The concept of inclusion seems important to most people. On a gut level, most people would agree strongly that “it’s the right thing to do.” With that said, are we ready to change our behavior to ensure inclusion can be a reality?
As part of Jewish Disability Awareness Month 2012, my daughter Shaina, now 11, addressed a group of third through sixth graders at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. This is what she said:
“Hi, my name is Shaina and I am 8 years old. I have a brother and his name is Avi. He is 11 years old. Avi loves to play like all other kids but he plays in a different way. He loves the things that other kids love, like music, videos, games and other things. But Avi behaves differently and learns differently because he has autism. This means that his brain works differently and it is hard for him to make friends and understand like other kids his age.
So, Jewish life after Bar Mitzvah… It is hard to believe that there is life after Bar Mitzvah! Since our son Avi was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, we have been very goal-driven. What did he need to achieve his goals? How can we maximize his potential? What will his role be in the Jewish community, if any? Until quite recently, this was very much a blur. Some days the answers seemed clear; other days, we had no idea.
Ever since our son was diagnosed with autism, at age two and a half, I'd been wondering about his bar mitzvah. I come from a family of shulgoers who lead services, read from the Torah, and sing. My husband does, too. He and I have been teaching b’nei mitzvah for decades, and the question of our son’s bar mitzvah loomed large for 10 years.