to help others as much as he can.
I never imagined Shabbat Shalem would give me the gift of seeing my son as an articulate leader of the community; it gave the opportunity to Joshua and the community to see that having a disability does not preclude one from public speaking and helping others with disabilities.
I want to thank the Summit JCC, the Friendship Circle, and MetroWest ABLE for this precious moment that gave my son the opportunity to see himself as a leader and thriving despite a diagnosis of disability.