The New Normal

Everyone is welcome in The New Normal, a Jewish blog about disability. We're a source of information, inspiration and a challenge to received wisdom.

The Truths My Father Taught Me--A Father's Day Tribute (Part 2)

Editor's Note: In honor of Father's day, Rabbi Michael Levy shares this loving tribute to his father. Click here to read Part 1, which ends with a doctor's discovery of a spot on his father's lung.

My parents tried to cover up this health crisis like all the medical problems of the past.  This was especially so because my wife Chavi and I were expecting.

In September, all four of our parents helped with our "big Sunday." We moved and arranged furniture from morning until evening.  The file cabinet made its way from the "second bedroom" into ours. A bed disappeared downstairs into the storage area. 

A big empty space appeared along one wall of the second bedroom, waiting for a crib. I didn't see my mother's tears when my mother-in-law caught her off guard with the question "How's Aaron?"

I learned about the spot on Dad’s lung only as they were preparing him for the operation. The bicycle ride of so many years ago came to mind. The collision had happened. 

Rabbi Michael Levy

The Truths My Father Taught Me--A Father's Day Tribute (Part 1)

Editor's Note: In honor of Father's day, Rabbi Michael Levy shares his moving tribute to his father. Part two will be posted on Sunday.

"Look, a two-headed bike!" said a kid passing by. This confirmed for me that Dad and I, on our tandem bicycle, were invincible.

Riding on the two-seated bicycle with Dad, I didn't think about being blind. I did what everybody else did on the back seat of a tandem, no steering, just pedaling.

Doing what everybody else did. That’s the kind of childhood my parents gave me. If you feel included and valued by your family, then no future obstacles in your path will deter you.

Looking Ahead: My Son's (And My) Future

My eight-year-old daughter has a clear vision of her life as an adult: she’s going to be a singer-songwriter and live part of the year in Paris, where she will own a boutique selling the accessories that she designs. She said that I could have a job there, putting the merchandise carefully into soft paper bags lined with tissue, if I promise to be very careful.

She’s a highly creative, energetic kid with a natural sense of rhythm, pitch and fashion, and my husband and I encourage all of her dreams, knowing that if she hits a rough patch breaking into the music or fashion industry, we can encourage education or other career choices that allow her to use her gifts.

As for her mom, I just had my forty-third birthday and enjoyed a beautiful, laidback day with family and friends, a hike with our yellow lab on a new trail and dinner on the porch of a neighborhood BYOB restaurant. I am grateful for exactly where I am in my life, and do my best to stay present, but had a flash, just for a moment, that when (God willing) I turn fifty-three, my daughter will be eighteen and ready to go off to college, a gap year or a waitressing job and apartment with friends; our two-year-old lab will probably not be able to endure a two-hour hike on steep trails and my eleven-year-old son, who has autism and intellectual disabilities, will be twenty-one, at the end of his tenure in the school system, also ready to transition to what’s next for him.

Ten Tips For Your Child's Transition To Summer

As the end of the school year approaches us, here are some tips for parents of children with autism (or any child who needs support with transitions) when trying to support their son or daughter move from school to summer.

1. Preview - Talk to your kids beforehand about what changes they can expect. Show them pictures of new places and people, like camp counselors. Visit any new locations with your child ahead of time so nothing is a surprise. Skype with friends and family to see where you'll be staying when you go on summertime visits. Check out the websites of summer camp facilities, hotels, attractions or city going to visit. Tour summer day or sleep away camp grounds ahead of time. If that's not possible, you may want to contact places to see if they have any DVDs that depict their facilities. 

Dr. Frances Victory

The 10 Commandments Of Inclusion

With Shavuot coming up we remember the time when the Jewish people were given the Ten Commandments. 

Biblical commentators say, “All Israel is responsible for one another” (kol Israel arevim zeh leh zeh). Yet we could be doing so much more to include people with disabilities in our communities. 

Accessibility in action. Courtesy of Beit Issie Shapiro

Hearing Lightning And Seeing Thunder: Judaism Is Accessible

Tuesday evening begins the holy days of Shavout, the moment of receiving Torah at Mount Sinai. Revelation at Sinai is the first, and largest, act of religious equality in history. Many other cultures and religions experience the divine in the same way they experience the world around them – as a hierarchy, a society divided by class or title. The Revelation at Mt. Sinai is open to all – regardless of status, gender, power, or lack of power. All the individuals at Sinai are equal.

Rabbi Daniel Grossman

Preparing For Shavuot: Reliving The Sinai Experience

We could celebrate Shavuot as we just celebrated Memorial Day: with ceremonies, a day off from work and a festive meal.   Our tradition urges us to celebrate Shavuot in a more spiritual manner, by recreating the experience of standing at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

Rabbi Michael Levy

Creative Accommodations: Including People Who Are Deaf In The Jewish Community

Editor's Note: Alexis Kasher, the current president of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center, recently shared her personal experiences and perspectives on inclusion for people who are deaf in the Jewish community at the Foundation for Jewish Camping conference. New Normal editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer interviewed Kashar about the conference.

NN: What is your experience of inclusion for people who are deaf in the Jewish community?
AK: I spent many years practicing civil rights and special education law. My practice focused on the civil and education rights of people who are deaf and hard of hearing or with disabilities. Laws are in place to protect their rights; however, enforcement is still an issue. It has been many years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various federal special education laws was passed but we still have a ways to go before we are at 100 percent compliance. The truth is, once we are at 100 percent compliance, we will have achieved universal design that will benefit everyone. For instance, imagine how strollers would get around without curb cuts and how we could watch the Super Bowl in a noisy public place without closed captioning. However, for the most part religious organizations are exempt from compliance with the ADA. 

Alexis Kashar

OHEL Takes Fundraising To A New Height

Last Tuesday, May 20th, eighty-one friends and supports of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services raised a minimum of $1,000 each to rappel 20 stories over the side of the Heritage Capital Group building in Newark, New Jersey. All proceeds will help children with developmental disabilities attend camp.

For such an endeavor, finding a willing partner in a building owner can understandably be a challenge. OHEL was fortunate to find two big hearts in Steve Greenberg and Jeff Greenberg, owners of the Heritage Capital Group, and their staff.

Autism Doesn't Make You Kill People

Editor's Note: In response to last week's tragic shooting and a recent article linking autism and violence, Aaron Feinstein shares a conversation about empathy that he shared with young people who have autism following the Sandy Hook shootings last year. 

There is a myth that autism is defined by a lack of empathy, but this is not the autism I know. People with autism are some of the most empathetic people that I have ever met.

Autistic people and their families are once again being asked to make sense of the terribly tragic shooting at Isla Vista in Santa Barbara with the rest of the country. The difference in the autism community is that our grieving is in the shadow of a recent Washington Post article linking mass shootings to autism. Although the article is based on poor anecdotal evidence and should easily be dismissed, it still further stigmatizes people with autism as somehow having an inherent connection to these horrific mass shootings.

Because of the shooting, and that article, I felt compelled to share a discussion I facilitated with a group of teenagers on the autism spectrum that emerged after the Sandy Hook massacre in one of our Miracle Project classes in Brooklyn. 

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